Thursday, September 14, 2006

Stephen Abram's Cats

Meow!I am often asked questions. Stephen Abram just asked about Library Cats competeing with Google Dogs. Here are my thoughts:

STRENGTHS OF LIBRARIES*:
1. Instruction. Libraries provide information literacy – even modified bib.- instruction for users. Libraries provide the instructions for users to ask better questions AND which resources to choose.
2. Person to person (or over the phone, or via e-mail) customer service.
3. Access. Virtual branches are springing up everywhere, providing 24/.7 live reference, and providing features to users who utilize this service: electronic databases, digital books, podcasts, and blogs.
4. Providing a community space.
5. Acting as a “digital liaison”, helping to bridge the digital divide by providing access to electronically sourced information.
6. Libraries “pre-organize” information. i.e. pathfinders, web pages that contain the useful resources online, and in print.
7. Access to hard materials – i.e. microfilm, back issues of newspapers, and older reference materials kept in our local history/ready reference collections.
8. Libraries are “Google Local” in person.
9. Materials selection & development – while thinking global, we still act local… providing a well rounded collection that integrates both digital and hard copy resources that appeal to a broad base, but anticipate the needs of “locals.”
*not in order of priority

LIBRARIES' POSSIBLE OPEN TERRITORIES (AKA Weaknesses)
1. Marketing & PR. Resources for this endeavor are often overlooked. It’s almost the equivalent of erasing the “X” on the treasure map. I hate it when people say the library is a “hidden treasure”…the information has been here all along!!! TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT! This sadly, is a typical not-for-profit ailment. Press releases, magazine/journal articles are important to keep the library in the community’s mindset.
2. Merchandising: “show a little leg” – Face it, Google is NOT our only competitor. Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, Borders, - anyone who provides wireless internet access & showcases works containing information. People will go some where else to get it – and they are willing to pay for it. WE GIVE IT AWAY FOR FREE!!! Getting customers to come in: what do we have to offer besides books? This ties to Marketing & PR
3. TALK THEIR TALK: Like the OPAC’s, there are USER sides and STAFF sides. Libraries need to learn to speak “USER”. Any sense of elitism will drive the users away. Save shop talk for the back office & conferences.
4. Identifying users & services provided to them: Our demographics change often.. often enough for the government to survey the whole US every ten years. Are we providing services that we THINK the public wants, or actually providing them with what they REALLY want. Moreover, do you realize that students entering college this year have never seen a television station conclude the broadcast day with the national anthem, and were born during the first year of the Bush Sr’s presidency? Who are our users? What do they need? We need to tailor the library to cater to their needs! For example… by issuing 20 passports a week, for one year, the revenue is greater than my annual salary. By identifying our users, and identifying a need both parties benefit. What other user groups do we cater to? Genealogists, Gardeners, Child care professionals, teachers, and the list goes on. What have we done to make them come in?
5. Shelving turn around time/order of shelves: Its great to have the material, but once it is returned, how long does it take the customer to see it on a shelf again? Even if it is shelved, is it in the right place? Maintaining the collection at hand is as important as growing the collection. If they can’t find it, they will go some place else. Books out of place are as good as lost.
6. Signage – too much! It is the equivalent of pop ups. The public can only handle so much information at once. That is why it is key to have a centrally located information area, and all other brochures, etc. put into a nice neat place. Lots of directional signs doesn’t reduce our work load, it increases it, taking away valuable information sharing time.

CAN THE LIBRARY CAT COMPETE?

Sure, but only if we remember libraries NOT JUST BUILDINGS. If one can’t get past that, we won’t be able to compete for 10 minutes. Google isn’t a building or a person, and yet we worry about it taking away our customers.

This library cat can not be the lazy, sunning, content cat; we must constantly note details and our environment. Can the library compete with Google? Compete is the wrong word. Google employs librarians just like libraries’ across the country do. We need to work with our customers to teach them what Google is for, and what it is not for.

We need to be proactive in providing information, not reactive. People use Google from home, we need to make sure they can get to us from there too. Virtual branches are springing up everywhere. Organization on the web pages, clear paths & links to easy to understand links, and ready chat reference to provide that element that users need.

Google is a tool in my toolbox. I do use it to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit. I use Google to find images quickly when blogging. But it’s not the only tool in my toolbox. We just need to make sure the customers have more than one tool as well.

Moral of this blog: More meow, less bark.

No comments: