Yesterday they met with a group of legal information professionals to talk about the product and it’s creation. I was lucky enough to snag an invite to the meeting. Disclosure: they paid our way out there and put us up for the trip.
Soon I will post some (hopefully) cohesive thoughts about it, including some discussion of the meeting itself, but in the meantime…
When I received a phone call from Yale asking me to come out for an interview for my current job the person on the other end of the conversation informed me I would have to give a 20-minute presentation about the future of emerging technologies in law libraries. I was shocked. At some point during my education I was informed that academic librarians often have to give presentations as part of their interview, but it just hadn’t crossed my mind when I applied for this job.
As I was thinking of what I wanted to say about technology and how to start my presentation, I went to my good old-fashioned standby – tell a story. And I started with one of my favorites. It seems to be something of an academic folktale, told differently by different people to illustrate different points. And if you hang around me enough you’ll probably hear me tell it. The basic story can be found at this 37 Signals post. Some of the interesting twists and takes on the story can be found here. The story loosened me up, set a good tone, and made the presentation a successful one.
Whenever I don’t know what to write or how to start a presentation I try to start with a story. And if you look at some of my previous blog posts you’ll see many of them start with stories or feature them prominently (including this one). When I think of my favorite blog posts and presentations, and professional interactions, stories are always prominently involved.
I was reminded recently about the power of storytelling after watching the video of Scott Berkun’s keynote at the Web 2.0 Expo in NY last month.
What I love best about his talk is the application of storytelling to the vendor – customer dynamic. As many law librarians are aware vendor – librarian relations have been rocky for a while and 2009 was a particularly bad year for vendor relations with law librarians.
It occurred to me as I was watching the video that my interactions with vendors almost always tend to be sales pitches. A sales rep, not “someone who was in the room” as Scott says in the video, tries to sell me on a product or feature. They tell me what librarians love (if I had a nickel for every time a rep said “librarians love this” …), they give me slogans and buzz words. These sales pitches are missing the two important aspects of storytelling touched on in the keynote, honesty and authenticity.
Telling a story is not the same thing as a case study, although a good case study tells a story. And I’m not referring to an off-hand comment like ‘professors at x school like to do this’, and ‘this library has tried this’. Tell me the story as you might if we were sitting together at a bar. Why did these professors and libraries do what they did? What problems were they trying to solve? What was culture of the organization and did that factor into the choices made?
Maybe getting back to this basic storytelling could be a great way to rebuild the trust between librarians and vendors. Storytelling can restore the honesty and authenticity that’s been missing from this relationship. To change the game from a struggle between spending money and cutting resources and selling products to a conversation between partners helping each other solve problems.
There are a lot of good resources out there for storytelling. Scott Berkun’s blog is very good. Anecdote is also a good resource. There are others who advocate for this, but these are just two who come to mind.
It may be naive to think that storytelling will change this too-often dysfunctional relationship. But I am going to try to start doing it anyway.
So Librarians: When I network with you at a conference tell me a story about what’s going on where you work. What are some problems you’re facing? How are you dealing with those problems? I’ll share stories about what’s going on at Yale.
And for vendors: next year at AALL, or online sometime, or if you come to visit me – I am going to ask you to tell me a story. You can tell me a story about how the product was developed, or why. You can tell me a story about someone using the product right now, or how you were able to sell the product to someone else.
But please, when I ask you to tell me a story have one ready.
A few years ago I was asked to speak at an Enterprise Information Management conference in San Francisco. It was very exciting, the first time I had been asked to speak somewhere. I was slated to speak on the second day, but after attending the first day of sessions I was very nervous. It became quite clear that I was very likely coming from the smallest organization of all the speakers, a mid-size law firm, of about 500 people. One of the people I had been hanging out with gave me some great advice that has always stuck with me. He said that I have something important to say, no matter what type of organization I come from.Great advice. And in just a few days I learned a lot from him.
Later I found out some interesting things. This person managed the intranet for one of the largest corporations in the world. This person was an expert at managing knowledge in an enterprise. This person had received a Masters Degree in LIBRARY Science. This person was not a member of SLA, ALA, or any other library organization. These organizations, according to him, did not address his professional development needs.
See, as much as SLA members want to talk about how great is to be a librarian, and the importance of the word “librarian”, the fact remains that there are “librarians” out there who’s whose needs are not met by any of the traditional library organizations, and SLA, the organization that should meet their needs, is not either.
Now the question before us is should we change the name of the organization from Special Libraries Association to the Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals?
Now, obviously simply changing the name of SLA to the Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals is not going to immediately bring people like the one I described into the fold. But it’s a start, and a good one. I think it describes more accurately and more thoroughly the entirety of membership of the organization. This new name encompasses librarians, information professionals, knowledge professionals, information centers, information architects, taxonomists, indexers, and more.
There has been much written and much debate over the new name. And except for a few posts and posters, and tweets most opposition to the name has been respectful. I was finally moved to post my thoughts after reading a post at the Embedded Librarian. And while his points are fair I must disagree with some of what he wrote, and I think this highlights the difference between our positions.
The most telling section from the post is this:
Librarianship is a “big tent” – and we need to make it bigger. The profession is open to all who share our competencies, interests, values and ethics. The whole profession is undergoing dramatic changes and I see positive examples in all sectors. All librarians need the alignment leadership that our Association is providing through research, professional development, and peer to peer collaboration. Now is not the time to abandon librarianship, now is the time to expand it. We should welcome all who share the ideals, interests, and competencies of librarians, and encourage them to call themselves librarians too. We should educate executives about why they need to hire and promote librarians. But we will not be able to do that if we abandon the term “library” in some form.
This paragraph summed up opposition to the name for me. Essentially it argues that we should expand our tent by forcing those who would seek entry to our organization to adopt the name Librarian – and everything that we librarians say they should. Or as I said in a tweet a few weeks ago “disappointed some would rather force everyone to bow to label ‘librarian’ than acknowledge new directions for info & knowledge pros”.
This attitude is not how you expand an organization or make a big tent. Telling people they are librarians and will accept that name and our definition of it will not build the inclusive organization I think most of us would like.Despite the fact that we may think of them as librarians other knowledge workers may not think of themselves that way. And while some librarians may not like the phrase “knowledge worker” others may like that name. But I think the name “Knowledge Professionals” can be a common thread or at least lead us to get us thinking of each other as tied together by the type of work we do.
Will this name change and the alignment get the colleague I mentioned earlier to join this organization? I don’t know. But I know it’s the best bet I’ve seen.
I am a Librarian. I am a Strategic Knowledge Professional. And I will continue to be both, proudly, no matter what the results of this vote are.
I am going to frame my thoughts on this issue in a somewhat different light, talking about imitating and stealing in library innovation, and how those concepts relate to lack of overall strategy as libraries approach new web technologies. I will specifically use the analogy of “cargo cults.” To be honest I’d never heard the term “cargo cult” until I saw the following video of a presentation by Jeff Veen about Great Designers:
and while he uses the concept to discuss great design, I think it applies well to the use of technology, particularly social media, by some libraries and librarians.
In more blunt terms, too often librarian adoption of new technology seems like the native populations building airplanes out of straw and waiting for the cargo to arrive. We think because we have an account on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter that is enough to bring social media success, to start a flood of users/patrons waiting to “friend” us, and driving traffic to our library web sites and physical locations. We see librarians & libraries who’ve successfully implemented blogs and wonder why our own blogs don’t enjoy the same success.
But too often we have not successfully aligned these new technologies with the strategy, mission, goals, values, or even overall direction of the library. As Aaron stated in his blog post about library innovation, these technologies too often lead to feature creep, outside of the scope of the library focus. And so our library’s web presence becomes fractured, scattered among too many uncoordinated social media sites. The brand that is our library suffers.
Going back to the video, I think the problem comes from librarians imitating and copying what other libraries and librarians are doing. And like the cargo cults we will struggle to achieve the desired results.
Are our target communities active in these social spaces? Do we have plans for initially populating and maintaining our presence with content? How do these technologies fit with the strategic plan for the library? for our website? for our web presence? These are just a few of the basic questions we should be asking ourselves as we approach web technologies. Trying to imitate what other libraries have done will not work unless we fit them into our overall strategic framework. Wholesale implementation of someone else’s plan will often fail in a different institution, as there are complex and incompatible issues of culture, talent, and resources which must be considered.
But as Jeff Veen suggests, stealing elements of what other librarians have done and incorporating those elements into our existing strategy to create something new can be a recipe for success. The difference being that when you steal an idea, concept, element, plan, etc. you make that thing your own. Like the great designers, artists, and creative types described by Veen, Librarians should seek to take ideas that fit their existing culture & strategy rather than imitating someone else’s. We should pick and choose what to steal and discard what won’t work. We should not be afraid to take existing ideas in new directions.
I guess the same mantra from the video can be applied to libraries. Good librarians copy other’s ideas. Great librarians steal them. But in specific reference to library use of social media debate I would say: Good libraries create accounts on social media sites online. Great libraries create a cohesive and coordinated web presence.
Today, Stephen Schultze and Harlan Yu from the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton, and two of the creators of the Recap project, presented Recap at Yale Law School. Afterwards I had a chance to record a short video interview with Stephen Schultze about issues related to Recap and online access to government records. My hand was a little unsteady, so it’s a little Blair Witch, but think it’s an interesting interview, enjoy.
OK. So I am going to do this again because people seemed to like it and asked for it again, and it’s a good way for me to organize my thoughts about the conference. Let’s call it my annual AALL wrap up awards. This award is based on a quote from the comedy movie The Hangover from this summer. As quoted at IMDB.
“You guys might not know this, but I consider myself a bit of a loner. I tend to think of myself as a one-man wolf pack. But when my sister brought Doug home, I knew he was one of my own. And my wolf pack… it grew by one. So there… there were two of us in the wolf pack… I was alone first in the pack, and then Doug joined in later. And six months ago, when Doug introduced me to you guys, I thought, “Wait a second, could it be?” And now I know for sure, I just added two more guys to my wolf pack.”
This award goes to the Cool Kids (this is a whole other upcoming post) wolf pack. Because this is definitely how it felt. Having spent QT with Tom Boone, Meg Kribble and Sarah Glassmeyer at CALI I felt we had a pretty solid wolf pack. And yet, we still added more. AALL members like Bonnie Shucha, Katie Brown, John Beatty, Pam Brannon, Roger Skalbeck and others, too many to keep individually naming seemed to join in also.
It ocurred to me at some point during the conference that these will be my colleagues for many years. They will be the leaders of the organization, and library directors, and hopefully my friends for a long time. We see more experienced librarians running around in cliques (there are positives and negatives to this) who’ve known each other forever and we are starting to form our own.
There’s a lot to look forward to in this. I am looking forward to having a group of people to collaborate with, spend time with at conferences, call on for advice, and shape law libraries for years to come. So this award goes out to all of you even if I didn’t mention you by name.
I created a word cloud from the tweets marked with the #aall2009 hashtag. There were over 1250 so some editing was in order. The word cloud appears below, click on the image to see the full size at http://wordle.net where it was created.
So I did this by using the Twitter API to download all 1250+ tweets. Then used some PHP code to extract the text of the tweets. I removed some stop words, and some usernames like @jeiseman and so forth.
You’ll notice I left @conniecrosby and @zittrain. The reason being that those tweets had more to do with content of the conference as opposed to messaging back and forth. Thus this is more of an editorial project than a scientific one.
Anyway, with some tweaking I entered the text into http://wordle.net and tweaked some more untill we got a nice style.
Written by Charlene Li of Forrester Research and Josh Bernoff, Groundswell is geared towards marketing types and other corporate employees interested in and responsible for using social media to connect with customers. But I’ve long contended that librarians have much to learn from corporations, startups, and marketers, and Groundswell might be the greatest example of how this is true.
The most important lessons boil down to:
1. Knowing your audience
2. Knowing the social technologies
3. Using the correct technologies to target your audience
While this sounds simple, as many of us know it can be very difficult and corporations and libraries alike have failed in implementing social technologies to connect with users.
Where Groundswell excels is in breaking down how to evaluate the target audience. In Chapter 3 the authors introduce a social technographics profile, a way of analyzing target audiences by types of online social behavior the audience engages in and comparing those behaviors with societal averages. Those behaviors allow people to be divided into groups such as Creators, Critics, Collectors, Joiners, Spectators, and Inactives. Based on activity in those groups in target audiences librarians can use appropriate social technologies with maximum effectiveness.
Groundswell goes on to explain different ways corporations can tap into the power of social technologies, and includes case studies of successful ways corporations have connected with users. There are also useful chapters on using social technologies inside your organization (something I think is very important) and how social technologies may change your organization.
As I said at the outset Groundswell is geared towards corporations. And some of it’s suggestions, for example investing hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring outside consultants to monitor social media, and build customized tools, simply are not feasible. One of the challenges for librarians will be how to apply the lessons from Groundswell in an era of increasingly tight budgets. But there are ways to accomplish these goals and Groundswell does have a few tips for this. For example, the authors suggest that if your target audience has already built a community around your product/brand/company then you should focus on connecting with that existing community rather than building your own.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: Groundswell is not written for librarians, but we have as much to learn from it as anyone else. The framework the book provides for how to connect with people online is crucial for using social technologies in libraries. I look forward to implementing the lessons learned in Yale’s use of social technologies and hope to see other librarians learn from it as well.