Monday, October 31, 2011

VLA Conference 2011

On Friday I went to VLA. The circumstances were somewhat ridiculous - we had to leave the library parking lot in our county van at 5:45 in the morning, and I think we got back around 6:30 that evening. 12 hours of paid time for 8 hours of conference-time. I chose Friday because of "Connecting to Community" and "Measuring the Soft Stuff." (On a humorous side note: the marketing preconference was cancelled due to low attendance. Funny but also sad - I fear that people don't recognize that libraries need marketing, now more than ever.)

Here's my programme of activities and a synopsis of the sessions. I deviated somewhat from my planned agenda, with mixed results.

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Connecting with Community: Reinventing Your Library as a Community Hub
More practical and less theoretical than I had hoped. Spoke more about libraries in small communities, answering needs, like dental care and nutrition classes, where because of the rural community, the library served as the only point of access. Had some cool-but-standard program ideas - partnerships with businesses, work with other departments, etc. Their approach to programming is basically the same as ours.

The presenter did emphasize one firm, solid principle that everyone should take to heart - think recklessly about radical ideas.

I'd like to maybe use that "think recklessly" (or perhaps "no fear!") as part of an internal campaign to rethink our library. Right now I think that one of the obstacles towards library reinvention is hesitancy among the staff - they are uncertain of their authority, reluctant to disrupt the status quo. Big concerns: it's too loud, it's in the way, it might be disruptive, it's too much work. My answer? THINK BIG. THINK RECKLESSLY.

Keynote Speaker
Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak. Funny, engaging, a true lover of literature and therefore of libraries. A complete essay inspired by his speech (especially his impression of libraries) will follow. For now, I'll just say he's a speaker worth hearing.

Measuring the Soft Stuff
This is a two-hour workshop compressed into 45 minutes, and you can tell. A lot of stuff flew by on slides that I wish we could have spent more time on. We touched on brand management in general, library brands in particular, social media strategies like connecting on a personal basis, and the rule of thumb for online conversations (listen twice as much as you talk!)

The "measuring" part was focused pretty much entirely on social media, and Facebook specifically. But the inherent message was good:

First, set goals, and align those goals with your strategic plan. What do you want to have happen?
Second, get some measurements. (She offered some tools for doing this, mostly Facebook focused).
Third, Do something with your numbers. It's a measurement when you write down a number. It's a metric when you have something to compare it to: an expectation, a previous measurement, etc. She suggested spending time focused on statistics that can correspond to physical statistics: number of visits, questions asked and answered, things like that.

We got a good list of things to potentially measure, and I got a bit of information about a concept that's pretty new to me - the "listening post." This seems to be an online portal for keeping track of online mentions of a specific keyword - i.e. your library's name. I believe one of my coworkers is using Google Alerts, but I'm interested to see what else we can do to keep track of our presence online. I wonder if there is any way to filter by location? Mentions of "Chesterfield Library" are great, but what about tracking all mentions of "library" within Chesterfield County?

Using Quick Assessment Tools to Generate Meaningful Data from One-shot Instruction Sessions
Interesting information - academic-library focused. I went to see if there perhaps might be some relevance to computer instruction. I think the main obstacle towards implementing this strategy would be that non-students don't do homework or expect to take tests - could we get them to fill out assessments?

In terms of presentation, this was probably the best workshop I attended, mainly because the presenter had a realistic idea of how much information could fit into a 45-minute session.

Lean Library Management
A fairly basic process improvement workshop - "work smarter, not harder" - with a focus on developing a team of people to address a specific problem or inefficiency. Again, it's hard to fit much information into a 45-minute time slot.

What I appreciated most was that the presenter emphasized the importance of trust in this process. She talked about some of the reasons that people fear change, and about how those reasons boil down to trust. People may fear that a new way of doing things won't be as good as the old way, but if you get their input, they will trust the process. People may fear that they won't be good at the new way of doing things, but if they trust their organization, they won't be afraid of losing their jobs. People may fear that their input is being ignored, but if you get them on board at the beginning and give them ownership over the changes, than they'll trust that the new system is truly better. Since this was a workshop for managers, the main points were these: When your employees trust you, they will be less resistant to change. When you trust your employees, you get the full benefit of their knowledge and experience. She also mentioned that if you keep the conversation focused on "How will this help the patron?", you can probably get everyone on board.

* * * * * *

Overall, the sessions were good but not great. At no point during the day did I feel that spark of inspiration, that feeling of "Yes! This is a great idea, I have to tell everyone about this!"

In my mind I return to the math of hours. Me and one of my coworkers were both there for 12 hours - 24 man-hours at this conference. If we instead divided those between the 6 people in my office, we could all take a 4-hour retreat and talk about our ideas, our problems, our creative solutions. Next year, I think this might be a better notion.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Media Communications

We've been having some success in our media communications recently, so I wanted to share what we're doing.

These points apply particularly to our position as a public library and as a county department, but I hope that some of these points could be generalized.

First, we work as a group in advance to decide which events and new developments will be highlighted. We discuss this at our weekly meeting - what's going on that is newsworthy, trend-related, or strategically important. We make a small list of 3 or 4 items to focus on.

Next, we have designated a single point of contact in our office. One co-worker monitors our visibility in the news and on the web, sends information to the media, and works with the county's Public Affairs department. Which brings me to our next point...

We are working more closely than ever with the Public Affairs department. Our point-of-contact speaks with a representative from Public Affairs every week; they discuss our list of highlighted items and how best to publicize them. This connection to the knowledge and experience of the Public Affairs dept. has been invaluable. For example, sometimes they send press releases for us, and other times they use memorandums to reporters. What's the difference? We don't know, and now we don't have to - we're taking advantage of their experience to lessen our workload. Now not everyone has a Public Affairs department to work with, but a broader point applies - use the tools and experience you have available.

Our results? News stories (3 or 4 in the past month?), skyrocketing interest in programs and events, and a smoother workflow within the office, since we're not jockeying to position our own events at the forefront of the publicity efforts.

In brief: focus your efforts, have a single point-of-contact, and use the tools and shortcuts available.