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.