Ending a chapter

12 05 2008

I can’t believe the whole semester has flown by already. I had my last class on May 2, and I’ll graduate on May 17th. I had an amazing capstone experience at the Austin Public Library that has really shaped how I view library programming and strategic planning.Photo of Kathleen Houlihan, presenting her poster on the Strategic Initiative Toolbox, at the UT School of Information Poster Session, May 2008

The project ultimately was a guidebook for strategic program planning, with three strategic initiatives created to demonstrate how the guidebook operated. The three initiatives we chose were

  • Greener Austin, an environmental awareness and education campaign
  • Latino American Cultural Awareness, an educational and cultural celebration campaign
  • Financial Health & Wellness campaign.

The guidebook/toolbox discussed the different components of strategic initiative planning, and how to work through the planning process in such a way that the library could ensure that these programs not only helped accomplish a set goal or mission, but also demonstrated value within the community, and ensured the library’s place at the table with local government.

For those of you interested in the details, there’s more behind the cut…

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Full Spectrum Programming

29 01 2008

Yesterday, I met with my faculty adviser to talk about how my project was going, and brainstorm a few more project ideas. In collaboration with my two contacts at APL, I had a long laundry list of adult programs that the library might hold, and my FA added a few more to that list. I mentioned my frustration with how isolated each of these programs felt… I’ve been taking so many nonprofit classes that the mere idea of one-shot programs versus longterm systemic change oriented offerings gets my back up in a bad way. My FA said that the ad-hoc programming model of APL was probably a result of its (adult programming) recent addition to the library’s offerings. She said that we should consider co-authoring an article for Texas Library Journal on the strategic benefits of community partnership at the library. I’m interested, but I’m putting that off until summer! Another thing I’ll be putting off until summer was her suggestion that perhaps I could write myself a job, via grant, or co-funded position between the City and the iSchool, to set up a framework for meaningful collaboration between the APL and the iSchool (students and professors). Now that’s right up my alley! Again, that’s going to wait until summer!

Today I met with my favorite funding-research librarian at the Hogg Regional Foundation Library to discuss the relative “fundability” of my long list of possible programs. She is an absolutely brilliant woman. She helped me see how many of the “isolated” programs in that list were really very complimentary, and could be grouped together to provide a full array of programs targeted at a specific issue. She grouped them into three areas: Cultural Awareness and Diversity Education, Social Justice Issues, and the Arts. An example of this would be a book of the year, and a whole array of programming surrounding that. But not just any book, a book that addressed a social justice or cultural issue. For example, the Library could announce that the citywide reading program would feature the book, the Kite Runner. Then the library would offer a whole compliment of programming to go with that: Arabic language classes, classes on Arabic culture, art, music, and dance, classes on Arabic foods, history, film, and so on… maybe even tying in with the Zilker Kite Festival!

She also showed me how intertwined each of the main issues are, which is great from a fundability standpoint. I’m getting very excited about where this project is headed!

Strategic Initiative Toolbox

18 01 2008

That’s the tentative title of my Capstone Project, the professional development project most MSIS’s at UT do these days instead of a thesis (although if I was doing a thesis, it would be titled either Librarians as Leaders or perhaps one on Fulfilling the Information Needs of Homeless Patrons).

The premise of this capstone is that the Austin Public Library (where I’m working on my capstone) would greatly benefit from increased strategic placement within the bureaucracy of the City of Austin, from a budgetary and other resource perspective. Simultaneously, adult programming at APL could be strengthened (although they have a wide variety of youth programs), and might be better supported if programs had a defined set of outcome/output/impact measures that could better demonstrate value to the library’s various constituents. Finally, as far as I can tell, APL has few community partners, and could be better positioned with regard to this aspect of planning.

For my capstone, I will be helping the Austin Public Library develop adult programming which addresses each of these challenges. The program begins by diagramming the City of Austin’s strategic plan, and then brainstorming program ideas that would help the city fulfill its goals. A total of three promising programs will be selected, and for each I will create a toolkit for funding, finding community partners, setting up, running, and evaluating the success of that program (if I have extra time, I may do a marketing plan for each, although APL has its own marketing department).

From mid-December to mid-January, I’ve been creating a Gantt chart for the project, diagramming City of Austin (CoA) goals and initiatives, doing a lit review of relevant materials published on the topic, and brainstorming ideas for possible programs. Next week, the ball really gets rolling: I have a meeting with my field supervisor at APL, to brainstorm further program initiatives, and finally, a similar session with my faculty adviser. Then I will create a diagram for each program, illustrating how well (or poorly) that program is connected to the stated goals/needs of the CoA. Then I’ll do an initial “fundability” review with a funding librarian at our Regional Foundation Library, ranking the programs in order of “most fundable” to “least fundable.” I’ll then turn this list over to my field supervisor, and let her pick the top three programs she thinks the APL would be interested in pursuing. Then comes all the fun stuff! Funding research, community partners who can make the program happen, volunteer candidates and management, management/ administration of the program (policies, best practices, history of similar programs), and finally, tools to evaluate the effectiveness and ultimate worth of the program, along with guidelines for modification based on feedback from the programs.

I’m very excited about the whole thing! More coming soon…

Community Outreach

4 09 2007

Whenever I mention to a colleague I don’t know very well that I’m taking a course in Nonprofit Strategy and Entrepreneurship, along with another called Leadership for Community Change, I always get the same reaction: Do you want to start a nonprofit?

The question behind the question is: What do nonprofits have to do with library school?

Quite a lot, in fact. I’m particularly interested in the nonprofit as a representation of a segment of our communities… ie: a patron with clearly defined information needs (it’s in their mission statements!). Nonprofits exist in a community, particularly the small scrappy ones, because they have identified a need within that community – they see a segment of the population who are being underserved, mistreated, or generally not getting a fair shake. Doing something about that is their mission in life. Helping them fulfill that mission is my mission in life.  I want to help give them the information tools that their segment of society needs.  Going beyond the reference desk… not waiting for someone to be bold enough to come up and ask me a question… but going out there into the community and answering the questions that are being asked all the time.

Beyond that, I decided to participate in the Nonprofit Studies program because I am so keenly aware that Library School often does not do enough to teach librarians how to be managers, or how to be leaders.   In the NP program, I can take courses in marketing for NPs, management, leadership… all the things I have a passion for. And everything I learn applies to libraries! We’re so very much closer to nonprofits than we may realize. Certainly libraries are often government organizations… particularly academic and public libraries. But funding is slipping all the time… we seek out private and corporate sponsorship. We have boards and volunteers… we operate successfully in large part due to the tremendous public trust in libraries. We also both rely heavily on public support, and advocacy/marketing/grassroots support (whatever you’d like to call it) must be a part of our plans for the future.

In this time of change and growth for libraries, I am particularly interested in seeing how the future leaders and CEOs of nonprofits seek out public support. My classmates are inspirations to me… each and every one will help build public support for a cause they believe in. And so will I. So can you… Keep your eye on nonprofits. They know where they’re going, and they have a good idea of how to get there.

Nonprofits are your friends

8 08 2007

Technically, libraries aren’t nonprofits…we’re usually government agencies, but we have a lot in common with nonprofits, too.  I haven’t spent much time looking into the advocacy offerings of the nonprofit folks because I’ve had my hands full just trying to catch up with the librarians!

But for my grant, I needed to evaluate the tools that were already out there, and I couldn’t find much in the way of Web 2.0 for library advocacy (which is good, since that’s what I’m trying to get a grant for!*) so I plugged “nonprofit” in my search box and lo and behold, I hit the motherlode! I shouldn’t be too surprised… nonprofits traditionally have even less funding than libraries, so they’ve been quicker to adopt new ways of garnering public support.

Here are a few of my favorites from the bunch…

  • Nonprofit Technology Network – their Web 2.0 category has some great stuff!
  • Net ^2 (squared) , remixing the  web for social change
  • Roots.lab, helping nonprofits leverage the social web… they have a great rundown of what the social web can do for nonprofits here

More details about the revised grant forthcoming… I just finished the draft for my class this evening.

* Please let me know if you’ve found anything out there that deals with social networking/social media for libraries in any kind of detail. I couldn’t find anything, but maybe one of you has run across something?

Too much info, wrong emphasis

3 08 2007

Part of my grant application requires that I do research to make sure I’m not repeating a project that’s already out there.  I started creating a table of all the results I found from a “library advocacy” (sans quotes) search in Google, and arranging the sites by state or region (if applicable).  As soon as I did the search, I knew I was in trouble.  3.8 million results. Tacking on the word “marketing” brought it down to 1.8 million. Clicking through, I saw a lot of the same information repeated again and again…  Best practices, talking to the press, talking to politicians, facts and figures about why libraries matter. About all the poor and disadvantaged people who depend on their services. Offerings usually follow the format of step 1, 2, 3.  And when searching journal indexes, I find even more suggestions. There are advocacy offerings for nearly every state, every major city, and from most of our organizations.  I had no idea the OCLC had a site called WebJunction, and that this site contained information on advocacy and marketing. There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there.

So why are we still talking about marketing? If it’s all out there in black and white, A, B, C… why aren’t people beating down our doors to give us money?  Why are we missing the 13-30-somethings from our libraries?

If most of these sites say the same thing, can my site really say anything different? Does a database of stock-photography and templates really make it more useful? I really don’t know the answer to that question. I’m afraid the answer is “no.”   I do know that there are people in every state who understand how important advocacy is. They try to get the word out, each in their own way, with a toolbox, a step by step guide, or a marketing campaign. Funders like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation give us money to create campaigns and train staff in advocacy… $7.7 million to the Public Library Association for training, and another $1.2 million to the OCLC to develop a nationwide advocacy network (and maybe a marketing campaign, too if there’s any money left over).

But apart from the good advice, which is all sound and traditional (and repetitive), the campaigns I’ve seen are boring and have dated graphics. But more than that…they’re depressing. I just watched a commercial (not naming names) that didn’t make me want to visit a library, it made me want to cry! Story after story of disadvantaged, downtrodden people with hard lives… People don’t want to hear about that! They don’t want to hear about hard work. They want to hear about success. They want to see themselves as successful, not as failures.  If they see the library as “that place where failures go” then they’re less likely to go there. On the funding side of the coin, politicians like to see people fulfilling the American dream (bootstraps, the works) but they’re human too. They don’t need to be shown images of people struggling, because this only reminds them of how dismally they (as politicians) have failed in other areas. They need to see people succeeding as much as your patrons.

We have some funny stuff out there…. but much of it revolves around inside jokes, like the March of the Librarians video.  That’s funny to me as a librarian, but I don’t know it would make a patron want to visit the library. Or make a funder give us more money.

Being positive is key. Knowing when to pull out the doom and gloom (stories of the downtrodden) is just as important as putting a positive spin on those benefiting from our services.

So what should I really be peddling with my project?  A real positive uplifting marketing campaign? A social-network for librarians to help them share their uplifting stories and marketing materials?  The grants I’m going after aren’t of the multi-million dollar variety, so would it be a waste? Can we have grassroots marketing from an inexpensive set of tools? Can I be the one to do it?  What makes me better than the OCLC with their million dollar grant and their professional marketing agency? I feel very Pollyanna-ish about this whole thing… the Glad Game and all that. But isn’t that what we need more of in this world? Or maybe I’m wrong?

Library Marketing Toolbox

30 07 2007

After reading about that PLA grant, I’m ready to share my project/grant proposal with all of you.

Over the next eight months, I’m going to be putting together a website called the Library Marketing Toolbox (working title). I’m going to be working with nonprofit marketing and advocacy folks, as well as some traditional marketing people to develop a set of tools to help libraries begin their own campaign of promotion. There will be four separate toolboxes on the site: advocacy, marketing, fundraising, and public relations. I would also like the site to have a social networking component, so that librarians could share their own experiences and successes as well as critique the effectiveness of the tools on the site (so they can be revised in the future). Some of the marketing-specific tools would include a database of creative-commons/open-source stock library photography for use on websites and posters, templates for flyers or pamphlets, and creative ideas for promoting the library within the community.

Since I want this project to be maintained and updated, I’m pitching a course on advocacy and marketing that would be taught at my graduate school. This course would teach future librarians about advocacy and marketing, but also give them hands-on experience in designing tools for marketing and advocacy. Students would revise and add to the toolbox website each year, and launch a marketing campaign to promote it to librarians.

The funding necessary for such a site would be minimal, since I hope to get the experts to work pro bono, but I will be writing a small grant in the hopes of possibly covering an adjunct professor’s salary.

I feel very optimistic about this project, but I will be the first to admit that I am not an expert in marketing. I only have a desire to learn, and share what I’m learning with others. I know there is a need for library advocacy tools, and even if the site has no earth-shattering revelations or cutting edge marketing campaigns, it will at least gather relevant information together in one place. My goal is to have tools that will help those just getting started create some quality marketing materials, but also to help those with the time/resources available develop a fully-realized marketing and advocacy campaign.

This is all a work in progress, and I welcome any input or criticisms you may have. Currently, the title of the site is sticking in my craw a bit. The tools that will be on the site truly encompass the idea of advocacy…but what is marketing if not advocacy? So even the title is up for slings and arrows.

Fire away.


I was just poking around on PLA’s website (why don’t they have an RSS feed!) when I found that PLA launched a Toolkit for Success at ALA annual this year. Since I didn’t go to annual, I hadn’t heard of this toolkit, which PLA charges $100 for ($90 with ALA membership).  Although I am disappointed that the name Toolkit necessitates a name change for the site I’m developing (far too similar), I believe Project M (new working title) will be a much different venture. The PLA publication sounds like a marketing manual which may be very useful, but there are many marketing manuals out there. What I’m trying to bring together are actual tools and resources that libraries can use to their benefit, and a social network to collaborate and create new marketing tools for the library community. I do plan to pick up a copy of the PLA’s Toolkit, but $90 seems a bit steep. Maybe I should write that into my grant….