Posts filed under ‘Marketing’
It’s not like we needed another reason to read Nancy Dowd’s wonderful marketing blog, “The M Word“, but we got one anyway.
Kathy Dempsey, editor of MLS: Marketing Library Services, speaker, and library marketing consultant, has joined the M Word team. Now that’s a dynamic duo!
Looking forward to many more wonderful, insightful, practical, and entertaining posts!
‘Predatory Reference’ an Interview with Bill Pardue about ‘Slam the Boards.’ Second Slam Coming Up on October 10, 2007!
Bill Pardue is the Virtual Services Librarian at the Arlington Heights (IL) Memorial Library. He worked previously at the Illinois Institute of Technology and received his MSLIS from the University of Illinois in 1992. Bill is also involved with the AskAway Illinois Advisory Committee and manages the website for the statewide VR service.
Bill initiated “Slam the Boards” by inviting librarians “to be bold and invade online answer sites such as Yahoo! Answers, Amazon’s Askville, and the Wikipedia Reference Desk” and to market libraries by “making it clear that this question was answered by a librarian/library professional/etc.”
Here’s my recent interview with Bill.
Marie: Bill, thanks so much for visiting Library Garden today. To get us started, tell me about “Slam the Boards” and especially how the idea occurred to you.
Bill: It was a very social process. I started playing around with Yahoo! Answers on my own and realized that it might be an opportunity for librarians to interact with users who don’t even realize that libraries have reference services. Paula Moore, our Coordinator for Public Services at Arlington Heights, commented that we ought to encourage lots of librarians to do the same. At the Collaborative Virtual Reference Symposium in Denver this past July, I mentioned it to Caleb Tucker-Raymond of the Multnomah County Library. He immediately said that instead of having some vague effort to get librarians more involved, a single day should be picked and promoted, in order to provide a real focal point. It was exactly the thought I needed to take action. Within a week I’d set up a Slam the Boards wiki and started putting the word out on listservs and anywhere else I could leave a comment. Then the viral part took over. In just over a month we had participants listed from the US, Europe, even New Zealand. It just seemed like the right idea at the right time…I just set up the wiki!
Marie: Caleb has such great ideas, I visited him on June 1st at the Oregon Virtual Reference Summit.
What were you hoping to achieve with “Slam the Boards”?
Bill: Mostly awareness on both sides of the question/answer transaction. Awareness among librarians that there’s a large potential patron base that we’re missing and need to promote to, as well as an arena in which we can showcase our excellence. On the asker/patron side, I’d just like a few answer board users to be pleasantly surprised that librarians don’t only provide people with books and videos, but also provide reference service. What I certainly didn’t hope to achieve was a cessation of people using answer boards. It just won’t happen, and people get some very good answers there. But I want librarians to realize that answer boards aren’t “the enemy.”
Marie: I know that one interest you have is in evaluation of the event, and, as a researcher, I’m especially interested in looking at reference quality issues, but would you deem it to have been a success? Why?
Bill: At this point, I’m gaging success in terms of engagement. Of course, it’s great to have a reply chosen as “best answer” now and then, too! The main point, though, is that we were out there, we saw what kinds of questions people ask and we hopefully provided useful, sourced answers. Some folks have started archiving answer board responses in a special QuestionPoint account that will allow for analysis by anyone who’d care to look at them. Currently it’s at about 75 questions (too many of them mine!), but I’m hoping that number increases. Quality’s an interesting issue. In a voting environment like Yahoo! Answers, I ended up feeling extra pressure to give a really good, sourced answer. It even stung a little when someone else’s off-the-cuff reply (which may have said the exact same thing) was voted best. I’d be interested to see how a more thorough study of quality on answer boards is conducted and what kind of results come out of it. You’ve got your work cut out for you!
Marie: So, did Slam the Boards achieve what you had imagined?
Bill: I think it did, partly because it had such a simple goal…get librarians involved, get them to think beyond their library confines and get engaged in some “predatory reference.” We’re still just a drop in the bucket in terms of the total traffic on a site like Yahoo! Answers, so I have no illusions about having a measurable impact on library reference numbers or VR service statistics.
Marie: I’ve heard you talk about “predatory reference” before, and like this radical concept! Would you mind defining it for us at Library Garden?
Bill: I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a somewhat over-dramatic coinage for a fairly straightforward concept. Librarians need to start actively finding reference questions, rather than just waiting for them to come in. Don’t limit your presence to just the reference desk or the library’s IM or VR service. Instead, find out where the where the questions are and start providing answers unsolicited. Being a “virtual services librarian” I tend to think first of online options: looking for points of fact in local discussion forums, blogs, etc. Out of such activity at Arlington Heights, we’ve even worked out partnerships with two local discussion board that take questions from the community. One is the “What’s the Fact” column of the Daily Herald’s Beep Central site. The other is the “Ask an Arlington Heights Librarian” forum.
There are less virtual ways, to do this, too. One local library (and I apologize that I can’t remember which) has been having reference librarians participate as judges for a local bar’s weekly trivia night. The Arlington Heights Memorial Library regularly sends our librarians out to community events (festivals, senior center events, etc.) with a wireless connection that allows us to provide many of the same services that we would at the reference desk. The point is to start being a little…dare I say…pushy about showing off our skills, so that potential users will realize that libraries equal more than just books! I’m sure we could think of other ways to get involved. Show up at village council meetings and if a tough topic comes up, volunteer the library’s reference service to help find some background. When you’re with a group of people, listen for points at which you can mention/promote reference services. If you overhear a local business person talking about doing mailing lists, let them know that the library has tools like ReferenceUSA that can be of use (and that someone on your staff is willing to demonstrate it to them). The opportunities are out there, we just have to be looking for them.
Marie: Do you have any idea about the number of librarians who participated and/or number of questions answered, even if it is a rough guess?
Bill: Ultimately, it’s a tough call. My intuition is in the hundreds of librarians, with maybe a thousand questions…but I have absolutely no way of knowing. Some of the more enthusiastic participants put their names on the wiki.
I counted 98 names there on 10/5/07. If you figure that 2-3 times that many actually participated, and the average “load” was 5 questions (I picked up 25 myself, and I know several others had matched that number), I’d say that 1000 questions isn’t unrealistic.
Marie: This question is from Beth Cackowski of QandANJ “Were the majority of questions answered by librarians, research questions? In other words, were they questions that library customers might expect a librarian to answer, or were they questions that the general public might be surprised to see answered by a librarian, for example: automotive, sports, pop culture, medical, legal?”
Bill: The unfortunate part is that most users don’t have any expectation of what kind of questions a librarian might answer (beyond “do you have a book on…”). To keep things mixed up for myself, I bounced around from category to category, picking up homework help questions, business, arts & humanities, cooking & recipes, geography, etc. I expect others did the same. If you check the list of participants above, you can see that many have added links to their Yahoo! Answer lists, so you can check out how they moved through the categories.
Marie: I definitely agree that many people don’t have a clue as to what types of questions a librarian could answer. Our abilities are usually underestimated.
Here’s a question from Julie Strange of Maryland AskUsNow! “Do you have a sense of how librarians went to find questions? Did they sort through the subjects and go for ones they specialized in? Or did they take new questions as they came in?”
Bill: Cherry-picking is essential on the boards because so many questions aren’t really informational. “What’s your favorite shampoo?” “I really like this girl, but I’m afraid to ask her out. What should I do?” etc. So, after a little digging around, you see that certain categories in any board have a higher ratio of informational vs. social questions and you start to “hang out” there. It’s kind of like “working the room” until you find someone you want to talk to at a party! As far as specializing in a subject, I think that’s very much up to the individual librarian. I consciously tried to be a generalist, but I also picked up a couple of questions in the Science/Astronomy category because that’s my hobby.
Marie: That’s really interesting, I like your “working the room” comparison. Have you gotten any feedback from librarians about their experiences?
Bill: Most of the feedback has been very positive. A lot of librarians were a little taken by the social nature of a lot of the questions, but ultimately were able to find at least a few to answer. Finding out if you received a “best answer” can take several days, so there were numerous messages from librarians when they got word of their “wins.” I got some negative feedback beforehand from some folks who couldn’t see the point of it, but nothing from anyone who actually participated. Of course, there could be all kinds of biases that account for this!
Marie: Did the librarians get much feedback from the users of these services?
Bill: The user feedback is pretty much determined by the mechanisms in place by the answer board. After one question was chosen “best answer,” there was a “nice answer” comment from the user. I’ve received a few like that now. If you give a particularly good answer, you can get “star” ratings, up to five stars. Of course, there’s the voting, too. It can be done by the asker or other readers. It’s nice to see your count of “thumbs up,” but you get a “thumbs down” every now and then. You’ve got to have a thick skin! An interesting anecdote is that I actually had a fairly extensive post-question correspondence with a user who had a tough corporate question. I actually ended up making several phone calls, just as I would have done for my own library’s patron.
Marie: Sounds like you could have parlayed that corporate interplay into some consulting business if you wanted to be more entrepreneurial
Finally, I see that you are encouraging librarians to repeat “Slam the Boards” for October 10th, tell me about your vision to keep it going.
Bill: I’m really hoping this takes on a life of its own. The success of something like this is that it ultimately shouldn’t need a specific set of individuals to keep it going. I’d like to know that there’s a spike in answer board activity each month on the 10th, as well as a baseline through the rest of the month. I’d like to see discussion of this initiative on the existing listservs (it’s a bit too insular to just have its own listserv, I think) and informal discussion groups at conferences. I’d love to hear about a dine-around at Internet Librarian this year! Unfortunately, I can’t make it myself, but that’s all the more reason for others to do this. The best thing is that this is a way to promote library reference service that costs very little money and has the potential over the long run to enhance our image with a user base that almost never thinks about us.
Marie: Nicely put Bill. Thanks so much for your candid answers! Good luck with this month’s “Slam the Boards” on October 10th. I’ll be away at the Library Research Seminar IV in London, Ontario, from Oct. 9-11th, but will see if I can find a wifi hotspot and join in some predatory reference!
Quote of the Day:
The library is like one big smorgasbord. It’s easy to pick up something and try it out.
It is a short article that does an admirable job of pointing out the value of a library to a community — and it even includes a link the Maine State Library’s really great library calculator – a really useful tool that demonstrates how much money can be saved by using a public library.
I also love this marketing idea that the Kenton Public Library will rolling out shortly:
In September, the Library offers cardholders even more value. Libraries in Kenton, Boone, Campbell and Grant Counties have joined with local businesses to offer a discount to anyone who presents a library card. This partnership was formed to encourage residents to use of obtain a library card. More than 50 local businesses including Snappy Tomato Pizza, Golden Corral, Sherwin Williams, Mad Cup Café, and Pawsitively Perfect Grooming understand the value the library provides to the community and local businesses.
Please don’t be offended or turned-off by the title.
I know there have been a few occasions where “pimp” this or that has been a problem, but just try to get past that for a moment and consider this ….
The other day I attended a wonderful workshop and one of the suggestions in that workshop was that as librarians we need to stop being so quiet and shy about ourselves and start boasting about ourselves, our libraries, our profession, etc.!
Well, I have heard this before and embrace it wholeheartedly!
However, the group attending this particular workshop seemed especially uncomfortable with this suggestion.
The specific suggestion made that really got them squirming was to “use your credentials on everything.”
I personally LOVE this and started doing it as soon as I had heard it.
I put my MLIS on everything I can – in my e-mail signatures, when I sign things, on my business cards, etc…. Some may think it is even excessive, but I don’t care! I paid for the MILS, I earned the MILS, I have an MLIS and it does mean something!
(I was in the first class of students who graduated from SCILS at Rutgers with the additional vowel “I” – it stands for Master of Library and INFORMATION Science – boy, do I LOVE having that extra “I”!)
Several attendees really seemed aghast about this and I was sort of surprised. I can understand that it may go “outside your comfort zone” to boast about yourself or your library, but adding a few letters to the end of your name!?
Other professions do it all the time and no one thinks anything of it! Or, they have a prefix to designate their qualifications and/or professionalism, i.e,. “Dr.”, “Esq.”, etc.
We as librarians need to do this as well!
Sometimes this suggestion is met with, “Well, no one knows what that stands for anyway!”
GREAT! That gives you the chance to TELL THEM what it stands for, what it means, why you have it and what it means YOU CAN DO!
C’mon, as far as “pimping things” goes, this really is one of the easier ones (and free too!)
I challenge everyone who doesn’t use their credentials to make a commitment to doing so as a “first step” toward becoming more comfortable BOASTING about how awesome we are! (Cuz we are!)
I just came across this article in OCLC’s NextSpace No. 5 (from Dec. 2006 – Yikes! Where was I!?) Are You Asking the Ultimate Question? which talks about a book by Fred Reichheld, The Ultimate Question.
This article talks about how the most important question to ask of your customers/patrons is “Would you recommend us to a friend?” In fact, the argument is made that this need be the ONLY question if you survey. Yes, a one-word survey!
I actually heard this recently when I toured a hospital in Paterson – they have this question stated explicitly as a goal – “Would you (in this case the employee) recommend this hospital to your friends or family members?” A pretty good question to keep in mind! I think it is a good thing just to ask ourselves to make sure we are providing a level of service that we would be proud to offer to our own circle.
Which reminds of something I heard recently about the bathrooms in some public libraries – the staff wouldn’t stand for having to use them and have their own bathrooms which are in much better shape, but they expect their patrons to use them all the time!? This is like a “home” and the patrons are a guest in your home – is that the bathroom condition you would present to your guests at home?
Anyway . . .
Fred Reichheld is saying that the answer to this one question could determine the future of your business or library.
With something that is this “old” (the book came out in January 2006) I always worry that someone else has already addressed this, but it is totally new to me and I think very important for libraries.
Nonbusiness organizations also have customers; they need to delight the people
they serve, and they too can benefit greatly from the use of one simple metric.
- Fred Reichheld in NextSpace No. 5.
Wow! DELIGHT the people they serve! What a novel idea! So how does this one question work?
You ask a question such as, “On a scale of 1-10 how likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?”
Promoters score 9 or 10 – are loyally enthusiastic, keep coming and urging others to do so
Passives score 7 or 8 – are satisfied but easily wooed away
Detractors are the rest – UNHAPPY CUSTOMERS, feel ignored/mistreated, plot to get even!
Sometimes a follow-up question is asked to gain more insight. “If you would not recommend us, why not?” (Those answers might be hard to face!)
Ironically, customer loyalty provides companies with a powerful advantage – a
battalion of credible sales and marketing and PR troops who require no salary or
commissions. Yet the importance of these customer promoters is overlooked. -
Fred Reichheld, NextSpace No. 5.
We already know the power of negative experiences in stores or libraries and the studies that show that if a customer has a bad experience they are likely to tell (something like) 12 people! If they have a good experience they don’t tell nearly as many. It takes way more positive experiences to overcome one negative experience. We need to create as many positive experiences, and positive, PROMOTER-users as possible!
I recommend you read the article if you’re not familiar with this – it also contains information on the OCLC report Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources. Steve Hiller also provides a lot of information in this article.
I plan to check this out some more and do some reading on the blogs related to this idea. I think it would be fascinating to do this type of one- or two-word survey and see what we get!
One other question I want to bring up here is “What business are we in?” I used this today when a volunteer came to me with yet another ripped magazine cover, very distressed. I told her that we aren’t in the business of preserving magazines perfectly forever. We are in the business of providing magazines to be read. True, if one person destroys a magazine they are obstructing others from having access to it, but some ripped and torn covers is not really the priority of our business.
So I say, ask yourself, “What business are you in?” and then ask yourself and your customers, “Would you recommend us to a friend or family member?”
Okay sorry I’m having trouble in the comments but the link for the new forum on Net Promoter is:
Sorry I couldn’t edit or delete those messed up comments b/c I didn’t install greasemonkey yet per Peter!
As the Trading Spaces: Reinventing the Library Environment project demonstration site we had the opportunity to get retail fixtures such as book gondolas, CD browsers and slat wall. We’ve also had training on how to keep our library collections both accessible and attractive to customers.
It’s worked! Our circulation leapt by 39% the first year and it’s been rising ever since.
Well, learning how to merchandise is one thing.
Our merchandising goal for all staff is to spend on average 5 minutes each hour keeping the displays looking full (that’s about 30+ minutes a day for our full-time staff).
Keeping it all looking good, all the time, is another matter!
Have you ever been in a store that looks “picked over”? Well, it’s the same in a library if you don’t keep up on merchandising the collection.
Success means more circulation and that means we’re constantly filling in gondolas, flipping books cover out, and adding onto slat wall displays. In practice though, it’s hard to keep everyone focused on why it’s important and incorporate it into our daily routine.
To keep our eyes looking at the library from a customer point-of-view, we’ve just started is a twice weekly Walk-About. It’s a way for staff, individually or in a small groupers, to walk through the library and note:
- what looks good (to celebrate success)
- what area needs immediate attention (today, let’s do it now–together)
- what area needs work next
All of our staff share this task through a weekly rotation among our departments. We’ve also created Walk-About sheets to help staff keep track and make it easier to report back at our morning briefings (a quick heads-up meeting before the library opens).
One of the side benefits (besides improving the look of the library displays) is that it encourages everyone to get out and really see the entire library — even those areas they don’t usually work in.
The result — a better looking library and and better informed staff.