Geek Librarian on Parade

Today started a string of travel for me. I am in Denver until Sunday to attend LITA Forum. I will be giving two talks:
David and Goliath take on Social Tools and Learning 2.0 on a Dime.

Monday, I leave Denver for Virginia Beach to talk to the public library there about Web 2.0 and how it can help them engage customers. I created an outline and entitled it Making Your Patrons More Than the Audience. I got an email back from Nancy, who has been working with me for the trip, saying that they refer to their patrons as customers. I gladly changed the wording of my presentation. It is nice that the mentality of patrons as customers is already in place in Virginia Beach.

I have long thought it short sighted of libraries not to admit that we are competing for people’s attention and that makes us like a business. If you follow that logic, our patrons are indeed customers. If we really planned things this way, would we offer different services?

I think that we would move a lot faster and keep up with demand better. In the real world, companies that do not keep up, go bankrupt and fail. In the library world, this does not happen, but you do become obsolete in your community. I think the ability of libraries to survive despite a lack of innovation has hurt our culture. I believe that is beginning to change because we are competing for people’s attention and money, but oh, the change is so very slow.

We need to start thinking like businesses and get over our hang-ups about that.

–Jane, well that post went off on a tangent!

6 thoughts on “Geek Librarian on Parade

  • Pingback: Oh Jane, How I | Library Stuff

  • October 5, 2007 at 7:39 am
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    Well, I guess I don’t have to worry about getting you a b-day gift on time!

    Hope you’re having fun on all of your Fall travels.

  • October 5, 2007 at 9:10 am
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    I don’t know that it’s all about “thinking like businesses” as much as it is concentrating on what people want. Libraries are service organizations and we need to offer the services people want in order to remain relevant.

    Libraries do need to do a better job at adapting to new formats and technologies. I think that any public library that cries about lack of space yet maintains a collection of VHS tapes and/or audio cassettes needs face up to their packrat mentality and dump the stuff that no one wants. It’s as simple as that.

  • October 5, 2007 at 9:18 am
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    I can’t tell you how many useless fights I’ve gotten into over the stupid “customer” vs “patron” issue. I think a library can use either, depending on what they choose to focus on for their system.

    The usual argument against “customer” is that there is no fee-for-service mechanism to establish that relationship. What these people fail to understand is that there is also no “male rich benefactor bestowing special gifts on their subjects” mechanism either. Language is a silly thing — so much gets lost in wording. “Fit for purpose” is what I always say.

  • October 5, 2007 at 4:09 pm
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    When we public librarians tell ourselves to “think like businesses”, we mean listen to our customers, respond rapidly to changes in our communities, provide excellent customer service, and be flexible, creative, and innovative. But when we call these essentials “thinking like businesses,” we are encouraging the assumption that businesses do all these things, while government agencies and nonprofits are insensitive, unresponsive, and inflexible. This belief is widespread, but how true is it? Customers vote with their feet, but they also vote with their votes, and democratic governments fail to respond at their peril. The current stereotypes of business and government have been systematically (some would say cynically) promoted by politicians and advocacy groups for decades, and they have undermined support for all public institutions. Public libraries are like businesses in many ways. We are unlike them in at least two: we are responsible to our communities, not to stockholders, and no matter how responsive and innovative we are, we will not survive if our communities no longer see a value in public service and the public good.

  • October 11, 2007 at 6:24 am
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    Very good point. I agree that librarians should look at what can be learned from running a business. F.i. market segmentation, CRM and ‘sales’ (not a dirty word!).

    Find out who your customers are (or even who they should be… who for example would be your target group that is not yet using the library?), learn about their demands and then aim to deliver that.

    Don’t try to provide everything to everyone, make choices.

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