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.


PLA receives $7.7 million grant for advocacy training

30 07 2007

The PLA was just awarded a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation that will enable them to provide advocacy training to librarians.  Full press release here.

What a wonderful opportunity! I’m very anxious to see how they carry this out… I’d love to see their grant application to see how they’ve laid out the program.   There’s not a grantee profile up on the BMG Foundation website yet, but it looks like they had an existing desire to improve library advocacy, evidenced by this page with a dvd and brochure to help libraries get started in connecting to their communities.

If anyone knows where I could check out their grant proposal, I’d be very grateful! What an exciting time to be a public librarian.

Blog comments as virtual focus groups

18 07 2007

It’s incredibly frustrating to read comments by non-library users on what they think of libraries, especially compared to bookstores. Take the following, posted by scunning (#14) on the Freakonomic’s blog post, If Public Libraries Didn’t Exist, Could You Start One Today?: (via)

Even if one doesn’t read an entire novel at the bookstore, they still replicate many of the same functions of the library, like house a diverse inventory of books, allow browsing by consumers in a comfortable atmosphere, and have reading programs for children…booksellers are doing a lot – perhaps even more – for encouraging reading in the US than public libraries. The selection at your average B&N swamps the average public library, and will continue to do so as B&N and other bigbox booksellers continue to expand into the suburbs, inner cities, and small towns.

It’s enough to make you want to tear your hair out, right? This commenter has already labeled himself as a “collector” who buys all his books from online retailers. Which indicates that he does not use the library (although he does get things for his children at libraries). So how can he possibly “know” that the average B&N has a bigger selection than the average library? What is the average library?

But wait… I’m not stepping on that soapbox today.

Today, I want to remind you that Mr. Scunning is a potential library user. I want to remind you that every commenter on the Freakonomics Blog for this post (or any post anywhere, really) is a potential library user. By writing a post on a non-library related blog, Freakonomics has, essentially, created a virtual focus group for us. That’s the data.

Instead of spending time writing up a point-by-point rebuttal to those comments (infuriating though they may be), why not re-cast them? What if you got those comments in your suggestion (in)box at your library? Hopefully you wouldn’t disregard them… After all, this [potential] patron took the time to tell you where they thought the library was weak. That gives you the opportunity to figure out a way to fix it.

There is some incredibly valuable information just waiting to be harvested from those comments. Our patrons and potential patrons may not always come to us to tell us what they think of our services, and any comment they leave on a library-related (heck, even bookstore-related) post can help us do a better job of serving our patrons, including those who don’t use us (yet).

We trust you…

14 07 2007

I’m tickled that Seth Godin mentioned libraries as places where people are still trusted with the honor system, but it makes me wonder… how long has it been since Mr. Godin has been in a library?

Last time I checked, we still put tattle tape in every material we put on the shelf…and patrons are continually embarrassed when we fail to fully de-magnetize our materials causing the gate to beep accusingly. 

I wonder what the rates of loss were that caused the tattle tape to become so ubiquitous…? Was it solely related to multi-media items being shelved on the floor instead of behind the desk?

We’re too close to our libraries

14 07 2007

How can that be possible? Well, when speaking of marketing, librarians have far too much invested in the institution of “library” to be able to effectively step back and call themselves “patron.”

We can’t rely on our experiences as patrons (or even as a customer) when deciding on policy, collection development, program development, or marketing, simply because we’re not the average consumer of library services. Advergirl’s latest post,The Worst Focus Group is You, really drove this home for me.  I’m the worst about saying “Well, when I use the library, I do x, y, and z” or “I use X product, and I think…”  I needed to be reminded that I am not a normal consumer.  I have blinders on for some things, and I’m too critical of others.  I do pick apart direct mail advertisements, and packaging and signage (help me!). I can’t help myself.

This is something I hope to remember when it really matters most. Focus groups are a necessary and worthy expense.  Perhaps some of that expense can be lessened if we pooled resources and did a national focus group, but that won’t represent our individual communities and the local lives of our particular patrons. So that’s something that must be budgeted for. We can’t simply put on our Patron hat for the afternoon and try and represent our users.  We need to ask them what they think. Keep taking their pulse…don’t try to put yourself in their shoes…just ask them what its like for them, being a patron of your library. Equally important to include in these focus groups would be those individuals who don’t use library services.

I need to learn more about focus groups!  Has anyone out there conducted one? What was the process like? Did you find it beneficial or disheartening? Any experiences with Web 2.0 based focus groups (if there is such a thing)?

Customizing the User Experience

17 06 2007

Newspapers have been struggling to redefine themselves as successful business ventures in the electronic age. Most of them fail miserably…the content is ugly, difficult to read, not scannable, just poor quality. This morning, Duct Tape Marketing pointed me to a newspaper that’s doing something rather remarkable: The New York Times. Their new TimesReader service looks really sharp (see the demo) and like something I might actually (gasp!) pay money for. The content is more accessible than a webpage and builds off the layout that’s been popular with newspapers for ages…but now it’s all connected and hyperlinked, no flipping a dozen oversized pages trying to find the continuation of that story you read on the cover, beautiful images…and there’s no inky-fingers when you’re done reading it. I’m pretty impressed.

It feels very different from Google News, because the articles that are linked to from the main page are displayed in column format with a lovely font and embedded images. And you can save articles you read, sync your copy with the latest stories and read them all offline. I love this kind of creativity. NYT has utilized all the lovely things about physical newspapers (columns, easy to scan, embedded images) but made them available to those who’d like to enjoy them digitally. This gets me thinking…what “old skool” library elements could we recapture and bring into a digital format?  I know I’m still nostalgic for the library of my imagination, with the tile floors, gleaming carved dark wood, green barrister lamps on every table and leather, rolling clerk’s chairs for those at the tables.

Many libraries already offer online reference…but maybe we should pay more attention to the delivery method. The content available in the TimesReader is all available online, but it’s so much prettier and inviting in the Reader format than in the traditional webpage layout. Not every library visitor wants to use the library for the same thing, so perhaps libraries would benefit from creating different portals (with totally customized style and feel for each) depending on which section of library resources a patron was there for? This would help patrons visualize themselves in the library. Researchers might appreciate a dignified and scholarly styled webpage with dark, sophisticated elements…. tweens might prefer an interface based on graphic novels… and teens with a pop culture feel.  Genealogists might feel more comfortable with a history themed background… and do it yourselfers with a handyman layout.  On and on…crafters with a crafty layout (a great way to get some of those elusive college-age and under 30 demographics), gardeners with a plant based theme, craftsmen and artists with artistic themes…

This would take time and consideration (and resources)…but it would help patrons visualize themselves as participants in the library.  It would be much easier than renovating the library and could easily be implemented with CSS and just a little time taken to collect the resources of each major demographic into one convenient place. I don’t have much experience with this, but I know it’s possible.  Any thoughts on this?