Alchemical Thoughts

Posts Tagged ‘library2.0

This is the start of what might or not be a more developed essay for my professional blog. Just some thoughts:

I am getting a little sick and tired of the silly and cutesy videos and promotions that the more perky brethren in my profession seem to equate with being a good librarian and being a good promoter of the library. Now, it is not that I do not want to promote the library and its services. I work as an Outreach Librarian after all, which means it is my job to promote the library to the academic campus as well as the rest of the community at large. I make use of online resources and tools when I can, but I don't think I should have to stoop myself to the low level of using silliness to make my point. To be honest, I just don't see any other professionals such as doctors and lawyers doing similar things. Ok, I will grant you, there are some injury law attorneys that get fairly close, but they still remain professional. I just think every time one of those perky librarians who think Web 2.0 can do no wrong come up with one of these ideas they do more to embarrass the rest of us who actually work in the trenches than whatever good they think they are doing. I already have enough of a hard time getting support from some parts of my administration without having to worry one of them will see something like that "digital native" kid video (see link below) and think that is the kind of work I do. I am a professional. I am an academic librarian, and I would like to be taken seriously when it comes to my work. This has been in my mind for a while now, but I am not sure what to say, or rather how to say it. Unfortunately, some of my professional brethren do not take well to disagreement. Saying what I am saying is the kind of thing that will get me the label of "he just doesn't get it," or "he just lacks a sense of humor" (really, have you seen my personal blog, my Facebook page? I think my sense of humor is fine, thank you), or "well, he is a bad librarian who does not really care about his patrons" (yes, I have heard that one too, which irks the living daylights out of me). At the end of the day, I want to do my job. I want to do it well and to the best of my abilities. Is that really so difficult?

Here are some of the items I have recently seen out there that have made me ponder these things:

I worry that expressing questions about this, let alone being skeptical, is probably going to bite me sooner or later. I can hear it now, "ooh, he does not like the little girl. He must be some sourpuss reactionary" or worse. Personally, Abbey is like one of those kids hanging out with Fred Phelp's cult where the parents make them hold a sign, and the poor kid has no idea what they are promoting. If they would have gotten a teenager to illustrate a digital native, then they might have gotten a little more credibility in my eyes. In the end, this fuss is not going to go away any time soon. In practical terms for me, I will just do what I do: keep up, do my work, and serve my patrons. I can let someone else be cute. What saddens me is that expressing an opinion could easily get me alienated in some circles. It's not why I became a librarian given that, as a librarian and educator, I am a fierce advocate of freedom of expression.

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Once again, I have to sit though another webinar that my library director made me watch. I will say right away that I hope this was some kind of free event because if we (read the library) paid for it, we should be demanding our money back. The title of the webinar in question was "Cultivating Loyal Customers by Delivering Meaningful and Memorable Service." It's one of those seminars that TLA (Texas Library Association) provides for librarian continuing education. The featured speaker was " Steve Wishnack [who] is the founder and President of Think & Do, providing consultation, seminars and workshops that help organizations cultivate customer relationships" (his website: According to the TLA website, he has both BA and MS degrees in Education from Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY. So that is what education majors who don't go into schools to teach do: they become consultants, and I am not saying that in a good way.

A side note: I just looked up the information online. I am guessing we did pay for it, or the library director paid. Either way, I want the 45 bucks or so back.

Getting back on track, this was basically an hour and half or so of condescending, patronizing platitudes about how to provide good customer service. And when Wal-Mart is used as the example of good customer service, you have to know this is just not right. One of my colleagues noted that the speaker's presentation had a 2005 copyright date, an indication the presentation had not been updated since that time, so we are not even getting any new information. Which once again leads me to say: tell me something I do not know.

What follows are some notes from the presentation with my comments in parenthesis:

  • Customer service has to be meaninful, that is, it satisfies a customer need. Customer service is also memorable, which means that it leaves a lasting impression.
  • (Clearly the presenter sees the library as a business, which puts him on par with other library gurus who go for the library as business concept). The library is a place that conducts library business (yes, he actually said that), and customers are the people the library does business with (yes, he also said that). Libraries are not for profit, but they are in a service business.
  • There are two types of customers. External customers are the ones outside the library staff (i.e. the patrons, so on). Internal customers are the ones who work at the library (I think this is a little overreaching with the customer paradigm).
  • Some issues:
  • Competition: Things like the Internet and Google.
  • Market share.
  • ROI, the return on investment. This is what the community, or the university in our case, wants to know.
  • Assets: this includes the items in the library, such as the books, computers, the building, so on (however, there was no mention of the people. The librarians could be considered assets in the measure that they are information specialists. In fact, I just saw in some article I can't recall now a discussion of this very idea, so the idea of the librarians as being an asset to their campus was pretty fresh in my mind. It was not something this presenter even considered).
  • The presenter gave Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as a reference. That did not exactly inspire much confidence in the presenter.
  • The ABCs of customer relationships:
    • Attitude: this comes from inside.
    • Behaviors: This is how you express your attitude. (And I have to make a pause here because, as my colleague pointed out, we may be cynical for instance, but we are careful not to show it to the patrons. It's called being a professional, which apparently the presenter nor my boss keep in mind. Because we are professionals there are certain attitudes or views that we do not show or express to the patrons even when they justly deserve it. Again, it is called being a professional, something that was lacking in this cookie cutter presentation).
    • Connections: How we interact with others.
  • The value of loyal customers:
    • They use the library more.
    • They are easier to serve.
    • Free library advertising.
    • (However, just because they are loyal, it does not follow they are good customers. Maybe the presenter needs to read this column by Shaun Rein on "Get Rid of Jackass Clients." Rein also mentions the work of Bob Sutton, who is a favorite of mine and whom I respect a lot more).
  • When a customer feels mistreated, only 5% will tell you. 95% will not return (see my note above. Out of that 95%, I bet a good number of them we'd be happy if they never return). 80% will bad mouth you (sure, I would rather they not do that, but it is a fact of life you cannot please everyone. You put your best foot forward, you do your best to provide for their service or needs, but you are not their personal lackey or slave).
  • A cute acronym (this presentation had a few of those): MAGIC.
    • Making A Good Impression Counts.
  • Another cute acronym: RATER
    • Reliability: dependability, accuracy, consistency.
    • Assurance: knowledge, trust, competence, confidence.
    • Tangibles: physical appearance of our people and our workplace.
    • Empathy: caring and attentiveness.
    • Responsiveness: willingness to help promptly.
  • The most deadly attitude to customer service is indifference (I can agree with that. You do need a degree of passion and caring to work with people).
  • (The director made it a point to send a memo after the presentation. She writes: "We all know how easy it is to slip into cynicism and negativity. Certainly, difficult situations will NEVER improve if they start with negative attitudes, but courtesy and a positive attitude CAN improve interactions. The speaker did stress that 'it takes PRACTICE to make good customer service permanent" ).
  • (Again, like the presenter, the director needs to do some further reading. I hate to say this but there are moments that no matter how my attitude is, the customer comes with a bad attitude and no amount of good attitude on your part is going to fix things. Again, this was not addressed at all in the presentation nor acknowledged by the director).
  • Quote from the presentation: "Our customers will be enthusiastic about us if we are enthusiastic about our customers" (again, see my notes above on professionalism. As I saw elsewhere, I don't have to like the patrons to help them and give them good service).
  • Another quote: "Fix the problem, not the blame" (the director likes this one. I will just not go there).

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This is another note on webinars that my boss makes me attend. For some reason, our boss is on a roll in terms of making us watch webinars related to academic libraries. Actually, yesterday she mentioned that one of the reasons was that, since some of the webinars were free, that she was trying to get some training for us given the fact that the budget overall is tight. However, I tend to think that there is such a thing as being too cheap. No, I don't think she herself is cheap. I just think the way the training is done is cheap. This particular one, an ACRL webinar on "Academic Librarianship by Design" was not free, but it certainly felt cheap. It felt cheap because it yet another one of those webinars where I was not hearing anything I had not heard before. This one dealt with ways to integrate library services into a campus's course management system (CMS) like Blackboard. I suppose on the positive side, if something can be salvaged, is that the webinar pretty much reaffirmed a lot of what we are already doing. It confirms the things that our instruction librarian has been fighting for, often with either opposition or right out indifference from the IT folks, to get the library into Blackboard.

  • Yes, we do have a library tab on Blackboard that provides links to various services (and boy did we have to fight over that one).
  • Yes, we do have embedded/blended librarians.
  • Yes, we are pretty good at using things like Elluminate, virtual reference, online chat, so on. 
  • Yes, we are good at creating content and tools that our patrons will need and use.

So, once again, tell me something I do not know already. Show me something new, and something that I can actually use with the resources and restrictions I have to face. Yes, it is nice to see what other places are doing, but after a while, I want a little more substance than a basic overview. And I don't want to sound picky or superior, far from it, but basically stuff like this is just too basic. We do that stuff already with what we got. Unless unlimited money appears (unlikely to happen) and major attitude overhaul in IT and the administration happens (even less likely), we are not going to be doing things that some of the more well-heeled places presented are doing.

Am I frustrated? I suppose I am because I could have been getting some good work done in the library, and instead I had to sit for almost two hours listening to stuff that I know already because I am already doing it, or I already read about it someplace else. There is a reason the tagline in my professional blog is "I read a lot of the library literature so you don't have to."

What I am saying is this: there is a time when you have to stop watching what others are doing. It is time to put your money where you mouth is and actually start doing it. Stop worrying about what some other place is doing and concentrate on what it is we are doing. Focus on what it is we do well and measure how well we are doing it. From what I have seen so far, we are doing a lot better than many of those other places I hear about on these webinars. So, how about we focus on our work for a change? Just a thought.


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There are days when I wonder if my profession as a whole has a death wish. Not only do outsiders rail on and on about how libraries need to be closed, how they will "evolve" into new spaces (that have nothing to do with the mission of an actual library), or how no one really needs them, but librarians and library professionals insist on deprofessionalizing their own profession, taking the library apart piece by piece, turn it into an arcade or entertainment center, and pretty much go for the lowest common denominator. Of course, if you mention any of this, and you put your name on it as I am doing now, you risk the ire of your professional brethren who will label you as someone who "does not get it." I am not quite sure what to make of the whole mess. Sure, I have my opinions, but I just don't feel like writing a whole post about it.

I have seen a good number of items that have given me food for thought, so here they go in my notes. Maybe some writing will come out of it, maybe not. But I cannot help but wonder why do my professional brethren insist of self-destruction?

  • Two members of ACRL debate about the future of academic libraries, and from the looks of it, take a mild common ground where they toss the ball and say, "who knows what will happen." Not exactly something to inspire confidence. The event is reported by Inside Higher Ed in "Bookless Libraries?
  • Campus Technology looks at the 21st century library as "A Space to Collaborate." Mostly highlights of a new very elegant digital library in Calgary and a few other places. In other words, an example of what gets done when you have a lot of funding to do it and people who think that electronic will overtake everything else. 
  • Here is the Effing Librarian on "The Future of the Library Cafe." He has a way of using jokes and satire to make serious points that I like because often makes issues very accessible to others. This is definitely worth a look. He also has a new advocacy poster to help keep libraries open.
  • Then again, we need reassurance that "librarians still have vital role in the Web 2.0 era." Good to know that librarians are not headed for the scrap heap and have to start taking Geritol just yet. The article found via Resource Shelf.
  • And via Inside Higher Ed, here we have another college administrator speaking on "Libraries of the Future" where "the university library of the future will be sparsely staffed, highly decentralized, and have a physical plant consisting of little more than special collections and study areas." Funny how administrators who would never dream of doing our front line work with students are the first ones who want to outsource our librarians and library resources.
  • Stephen Abrams points to an article in the journal New Review of Academic Librarianship. I have to check to see if we carry the journal, then see if I get around to read it. For now, I am using this note to remind myself. Apparently the issue Abrams mentions deals with the ever present topic of the future of the academic library. 
  • And speaking of the short-sighted who want to close libraries, there are these folks in Omaha. Found via LISNews, where they have some comments.
  • And in the quest to make unlibraries (to borrow Effing Librarian's term), the Annoyed Librarian tells us that "Something's Gotta Give." AL also tells us that "the future is now" in the context of school libraries getting rid of book collections for e-books or other online access rental.
  • Jessamyn West has some thoughts on the Cushing Academy (aka as the school library that got rid of its book collection). A lot of comments over there. Another response on the topic at PhiloBiblos blog.

There are other things out there in the librarian sector of the blogosphere, but I can only take so much at one time. I may keep adding more as I get back in the mood.

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The service, which describes itself as a content hub and identity management platform, just has a very long way to go before it becomes a good content hub and identity management platform. I got an account back when their beta was closed, and after a few months of toying with it, it just could not meet my needs. Here are some of the problems I found:

  • A limited number of services available. It has a a very small list of services you can bring in: Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, and rss feeds (which can allow you to bring in your blog, for instance), Delicious, and one or two other things. Given the many services out there, they need to expand this list.
  • The service "does not play well" with Facebook. From the beginning, the folks claimed that you could connect your Facebook status to their service. This never worked, and as of today, when I finally made the decision to hit the delete button, it was not working. I saw some notes on their forums that Facebook apparently was giving them difficulties with importing photos into the service. Now, I don't use Facebook for photos much. I use Facebook for photos for the FB library's page, but not for personal use. So, this was not a big issue, but the status and feed integration was definitely a desired feature, and I saw no indication it would get fixed any time soon.
  • Feeds. I pulled in the feeds from my blogs and my delicious account. I noticed that updating the feed over on from the blog was not very expeditious. I made a post this morning earlier, and had not picked it up yet. There was no option to refresh the feed when logged in, and no note or indication in their help about how long it could take for a feed to update. A content hub does not work very well if it does not update in a timely matter.
  • Their help forums. While there is an e-mail for questions and support, most of the help is routed to their forums. For the forums, which are powered by some third party, you have to register (again). This was very off putting for me. I already registered for your service, and you are going to make me jump another hurdle so I can send you feedback, feedback which you claim to welcome? No, thanks.

Overall, it was a good experiment. I got some ideas of things I would like to accomplish in terms of social networking and 2.0. The idea of putting all (or a lot of) my content online in one place is very appealing. That you can control and create personas (public, private, so on) and have your visitors see just what you indicate sounds very good. But at this point in time, the service was simply too limited, and to be honest, it does not do anything that I cannot do on Facebook or even here on Vox. So, not seeing any real point, I finally made the decision to delete the account. Maybe if the service improves substantially, I would be willing to give it another try. For now, it did not work for me, and on the basis of my experience I would not recommend it.

I am still interested in something that can centralize my social network profiles, so I will continue searching. If anyone has any suggestions, feel free to let me know.

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July 2014
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