The Cluetrain is leaving the station – who’s on board? – A TTW Guest Post by Kay Jacobson

Kay wrote a paper for LIS768 on the Cluetrain ten years later. She graciously allowed me to post an edit here. Thanks Kay! Michael

Today’s economic situation would seemingly make libraries indispensible.  Yet with budget cuts, many libraries are threatened with cut backs and closings.  The natural reaction, based on fear, would be to go into preservation mode.  Instead, libraries need to be moving into innovation mode, viewing this time as a chance to move ahead and connect with the public that hasn’t been using them.  The disenfranchised public wants to know how the library will be relevant to them and what the library is doing to stay relevant.  Why make changes if what you’re doing is good enough?  This seems to have been an attitude of many businesses and libraries in the past decade.  I say that without constant innovation and renewal we end up in a state where fear drives our decisions.

I recently read The Cluetrain Manifesto (www.cluetrain.com) and it opened my eyes to why our economy is in the shape it’s in.  Written nine years ago, The Cluetrain Manifesto might seem like common sense to those of us who read it now, but if you really look at what they’re saying you realize how few companies have adapted or are only now steering their ship on this course.  This is just as evident in the attitude of libraries and librarians today.  Some have hopped on the Cluetrain and others, well – if they’re not careful, they might find themselves with no trains stopping at their station anymore.

My main focus will be libraries, but I thought it was important to stop for a moment and look at a business that truly understands what the Cluetrain is about.  The Cluetrain Manifesto is about more than using the latest social media tools; it is about a fundamental shift in how an organization thinks and acts.  One company that is on board the Cluetrain is Zappos.com.  

Zappos.com (www.zapposcom)  is an online retailer whose About Us page states:  Internally, we have a saying:
We are a service company that happens to sell ________.  Their top 10 principles are listed under their Core Values on their website. 

#2 is Embrace and Drive Change. 

#4 is to be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-minded. 

#6 Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication. 

Does a company like this emerge by chance?  No, first there has to be a commitment to an idea and someone who inspires this idea in others.  For Zappos.com, that person is CEO Tony Hsieh.  Transparency is a fundamental concept to Hsieh.  He not only admits to mistakes, he posts them on his blog, Twitters about them, and speaks about them at conferences.  One thing he feels strongly about is managing company culture, this means having the employees buy in to the core values.  And buy in they do, just looking at their website can show you how much.  There are several blogs one can access (including the CEO and COO’s).  There is a link to find out what Zappos employees are doing right now which takes you to their Twitter page.  They have videos and the Zappos Library of recommended business reading.  

Another thing they have is customer buy in.  Zappos doesn’t advertise.  They are a word of mouth grown company, and that word was created by their customers.  They are invited to post testimonials on the website – video or written.  The main reason for customer loyalty – the customer service representatives are encouraged to take as long as they need to help the customer.  They engage in real conversation – not scripts.  Wow, what a concept and they even use an old fashioned tool – the phone.  Zappos is employing many tools to generate the conversation, but without the Cultural Revolution in how they think about their business, they would just be tools taking up space in the tool box

The many changes that Web 2.0 brought about include the awareness that change is happening.  That is what the Cluetrain is all about and while it was written for businesses, the lessons learned are easily adapted for libraries.  Library 2.0 then is the manifestation of these ideas.  

John Blyberg writes of L2 as “a vital and very real movement” and “an ever-changing amalgam of ideas, dreams, and visions.”  Does he say that L2 is social media?  No, those are some of the tools that can be used, but they are not the only thing that drives L2.   L2 as described by Blyberg is a change in the way libraries do their business.  This includes internal changes, a change in interacting with patrons, with vendors, with other libraries.  And how will these changes occur?  By creating a vision of what your library can be and starting conversations with the people you need to buy into that vision.  Once that vision is shared then action needs to happen and as Blyberg says, “L2 is partially an articulation of the action that is already happening.”

In my own experience serving on short and long range planning committees, I would have to side with Blyberg.  Unless an organization continually renews itself through transformation and/or revolution, it will follow the bell curve into obscurity.  The farther down the curve an organization gets the harder and longer the journey to revitalization.  If libraries are going to be relevant, then they need a vision that continuously embraces and drives change.  They need to be adventurous, creative and open-minded.  Now where have I heard that before?  That’s right; they are some of Zappos.com’s core values.

The libraries of today that are active in vision and conversation are on a journey of transformation. Others are not. Now these libraries might have a mission, but if they have no vision giving them a direction in which to travel, then they will be left at the station when the Cluetrain pulls out.  

Is it fear of change that paralyzes some libraries?  Are they so hide bound in traditions that they don’t realize we’re not asking them to change their mission?  Instead we’re asking them to envision how they foresee carrying that mission out in today’s environment.  Then how do they envision carrying it out in tomorrows?  L2 might be the name of what’s happening today, and tomorrow’s vision could be called something else, but the main point of L2 is to keep moving towards a new future.  

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4 thoughts on “The Cluetrain is leaving the station – who’s on board? – A TTW Guest Post by Kay Jacobson”

  1. FWIW, it’s not true that Zappos doesn’t advertise. I’ve seen their print ads in Cooking Light magazine.

  2. Actually, most libraries have been on the change train for years. Many of us already practice a brand of “Community Librarianship”, similar in concept, if not execution, to community policing. Libraries are not islands. They are part of larger, often slower moving governmental entities. Our biggest problems are the perceptions that we propagate ourselves. We have met the enemy and it are we. No other profession flogs itself so unmercifully. Do we satisfy every need? No. Should we try? No.
    Stand up, check your junk. Celebrate what you do well. Make meaningful, impactful improvements where you can and let the chips fall where they may. Librarians make a difference everyday. And if you don’t see, that you need to spend more time out on a desk. The myth of the extinct Library is only alive and well in the fevered realm of academia and the professionally frustrated. F.W. Lancaster lives!! Keep those articles coming.
    Mike

  3. I’ve pondered Mike’s comment for a while and have to say being on the change train isn’t quite the same as being on the Cluetrain. My public library is constantly changing, but they are definitely having a harder time with the conversation and application of Cluetrain ideas. They’ve just joined Facebook and Twitter and my hope is that they do join in the conversation. My fear is that they are going to use 2.0 tools with 1.0 ideas. Only time will tell.

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