All posts by TTW_Editor

Ask for What You Want

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

When was the last time someone said lawyers or doctors needed to update their images into the 21st century? How many skits on Prairie Home Companion or Saturday Night Live have you seen where doctors appear as outdated, dowdy spinsters in need of love or romance? None. Yet Garrison Keillor’s “Adventures of Ruth Harrison, Reference Librarian” parades antiquated and stereotyped images of librarians as humor. Unfortunately, librarians are often portrayed as technologically backward, fearful of teens and loud noises, and overly protective of books to the point of not wanting anyone to “touch our stuff.”

This misperception may be caused by librarians’ desire to create rules and procedures to combat what are really behavioral issues instead of taking direct action. Just this week, a former library director told us about a situation she witnessed where staff wanted to remove from in front of the library a couch used by many patrons–moms reading to kids, older users waiting for rides–because one person who came in every day slept on it.

Enforcing the rules
Instead of removing the couch, the staff could have asked the sleeping patron to respect the library’s policies and get up. When asked why they hadn’t done so, the librarian replied that many years ago, she’d been verbally harangued by a patron after trying to enforce a similar policy. Instead of confronting the problem, or others like it, staff failed to enforce already existing rules. They acted in a passive-aggressive manner.

In the past year, we’ve heard about libraries that are considering closing because of rowdy teens, and we’ve seen libraries respond to behavioral issues by blocking social network Internet sites. Taking away chairs or couches, blocking legal web sites, and creating more and more rules create an environment where confrontation becomes more likely, not less.

Act without fear
In a seemingly unrelated problem, getting new initiatives off the ground sometimes seems to need an act of God, simply because new services mean change. For some librarians, change represents the potential to fail. For others, it’s a fear of success, that a new service might be too popular and draw too many people.

What underlying theme flows through these things? Timidity. Whether it’s the staff member who wants to remove the couch to spite the sleeping man or the librarian who wants to shut out the teens because they’re having too much fun at the computers, the librarians are often too timid for their own good.

Missed opportunities
When Amazon rolled out customer-written book reviews, and Google became our customers’ search engine of choice, where were the library directors who should have been standing up and demanding similar features from our ILS vendors?

When audiobook vendors gave us downloadable material that was incompatible with iPods, why did we roll over and buy it (at exorbitant prices) instead of declining the service and explaining to our taxpaying customers that we could not ethically spend that much money on a technology that only a very small fraction of our customer base even owned.

Working together
Yet this happens all the time. Our collective power is far greater than our individual power, yet we seem to be incapable of getting together and harnessing this strength to demand better products and services from our suppliers. How many times have librarians said XYZ company would never put up with this from its vendors?

And how many times have we looked at other companies’ services and equipment that seem so much more polished and refined than ours. We work individually and without centralization, so our vendors see thousands of weak buyers, unable to stand up and demand better quality. To be fair, library consortia address this need, often with great success.

Recent shifts toward open source collaboration [see “Evergreen: Your Homegrown ILS,” LJ 12/06, p. 38-41] and the vendor cooperation John Blyberg noted in “Always Pushing Information” [netConnect, Summer 2007, p. 2-4] spell out the promise of what could be achieved if we all work together.

Avoiding confrontation
How can we eradicate the theme of timidity that runs throughout our profession? How do we work to become stronger, prouder, and more willing to do our job of walking up to those loud or obnoxious persons and politely yet firmly telling them that they must either change their behavior or leave the library?

Our focus should be more on reinforcing existing policies instead of banning technologies. Focus on trust and open conversation instead of new rules. Focus on understanding those folks who might be breaking your rules by listening to their needs. Then act. You and your users will benefit.

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

August 1, 2007 Library Journal

The Open Door Director

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

The job of library director is difficult and often underappreciated. These days, library directors are more like university presidents, needing to build support in the community, raise money, and make a name for themselves and their library. Obviously, this varies by the size of the community, but all library directors need to garner sufficient political and community capital to get budgets approved and expansions funded and to keep door counts high.

It’s no longer enough for the library director simply to keep the place running. Today’s director is politician and lobbyist, fundraiser and spokesperson, juggling all of these titles while administering a library.

Why is this relevant to a column about transparent libraries? Because it is one of those dark truths that most people in the field know but few dare speak about. Libraries do not operate in a vacuum. They are not preordained to receive funding or even to exist [see Jackson County, OR, story, News, LJ 6/1/07, p. 14ff.]. Like every other organization, libraries must account for the money they request and consume. Transparency-putting our cards on the table-allows us to learn and grow, and it lets our community see us for all we are, including our vulnerabilities.

Remaining relevant
One foundational Library 2.0 concept is that the library must make itself sufficiently relevant to the local population so that funding and political support remain and grow stronger. This means libraries must act in concert with other nonprofits that use marketing campaigns, lobbying, and grassroots networks to develop long-term, deeply rooted sustenance across different demographics and political strata.

Transparency plays a role in helping library directors achieve these goals by opening the process to everyone. How many times have libraries held closed-door meetings about budget problems, or tried to hide fiscal shortfalls by moving money around so no one would notice? We often think that keeping such things from the public will save us from being “in the news,” but what it really does is keep the public from knowing just how dire our situation might be. We confuse the short-term advantage of avoiding media coverage with long-term success of stable funding and greater outreach to patrons.

Making actors
Opening the process takes the public out of the role of spectator and transforms them into participants. If the library director has done her job, the community becomes even more than a participant, it becomes a stakeholder. And, as any lobbyist will tell you, stakeholders are far more willing to fight for what they have a stake in than almost any other group. And stakeholders vote.

Today’s library director can facilitate transparency by building openness within the organization and using the power of communication to reach out to the community. Open organizations, where staff and public feel free (and safe) to contribute new ideas and suggestions and to play a role in their implementation and evaluation, will win more long-term proponents than closed organizations that hide failures and weaknesses.

Reaching out
Open communications, one of the three key elements of the transparent library (LJ 4/1/07, p. 30), includes going out to the community, both physically and virtually, talking to people about their needs, about what the library offers and wants to offer, and about what it requires to move forward.

The 21st-century library director visits local community groups, business organizations, civic associations, and churches. He uses surveys-both paper and online-as well as some of the newer tools such as blogs and social networks.

Building broad community support today means reaching a population that is online and interacting. Different demographics call for different tools. This may require the use of several online social networks, with a message targeted to each group.

Online transparency
Your MySpace presence might talk about your plans for teen activities and your need for their parents’ vote in an upcoming referendum. Your Flickr page could boast of your latest children’s services activities, and your blog on the local senior center’s web site might talk about your upcoming computer classes and tax preparation workshop.

The goal, however, is to use all of these new tools just as you use the tools that you’ve been working with in person. Reaching out, being open and honest, and inviting feedback and input will help you succeed in a most difficult task.

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

July 1, 2007 Library Journal

Living Out Loud

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

You’re “out there” whether you want to be or not. In the March 2007 Wired cover article, “The Naked CEO,” Clive Thompson illustrates that corporate blunders, missteps, and outright lies are exposed every day. One of our favorite examples is Diebold insisting that its voting machines are safe and secure while YouTube hosts a video of how to crack its security.

It’s similar to a child standing in front of you and saying he has not eaten a candy bar when you can see chocolate all over his face. We can understand lies from a four-year-old, but from an adult or, worse, from a large corporation, we cannot. And the public cannot, either.

It’s the cover-up
Transparency and arrogance are like oil and water–the two simply don’t mix. This is a very good reason for encouraging transparency in any organization. It’s very difficult for a transparent library to lie and shy away from the truth–the structurally transparent organization protects people from themselves. But the idea that transparency builds morale and creates buy-in is less known and worth exploring.

How do libraries embrace this idea of transparency? Part of the Library 2.0 mission is to involve the community in creating and evaluating library services. It’s simply not possible to include a community in this sort of service evaluation without providing honest numbers and evaluations. Transparency in service review is critical to its success.

What should stay private?
We think many personnel issues and financial dealings need some level of privacy or discretion. However, sharing big-picture thinking with staff is beneficial because it moves the library forward, and it is always best to be honest. If you talk to staff openly as employees or contributors who can innovate, meet user needs now, and eventually move into positions of leadership, then you’ve done succession planning correctly.

Are you promoting people because of their contributions and potential to lead or is someone being put into a management job “because she’s been here the longest”? We would certainly want potential management candidates to be clued into the library landscape, having already participated in the creation of services or enhancements to existing services.

Buy-in creates success
It’s easy for staffers to give lip service to an idea they don’t believe in and then step back and watch it fail because they had no input or information or, in some cases, not even an inkling that a new service or technology was coming.

Corporate blogs and wikis–and any other tools that create transparency in the organization–foster the concept of vertical teams, where front-line staff have the ability to communicate and cooperate with top-level administrators. This internal openness is as important as external transparency. Building morale within the organization–and sharing the big-picture ideas with everyone who will listen–creates a stronger and more motivated work force, one willing to participate and share new ideas. Such internal openness will translate into external transparency, which is vital to the library’s future.

This column, like Clive Thompson’s article, began on our blogs. Jeff of commented, “I think the transparent manager has to be able to open the decision-making to his or her staff and be able to handle criticism openly. Managers must remember that if they don’t open up decision-making, often the decision may not be followed.”

Lies unwelcome
Thompson correctly points out that secrecy is sometimes required in any organization–he uses the excellent example of Steve Jobs and the iPhone. But Thompson says that “it’s not secrets that are dying”; it’s lies that are no longer tolerated in the transparent organization. Openness is a one-way street; there’s no going back. Your public, your customers, expect it and will hold you to it.


Diebold Machine Flips Votes

Gather No Dust

Library Crunch

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

June 1, 2007 Library Journal

Turning “No” into “Yes”

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

Often times, it’s born at the desk.
Staff members think of a new idea, and they want to share it with the decision-makers. They put together a presentation or proposal at the suggestion of their immediate supervisor and take it up to administration. But they receive a cold reception. Not only are they told, “No,” but they were “talked to” by the department head: “How could anyone think such an idea would work? Didn’t they realize that their idea had been tried five years earlier?”

Other times it’s born at a rousing conference or workshop. Ideas, innovation, and inspiration are the order of the day. Back at the library, a proposal for that new blog, instant messaging (IM) reference service, or the technology du jour gets the green light. But reality sinks in as roadblocks go up; poor planning diverts a good idea into limbo and a chain of long, drawn-out meetings sucks every bit of life from the inspiration.

A committee forms to analyze the technology, then a team comes together to write best practices, and then a workgroup begins a pilot program-and suddenly it’s 12 months later, and nothing has happened. More time is spent proofing and wordsmithing than actually planning and implementing.

Openness to change
Is this an exaggeration? Far too much truth lives in this scenario. And it’s not just new ideas that get trapped in this culture of perfect. Good people every day get trampled on by staffers who insist on blaming others for their own ineptitude. How many times have we all heard, “We’re not going to answer your question because you didn’t ask it correctly”?

Good employees who were once open to change and receptive to new ideas become entrenched in their positions and somewhere along the way become closed, curmudgeonly, and unreceptive to new ideas. Things now must be done “my way” and “by the book.”

New ideas are feared, and the words used to describe their birth become weapons. We hear “immature” and “kids” and “inexperienced” casually tossed off to symbolize the younger generation, while older staff who have new ideas are labeled whiners and dissenters and “those who should know better.”

Avoiding disaster
These dual issues of “the culture of no” and “the culture of perfect” are not easy to address. Alone, they can cause serious damage to the library. Together they spell real disaster–public relations nightmares, financial debacles, and, perhaps most damaging, the complete loss of trust between staff and administrators. This last rending is sometimes near impossible to repair.

Fractures that run this deep in an organization require structural change. Setting up vertical teams with staff from all levels of the organization is one of the first things that can be done. Strong vertical teams engender trust and solicit buy-in. They make frontline staffers actually part of the solution, and they allow everyone from the top-level administrator to that desk staffer see the big-picture issues the library faces.

Choose what fits
Successfully turning a “no” into a “yes” might simply mean allocating some time and staff to the Emerging Technology Team or Emerging Ideas Committee. Their exploration, evidence gathering, evaluation, and open discussion via a blog may be time very well spent. The more we know about a technology and its pitfalls the better.

The more we see past technolust and keeping up with the library down the street or on the cover of L.], the better we are equipped to make decisions for our users. We’d rather see three well-researched, well-planned initiatives go onto the project board than every foray into new realms and new sites the Biblioblogosphere is buzzing about. Simply put, choose what fits for you.

Get around the problem of “no” by creating an innovation workgroup. This team, charged with accepting new ideas and using the vertical-team format to give them all a fair and impartial review, can meet monthly to examine the newest crop of suggestions and ideas. Done properly and without reprisals, all ideas can get the open and honest evaluation they deserve.

A few libraries even keep logs of each time staff members are told “no.” Debriefing once a month, they discover that sometimes a string of nos can become yeses if policies are changed or shifted even slightly. Try a “no log” or innovation workgroup and see.

Right tool for the job
We’ve done many presentations highlighting the tools of the day–and we’ve written on them extensively. It’s easy to forget they’re not for everyone. Choose the tool combination that fits for your library.

Taming the culture of perfect can be done with a different mindset, one that involves play and experience.

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

May 1, 2007 Library Journal

Introducing the Michaels

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

What prevents a library from being transparent?

Barriers. Roadblocks. Inability to change. The culture of perfect. The transparent library contains three key elements: open communication, adapting to change, and scanning the horizon. We’ll explore these ideas and offer solutions for those struggling with new models of service, technology, and a decidedly opaque climate.

The web has changed the old landscape of top-down decisions. “As the web becomes the greatest word-of-mouth amplifier in history, consumers learn to trust peers more and companies less,” said Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail. “And as the same trends play out within the firm, businesses are shifting from command and control to ‘out of control,’ distributing more and more power to the rank and file.”

Wade Roush’s idea of continuous computing connects to the present environment of blogs and wikis. The rise of the citizen journalist, armed with a cell phone camera and a desire for fairness and openness, has created a great stir in media and the nonprofit sector. How can libraries, scrutinized by as many blogging voices, respond in such an open, online environment? The Cluetrain Manifesto, published in 1999, urged businesses to speak with a human voice online. In 2007, the social world of “continuous computing” demands it.

Below are some tenets of the transparent library.

Open communication
The talking library has no secrets and gathers as much input as it can.
The transparent library both listens and talks.
The transparent library is connected, breeding the expectation for open conversation.
The transparent library establishes ways for our users to talk to us and among themselves with tools like blogs and wikis, community open houses, outreach events, and surveys.

Do we hear our users and staff when they ask for change and new services? Do we hear them when they tell us that what we’re doing isn’t working? Becoming the corner office curmudgeon is painfully easy, but maintaining an open and accepting ear takes hard work and a willingness to listen.

Open communication means talking to the staff and community about the library’s mission, plans for new services, and idea building. It means having open meetings where library administrators can discuss new ideas, either inviting in younger staff to high-level planning sessions or taking your meetings to the far points of the community to converse about new buildings or major service changes.

The transparent library wants to hear from the squeaky wheel but, even more importantly, also wants to hear from those without a strong voice, those in the community who need the library’s services but don’t always have the time or ability to speak up at board meetings or write letters.

By structuring the transparent library for constant and purposeful change we reduce the negative impact that change has on both the staff and user. Incorporating change into the organization through creative teams and open lines of communication allows the transparent library to add new tools, respond to changing community needs, and move ahead with new initiatives without shaking up the foundation.

Scan the horizon
Trend-spotting should be a skill for 21st-century librarians. Recognizing trends can lead to innovation and improvement. Folks like the technologists at Hennepin County Library, MN, or John Blyberg at the Ann Arbor District Library (now at the Darien Public Library, CT) recognize that people seek human connections online and integrate those social mechanisms into their catalogs. The open source software movement as a trend is changing the way libraries and vendors interact. (See Roy Tennant’s “Open Letter to ILS Vendors” for more.)

Successful gaming programs in libraries not only shatter the stereotypes of shushing librarians trying to control young people but offer a noisy, exciting, and fun place to be after school. And as we’ve seen in Maplewood, NJ, and elsewhere, the ability of the contemporary library to respond to after-school issues successfully is critical. Libraries have always been places to do more than simply read books, and now they’re becoming social networking centers, whether the librarian comes along willingly or not.


Ann Arbor District Library

Continuous Computing

Hennepin County Library

The Long Tail

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

April 1, 2007 Library Journal

Technoplans vs. technolust

A well-thought-out technology plan can help libraries stay on course

We may know that technology is not an end in itself but a tool to help us meet our libraries’ service goals, but that’s easy to forget. After all, technology often sucks up huge amounts of attention, money, and staff resources. Our users, also technology consumers, have evolving expectations of what the library should provide. Yet new technologies can be disruptive to both staff and public. Added to all this, some of us remain technophobes while others are consumed by technolust – an irrational love for new technology combined with unrealistic expectations for the solutions it brings.
How do we find our way through this confusing technological terrain? We need only one thing: a plan. The overall goal of such a plan is to ensure that technology meets the mission of an organization. It should clarify who is to be involved in the process and the plan’s intended audience and life span. Staff must buy into the plan. Promote it to all stakeholders so they know what’s ahead-the goals-and what it takes to get there-the work. While it’s not discussed here, every initiative also needs solid cost analysis, from hardware to software, from staff training to ongoing hours. And, keep that technolust under control.

Meet the mission

“A successful technology plan should be based on the institution’s overall mission,” says Jim Gingery, acting director of the Milwaukee County Federated Library System (MCFLS). “The plan should be robust enough to stretch staff without overwhelming them.” As part of its overall mission, MCFLS aims to assist “member libraries in the utilization of current and evolving technologies to provide the highest possible level of library service to all residents of Milwaukee County.” Its plan builds on that, setting as its vision “the maintenance and improvement of end user public service.” The plan includes four goals relating to infrastructure, the shared OPAC, documentation and training, and resource sharing. Objectives expand further, each with specific activities (establish Help Desk services to troubleshoot equipment problems; offer users the ability to place holds.)

The mission of the Portage County Public Library, WI, is to “provide information, support lifelong learning, and promote reading and literacy.” Its vision for technology is to guide library customers in their use of electronic information and provide access to information with the necessary hardware, affordable products, and services. This includes creating and maintaining a state-of-the-art infrastructure incorporating objectives such as implementing wireless telecommunications and the Z39.50 protocol to connect to other library holdings.

Depending on the size of your library, a planning team might be made up of administrators, IT personnel, reference librarians, and others, including those who interact with patrons and understand what they want. Planning teams might also bring on board stakeholders from outside the library, such as IT leaders in local schools, colleges, and museums-this could also lead to new partnerships.

Staff participation works best “if there is good communication already going on between supervisors/managers and front-line staff,” says David King, IT/web project manager at Kansas City Public Library (KCPL), MO. New services, of course, must have folks to run them or know how they work. “IT will sometimes plan something with new technology, and no one else knows about it until it impacts the front-line public services staff.”

A living document

Many library technology plans, like MCFLS’s, span two or three years. At KCPL “planning is done formally every year,” King says. “The whole library system submits projects, ideas, and possible initiatives to IT, and we put them on a list with projected completion dates and go from there.” Those ideas are evaluated for impact on budget, staffing, and the library system.

Jessamyn West, outreach librarian at Rutland Free Library, VT, believes a “good plan should last a while because it should anticipate at least some technologies, but it should be flexible enough to incorporate others. A three-year plan gets you some solid tech with no huge surprises, while the ‘vision thing’ can last five to ten years in terms of what role the library wants.”

No matter what the duration, a technology plan must be a “living document,” says Chris Jowaissas, network deployment manager for the Gates Foundation. Oversight again must include all stakeholders. Gingery reports that MCFLS uses biennial reviews that include MCFLS staff, a technology advisory committee, the board, and multitype library representation. Sandra Nelson, author of Wired for the Future: Developing Your Library Technology Plan (ALA Editions, 1999) is more demanding: “Once a plan is developed, it should be reviewed monthly and updated as new products and services that support the library’s services priorities become available.”

Buy in, not out

Communication is important for staff buy in. One Midwestern library implemented a virtual reference project with little staff input. “All the librarians just kept forgetting to log in to manage chat,” one of the librarians reports.

In addition to involving staff from the beginning, buy in can come from staging informational meetings for all stakeholders and providing good training up front and regular updates on how and when the plan is being implemented. Surprising a team of library workers with a new technology is a recipe for front-line, and customer service, disaster.

Obviously, not every staffer will agree with every technology initiative. But, says West, “they should at the very least feel consulted and not be hostile toward it.”

Who are we planning for?

Everett Rogers’s Innovation Adoption Curve is a useful model for library planners. It includes Innovators, who jump on the latest, greatest thing; Early Adopters, who are on the cutting edge but proceed carefully with implementation; Early Majority, the folks just behind the early adopters who proceed even more carefully; Late Majority, who only implement when everyone is doing it; and Laggards, who drag their feet until the new thing is old hat.

When beginning a technology plan, think about who you are planning for. Are you trying to satisfy the innovators in your IT department? Are you planning just enough so those laggards on your staff won’t have to deal with too much, too fast? All are important, but users are the real focus of our planning.

A planning librarian will seek to understand where on the Rogers curve her community more or less fits. She understands that her users may not care about metasearching of database content but may care very much about placing holds on materials from home via the library’s web site.

Every few months a new technology, or at least buzzword, makes its way through the conferences and blogs. Yes, we need to follow developing technologies in our industry and the consumer world as well. But it’s not so important which technologies exist as it is when-and if-they hit the tipping point and “everyone” in your community starts using them. In your library’s neighborhood, for example, when do you need to use a DVD player to view a rental movie? Or when is every other young adult in your library carrying an iPod? How does this portable storage device relate to library content?

Lusting in our hearts

The flip side of such mindfulness is technolust. We have all seen it. A librarian returns from a conference, high on the possibilities of that oh so hot technology. Twelve months later, that expensive new technology sits on a dusty virtual shelf. Or a trustee hears of a technology that has changed the workflow of well-known retail establishments and decides the library must have it as well.

“Some directors who succumb to technolust want the latest, greatest tech toy because they themselves are techies,” says author Nelson. “Others who get caught up in technolust…have little interest in technology…[but are] pushed into unwise decisions by technology staff.”

Technolust can send a library spinning in too many directions. Often technolust ignores the library’s technology plan in favor of speedy implementation. Meanwhile, service initiatives are put aside to kowtow to the next big thing.

Good planning can deflect technolust. King reports that KCPL was interested in staff using PDAs in its renovated library. New technology at KCPL is always part of the technology plan, with “some sort of planning group working on the impact on staff, impact on the budget, and what the outcomes might be.” With PDAs, “we set up a committee, let them try out PDAs, and had them report back,” comments King. The result? PDAs wouldn’t work for staff.

Do we need a fax machine?

“Technomust” may be more prevalent than technolust, according to Gates Foundation’s Jowaissas. “Many libraries experience technomust and follow the crowd, albeit later rather than earlier…. They buy technology because others do, not because they have a plan about how they are going to use it to provide better service,” Jowaissas says.

Technophobia can cause problems as well. Nelson says, “There are still directors who resist every technology advance almost to the point that the technology has been superseded by a newer technology…. One common excuse is ‘No one has asked for it.'”

Technology and libraries in the 21st century are wedded, and this marriage is a long-lasting one. A library that recognizes how technology can improve services for its community is destined for success. No matter what technologies or services you go with, remember to plan with your users in mind.


Portage County Public Library Technology Plan 2003-2006
( offers several web-based resources for planners.

This post was originally published in Library Journal as Technoplans vs. Technolust.

Stephens, M. (2004). Technoplans vs. technolust. Library Journal129(18), 36-37.