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…

Read the rest of this entry »


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…

A brand new me

18 01 2008

This last semester was an intensely challenging one for me, and one that ultimately changed the way I relate to the world, particularly the library world. I took a Nonprofit Strategy and Entrepreneurship class, a course in Research Methods, and a phenomenal course called Leadership for Community Change. I did a lot of soul searching and learned a great deal about myself and how I interact with the world and my field, and what part I want to play in all that. The semester also armed me with an abundance of tools for strategically positioning libraries (and librarians) for success.

I also continued volunteered at Reading for the Blind & Dyslexic (first as a “director” and now as a “reader”) for two hours a week, and, as part of my class project for NP Strategy, did an extensive review of their volunteer practices, and developed a series of improvements to those practices which might help them increase their production studio’s efficiency. I also started volunteering as a reference intern at the Austin Public Library… every single day I work there, I am more convinced that I’m in the right place. I’m particularly interested in working for a large urban public library system in adult services, and APL is a great introduction to that world (both the good and the bad). On top of all that, I was also the student liaison to Stepping Up: Library Leaders for the 21st Century, and held two information sessions for applicants to the program and I was Co-Director and Webmaster of the “blanket” student organization for the School of Information (SASI). It was all worth it, and I even got myself selected for the 2007 edition of Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities (toot that horn!)

Out of this fall semester grew my professional experience project (“Capstone”). I decided to plunge headfirst into administrative work, particularly with regards to strategic positioning of libraries. I’m interested in adult programming, so I decided to look at the City of Austin’s strategic planning documents, chart out their goals, and then develop programs for the library which would help the city achieve those goals. In this way, the library will be better able to demonstrate the value they provide to the community (in particular when it comes time for funding dollars to be distributed). Once we’ve narrowed the scope to the top three programs, I’ll create a toolkit for each program: resource needs, funding sources, volunteer management, potential community partners, and evaluation and measures of success. I’m calling it (tentatively) the Strategic Initiatives Toolbox.

And that capstone is what I’d like to talk about today… I’m going to make a small shift on this blog (not too difficult because I’ve been absent for so long that I’ve indubitably alienated any readership I had) and spend the remainder of the spring documenting my progress on my capstone project, in addition to the work I’m doing in my other two classes: Collection Management, and Nonprofit Audiences (a class offered by the School of Advertising).

I’m working on a recap of the work I’ve done this past month, but I’ll be shooting for one update a week (more often when I’m in the thick of things) describing the challenges I’ve experienced, as well as the successes. Like the title says, my experiences last semester have irrevocably changed the way I perceive the library world and the challenges it faces (on a number of fronts). Not all of these are related to my capstone, but I have a feeling you’ll be hearing plenty of them in the weeks and months to come.

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…. 

The Big One

26 07 2007

Yesterday, I received my very own copy of Robin Hood Marketing, which I won free by being the first commenter to request a copy on Sybil’s Quality Service Marketing Blog a few weeks back (I guess the early bird does get the worm!). Thanks Katya and Sybil!

Although I initially checked the book out through ILL, I knew by page three that this was a book I wanted to write all over, so I was thrilled when the QSM Blog gave away a copy.

It will come in very handy in my huge impending multi-semester(multi-year?) project. I haven’t talked about it here yet (although it is more than relevant) because I need to organize my thoughts on it in a more logical way. The whole process is bigger than anything I’ve ever attempted before, and involves so many more people than just myself.

I’ve learned over the years that I am fairly controlling… I love it when delegation works, and I love watching my teammates succeed, but sometimes it just seems easier (and safer) to do things myself. I really have to watch myself here because I know that this could lead to overly-controlling, dominating behavior that crushes the creativity and input of others. I’m glad I was made aware of it early on while I can try and redirect those impulses in a more positive direction.

When all is said and done, this project will be about marketing, PR, advocacy, and fundraising, and it will also require marketing, PR, advocacy, and fundraising. It will involve professors, students, librarians, lobbyists, marketers, community advocacy groups, friends groups, big libraries, little libraries, and every library supporter who wants to participate. Heck, even ALA can pitch in if they want.

I’ve got to get this plan drawn up in the next 48 hours, so I’ll end the suspense then. But I’ll be needing all the help y’all are willing to give!

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’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)?