By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens
The most difficult part of 2.0 librarianship is not the creation of new services nor even the job of convincing those in charge to let you try those new ideas. No, the hardest part is often the reexamination of ideas. It’s a key factor of any library service and part of the definition of Library 2.0 that sometimes gets overlooked.
The evaluation of newer and existing services is critical for any successful library. It can be accomplished via vertical teams or a mix of internal and external evaluators; either way, you must look at the original goals and determine if your services are meeting them.
Adopting a new technology can be fun, whether it’s Web 2.0 applications like Drupal or cutting-edge technologies like RFID. It can be seductive to watch these tools used by other library systems. We’ve seen many “cool tools” presentations at conferences that play up the wonders of Twitter, FriendFeed, or Facebook apps.
However cool these new tools might appear, it may not be easy to inject them into your library-nor do they all belong there. Check out the Libraries Using Evidence blog, created by a group of Australian librarians, for insight into how evidence-based practice meets 2.0 initiatives.
Administrators must take a big picture approach to evaluating new services and tools, factoring in budget issues, staff hours, and community impact. The new tool or service must fit into the library’s philosophy. If it’s a new tool for library communications, then administrators can give it a kick-start by using the tool themselves.
It takes front-end work to evaluate services properly. Well-defined expectations and goals and a written statement regarding some measurable return make the evaluation process more effective and worthwhile.
Also, get staff and customers/patrons on board for the review process. Let everyone know that, eventually, you’ll evaluate every service you roll out. This lends more transparency to your planning process.
Successes and setbacks
We’ve seen and heard about a lot of new technology projects, and while we’re not doing many of these in our own organizations, we can see where there have been some striking successes and, in some instances, some questionable decisions.
Many libraries have taken the plunge into RFID, with widely varying results. While RFID can be very popular, RFID migrations are expensive and can sometimes require new furniture or even retrofits of entire buildings. Stories of RFID snags suggest that library staff (and some customers) are not yet convinced that tagging is better than old-style barcodes. Whether it’s RFID or some other project, the long-term returns must be demonstrably clear.
Ways to gauge progress
• Track hits and uses of statistical software for blogs, wikis, and other web applications. If not, you might be creating web resources that see little use. Measuring these social networking tools is often not easy. Open source does not equal “free”-it can take many hours in staff time. Whatever you’re using should deliver the returns you need. If it’s not, maybe it’s not the right tool. Use 2.0 tools for the right reasons, not just because they’re cool.
• Check comments to gauge the readership of a library blog or news site. Don’t get too hung up, however, on tracking comments, since managing them can cost time. Also, just because the library blog is not a hotbed of commenting activity does not mean you aren’t getting value from an easy-to-use publishing platform. The same can be said for using RSS feeds to update content and build portals.
• Mine user behavior. Instead of posting signs prohibiting students from moving furniture, one university library let students rearrange furniture into their favorite configurations for collaboration and interaction. Administrators then used that “blueprint” to plan for future space needs.
• Engage staff and users by asking them for anecdotal evidence on how a new service is working. A story about how useful the library’s digital creation station Mac or PC was to a student on deadline can be incorporated into reports and updates. Solicit a request for stories online and in person.
Remember, whatever you choose to use must conform to your library’s mission and vision. Simply adopting a tool without having it fit these criteria is a waste.
Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.
April 15, 2008 Library Journal