Category Archives: The Transparent Library / Library Journal

Six Signposts on the Way

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

We recently presented a workshop in London at Internet Librarian International, based on our writings here, and realized that throughout the columns we’ve identified a set of mile markers for the journey toward transparency.

Give everyone an avenue to talk.
Offer online and real-world mechanisms for all of the library’s stakeholders, staff and users, to talk, react, and suggest solutions. A good start is a suggestion box and a way to share the answers with everyone. Add an online forum or blog and “town hall meetings,” and the stage is set.

Your goal is to engage your community and get them talking even if it is within the confines of your firewall or within your institution. Encourage trust, respect, and a willingness to be open. Remember, no one should be punished for speaking up or speaking out. And use that feedback from staff and library users for planning.

Play nice and be constructive.
The new suggestion box or blog is not a soapbox or place to share petty grievances or diatribes. Staffers should use it constructively. Administrators shouldn’t let fear or loss of control dissuade them from a good idea.

Couch your ideas and suggestions in ways that decision-makers will understand. Show the positive return on the investment, whether it’s a monetary savings or a customer service deliverable. Good ideas are difficult to ignore, and good ideas that save the library money or bring in new users are even more imperative.

Grow and develop your support community.
Everyone is a stakeholder in your library, even those in the community who don’t use the library. There will come a time when a bond fund or tax initiative needs community support, and the library will have to be able to call on those sponsors.

Nurture interested parties in your user community: whomever you serve, whether they be teens, seniors, faculty, staff, or students. Remember that, as with schools, even those who use the facility little or never still benefit from a community with a thriving library. However, you can and should draw in those nonusers, turning them into critical participants whose voices will be heard in difficult times.

Be willing to accept anonymity.
Anonymity can encourage people to share observations or ask questions that might otherwise never emerge. Be willing to look past nonconstructive critical statements gathered from staff or the public via surveys, comments, or feedback forms. There may be substance behind the snark to be addressed and used.

What about bad or “not so useful” statements or suggestions made by staff? Name-calling, for instance, may not merit an open reply, but it’s best to address even slightly feasible ideas, if only to acknowledge the input and encourage more feedback. Explain why a particular idea might not work at this time, and direct focus to other areas. Or involve staffers in exploring the costs and benefits of particular ideas that might demonstrate their feasibility to all.

Tell the truth.
Lies don’t work. Your staff and users will remember deception for a long time. Honesty creates buy-in for initiatives and plans, and that buy-in creates success.

During difficult times, pull constituents in so they understand reasons for changes to services. Don’t hide behind “happy talk” PR when an honest voice is much stronger and more memorable.

Be honest with yourself as well about what your user community wants. Don’t let one vocal critic change policy for the entire library; know that the squeaky wheel doesn’t necessarily reflect the populace.

Focus on user-driven policy, not driving users away.
Usage patterns, user needs, and the grim reality of tough economic times mean we must steadily reevaluate our mission, our services, and our policies.

We recognize that true reference questions are slipping on our stats pages, but demand for access to the web, emerging technologies, and traditional public library services can still thrive, as the recent upturn in library use shows. Keep track of what users gravitate toward and respond nimbly to their needs.

Fewer college students browse the shelves these days, but the academic library can remain central. Academic libraries recognize the need for technology and collaborative space to respond to changing patterns of use.

See your library through the eyes of your users. Brian Herzog’s “Work Like a Patron Day” invited library staffers to experience their facilities as users do: What signage do they see? How are they treated? How does the library feel?

Join us next month for the final six signposts.

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

November 15, 2008 Library Journal

The Transparent Library: Library PR 2.0

The rules of marketing have changed. Do libraries know that?

Corporate PR-types used to control the message. Sitting behind a desk, they’d write a carefully crafted press release and then send it off to newspapers and upload it to their web site. The attention the company got might barely justify the salary of the PR professional.

Today’s world is fundamentally different. Neither news nor brand identity are controlled through press releases or carefully choreographed newspaper articles. Brands are molded and shaped by the audience—and the audience is everyone. People talk. And people listen.

Social tools, social media, and social engagement are the norms for many large advertisers that have populated sites like Facebook and Twitter with brand-focused pages and interactive techniques. Are you following your favorite brand?

Read the whole column here

Library PR 2.0

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

The rules of marketing have changed. Do libraries know that?

Corporate PR-types used to control the message. Sitting behind a desk, they’d write a carefully crafted press release and then send it off to newspapers and upload it to their web site. The attention the company got might barely justify the salary of the PR professional.

Today’s world is fundamentally different. Neither news nor brand identity are controlled through press releases or carefully choreographed newspaper articles. Brands are molded and shaped by the audience-and the audience is everyone. People talk. And people listen.

Social tools, social media, and social engagement are the norms for many large advertisers that have populated sites like Facebook and Twitter with brand-focused pages and interactive techniques. Are you following your favorite brand?

Are libraries catching up?
Not all libraries have embraced this world. Just as some IT departments block new tools because of unfounded security fears, some library PR departments are holding out from using these new 2.0 tools. We’ve heard from librarians who tell us they are blocked by a PR person-often acting on orders from above-who will not allow multiple voices, direct customer engagement/feedback, or any type of library message that hasn’t been vetted.

It’s nice to think that you can control the outflow of information and discussion, but the truth is, you can’t. Those days are gone. Staffers talk to customers, and customers talk to customers. It’s no longer possible to control a solitary message from one central location.

As our followers on Twitter reminded us, the grapevine can be a good thing. “Even stories told to friends and family carry weight,” one observed. In fact, libraries have internal and external grapevines. How can we use both to the benefit of all? One thing we know for sure: trying to silence the grapevine hurts the organization. Keep watch online

The mechanisms for PR 2.0 are varied and sometimes overwhelming. PR maven Brian Solis’s “Conversation Prism” identifies 22 different channels of social tools where discussions take place and stories are told. We strongly advocate that library staff participate in these discussions, answering both the easy questions and the hard ones, as well.

Remember, if you don’t participate in the story, it will be told without you. Consider the not entirely positive reviews of the central library in Minneapolis on the popular review site Yelp.com. “The library itself is spectacular,” one library user wrote on July 2, 2008. “The librarians are kind of surly. Hate the fact that they’re closed Sunday and Monday.”

Why hasn’t a nonsurly library employee responded? Not only should librarians monitor these conversations, we should respond in such cases with thanks for the positive reviews and “how can we do better” to the negative ones.

What you can do
With this important sea change in mind, we offer some guidelines for your library’s marketing 2.0 program.

PR-speak stinks. Happy-time press releases and spin that lack a human feel will not go as far as an honest announcement. If you’ve tried something and it hasn’t gone well, tell your users. If you’ve had great success, do the same.

Anticipate the questions and answer them. Explain new services or respond to breaking news stories, then ask users what else they’d like to know.

Monitor and participate in the conversation about and around your library via the social tools featured in the Prism. Staff at all levels should be actively involved in telling the library’s story. Ad hoc marketing committees can spring up easily to promote the next big thing at the library.

Think about your library brand.
What is it? How can you tell the story of your brand with your users? How can they add to the brand? Deirdre Breakenridge’s book PR 2.0: New Media, New Tools, New Audiences (FT Press) offers a primer that we’ve drawn on here.

In fact, our users should be part of the library’s brand. The Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH, does a wonderful job of putting staffers’ faces on the library’s homepage. The Vancouver Public Library, BC, puts patrons on its homepage, touting the library’s benefits.

Beyond that, it’s time for all libraries to feature user photos, recommendations, and more front and center on their web sites, in the catalog, and in all of the library’s marketing efforts.

LINK LIST

Columbus Library

Conversation Prism

Deirdre Breakenridge

Vancouver Public Library

Yelp Reviews

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

October 15, 2008 Library Journal

When Worlds Collide

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

As the buzz around social networking continues, consider that author Kevin Kelly has called the emerging web “One Machine” and predicts that “total personalization in this new world will require total transparency.”

So, where do we fit in? Where do we position ourselves as professionals? We two don’t completely agree, so we thought we’d try to tease out the relationship between personal/social transparency and library transparency.

MS: I think the line between the personal and the professional online has blurred so much recently that it’s impossible to separate them.

MC: Our worlds are colliding-I remember that George Costanza line from Seinfeld-and I’m not completely comfortable with it. Our personal lives on Flickr and Facebook mingle with our professional lives on LinkedIn, and everything is tossed into the Google blender. The social side of the Internet has merged our personal and professional lives and taken away a wall in which many took comfort.

Going with the flow
MS: I don’t mind that very much. In fact, I embrace a lot of it. I use Facebook to interact with students as well as with LIS colleagues and friends. I use Flickr to share the way I see the world-though I’m still surprised when someone at an American Library Association conference tells me they saw what I had for dinner the night before. The benefits outweigh the costs right now, though I also believe those of us of a certain age or awareness self-edit their lifestreams to a certain degree.

MC: And how do we manage this personal/professional divide? Should we be worried that supervisors “friend” subordinates on Facebook and can look into their personal lives while at the same time they must evaluate their performance? Do we go to someone’s Flickr stream or Twitter status to check on them when they call in sick? Ethical questions surround what we can now “find out” about coworkers, job applicants, potential friends, etc.

MS: Indeed! Our location-aware iPhones and applications like Loopt make it very easy to follow someone’s movements. I am both excited about broadcasting my whereabouts to trusted friends/colleagues and a little rattled when I see how easily the “nearby” functions in iPhone apps reveal one’s location-if people choose to be public with their data. Friending and un-friending is a tough call. I’ve deleted contacts in many of my networks but not others because of the transparency of the tool; I don’t want to send the wrong message. Kelly was right: transparency will play a key role in the richness of the cloud.

MC: Breaking down the dualism concerns me. We speak a lot about a balance in life-the personal and the professional, the family vs. the workplace-and while these areas will often blur, we should be able to keep them relatively separate. I recently deleted my Facebook account because I found the return on that investment to be rather small. It also brought together my personal and work lives a bit more than I wanted-and how do you politely remove workmates from your friends list?

Personalization & privacy
MS: I’d have to disagree. I am concerned about an overemphasis on privacy and a lack of personalization in libraries. I want to see pictures of the staff and library users online. I want to take pictures inside some of the beautiful libraries I visit. I am so happy to see that innovative OPACs like BiblioCommons allow user profiles. I wrestle with new definitions and new ideas about privacy these days. I also get my students writing for the web on Day One, not inside some safe Blackboard or WebCT-secure island. Sure, we need some closed spaces, but new librarians won’t be working online behind a safety wall. They’ll be writing, interacting, responding, and working with users and other librarians. They must be ready for that. I just don’t know how much presence is the right fit.

MC: I think we can achieve personalization without having everyone know that I went to see Elegy last night. We should all have a choice regarding how much of our lives we put out there. This is where we need to educate kids: being “out there” may not be a bad thing, but they need to understand the choices involved before making the decision, especially when high school and college students make the transition to the work world. Parents have a role, and sites such as GetNetWise and SafeKids can provide useful guidance.

LINK LIST

BiblioCommons

GetNetWise

Kevin Kelly lecture

SafeKids

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

September 15, 2008 Library Journal

The Transparent Library: Lighten Up People!

Libraries—all libraries—should be fun, even in difficult times. Just scan LJ‘s recent Movers & Shakers (M&S) roster or peruse the library blogosphere to see library workers who have discovered that a sense of play and creativity, even what seems like frivolous experimentation, can result in useful services and solutions.

M&S Tony Tallent, while at the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, NC (he’s now at Boulder PL, CO), devised “Drop Everything and Learn Day,” aiming at “encouraging staff to stay curious and inspired.”

But some libraries, mired in hierarchical leadership structures, closed communication systems, and restrictive policies, drain the life out of users’ curiosity and damage staff morale as well.

Read the whole column here

Let’s All Lighten Up

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

Sometimes, it’s simply not easy.
When life throws us $4-a-gallon gasoline, rising unemployment, a housing credit crunch, and tight local, state, and federal budgets, libraries feel the pinch.

It’s natural for work morale to suffer. Boards and administrators feel pressure to make cuts and increase staff efficiency. Front-line staffers get hit from both sides–supervisors who expect more (and sometimes give less) and users who expect the same services they’re used to, plus a smiling face. During times like this, the natural inclination is to “get serious,” push your staff harder, and make every dollar go further.

Yet getting serious is almost always the wrong way to encourage more from staff. Study after study illustrates this, and conventional wisdom reminds us that when work becomes more pressure-ridden, turning up the heat won’t result in a more efficient and productive workforce.

“She sucks the fun out of everything we do; it just makes it harder to do our jobs,” wrote a library staffer responding to our July 2008 column (“Check Your Ego at the Door”). “What can we do?”

Making libraries fun
Libraries–all libraries–should be fun, even in difficult times. Just scan LJ’s recent Movers & Shakers (M&S) roster or peruse the library blogosphere to see library workers who have discovered that a sense of play and creativity, even what seems like frivolous experimentation, can result in useful services and solutions.

M&S Tony Tallent, while at the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, NC (he’s now at Boulder PL, CO), devised “Drop Everything and Learn Day,” aiming at “encouraging staff to stay curious and inspired.”

But some libraries, mired in hierarchical leadership structures, closed communication systems, and restrictive policies, drain the life out of users’ curiosity and damage staff morale as well.

Fun can mean a playful use of space, technology, and people. It can cost money, especially with some technologies, but many web sites, such as Flickr and fd’s Flickr toys, offer a way to create fun signage, name tags, and more.

Global goodies
Look at how the librarians and staff at the DOK Library in Delft, The Netherlands, have incorporated games, color, and technology. The romance section, painted a brilliant, passionate red, beckons to readers. A Bluetooth message appears on users’ cell phones upon entering DOK: “Welcome to the most modern library in the world.” And game systems abound for young and old.

A “fun” library, our peers (on Twitter) have told us, depends on the tone established by administrators and also lets patrons who don’t necessarily come for reading still enjoy being in the building.

“When they’re laughing, they’re listening,” write Adrian Gostick, a lecturer and educator in strategic communication and leadership from Seton Hall University, NJ, and Scott Christopher, a humorist and columnist, in their recent book, The Levity Effect (Wiley). “Fun at work can provide a competitive advantage, help attract and retain employees, and provide the spark to jumpstart creativity.”

Adding some fun
Here are a few simple guidelines to up the fun quotient at your organization.

Administrators:
Give creatively. Warren-Newport PL (Gurnee, IL) director Steve Bero offered two hours of his time to any department that won a staff day raffle for charity fundraising. Even if you decide not to raffle off your services, just get out there and talk to your staff (and not just your favorites). Make yourself available. Listen.

Librarians and staffers: Don’t dismiss Guitar Hero or Learning 2.0 because you didn’t come to work to play games or write a blog. The bigger picture of your work life is important: balance, mind, body, and spirit. Then, extend the playfulness to your users.

Team leaders and others: Check out The Levity Effect’s Chapter 7 for “142 ways to have fun at work.” Many of the suggestions, from promoting a staff “Wall of Fame” to late afternoon game sessions as a break, may work for your team or provoke additional brainstorming. The “Wall of Fame” could easily become a “Staff Recognition” blog or an online photo gallery of the best images created with the Flickr toys.

Everyone:
Laugh. Explore. Play. Try new things. Give a little. Share a lot.

LINK LIST

DOK

fd’s Flickr toys

Flickr

The Levity Effect

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

August 15, 2008 Library Journal

Check that Ego!

If you pretend someone is not there, if you pretend the awards and honors that someone on your staff receives aren’t worth mentioning, then this reflects upon you. People will notice it and question your awareness. If they see you deliberately refusing to recognize talent, then they will begin to ask, “Why?” The results from this questioning won’t aid in your leadership.

However, if you recognize and embrace your talented staff, if you give them the skills they need to continue improving, then your staff, your organization, and the greater library community will not only recognize those talented people but also respect and honor your organizational efforts.

They’ll notice that you’re sufficiently comfortable as an executive to salute the great talent around you and your willingness to use that talent for the greater good of the entire organization. That is true leadership.

From “Check your Ego at the Door”

Read the whole column here

Check Your Ego at the Door

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

Egos can insidiously prevent us from doing what we could do best. Recently, in a late-night conversation, a few trusted librarian colleagues told us how much damage an inflated ego can do to a library’s culture.

One in that small circle had clashed with a department member and been called out by the administration for “only thinking of herself” in planning and implementing a new project. Another had been recognized in a national forum as a rising talent, only to have that accolade ignored by employers. A third led a well-regarded project but was almost fired by an angry administrator who couldn’t control the message.

Thankfully, one among us had also received national recognition and reported his library had responded with a party and a press release, helping him feel a renewed sense of belonging.
The ego, we concluded, can be a very damaging thing. Inflated. Overbearing. Egos create rules for rules’ sake. Egos complicate procedures and keep good people down. Egos squash good ideas and can take the best of an organization and turn it on itself.

Fostering openness
We believe that creating a transparent, open environment, fostered by new technologies, is paramount to the success of businesses, organizations, and nonprofits.

In this new age, however, you have to lose the ego! In leading a library, a project, a department, or a small work group, keep an eye toward the whole and the benefits found there.

Consider these suggestions:

Recognize and appreciate talent.
Outside awards and recognition bring praise and attention to the library. Our profession, like any other, has rising stars. The Internet has enabled these stars to gain national and even international attention at a pace much faster than ever before. How coworkers, supervisors, and administrators respond to this person’s “15 minutes of fame” is very telling. Encourage and embrace the exposure and make sure to alert the library’s user community.

Grow your own talent (and don’t see it as a threat).
Libraries should provide opportunities for staff to learn and grow. It should not be a threat to the institution or its administrators to have individuals who excel at their jobs and projects. In a climate of encouragement, library leadership will mentor and grow the talent around them.
Appreciate those who bring issues and problems to your attention, even if you don’t really want to hear about them because it indicates that something needs to be fixed or improved. These people are valuable-they are not annoyances! Acknowledge that you don’t know everything. Ego makes us unwilling to admit when we aren’t familiar with something or someone, but being a good manager or leader means owning up to our limitations and knowing who to call for help.

The art of leadership
Good leaders surround themselves with talented, outspoken individuals, not yes-men (or -women).
Understand that while we have very good reasons for doing things, we may not communicate them well. Staffers who question administration and decisions should not be perceived as threats but as reminders that we may need to reexamine how we communicate our strategies and our justifications.

If you pretend someone is not there, if you pretend the awards and honors that someone on your staff receives aren’t worth mentioning, then this reflects upon you. People will notice it and question your awareness. If they see you deliberately refusing to recognize talent, then they will begin to ask, “Why?” The results from this questioning won’t aid in your leadership.
However, if you recognize and embrace your talented staff, if you give them the skills they need to continue improving, then your staff, your organization, and the greater library community will not only recognize those talented people but also respect and honor your organizational efforts.

They’ll notice that you’re sufficiently comfortable as an executive to salute the great talent around you and your willingness to use that talent for the greater good of the entire organization. That is true leadership.

Avoid timidity
The flip side of ego is timidity, as we’ve written (see “Ask for What You Want,” LJ 8/07, p. 29). Too often, librarians smother their need for professional recognition in their desire to provide great service.

We see this when librarians must argue for libraries-we’ve become so good at dealing with limited resources, setbacks, and a lack of public recognition that we sometimes stifle our ability to stand up and shout about everything that makes us great. Some in our field need to suppress ego. Others may need just the right dose.

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

July 1, 2008 Library Journal

The Transparent Library: Dear MLS Grad….

What’s the library policy on blogging and social networking for staff? Can you maintain your personal/professional blog if you accept a position? We’d urge hiring librarians to encourage new staffers to continue their blogging or participation in social networks.

Does the library employ vertical teams for planning and implementation of new services? Can new hires participate and share their voices from day one? Inviting new staffers to play a role in service creation signals a willingness to hear new ideas. Ask for examples.

What mentoring opportunities are there? A recent job listing from Davidson College in North Carolina included this bit: “We want your newbie enthusiasm and fresh ideas, and we’ll mentor you in your growth.” This is a promising trend; it’s vital for veterans to mentor and encourage new librarians.

Read the whole column here

AND, don’t miss this comment from Andrea Pearson:

Many recent graduates work as substitutes or work part time. Ask about mentoring and career paths if you are applying for these positions, too Our library system (Hennepin County, MN) has great training opportunities which are open to FT, PT, and subs. The HCL substitute librarians are creating a Library Sub wiki, “Librarian Substitutes 2.0,” in order to keep in touch with each other and keep up professionally. Right now it’s in a very early stage, but we welcome subs and PT librarians to visit at librariansubs at wetpaint.