Friday, January 26, 2007

Fix-it Fridays: Management Fads and inspiring staff

We recently had an in-service day about customer service. This was a pre-FISH type of program (I just did not tell them it was fish, I don't want to look like this It really doesn't matter that it is a fad. I know that if you tell staff what it is, they will immediately be resistant. Most of the time staff are resistant to change out of fear of more work, or worse, more work with no reward.

In the end these techniques are attempts to motivate employees and help them enjoy their jobs. I prefer people to be happy at their jobs, but it is difficult to keep them that way with the type of people they have to deal with. FISH is an attempt to have employees own their jobs and have fun at work. The more fun you have, the better the mood of everyone else (including our patrons). However, it is difficult to sustain this type of environment. All you need is one grump that is resilient in his or her grumpiness and the thing can fall apart. In the FISH book series, the first two books demonstrate how to create a FISH environment and successful FISH environments. The third of the FISH books is called FISH Sticks, which documents the trouble in maintaining this type of mindset of enjoying your work.

I remember a few months back on publib where everyone was up in arms about these types of management fads and how they were all smoke and mirrors, the best post by the infamous Joe Schallan This is an enjoyable read about management fads. He trashes everything from Total Quality Management to Planning for Results.

"The purpose of a management fad isn't to effect improvements;
the purpose of a management fad is to reassure managers about
their role."

That is a very jaded statement, but it seems that comes with management trying all these techniques and not sticking with it themselves. The constant turnover of new things that don't work will frustrate staff.

Getting staff motivated is always a challenge. When you have a more experienced staff member that is thoroughly jaded and uncooperative, it stymies that progress. I am someone who is an optimist and one thing has always driven my management decisions. It is based on this story, abbreviated here (known as the Hawthorne Studies:

"The first experiments were with illumination - lighting in the factory. It was thought that workers might work better when there was more light, but light was very expensive, so they needed to find the optimum level to satisfy both requirements.

They assigned workers making induction coils to 2 groups: test and control. Both started with same amount of light. Then the Test group was given more light. Productivity went up. But, unfortunately, it also went up in the control group. So then they increased the light in the Test group again. Once again, productivity went up or stayed the same in both groups. Again they raised the light level, and again the same result.

So then they reduced the lighting in the Test group way down, below the level in control group. Productivity soared in the Test group, and continued to go up in the control group. They reduced light some more: same result. They finally got down to a level of light equivalent to a moonlit night, and found that productivity was still the same or higher. This really confused the researchers. As one of the researchers put it at the time, they were "knocked galley-west" by the results.

They finally took two workers and put them in a closet with no light at all -- just the crack under the door. Productivity was just fine."

And further they found:

"By separating people into groups and then making lots of changes in working conditions, the researchers inadvertently did two things:

1. Made workers feel like management actually cared about them. They felt important and special. This is a problem with the experimental design.
2. They created bonds among people in the test and control groups -- in effect turning them into true groups as described above. People work better when they are part of a clear social structure."

So in the end good managers will use these management techniques to help their staff. I value my staff and I want them to know that. Trying to convince them of that is always an uphill battle. I am always reminded of this story and make sure I let staff know I value them by asking their input, making it ok to voice their opinion, and thanking them for their good work. The organization operates better that way, working as a team.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Successful Saturday: Bursting at the seams or do we need to start bouncing people

I have a suggestion box at the circulation desk. It allows people to write suggestions for improvements, complain, or complement. They have ranged from wanting the bathrooms to be unlocked, to requests for particular collections. The ones I have received the most lately are these:

"You need more computers"

"You need more books"

"You need to be open longer"

"It is too noisy in here"

These are what I would deem to be good complaints. All of our usage in the last year has received double digit increases and because of that increased use, there is not enough to go around. We have doubled computer access, but it is not enough. We have used impact fees to increase the collection, but it is not enough and not fast enough. (We don't even have enough room for all of our holds on our hold shelf.) We have not increased hours, but the walk-in business has increased intensely. We will have 1000 people in the building each day, as compared to a year ago where 750 was busy.

What I have come to realize is that you can continue to provide great services and get bigger and better, but it is never enough. Once you increase that level of service, there are more people using that service. I always love the "too noisy" complaint. Ever have 100 or 1000 people in a room at the same time, you try to keep it quiet. I always love the complaint about not enough computers, "Is there anywhere else I can go to get access?" No, we are the only game in town.

What I love about a community really using their library and embracing it is how it helps that community exponentially. The residents are more intelligent, curiosity is satisfied, and the public is entertained. I especially love storytime. Every week these parents come out with their children and overrun the place. Kids are grabbing their weekly books and movies and will come back next week to do the same thing. It is just immeasurable the good libraries do for their communities. The more you tell people, the more people you have passionate about libraries, and the community only gets better.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Fix-it Friday: A Contradiction, doing well on paper or doing well for patrons

A library should not be judged on how many books it owns, but the quality of the collection. The problem using statistics alone (like HAPLR does) is that it only counts volumes. Anyone who has taken a weeding class is aware of how reducing the collection increases its use, and growing the collection with unused materials reduces use. So I can make the determination of looking good on paper (making a grandiose statement that I have over 100,000 items in the library's collection), or I can actually create a leaner collection that is used more often (increasing circulation by double digits). Since circulation levels are such a moving target, most agencies that track success, only want to know how many items are in your collection. For instance, when you calculate impact fees they only look at the cost of replacing the entire collection. So if you have 100,000 items, what would be the cost of replacing that collection if you lost everything in the building. The more items you have, the more money you will have for future books, circulation is completely ignored. What is the point of being a successful library if you can't get credit or increased funding for it? HAPLR, impact fee studies, and the similar tools hurt libraries by looking at the wrong stats and not counting all of the stats.

This also goes for strategic planning. I can create a great strategic plan, but most of the circulation, computer usage, reference questions, database hits and program attendance goes to items the library has always performed successfully. Strategic planning works because it gets the community involved in planning for library services and demonstrates that value. However, going too far in sticking to the plan only makes you look good on paper, and does not really create value in the community. Is it better to have a program that the people want and have great attendance, or it is better to stick to the plan, create a program you think people want, and get poor attendance? Create the same scenario for collection development or database usage. I think the strategic planning model is better than just straight statistics, but both have trouble capturing true success. This is the balance I walk and most of the time everything falls into place. It is just very strange how difficult to demonstrate that impact easily.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Long Tail

Long Tail Rules for libraries
In the book The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, he states that the future of markets is selling less of more with two guiding principles:

Make Everything Available

Help Me Find it

How does this relate to libraries?

1.Make everything available
Libraries make a wide variety available, more than any larger chain bookstore, but lacks the depth of a virtual bookstore. Even with E-books, we would not be able to make everything available as there are cost constraints. As a business, you can make everything available, and reap the benefits of the multiple purchases, with libraries on a limited resource and no additional money for success, this possibility lays far from our reach. E-books, e-music, e-movies, and databases will get us further into providing everything, but it is improbable to get to that everything bench unless libraries are nationalized and all resources are pooled much like how worldcat is offering its worldcat library search. ILL also gets us there, but it is slower than right now, as opposed to purchasing it on Amazon.

2.Help me find it - Nine Successful practices

1.Move inventory way in... or way out: Centralized inventory either in physically Central warehouse or digitally

Bigger library systems do this when they have a main central library. This library has the biggest collection, the most staff, and support services that help make the dis-aggregation of library services possible. Bookmobile services, books by mail, reference assistance, and support services are provided to all the libraries in the system. So these libraries will need to get even bigger to provide these type of services. (Digital is another issue)

2.Let Customers do the work: "crowdsourcing" Self-service means work done by the people who Care most about it and best know their own need.

This is the tricky part in getting your users involved in library services. If there is a one percent rule, does that mean the smaller the group the smaller the chance of participation? People post book reviews to Amazon more frequently due to the fame of exposure. Will they feel the same about your local library?

However, some of the tools are developed are being developed for user participation in the most critical library area, the catalog:

New Web Catalog Wins Prestigious Technology Award:

"WPopac, the online catalog developed by Bisson turns out to be quite an interesting concept.

* built on the WordPress, blogging software, which allows records to have comments and tags.
* each record is separate website indexed by search engines with unique permalink (web address)
* as an open software Wpopac could be tailored to your library needs and works over your OPAC"

See for yourself, Lamson Library Wpopac

3.One distribution method doesn't fit all: one item multiple format and access

Libraries provide a multitude of formats from different levels of reading materials, to audio, video, and online free resources. The online resources need to expand to best satisfy the long tail. The selection needs to be very, very big.

4.One product doesn't fit all: multiple formats. Break it down into smaller chunks

Provide teaser pieces of collection materials. Many library catalogs provide this where you can read the first chapter similar to what you can do at Amazon. Some other services provide the music clip or a movie trailer, but it is not tied into the catalog. Libraries provide this type of service in other ways by providing dis-aggregated services, bookmobile, books by mail, and deposit collections.

5.One Price doesn't fit all: cheaper means greater hassle, more expensive means ease of use

Libraries can follow this model. Especially in the books by mail service. A special service you can charge for that creates ease of use for the patrons. Make it so if they want to pay more, they can get better services. The one thing to watch for is that you do not provide an advantage over access. If you start charging for holds, then you are creating a proprietary layer that blocks access for everyone.

6.Share information: provide recommendations by transparent methods ,why was Something recommended.

Easy libraries do this all the time with reader's advisory. If we can find a way to automate it like amazon, that would also be great AND within our grasp.

7.Think ''and' not "or" offer it all!

Libraries offer all things to all people. The great difference is that it is just for that community, a smaller version of the long tail.

8.Trust the market to do your job: pre-filtering Vs. post-filtering one is predicting one is measuring Popularity rankings Don't predict, measure and respond.

Use the circulation statistics to predict what part of the collection you should be purchasing. If you focus more on the collections that get used, you will increase your circulation.

9.understand the power of free: free piece of product than in Price follows Cost. digital makes it cheaper.

Libraries already provide it for free. Probably what we can do is to offer a teaser piece of information that encourages people to sign up for library cards. For libraries that provide everything for free, it is not a price barrier but a time barrier. If you can make it easier for users, you will increase your user base. If you provide some access to your materials without requiring the library card, you will increase your users.

Some food for thought.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

I prefer the libraries no one uses

The article Washington Post Article Hello, Grisham -- So Long, Hemingway? With Shelf Space Prized, Fairfax Libraries Cull Collections, brings up some interesting points:

"So librarians are making hard decisions and struggling with a new issue: whether the data-driven library of the future should cater to popular tastes or set a cultural standard, even as the demand for the classics wanes."

Oh no! We are getting rid of classic books that are freely available online and copyright free that no one reads unless they are MADE TO! Every so often someone gets all bent out of shape that someone weeds books out of a library. Libraries need to stay relevant as cultural centers, and that means CURRENT cultural centers, not ones found in the 19th century. They should reflect the current culture and more particularly, the current culture of their town. Every library is different because every town and city is different, with different cultures. The only people reading Hemmingway anymore are the Hemmingway fanatics and students who are FORCED to.

Then follows the predictable opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal Checked Out A Washington-area library tosses out the classics.

"And now the bell may toll for Hemingway. A software program developed by SirsiDynix, an Alabama-based library-technology company, informs librarians of which books are circulating and which ones aren't. If titles remain untouched for two years, they may be discarded--permanently. "We're being very ruthless," boasts library director Sam Clay."

I love that some new software is now weeding books, as if libraries never weeded books before. Now this technology is butchering our books, let's just cut all the funding for libraries since they don't carry Hemmingway! We are just Blockbusters and Barnes and Noble anyway. We just have another conservative author wanting to cut funding for "frivolous things" like libraries.

The Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece is concerning. It is concerning how people would prefer not to have libraries at all for some simple reason. That libraries should be dusty old tomes, shushing librarians, and dead silence. If you ask most people, they would STAY AWAY from libraries that looked and acted like that.

The true value is in offering information, reading material, and access. We WANT Americans to read more.

They become more informed which benefits them and our democracy.

If you have a business in town and can't hire workers that can comprehend instructions, you have poor production and accidents on the job. Lower literacy means less competent workers. This deters businesses and hurts the entire community.

The simple act of reading increases intelligence: Reading At Risk:
A Survey of Literary Reading in America Research Division Report #46

"Reading is not a timeless, universal capability. Advanced literacy is a specific intellectual skill and social habit that depends on a great many educational, cultural, and economic factors. As more Americans lose this capability, our nation becomes less informed, active, and independent-minded. These are not qualities that a free, innovative, or productive society can afford to lose."

We need to use whatever techniques we can to encourage people to read. Reading at all is more important than reading the classics. The classics are important, but most people will be exposed to them through formal education. The fact that 58% of Americans do not read after high school is a problem. If it means getting rid of Hemmingway over Grisham, then that is what it takes to keep their attention and keep them reading. That is why libraries are important and why they are free.