Round-up for June 2013

So what’s the outcome for June 2013?

I’ve found the second month more challenging, as I’ve found myself having to take a different slant on some topics that I had already blogged about in May 2013. Not wanting to repeat myself, I’ve found that I have thought further ahead on the upcoming letters, explored different ideas, discarded some & developed others, and I have also searched further afield for potential adjectives to use each time. 

I’ve found myself coming back to the key theme of having conversations with customers again & again, as a crucial & critical part of what we do as librarians, to create customer-centric libraries, collections & services. And yet, I find it harder & harder to find examples of people actually talking about the conversations that they are having with their communities.

Is it that we just do it as a matter of course, and we don’t talk about it?

Is it that we don’t do it, therefore, we don’t actually have anything to share?

I was cheered to see Senga White’s recent post about the conversations she’s been having with her customers, and how it is challenging her to find new ways of working. I want to find more examples of these types of conversations, from librarians who are making changes to their professional practice as a result on discussions with customers.

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Be whimsical : celebrate the unusual things

WHaving a deep, quirky & content-rich collection is only useful if you give your customers access to it. We often talk about Reader’s Advisory, and what does it mean to us as librarians, and what *could* it mean for our customers. There’s lots of lazy & obvious ways to do Reader’s Advisory, but why not commit time & effort to meaningful Reader’s Advisory.

What if … next year, instead of only celebrating & creating displays for your usual annual events, you set aside the time & space to truly showcase the depth & breadth of your collection?

Brainstorm about the weird, wonderful & whimsical items that reside in your collection. Set staff a challenge to bring their favourite “strange” book/DVD/magazine to the next staff meeting and then talk about what topics could springboard from using that book as the centre-piece of a monthly display.

Uncover ways to connect the unusual things. Pick a random topic/word, write it up in the centre of a large piece of paper, and ask others (colleagues & customers) to write up other words that they associate with that word. Then find ways to connect the dots using your collection.

Draw up a list of dates that celebrate the strange. There’s always something being celebrated somewhere, so give staff a list of dates and ask them to find out what weird & wonderful things are associated with those dates. Can you build a display around it?

What if … you picked a colour as your theme for a month?

You *could* do the obvious display based on the prominent colour on the cover of the item. Or you could develop reading opportunities based on a single word response to the particular colour. What does Green mean? What does Orange mean? What does Red mean? Do these colours evoke emotional responses? Where does that journey take you?

What if … every morning you chose a quote (display it on your entrance way, on your website, on your social media stream) to set the tone for the day? Be whimsical, be unusual, be different. Give people something unexpected in their day.

What if … a weird & wonderful fact every morning with your customers & staff? Such as, in 1963, the most watched TV program in New Zealand was [insert name of said TV show here]. You could then direct customers to specific digital resource on your website, for example, NZ On Screen.

What if … you chose four famous speeches (and perhaps make those speeches related in some way, for example, political speeches by Churchill, Ghandi, Kennedy, Thatcher) and spent a month showcasing content related to those speeches?

What if … you found a way to digitally access the original articles that led up to the “discovery” of something scientifically significant? DNA. E=MC². Penicillin. Use those as your launchpad to uncover the links with future scientific discoveries.

Be valuable : determine what you are measured on

VSometimes we don’t always get a say in how our value as libraries is judged. It’s easy to measure the “countable” things – how many people came through the door, how many new books did we buy, how old is our collection, how many events did we hold in the month of May, how many times were our databases accessed?

Often it might feel like we are capturing data to meet a pre-determined criteria that might not accurately portray the value we add to our customers. It’s a tricky one, measuring the intangible value.

What if … you found a way to still be measured by the tangible things, but also told the story of the intangible value you add to your customers? It brings the faceless numbers into sharp perspective to hear the individual stories of how the library “facilitated the creation of knowledge in the community” (picking up on the mission statement for libraries from The Atlas of New Librarianship by RD Lankes).

Here’s some visual ways to showcase “storytelling” of value alongside the “countable” of value:

What if … your funding body, or CEO, or School Principal arrived in your office tomorrow and said “How would you like your performance measured next year?” Would you have an answer at the ready or would you just go with the existing status quo?

What if … you brainstormed the metrics against which you wanted to be measured? Don’t stop to think if it is possible to capture that data just yet. Let your imagination run free, and see what types of “data” you’d prefer to be measured on. Now, begin to explore what might actually be possible, and find out if it is actually possible to incorporate it into your metrics collection as well as all the tangible things.

What if … you re-read your organisation’s annual report and thought up new ways to show how your library & your collection adds value to the mission statement. How can you re-align your metrics to demonstrate to your funding body and your statekholders your true value measured against their statements?

Imagine choosing how and why you are measured. Imagine proactively changing the way in which your value is judged.

Be ugly : find the beautiful

UBeauty is in the eye of the beholder. But if you don’t know what ugly looks like, can you actually appreciate beauty?

When thinking about your collections, what does an ugly collection look like for you?

Is your ugly the same as your colleagues? Is your ugly the same as your customers?

What if … we focused on the negative, the ugliness, the not-so-loveliness to determine what we don’t want for our collections?

Then flip your thinking to re-imagine what beautiful looks like. By talking about what ugly is, it spells out that you don’t want that for your community. It also allows you to discuss what is “good enough”. Are there any parts of ugly that you can accept for the time being until your find a way to change something (e.g. change a policy, re-negotiate a contract)?

What if … you asked your colleagues “when do you re-cover or substantially mend a book?”.

Is it when the cover is actually falling apart or substantially ripped, or is it simply when the cover is faded? Do only items over a certain $$ amount get re-covered? If your team is not all following the same guidelines for beauty, then some colleagues might be time-wasting titivating a “good enough” collection, and others not actually caring enough to look after the collection.

What if … we asked our customers what an ugly collection means to them?

Do they think a collection should only be physically beautiful and seamlessly easy-to-use, or would they accept collection even if it was a little ugly and a little clunky to use as long as it is deep & rich in content?

I’m not saying only new & physically things constitute beautiful, but in creating clear answers to “what is a beautiful collection?” so that your current & future customers know what to expect from your library. By giving them beautiful collections, then it also demonstrates what condition we expect the collection to be returned in. If you let ugly books out the door, then don’t complain when those ugly books come back again even uglier. A colleague once said “If I wouldn’t take that item home to read in bed, because it was [ugly/dirty/grubby/falling apart], then why would I expect my customers to do the same?”

Seek out the ugly, so that you can find the beautiful.

Be thirsty : look forward to the rewards

TSometimes the journey seems long, and the destination seems far away.

If, in a fit of slight hysteria, I announced “next year I will run a marathon!”, then once we’d all stopped laughing and realised that I was serious about making it happen, do you know what would get me though to the finish line? Yes, it would involve a plan, a damn good plan, full of small achievable goals with rewarded targets throughout.

However, the thing that would truly motivate me most would be the reward at the end. If I did actually run that ridiculously long marathon, I think I would deserve a damn cold beer. That is what would get me across the line. I’d be thirsty for my reward.

Sometimes when we decide that we need to do something with our collections, for example, weed the fiction or rearrange the children’s collection, it’s the sheer size of the task at hand that overwhelms us. Where to start? What do we need to do first, second, third, forth? Who should I consult with? What reports do I need to run? What Health & Safety factors do I need to consider?

What if … we focused first on what we want the end result to be?

Instead of planning forwards, identify the outcome & the reward, and then work backwards.

What if … we focused on the destination instead of the journey?

Would it make a difference about how you approach the task at hand? Does it really matter how you get there, instead of actually making it across the finish line? Can you cope with disarray of collections for a while, or does it have to be methodically planned every step of the way? For some projects the journey is critical, for other projects, it is all about the destination.

What if … you focused on the tangible rewards at the end of what you have to do (like a cold drink after a hot day working in the garden, or a pot of coffee after marking 25 student exams) instead of the the immediate task at hand?

Does it change your attitude to what you have to do right now?

Sometimes we do things, such as weeding the garden or changing a specific collection, and nobody notices. We’ve spent all this time working hard, and nobody notices. We’re not actually doing it for their praise. By all means, it has improved the situation, but nobody notices. The customer may love the new layout, but they won’t actually tell you, although you might notice an increase in borrowing or browsing the area. Sometimes, you need a reward to motivate you to actually do it.

Pick a reward for your task. Identify what makes you thirsty. Focus on the satisfaction of quenching that thirst. Your thirst might just be what you need to get your across the finish line.