Saturday, June 29, 2013

ALA: Days 1 & 2

I was fortunate enough to attend ALA this year in Chicago.  As I wrote in one of my very first posts on this blog over a year ago, one of the main issues surrounding conferences like ALA is the dissemination of information to those who are not able to attend.  To help rectify that, I will be sharing everything that I've learned via this blog.  A lot of the information contained in this post, and the post to follow, will be directly in line with what I've discussed in the past.  I hope that you find some take away value.

My first session of ALA was all about thinking in terms of Lean Start Ups.  Referencing the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, the biggest take away from the presentation was the importance of failure.  If you take a look at the slides from this presentation, you should note the graphic on slide 11 which explains in pictures the best way to find the solution to a problem.

Often, we perceive problems and come up with ONE solution.  The solution, as demonstrated by the graphic on the left, misses the mark just by a fraction.  Thinking of many solutions, however, greatly increases your chances of hitting the target.  But thinking of many solutions and testing them means that failure is bound to happen - and that's okay!  In order to come up with these many solutions, it's important to get out of the building and talk to the target audience for insight.

Of course, getting insight, brainstorming ideas and testing those ideas takes time.  For this reason, the Lean Startup model employs the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in order to keep failure from being one big colossal mistake.  Early adopters of beta versions are a prime example of MVPs. Beta versions help you work out all the bugs before deploying solutions on a massive scale.  In relation to libraries, you may want to test out the popularity of a new class in one location with a small audience before rolling it out to the whole system.  For more information on Lean Startups, you may be interested in Think Like a Startup by Brian Matthews.

In the Orange County Library System of Florida, the Director and library administration began a new program for library staff called Librarians as Learning Leaders (LLL.)  The purpose of this group was to gather librarians from all the branches and bring them together to open lines of communication.  The meetings happen every other month and, while not mandatory, have a loose agenda to discuss projects in the works and to generate new ideas for the branches.  Meetings focus on a variety of topics from collection management (staff observations of what is being used and not) to programs that staff would like to offer.

Although librarians were a little leery of the program at first, Orange County reports that staff morale has increased significantly as a result of these meetings which promote trust in the organization's professional staff.  Orange County Library System also implemented yearly staff surveys to give staff an opportunity to give their brutally honest opinions of the organization.

User Experience theory says that the user is what should dictate how and why we do the things we do.  The University of Florida, along with four other universities, conducted research that revealed the divide between staff perceptions of what customers do at the library and what customers are actually doing.  Some standout numbers  include 48% of customers have never approached library staff.

The survey also revealed the research habits of students who begin their search very broad using Google, then using Wikipedia, and the library's website coming in as the third location visited.  Library staff, on the other hand, start with the library website before moving on to library guides and then the library catalog.  Applying user experience theory, we should meet our customers where they are.  This would suggest that, instead of fighting customers over their use of Google and risk losing trust, we should instruct them on how to perform better Google searches.  Doing this along with library instruction will ensure their trust and satisfy their queries to the fullest extent.

Furthermore, staff perceived themselves to be much more irrelevant than customers considered them.  Overall, customers think of librarians very fondly and do not perceive them to be irrelevant.  This suggests that the more librarians frantically tout the vanishing library, we seal our own fate.  According to this survey, libraries do not need saving!

Trainers often have a "best in the class" complex - a need to be the smartest and most knowledgeable person in the room.  This is the worst attitude for a trainer because that means we've forgotten what it's like to be new to a subject, just as those we train are new to the subjects we teach them.  In order to keep yourself from being a know-it-all, follow these steps:

  • Learn something knew to remember what it's like to be new to a subject
  • Have empathy for your trainees
  • Don't show off by jam-packing your training sessions with information just to make you look like an expert.
  • Refresh your training knowledge with these 50 training theories

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