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.

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