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Balancing technology in library service

There is no shortage of continuing education opportunities for librarians. I think we naturally tend toward collaboration and harmony. Earlier this week, while many librarians were in Monterey, CA for Internet Librarian, I attended NJLA’s first Adult Services Forum. On the same day, David Lee King and Michael Porter launched their new video and multimedia collaboration project, Library 101. All three of these focus on something that I have been pondering a lot lately: how, why and in what format we provide services (to all our patrons). Those thoughts cannot be separated from my concern over the division that is created by the acceptance of technology in library service.

Let me start by saying that I suffer from a serious case of technolust. I really love having new technology at my fingertips! But I also have a fair amount of restraint and often will wait to purchase something until (almost) all the kinks are worked out. However, I know that, just from my family and friends, most people are not yet comfortable with a wide range of technologies. As a librarian, I feel that it is important for the library to be a safe and comfortable place to expose people to web 2.0 (and beyond) and new ways of doing things.

John Porcaro (JP) said during his presentation at the Adult Services Forum that he finds librarians are often ahead of the curve compared with other departments and professions when it comes to new technology. This is not the stereotype that people have of libraries and librarians. Just do a Google search on “libraries are dead”: 79,000 results! Not all these websites actually support that idea but some clearly do. The common thread is that unless we do something about the PERCEPTION of libraries, they will die. And isn’t that what we are ultimately fighting against? Both internal and external stereotypes of what libraries and librarians were, are and are going to be.

The Library 101 project looks at what we are doing and what we need to think about doing to stay relevant. And I’m all for that! With a fun music video (with lots of familiar faces in it!), thoughtful essays, and 101 resources and things to know (RTK), Library 101 gathers together all the stuff libraries have been doing and are currently trying to do. The Library 101 project also reminded me that I’m not the only one who thinks that being a librarian can be fun and wants to share that with the world.

But I worry about what I read and hear from some of our other colleagues. For instance, I’ve heard librarians complaining about the formats available in their libraries, forget about the wonder that is InterLibrary Loan (it might seem outdated, but get that item into the patron’s hands and they don’t care where you got it from!). I’ve also read blog posts and tweet that generally disregard traditional library service. For all of the the librarians pushing away from long-established services, there are just as many complaining about the move towards Web 2.0 in libraries.

Yes, it is important for libraries and librarians to be on social networks, Twitter, producing webcasts, providing text and im reference, etc. But I think it is equally important to remember why we are doing all of these things. We are providing a new medium for things we have always done. We can connect people to these new technologies, give them new skill sets, and ultimately, strengthen the connection to our libraries.

And we can hope that, in so doing, we change the public’s perception of libraries and librarians. But we all need to be working together and not undermining the traditional work we still do, that is still overwhelmingly appreciated by the people we serve. There can be a balance to using new technology to promote, support and enhance traditional, as well as new, programming and resources.

by Karen Klapperstuck

November 2, 2009 at 9:31 am 6 comments

It’s All About the Experience

(For original post, with comments, see: http://librarygarden.blogspot.com/2009/08/its-all-about-experience.html)

In July 2008, I posted on authenticity and what it means for libraries. Essentially explaining that we are in an experience economy and that we need to be aware of the expectations that exist regarding libraries, services and technology.

It is easy to find examples of other businesses trying to create an experience, from fitness instructors and personal trainers to pet spas and resorts. Keith Goodrum writes in his post, Are You Creating an Experience instead of a Transaction? about the delight he and his wife experienced after leaving their dog at a pet resort while they were on vacation. The experience wasn’t just about the novelty but about the way the pet resort made Keith and his wife feel.

Is this what libraries are doing? How do library users feel after being in the library or using their library’s website? Are they experiencing your library or are they merely conducting transactions?

My renewed interest and changed perspective on the experience economy is based on my new job as the Virtual Branch Manager at a public library. When looking for library websites to get ideas and inspiration for a website redesign or overhaul, I have to admit that in many places, that “experience” feel is missing. And its not just the libraries’ websites either; it is the vendors and databases libraries subscribe to or use, as well. For example, there is no reason why any digital media download site should be convoluted. If you have to click more than 2 or 3 times to actually start a download, how frustrated are you getting? Now imagine a library patron, with a slower internet connection, who isn’t sure if they really want to use these digital resources and what will their response be? My money would be on a few quick clicks, then give up and move on to a place that literally takes one click to download, purchase, etc. (think iTunes or Amazon.com).

While there is a plethora of information out there about how to design an experience that will excite and satisfy library users, consider two great resources as a place to start:

  1. David Lee King, in his new book, Designing the Digital Experience and on his blog, discusses libraries, websites, marketing and emerging technologies. He has experience from which to draw (he is the Digital Branch and Services Manager at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library)and lots of great tips and insights to help get your started.
  2. Kathy Dempsey, blogger at the M-Word and author of The Accidental Library Marketer, talks about marketing your library (and its website) and making it more relevant. Her book mainly focuses on marketing and promotion of library services. However, she does say that most libraries, unfortunately, do not try to create an experience. Part of creating an experience is to find out what people want and need (all part of the marketing process) and then to give it to them.

In my authenticity post from a year ago I wrote: “It may take lots of work to make the vision and missions of our institutions match and exceed positive expectations that people have about libraries of all types.” This does not just relate to your physical building but also to your web presence and the resources and services you offer. As libraries and librarians move towards creating experiences for users, it is important to remember that those experiences have to be true to the library’s mission and vision. Remember advice from authors James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II in Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want: “Be what you say you are by finding your very own original way for customers to experience your offering in the places you establish” (p.152).

August 14, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Freemium (or should libraries charge for services?)

Who doesn’t like to get something for free? Whether we are talking about giveaways at a restaurant opening or free information on the Internet, everyone loves the idea of getting something for free. A marketing strategy and business model that relates to this idea is the concept of “freemium.”

Freemium is a way businesses get users or consumers in the door with free products or services, as a way to market their enhanced, premium-priced services. Free + Premium = Freemium. Just recently in Publishers Weekly (May 18, 2009), Chris Anderson, author of Free: The Future of a Radical Price was interviewed about newspapers (specifically News Corp) charging for online content. In July, his book will be offered for free online from Hyperion. In the book, Anderson looks at how so much of what is already online is available for free. In the interview, he discusses how companies use free content to market their paid content. Other supporters of this business model view it as a way to attract customers and generate buzz. An example from the business world is Adobe launching a free, web-based version of its popular Photoshop software. Adobe then hopes that the free version will entice consumers to purchase the full software package.

How does the freemium model apply to libraries? I’m not entirely certain of the long-term implications but it does seem to me that libraries that are implementing additional fees for services that go beyond the normal scope are taking advantage of this freemium business model (free for some services, pay for value-added services). Libraries are facing tightening budgets and I understand the need to generate revenue other than fines and regular fees. People talk about the public library as being “free” and in a way, it is free because library users pay for those services through their tax dollars.But as Nancy Dowd of The ‘M’ Word – Marketing for Libraries blog stated back in February, why not create a line of premium services for which to charge? The basic services that people have come to expect from the library would remain “free.” But individual libraries could choose to offer services above and beyond, like research services and books by mail, and charge a fee for those premium services.

Lately I’ve been hearing about libraries who are already starting to charge for some of their services, due to budget shortfalls and other funding constraints. But it makes me wonder about what criteria libraries are using to decide which services are the ones that should be paid for by the patrons.
For instance, look at the Dallas Public Library’s Street Smart Express service. Dallas PL is charging for high-demand items, like best-sellers, hot DVDs and audiobooks. The Assistant Director cited 2 main reasons for the fees: To limit wait times and to limit the number of holds on an item. Not all items are part of this special collection and a patron could choose to wait to borrow the item once it is out of the collection. Read more about it here.
Another library charging for services is the East Brunswick Public Library. My sister, who is a frequent library user and avid reader, was dismayed to read in her local paper that the library planned to start charging for every reserve placed. She did the math and realized that the average cost for the reserves she places per year would total over $100.
These are just 2 examples of providing fee services above the regular “free” services or starting to charge for once free services, but I am sure there are more.

So where and how do libraries decide which services warrant a fee? In the examples listed above, Dallas selected a new service that has the potential to speed up the usual library experience. Give the patron what they want NOW. On the other hand, East Brunswick started charging for a service that in most libraries is free. What message are we sending to our patrons if we start charging them for something that they never had to pay for before? And how much damage are we doing to our user base to start charging for these services that have traditionally been free? If my sister is any indication, the potential damage is significant. She even considered getting a card in another library, farther away from her house, less because of the money and more because of how upset it made her. Other patrons may just choose to not use a library at all.

Charging for services that have long been free, especially now as the general public is feeling the economic crunch, could ruin a library’s good will and support base. If your library must start charging, find a way to add some value to that service to make it “premium.” Or follow Dallas Public Library’s example and offer the paid service as an option, not a mandatory fee. It is never easy for librarians to decide to start charging for services. However, I think that its not a bad idea to charge for services that are “premium” to YOUR library users. Which services those are will depend on what services your patrons use and which ones your patrons would like to have that you aren’t already offering. But make sure they are value-added services.

June 2, 2009 at 6:20 pm 17 comments

Focus on photography

I read a number of blogs that are not library related and sometimes I see things that I think other librarians and the general public might be interested in. Case in point, I read a great blog from Photojojo, which gives tips on things to do with your photographs, DIY projects. I’m a real photography person . . . I love taking pictures and getting the right shot, the right light, the right everything. (Have I ever mentioned that I am also a perfectionist?) And this Photojojo newsletter is right up my alley. It provides great, easy and cheap ideas for craft projects. Are you like me in that you have TONS of photos but no way to really display them or to have people see them?

Now think about your Library. Does your library have a photo club? Or teach classes on using digital cameras and need a project for the class to work on? Does your library have photos that you’d like to use but haven’t figured out the best way?

This site is a gold mine of ideas . . . think about using photos of teens from your latest teen program and creating something, like letting them create these glass jar frames OR letting the teens take pictures and use them to make these cool photocuffs. Immediately I think of teen programs but, of course, you could also do these projects in some of your children’s or adult programs, especially if craft events are as popular in your library as they are in mine. With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day just around the corner, think of all the possibilities of gift making programs using personal photographs!

Another recent idea is to use your photos for business cards. I did this a number of years ago using photos of the Bradley Beach Library (where I work) and they were always a big hit when I gave them out. What else makes your card stand apart from every one else’s? It also gives you a story to tell when you are handing your card over, the story of that particular photograph. You can customize your own cards at Moo, where they used to only have small calling card size but now have full sized business cards. I can’t wait to order new ones as soon as I figure out which of my photos to use!

What else can you do with photographs that your patrons have taken? Think about amateur photography exhibits or a photo contest, with a cool donated or purchased prize from a local camera shop or a web based photo site, like Kodak Gallery, Shutterfly, or Photojojo, just to name a few!

This is just a reminder that we need to be looking outside the library profession to get new and innovative ideas. The most successful and well-attended programs often come from ideas that no one ever expected to find in their Library!

March 16, 2009 at 2:05 pm 1 comment

Interesting Election reference question . . .

Last night during the presidential debate I got a very interesting reference question: What happens if either of the presidential candidates dies between now and Election Day?

I looked into it and it is not exactly clear! But there is a lot of information and speculation out there regarding this issue and what would happen.

Basically, both the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee have rules stating they are responsible for filling vacancies if something happens to their nominee. The Republican rules are a bit more explicit in how it would happen. But neither is absolutely clear. (See Republican rules and Democratic rules for yourselves.)

I found other clarification on wiki answers. Essentially, if a candidate dies before Election Day, the party’s committee (somehow) votes on a new candidate. Of course, the closer to Election Day it happened, the more difficult that would be because of ballot printing, etc. Congress could choose to push back Election Day to allow time for the parties to regroup and to get the word out about the new candidate selection. It does seem clear, however, that the VP candidate is not necessarily the shoe-in in such a scenario.

Another post I found, from October 2000, addresses these issues as well as some other “disaster scenarios” that could happen. To check it out, click here.

October 8, 2008 at 9:38 am 1 comment

Thoughts on Authenticity


Back in March, at PLA, I remember Karen Hyman talking about authenticity in the lastest issue of Time magazine. It intrigued me enough to cause me to look into the issue of Time and then also interlibrary loan the book, Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want by James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II.
While the book is definitely geared towards business I think there are lots of ideas that we in the library field can take and use to our advantage with our customers. Gilmore and Pine talk about why we buy what we buy and that currently, people purchase based on how well the items reflect what the person wants to say or project about themselves. Consumers will consider experience and products more real if they have a hand in creating it themselves. What it boils down to is creating an experience that is true to what you say you are.
Steven Bell echoed these sentiments at the FutureTech for Libraries Symposium in June. He explained that we are in an experience economy and that we need to be aware of the expectations that exist regarding services and technology.
So what does this all mean for libraries?  Well, let’s think about a few key questions:

  1. What expectations do users have about your services? Are they positive or negative? Do you meet those expectations, even the negative ones?
  2. Are your customers able to personalize their services? Do you offer pointed email advisories? Can they customize their experience on your library’s website?

Gilmore and Pine say “Be what you say you are by finding your very own original way for customers to experience your offering in the places you establish” (p.152). It isn’t an easy proposition. It may take lots of work to make the vision and missions of our institutions to match and exceed positive expectations that people have about libraries of all types.
Important to remember is that “What you’ve done is what you are, and what you do is who you become” (p.218).
Sounds like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” Maybe that is exactly what we need to do.

July 6, 2008 at 6:32 pm 1 comment

Lessons in customer service

Last week I had 2 really BAD customer service experiences. So awful that it made my staff and I send notes to 2 different organizations that have never been anything but pleasant and helpful. But I think that what I experienced is a good reminder for those of us that do customer service (and we all do!) on a regular or daily basis.

On Saturday, my Library held a Blood Drive through the American Red Cross. They were bringing the bus and asked us to have 45 donors sign up. At first we were having trouble getting donors. As an incentive, we decided to give away t-shirts to those that signed up and then arrived to donate on the day of the blood drive. We went through a local store to order the t-shirts, with the understanding that we could pick them up the day before the drive. Friday came and in the afternoon we got a phone call telling us that he was having trouble with one of the graphics. (UM . . . wait . . . aren’t the shirts supposed to be done already??) We scramble to make sure that we have something that he can do quickly (and the shirts did look good in the end) but when we arrived at the store, he was downright rude. As if this were all our problem, not his. We were shocked. I have never been treated so poorly in a store! He was even rude about the graphics and whether they were done by a professional graphic designer! I couldn’t believe it. I always try to do business in town, where possible. However, this really left a bad impression.

Conversely, one of my staff, after experiencing this, sent an email to Charlie at our local UPS Store, with whom the Library does lots of business! She just wanted to thank him for always going out of his way to accommodate us, even when we wait to the last minute.

My other negative experience was personal. I decided this year that I would take my tax refund and pay off my one remaining student loan from my undergrad degree that hasn’t been bought by Sallie Mae. I called a month ago, received the payoff amount and made the payment online through my bank. Last week I received a notice saying that I was delinquent! How was that possible?? I call and was told that maybe my bank made a mistake (in when the check was cashed), that the payment was late, and that I still owed them money! After being on hold for a considerable amount of time, he informs me that he will have to look into this and get back to me!

This experience prompted me to email my contact at the Credit Union that held my very first student loan to thank her again for always being courteous and friendly and helpful.

How often in the daily grind are we unaware of how our actions or tone of voice affect those we serve? Maybe we have had a bad day or are frustrated because we are really trying to help the customer or patron but are struggling to really be of assistance. I think the old saying that about a satisfied customer telling one person and a dissatisfied customer telling ten is probably true! Maybe we should all take the time to thank those that really do provide outstanding customer service! And remind ourselves how great it is to get that service when we are feeling like the customer service we are providing could use some improvement!

May 7, 2008 at 3:13 pm 6 comments

At least its not the roof . . .

I came home from Minneapolis with the thought that I was going to “reorg” my life. I have way too much going on and not enough time or energy to do it all. So I decided that I needed to start thinking about the things that were really important to me and what I really wanted to focus on.

In my effort to do this, I am posting my progress here to keep me honest. I’ve been back from Minneapolis for a little over 2 weeks and I haven’t gotten far. But I have started making lists of all the things I am currently involved in and what those obligations represent in time/ effort/ energy. The next step is to decide which of those I want to continue, which I can gracefully bow out of or fulfill my current obligation and those that I want to stop immediately if not sooner! And this isn’t just about work. It is about valuing my time. And learning to say no, which I traditionally have a hard time doing, especially if its something that I could be interested in or think I SHOULD be interested in.

What I realize is that this is about me being the most productive and useful in a handful of activities, committees, etc and not over-extending myself. As I start training for 3 sprint triathlons this summer, I don’t need obligations weighing me down!

Help keep me on track! If you have suggestions or want to follow the progress, I think I might try to revive my personal blog to keep track of the reorg as it goes.

(I actually started this post last night when I couldn’t sleep and I was trying to type it on my iphone. At 3:30 in the morning, when it was not working I thought that I couldn’t be more frustrated!! I realized, though, that at least what was keeping me up was this plan I had for reorganizing my life and not the roof at the library!)

April 16, 2008 at 2:49 pm 5 comments

You can never guess what will offend someone

While in Minneapolis for PLA I had an opportunity to visit the Minneapolis Public Library and I picked up one of their t-shirts. The back of the one that I bought reads: “If a public library is doing its job, it has something in it that offends every single person.”
What are the first things you think about when you think about “offending” someone in the library? Popular controversies are things like Harry Potter, comics and graphic novels in libraries, unfiltered internet access, etc. The usual intellectual freedom issues.
Each year we have a Dr. Seuss story time at the beginning of March, in conjunction with Read Across America and Dr. Seuss’s birthday. This year we had 2 elephant shaped pinatas, to go with our “Horton Hears A Who” theme. The kids had a great, if sometimes difficult, time getting into the darn things!
However, I recently heard from a board member that a parent who attended with their child mentioned that they were disturbed by the pinatas. Because we were
“teaching children that its ok to hit animals with sticks.”
Who knew that of all things in my library what would offend someone would be pinata?!?! Of course, I have the usual fears that I really did misstep with this one. I’m not a parent and I don’t think I would be offended by something like this. I talked to number of other parents who attended and they told me they were not offended, nor would have even thought about being offended. But I recognize that not everyone has the same outlook!
Its a great reminder that it isn’t always the most obvious thing that will offend your library users or the public you serve . . . it really can what you thought was the most innocuous thing. It could be a pinata!

April 6, 2008 at 11:46 am 6 comments

Return of the ‘Prodigal’ Blogger

I just wanted to write and thank my Library Garden fellow bloggers for taking me back! I always enjoyed and wanted to continue being a part of this great community but for a variety of reasons, it wasn’t the right time for me.
But I hope that this time will be different! And special thanks to Amy Kearns for twisting my arm to return!!
I’ll be posting again soon with some notes from Minneapolis!

Glad to be back and thanks again!

March 30, 2008 at 9:18 pm 1 comment

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