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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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…

Leadership and Advocacy

7 09 2007

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about how important it is for libraries to court library advocates. Library advocates include anyone who’s willing to proselytize on behalf of libraries. Someone who goes out of their way to point out how a library can solve the problem at hand.

This is one of the most effective forms of advertising…we trust our friends and people we know far more than we do any marketer. If my friend Sharon tells me that her shoes are killing her, and I tell her about these new Brand X shoes I just got that feel like I’m walking on clouds all day… well, that certainly holds a lot more weight than if Sharon just saw an ad for Brand X.

What I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about is how consumer advocates are made. Why, for example, do so many people drink the Kool-Aid over at Apple? A great deal of it is about consumer advocacy, but where does it originate? I know I personally advocate for Mac computers every time I hear a friend or relative complain about the poor usability of Windows boxes. And yesterday, I did what many Mac users did… I watched Steve Jobs’ keynote. In fact, I make a point of watching every single keynote that Steve Jobs puts out. Even if it’s for a product I don’t personally use or plan to use.

No doubt about it, Steve Jobs is a phenomenal entrepreneur. But he’s also a very savvy leader. There’s something in the way you feel when watching a Kool-Aide Convention that makes you even more excited about the company than ever before — something about that unassuming personage up there, with the faded jeans, black turtleneck, and white sneakers — that makes you want to buy whatever it is he’s selling.

Steve Jobs excels at turning people’s natural reaction of “what’s in it for me?” to “what can I do to get in on this action?” Those of you versed in management will recognize this switch… the switch from “quid-pro-quo, replacing it with belief in a higher cause”*. That, my friends, is called Transformational Leadership (for more on this theory, pick up a copy of Kouzes and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge)

How can we turn librarians, and library workers, and ultimately our patrons into proselytizers of library services? If a patron’s sister is trying to figure out how to pay for her daughter’s college education, how can we get him to say “I bet they have something on that at the library?”

I hear all the time how librarians need work on our management skills, but management is not the same thing as leadership. Every librarian needs to be on board the leadership train!

Things Librarians should keep in mind when contemplating leadership:

  • Leaders may be born, but they can also be made. It is possible to train yourself to practice good leadership skills – those skills that empower your colleagues and patrons to “buy in” to the mission of the library
  • Leaders do not have to be in a position of authority – they can lead from within. Successful leaders inspire others, empowering them to do their part in the “quest for achievement of [a shared] vision.” *

Hey, if you want to learn more about leadership, I hear there’s this great place called a Library where you can check things out for free!

*Both these quotes are from “Authentic, Compassionate, and Empowering (ACE) Leadership: Transforming Labor and Restoring Leisure,” a paper by my Leadership for Community Change professor, David W. Springer, PhD, written for the UT Austin Humanities Institute 2006-2007.

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.

Lessons in Marketing

5 08 2007

Today I was reminded of how small the library online community is, and how important it is to plan for the unexpected.

My friend, Lea, and fellow co-director of the Student Association of the School of Information at UT, took some photos of a new shirt designed by a recent graduate of our program. The design is called Evolution of a Librarian:

Informationus Primatus, represented by a gorilla with a pair of reading glasses; Informationus Scriptor, represented by a medieval scholar scribbling away with a quill; Informationus Shushimus, represented by a female librarian with a bun, busily shushing patrons; and the final evolution: Informationus Professionus, represented by a young female librarian in jeans and an Antelope/information? tee (see below), carrying a laptop, a book, and listening to an ipod.

She posted the photos on her flickr page so I could grab them easily to put up on our our blog. SASI has been printing shirts for as long as anyone can remember as a way to get funding from the Graduate School Assembly (GSA) and the Student Senate, that we can turn around and sell at a small profit in order to support student activities and community-building. I had intended to get the photos up sometime this weekend (or maybe next) and then send an email out to our school’s listserv to let students know they were available and when/where they could buy them.

But this morning when I woke up and checked my RSS reader, I found that Library Stuff had linked to her photo of our newest shirt design. We had always dreamed of coming up with cool shirts that we could sell to the library/information science community at large to support our school activities, and here was opportunity staring us in the face, and I didn’t even have a site set up yet! Worse, when I tried to log on to the iSchool servers, I couldn’t gain access. I couldn’t get on to the servers until a half hour ago (finally got the support site up here at SASI Swag). But even without that, we didn’t have any way of accepting payment. We hadn’t set up a paypal account and had only ever taken cash and checks in the past. We didn’t even know what to charge for shipping.

This entire experience was a great learning process for me. Technology failed us, and we failed to plan for a big enough response to our idea. This was a small glitch, something easily fixed, but we were franticly emailing and im-ing eachother and the iSchool technology folks trying to get our site back up, and figure out what to do in the meantime.

I wonder how much worse it would be for the library who fails to make arrangements for the unanticipated… I hope I’ve learned my lesson on this front.

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?

Getting out into the community

3 08 2007

I’ve had two ideas burning a hole in my pocket for a few days now and I want to bounce them off y’all for a little feedback.

Libraries and Community Events

In every community, there are ongoing annual or semi-annual events. These may be science fairs, cook-offs, bratwurst fetsivals, city-wide garage sales, sporting events… the list goes on and on. What if libraries got in on that existing community spirit? Instead of trying to come up with new events hosted by the library, why not capitalize on events already taking place? Take the library to the people! Got a city-wide garage sale coming up? Gather up a nice selection of reference books on antiques, plus a few novels and non-fiction books in the same vein, toss them in the bookmobile, and have a librarian and a volunteer or two set up a tent… a specialized mobile library. If it’s a bratwurst festival, don’t forget to include a few polka CDs, and books on related subjects like German heritage. Take some books on gardening, natural pest control, seasonal cooking, and sustainability down to your local farmer’s market. There will probably be far too many existing community events for you to be able to afford the expense of going to all of them, but why not go to a few? Figure out which events are best represented in your collection and plan a trip to those (and on a related note, figure out why you don’t have books on the other events your community has an interest in). I admit to not knowing the logistics of something like this. I imagine you’d have to arrange the following:

  • A tent and tables for the event
  • Flyers promoting the event beforehand
  • Booth fees for registering for the event (might be waived)
  • Librarian’s time for selecting appropriate materials and researching events
  • Clerk, page, and volunteer time pulling, loading, unloading, reloading, and reshelving the books for the event.
  • How to sign people up for library cards remotely (someone might actually want to check something out!)
  • What to do if ill-weather or insects foils the event
  • Arranging the tables so there’s only one entrance/exit (so you can be watchful for anyone with sticky fingers… gosh it bugs me to even have to mention that!)
  • Anything else?

I don’t think this idea is just for Public libraries, either… Academic libraries have a need for public exposure, and specialized collections might bring in more courtesy borrowers. Like the Fine Arts Library where I work… it would be great to do some community building with the artist, musician, dance, and theatre folks in Austin (“Live Music Capital of the World”). We’ve got great resources for them to use, and maybe they’ll remember us when they’re finding a home for their artistic collections, or with monetary donations following financial success.

Libraries and Community Nonprofits

Maybe more of this goes on than I know about, but it seems like libraries could be doing more to reach out to local nonprofits (heck, even for-profits) in the community to figure out what the needs of the populations they serve are, and helping cater directly to those individuals. We have a little refugee shelter in my city for people primarily from Mexico and South America… why not send a librarian to them to help them meet their goals as an organization? I know they’re hurting for money, so books on grantwriting or seeking funding would be helpful… the people staying there have information needs too…why not get them signed up for library cards? Or have a storytime in Spanish or English for the children at the shelter? By helping these nonprofits meet the needs of their own segments of the community, you are better serving the community as a whole.

So…what do you think? Are there any glaring omissions that would make these ideas impossible to carry out? Can we do things like this? I’m asking because as a not-quite-yet-Librarian, I’ve never really worked on this side of a library before. Is this possible? I hope so…