Thursday, July 24, 2008

Next Generation ILS - and the power of failure

I just returned from BCR's conference called "Next Generation ILS: "Mashed Up, Fried, of Half-Baked," held in Boise, Idaho. (The conference title was a series of references, I later was told, to potatoes, which completely escaped me. On the other hand, I ate at a Basque restaurant one evening there [Leku Ona, on 6th and Grove], and the mashed potatoes were indeed superb.)

There were several speakers:

  • Marshall Breeding, Director for Innovative Technologies and Research, Jean and Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt University. He was good, too, providing an excellent overview of the marketplace today.
  • Karen Schneider, Community Librarian, Equinox. The always delightful Karen is now working as a remarkably clear-eyed proponent of open source solutions. She still does some of the best PowerPoint there is -- mostly humorous images and short phrases.
  • Matt Goldner, Executive Director of End User Services, OCLC. Like most of the folks at OCLC, Matt is frighteningly knowledgeable, focused, and articulate. He was funny, too. His point: move fast. Try stuff, abandon what doesn't work, try something else.
  • Ira Frosch, President, Palazzo Inc. Ira was a hoot, bringing a business-process consulting perspective -- and since he doesn't work in our space, he provided a true outsider's view. It was refreshing.

I was the final speaker. I used my Freemind presentation, and the pyramid graphic (see here for that link and discussion) to mostly make the point that we won't have an INTEGRATED library system until we figure out how to pull in information about our community: local organizations, speakers, and experts.

I was also very frank about a painful realization. For the past decade or so, I have been operating under a specific hypothesis: growing library use, library market share, also grows support. Two strong bits of evidence seem to have disproven that. First, despite a 93% satisfaction rate by our public with our services, despite a solid 80% of county households with at least one active library card, we lost last year's election by 1% of the vote. Second, OCLC's "From Awareness to Funding" report, based on its 8,000 interviews, concluded that there was no relationship between use and willingness to provide or increase financial support. Nor was it demographic. It was, instead, attitudinal.

It took us at least two years to work out how to do an effective PR campaign to grow use. It's just possible that we have to radically rethink our PR to grow support. And that might take another 2-4 years.

The strategy I have followed as director has been very forthright: measuring market share, measuring use, makes sure that we serve as many of our constituents as possible. And we've done a very good job of that. That's worth hanging onto from a service perspective.

But the connect between use and funding still isn't clear to many people when it comes to libraries. And finally, an institution that fails to secure the resources it requires to provide the services its community requires is a failure. Library directors are supposed to figure that stuff out.

I remain a fiscal conservative. Our board, our staff, and I, have worked very hard, and with great success, to wring out the last possible benefit of every penny. And the resources we may request in the fall are still very modest: about $30 a year for most households in the county, for which we offer a significant and cost-effective expansion of demonstrably popular services.

My point: there are much larger spuds to fry than our cataloging systems. We have to integrate sustainable resources into the larger library systems if we are to fulfill our mission.

Thanks to BCR for hosting the conference. Under the direction of Brenda Bailey-Hainer, BCR is taking significant steps to assume an important role in the profession: thought leadership, which I'll describe as talking about the stuff that matters.


B Strand said...

Sounds like a fascinating conference, and it surprises me to hear that increased library use does not correlate to more votes towards improving libraries' budgets.

I'd love to hear more about how libraries are translating the values of the open source movement and related intellectual property developments like creative commons to evolve their relationship with the public.

Jamie said...

The broken link between use and support surprises a lot of us. But that's the value of good research: it forces us to stop deceiving ourselves.

The use of Open Source software in libraries in still new. The biggest experiment, and success, has been the wholesale adoption of an open source-based statewide catalog in Georgia, called Georgia PINES (Public Information Network for Electronic Services). There are now a couple of new "vendors" coming along to help us work out solutions that are less proprietary, that can be created and sustained by us all.

I haven't done a lot of work in the "creative commons" area, although I think you're right that it holds great potential. I'll do some looking around on that topic. Thanks.

Claudia said...

Am new to your very interesting blog. Can you share some of the tools you implement to measure market share and use (beyond circ stats), and how you make sure that you serve as many of your constituents as possible?

Jamie said...

Claudia, there are two approaches. The first is graphical: de-dupe your patron records (by address if you can, phone number if the data entry was too inconsistent), then overlay it on the Geographic Information System data from your city or county. The second is just straight math: same first step, but divide it by the number of individual households (info also available from your city or county). The advantage to the first is that you can drill right down to the block.

Also important: since all this is driven by patron info, it's vital to purge those files regularly. But it's also vital to make sure that you UPDATE patron files with every use -- such as electronic resources. - Welcome

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