Tuesday, December 16, 2008


So, I was talking to a colleague the other day and she mentioned the importance of providing outreach services to users to ensure that libraries are truly embedded in the psyche of their communities ... And that got me thinking about the last time I visited Best Buy ...

I was wandering through the aisles looking for nothing in particular and a guy who looked like he worked there (khakis, a polo, and a name tag) asked me if I needed help. I answered that I was killing time, and he chuckled and said he was too. I was a little surprised, as it was the Christmas season, and the joint was crawling with people. That's when I noticed that he wasn't wearing the obligatory yellow or blue polo -- his was white, and his name tag was emblazoned with the "EPSON." When I asked him, he told me that Epson sent folks out to assist shoppers during there time of need. He wasn't straight-out selling -- he was facilitating the shoppers decision-making process. Think about that ... from a reference/info services/readers' advisory standpoint -- that's what we do ... the problem is that we're still concentrating on in house delivery.

What if we worked with community places (retail, social service, other governmental, etc.) to provide on site services ... to facilitate decision-making.

Even if we go back to Best Buy ... How cool would it be if there was a librarian in Best Buy to help provide access to consumer product reviews so that users could make more informed decisions? Pretty cool ....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Frank Deford, Crazy Stats, and Success

So, I was listening to WUNC Radio yesterday on my way to work. I'd managed to forgot the fact that it was Wednesday, until I heard Frank Deford lamenting the the current state of sport-related stats -- specifically those of baseball. While my first reaction was to wince and scoff, as I listened I realized how true it was ... and how - often while watching a sporting event on TV/web I found myself thinking that somebody in the production van in the parking lot of the stadium was feeding the announcers random bits of nonsense in order to fill dead air.

And then I realized that we do that in libraries (and probably every business) ... maybe not to fill dead air, but we create numbers and ratios and indicators to identify bits of success. Some of it might be valuable ... but many of them are just a distraction.

In his book, The One Thing You Need to Know, Marcus Buckingham talked about how (and I'm paraphrasing here) what we need is not more numbers, but laser focus on the one number that actually means something. Of course, depending on your business, your audience, or your context, that number (and how you measure it) changes.

NC LIVE - the organization for which I work is in the information delivery/usage business ... we provide online content and services to libraries and users of libraries that they can't or don't get elsewhere. When I first started here, I wanted to come up with an elegant analysis plan that would help identify the value and meaning of our existence ... sounds simple, eh? Yeah ... so, two years later we're no closer ...

In reality though, perhaps we've had it all along. Perhaps it isn't a new stat that we need -- a new and elaborate metric we must devise ... No, instead what we need to do is follow one number:

Cost per item viewed per user

We need to constantly measure it with an eye toward how the actions we take, i.e., products we launch, promotional campaigns initiated, widgets distributed, content pieces added, etc., impact that number. We need to set targets before we take action (during planning), and measure how close we get to the target and ask why we exceeded it or missed it. All of our priorities should be set based on the one number, and all team, personal, and organizational performance assessments should use the one number as our guide.

In the end ... Frank was right ... being distracted by the goofy stats will mean that we'll fail to achieve what we could ... and that we will surely lose value and meaning.

Labels: ,

Friday, November 21, 2008

A little boost up from for the sake of time

At the office yesterday we talked with the folks from CraftySpace.com who also front the YourLibrarySite.com and who've been talked about recently by David King, John Blyberg, and others. They build templated and custom Drupal sites for libraries and nonprofits, and by all accounts are pretty good at it.

In our shop, we've been lusting after a new web space / environment / experience for some time now, and although one of our member librarians described our current site as "making her nauseous," we haven't yet moved it up the rungs of the ladder of things to do. Yesterday, it began an upward climb.

Unlike some of the clients CraftySpace works with, we actually have very talented technical staff who are capable of creating / adapting a CMS driven site with modular functionality ... what we don't have enough of is time to do all of the projects on our ladder. In talking with the company, it became instantly obvious that we could work with them to create a site that will meet our short horizon needs, and we could do it quickly. We talked about hosting the site ourselves and being responsible for all maintenance and further development, but we also agreed that we want to maintain a sharing relationship with them (and/or others) to propagate creativity, time-efficiency, and yes ... craftiness!

No deals have been done yet and we may end up going a different direction ... life's like that. But I like the option of being able to lean on a group that is open to sharing in the open-source sense, and can deliver for a set fee.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Counting things ... that matter

"Confusion fosters frustration, the sense that this stuff is just too complicated, which in tern leads to surrender ... "
-- From More Lies and Statistics by Joel Best

Oh yeah, baby ... ain't it the truth! -- You're preachin' to the choir, Brother Joel ...

We're in the process of putting together our quarterly statistical report for our board and I'm trying to figure out the best way to count stuff. We learn to count in (or before) kindergarten, and yet when it comes to reporting what we count, we suddenly get all twitchy about it.

Take e-Audio books (known by many names including "downloadable audiobooks") ... We can count the number of downloads ... that seems pretty straight forward ... until you think about the fact that there might be turn-aways (due to lack of "copies") ... so we count those too, and we then compute the average number of downloads per total requests for the title (downloads plus turn-aways) ... And of course, a number is relatively meaningless unless measured over time, so we have to collect these items ... Oh, and then, since we actually expend $$ for the titles, we have figure out the value of our acquisitions -- you know, calculating the cost per item downloaded, cost per turn-away, cost per request, and then all of that as a function time ...

But that's not the real story, exactly, because we also need to spin the numbers and look at it from the perspective "For every dollar we put into e-Audio, how many N does that dollar yield" where N is the number of ... well, whatever you decide it is.

You see how this leads to confusion ... and eventually, frustration ... right?! And so, we give up. Too often we simply give up. We never even get to the point where we actually use the numbers for anything -- that's right, believe it or not, just reporting them is meaningless ... if we don't use them to predict, drive, or measure our effectiveness in our field of expertise, we're really just spending a lot of time doing half the job.

You see, I don't want to know this stuff 'cause it gives me warm fuzzies; I want to know it so I can tell my suppliers "we're spending too much on your stuff - there's a negative ROI" or "we love your stuff, and want more of it because we see a correlation between our users using it and satisfaction with local library service, and that is good for communities (academic or geographic)because of " whatever ... And I think our suppliers want to know the numbers and what they mean too -- it helps them help us help our users, and that's just good business.

Oh, and to not pay attention ... to not measure and report and use the numbers to drive our decisions ... that's just negligent.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Apture ... My dream of Libraries

Okay ... so I've always thought some sort of library virus would be a good idea ... it would bring the power of the truly linkable universe to everyone's information devise (read "brain", "computer", handheld", etc.,) ... it would be catchy and would feed off of the knowledge and links around it to make us all smarter (at least potentially -- let's face it ... it's only as good as the info out there!).

So then, I'm reading eWeek from July 7, 2008 and on page 28-9 they have this article on Apture, a start up that's producing something called the "Innovative Media Hub" which without any type of client-side anything (aside from a browser) gives users the ability to "Search and discover media online from such sources as Wikipedia, Amazon, YouTube, ESPN, Comedy Central, Flickr, and WashingtonPost.com. And the cool part is that it only take a piece of code that is then inserted in your site code to make your site Apture-enabled.

Wow, I'm thinking ... that's what we need in our online content offering ... the ability to instantly link to every other piece of online content we (and others) offer ... In stead of the jolting and sometimes randomness of federated searching, this goes beyond Google by moving discovery away from search and closer to find. Can you imagine needing to find information on Beethoven, going to a some sort of encyclopedia (whether it's Wikipedia or Britannica) and finding not just the background with links to other free stuff or content provided by the same publisher, but
everything you and/or your institution has access to ... scores, critiques, sound recordings, video of the Vienna Philharmonic, and even primary sources (digitized). Not only that, but anything that you want to upload yourself ... that's right ... libraries as collectors and curators and PUBLISHERS!

Anyhow ... it's not quite the library virus, but it's getting closer ...

The only downside ... libraries were not mentioned in the article ... not at all ... so ... it's up to us to not get lost in this discussion and implementation like we have with other discovery tools. I guess I just need to figure out how to make it work for NC LIVE!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

File under things I think are funny ....

So we use Mozilla Thunderbird for our email system ... I kinda hate it, but that's probably because I'm too brainwashed by Microsoft to think that anything but outlook is a cheap knock off ... Anyhow, I've noticed some funny occurrences with how spellcheck handles certain names.

Here are some funny (I think) examples -- the real name is listed first with the spellcheck suggestion following it:
  • Neuwirth -- Mirthful
  • Jowaisis -- Waistcoat
  • Suellentrop -- Repellent
  • Lauffer -- Chauffeur
  • Lexoria - Inexorable
  • Dykeman -- Brakeman
  • Guzzo -- Guzzler
  • Yurcaba -- Bifurcate
  • Beaubien -- Beautician
  • Mostafa -- Hemostat
  • Hondros -- Wondrous
  • Putze -- Deputize, and last, but not least ...
  • Carmack -- Carjack

Of course, every time I see or talk to our think about the folks these names belong to, I think about the spellcheck name ... and chuckle.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Superhero Job Titles

One of my colleagues hates her job title. Well, I should rephrase that -- she doesn't hate it so much as she thinks it's bland, boring, and bears no resemblance to her job ... the title? -- Systems Librarian. I have to agree -- at least about it not coming close to describing her job.

We've come up with a couple new titles, but none really captures the excitement and joie de vivre she's looking for ... Customer Service Librarian may describe much of her work, but is fraught with the desperate fatigue that goes along with constantly facing other peoples problems: think about working the "Customer Service" desk at Wal-Mart or Microsoft!

A title we tossed around when I worked at Johnson County Library in suburban KC was Community Engagement Librarian. JCL was (and may still be) pretty committed to the idea of the library as a facilitator for community study and action -- not the library making choices for the community (though, doesn't that sound like a good idea!), but the library providing the tools and resources (including people!) so that community members could make decisions about the direction of future development. I always like that one ...

One of our current member libraries -- the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County has recently restructure and has some cool job titles ... Director of Library Experiences, Director of Community Engagement, Director of Research, Innovation, and Strategy, etc., ... I like those a lot ... makes me think that I'd really go to work with a suped-up attitude!

Anyhow, the search for my colleague's title goes on ... something inspiring ... something descriptive and accurate ... something different, but with elements that ring true for our customers (we want a quizzical look of ... "Hmmm," not an eye-roll) ... In the end, what we're going for is a superhero name ... "The Flash," "Captain America," even "Batman" all inspire, describe, and ring true ...

Perhaps she should consider "Infocommuner" ... ?!?! ... Hmmm ... now I need to start working on a outfit design!