Monday, February 9, 2009

Library 2.0…well, of course!

My favorite part of this lesson (Thing 15) was this quote from Dr. Wendy Schultz of Infinite Futures:

Libraries are not just collections of documents and books, they are conversations, they are convocations of people, ideas, and artifacts in dynamic exchange. Libraries are not merely in communities, they are communities: they preserve and promote community memories; they provide mentors not only for the exploration of stored memory, but also for the creation of new artifacts of memory.

- From To a temporary place in time…On the way to the library experience of the future

This resonated with me because it is exactly what my team has been working toward for almost a decade now. I’d like to say we’re there, but this vision is more of a journey than a destination.

As the last millennium drew to a close, my team was constructing a 5-year plan to make “All Things Virtual.” (In retrospect, “All Things Digital” would have been more accurate.) The vision was to digitally connect our users to relevant internal and external information they needed in increasingly direct ways (i.e., enhanced ACCESS).

The risk in this plan was that we were far from certain of the possibility, let alone probability, that many of the critical elements necessary for the plan’s success would exist anytime soon or work within our systems infrastructure. But, betting on our own understanding of information, technology, and social trends and how suppliers would seize opportunities created by them, we chose to trust that the essential elements of our plan would emerge. (In other words, if we’d thought of it, someone else who was equipped to turn it into a product had probably thought of it, too.) And that’s exactly what happened.

Concurrently, we began changing the way we operated and communicated internally to be consistent with other business units. We adopted practices like creating a product cycle plan, constructing service level agreements, billing back, and aggressively managing, measuring, and communicating value and return on investment for the information resources portfolio.

Our users kicked and screamed. Our library team kicked and screamed. But then it happened…the elusive and oft touted culture change. Users began to like having immediate access to a variety of information. The serendipity of self-serve research led our users to deeper understanding of their own topics and along previously undiscovered trails to new ideas. Library staff stopped being bogged down by materials processing and routine searching and spent more time helping users to effectively find answers. Information usage skyrocketed (despite bill backs!) and library productivity soared. Library staff, initially concerned that giving up control of collections and searching would make them irrelevant, now are juggling an abundance of project work -- interesting work. We’re swamped!

But once we were all connected and could access information easily, we wanted more. Fortunately, the IT tools we needed were materializing. And so began our next plan to “Inhabit the End-User’s Workspace.” For us, this means leveraging Web 2.0: making content seamlessly flow when, how, and to where it is needed (i.e., on the user's own digital turf); creating connections; and facilitating collaboration so that new content is created and shared. Our mantra is extracting VALUE: Helping our users manage and customize their content environment effectively to promote both productivity and creativity.

More importantly, we began reinventing ourselves to connect more closely with our users. We now perceive ourselves as content management consultants first, with proficiency in information. We proactively relinquished more control over our own direction and resources to better engage our users and harness their energy and intelligence in building a better content environment. For example, we formed a user advisory board and deliberately picked vocal and action-oriented members who would push us well beyond our comfort zone. We also developed a plan to convert the major part of our library’s physical space into shared collaborative space for our users; that is, we give up turf to better connect with users -- and connect them with each other -- on new, shared turf.

The result? We met with more enthusiastic support up, down, and across the organization than we ever dreamed. Our customer satisfaction ratings are phenomenal (and we thought we were good before!) and we are invited to partner on more key projects across the global organization than we have resources to support. An abundance of opportunity and being in great demand --one can’t argue with that!

But we’re not resting on our laurels. We realize that the shelf life on some of our current activities and projects is short in this dynamic information environment. We’ve already begun to address the next big game changer: virtual reality. For us, that means focusing on the EXPERIENCE of information in our work lives, not only the access to it or value derived from it, but how it integrates into who we are as colleagues and professionals. This is an ethereal concept, but we’re working on it.

Here’s a summary graphic:

Without knowing it when we started, my team aligned its plans with the Key Principles of Library 2.0:

  • Browser + Web 2.0 Applications + Connectivity = Full-featured OPAC

  • Harness the library user in both design and implementation of services

  • Library users should be able to craft and modify library provided services

  • Harvest and integrate ideas and products from peripheral fields into library service models

  • Continue to examine and improve services and be willing to replace them at any time with newer and better services.

Weird how we all eventually arrive at the same point philosophically, even if we take vastly different paths to get there, isn’t it? This is why I constantly remind my staff that we need to capitalize on our best ideas before they’re fully formed, because, if I have a brainwave, I would take odds that someone cleverer than I had a similar brainwave sometime earlier. So, if you want to run with an idea, you need to act with lightning speed and accept the associated risks of moving that fast. Ah, the adrenaline rush of trailblazing information management!

[An amusing aside about failing to seize opportunities…

In the 1990s, I wrote a column called Tips for Better Writing (originally called Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, but the title was shortened by the publisher) in an internal company publication. The column was always very short and to-the-point, with each article focusing on a single confusing point of grammar, punctuation, or usage. Colleagues began referring to me as “Grammar Goddess.” The column was a huge hit -- so popular that, years after I’d stopped writing it, we maintained an online directory of old columns to satisfy the many former readers who demanded continuing access. When Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing became popular, you can’t even imagine how many people told me that I should have preempted her in the podcasting universe. Her podcasts are uncannily close in content, scope, and style to my old columns. I guess grammar gurus must have similar brain patterns. If only I had seized the opportunity, you all would be following tweets of GrammarGoddess instead of GrammarGirl...*sigh*. BTW, I'm not jealous; I think Grammar Girl rocks.]

Obviously, I’m passionate about this topic. Feel free to comment or contact me if you share this passion.

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