Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

If You Have to Ask …

August 31, 2014

Recently, I was re-reading an old document (from 1993, actually) that contained advice I’ve seen over and over in the library literature, and disagree with pretty strongly.

Talking about corporate librarians, the authors say that “a large number of our potential customers do not use our services” and go on to advocate that “we should interview non-customers whenever possible. We can ask how they obtain and use information and what we could do to provide it.”

While I applaud the emphasis on outreach, I have two problems with this line of thinking.

First, we shouldn’t be measured solely by our reach, or what proportion of our potential audience comes in contact with us in some way. That may be a more important measure in some contexts than others. But as a rule it’s more important that we reach the right audiences — the ones who need us the most. Where, in the corporation, government agency, law firm, etc. can we have the biggest impact? In the university, which courses have the heaviest information fluency component? Embed instruction in those — don’t worry about the rest.

Second, I’ve generally found that asking people about their information behavior is a relatively unproductive exercise. There are exceptions, but for the most part, they don’t tend to think about it. They’re not aware of the options they could have. Information is secondary, it’s a tool to get some other goal accomplished. It’s that goal that they’re focused on. So instead of asking them about information, ask them what they’re working on. Better yet, observe what they’re working on. And by all means don’t ask them what you should do to provide information. Two skills the librarian should bring are the ability to  analyze the information dimension of a situation, and the ability to improve it. If we can’t do that, then they probably don’t need us. But we shouldn’t be asking our “potential customers” to do our job for us.

Both of these points fit well with embedded librarianship. Embedded librarians should think strategically about where to embed: who needs us the most; where can we have the greatest impact? And the more embedded librarians collaborate with a group, the more we understand the nature of their work, and the role of information and knowledge in it — and the more opportunities we see to make a difference. So, we don’t have to ask — we know.

Law Firm Librarians Moving Quickly to Embedded Model

August 1, 2014

Over at the Dewey B Strategic blog, Jean O’Grady reports a few tidbits from the American Lawyer 2014 survey of law firm librarians. Among those tidbits: “81% of are embedding librarian in practice groups up from 14% in 2012.

That’s an amazing change! It sounds like embedded librarianship has become standard operating practice in law firms. Not that I’m surprised — in my SLA-funded research I studied a leading firm that had an outstanding program, and that was back in 2009 and 2011. It’s great to see the practice spreading!

(The ALM survey report is here; but unfortunately it’s behind a paywall.)


Don’t Re-Design Your Website!

July 20, 2014

I worked on my first corporate intranet design and content development plan over 20 years ago, so by now I’ve witnessed and participated in multiple generations of website redesign projects in various organizations and settings. Typically these have been grand, top-down affairs that start with complaints that “nobody can find what they need” and involve wireframes, various forms of testing, and a complete overhaul of the site’s navigational structure.

A recent conversation caused me to look at website design in a new light, and to think that it’s time (past time?) for a new approach. There are two things wrong with the old top-down redesign process:

1. It bogs down in trying to address the whole site at once, rather than applying a systematic segmenting approach to address the needs of a given audience. Good marketing involves thinking through who the key audiences are, understanding the purposes and processes in how each one uses the site, and customizing to meet their needs. By taking a site-wide approach, top-down redesign projects dissipate the energy and attention paid to specific audiences.

2. It overlooks the integration of media. With the proliferation of social media and content targeted to mobile as well as stationary devices, a website is only one element in a well-developed communication strategy. By focusing only on the web piece, the traditional approach relegates media integration to an afterthought.

So, what might replace traditional website redesign? Here are a couple ideas:

1. Keep a light hand on high level navigation. Don’t get bogged down in it.

2. Instead, start by identifying and understanding the key audiences. What do they need to hear from us? What content and capabilities do we want to deliver to each one?

3. Develop and maintain the content, messages the audience needs. Pay attention to timing and incorporate a variety of media as appropriate. Keep in touch; know whether it’s working and watch for evolving needs.

Selling and Embedded Librarians

July 3, 2014

I’m always behind in my reading. So it is that I’ve just finished an interesting article published some months ago in the Journal of Business and Finance Librarianship about the applicability of sales techniques to the work of embedded librarians. Here’s the full citation:

Finley, W. E. (2013). Using personal selling techniques in embedded librarianship. Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, 18, 279-292.

The idea that librarianship has something to do with sales may dismay some librarians. I, on the other hand, used to think of embedded information analysts as kind of like account reps, so I welcome it as a fresh, interesting and useful perspective.

I won’t try to recap the article here; instead I encourage you to read it yourself. Instead, I’ll add two comments.

First, I think the applicability of selling techniques has its limits. For example, the object of selling is the exchange of value (money for product or service). But in most libraries, the connection between services delivered and funding received isn’t direct. As the author points out, “we don’t ask them for money to deliver a bibliographic instruction session.” There are exceptions to this, and I used to work in an organization where our embedded services were funded by the groups that benefited from them. Maybe this model should be more prevalent, but in higher education and many other organizations, it’s not going to change anytime soon. Also, I think there’s something fundamentally different when the “seller” and the “buyer” work for the same organization, because there is (or should be) a much closer alignment of goals and interests. In a commercial transaction between two separate entities, there’s an overlap of interests but not true alignment.

That leads to my second comment: I’d be interested in extending the conversation to the concept of “consultative selling”, which strives to narrow the gap between buyer and seller, and achieve more of a real alignment of interests. I’ll note here that I think the term “partner” is wildly overused in information commerce — it seems like every database vendor wants to be the library’s “partner”. But when it comes to embedded librarianship, we really do want to create partners, not customers, and “partner”, “collaborator”, “colleague” are much more accurate terms than “customer” for the type of relationship we’re trying to create. To the extent that “consultative selling” represents a more “customer”-centered application of selling principles, I think it has something to offer us.

I’m hoping to hear more on this topic. What do you think? Do selling and consultative selling have a place in the conversation about embedded librarianship?


Disruption, Alignment, and Embedded Librarianship at the SLA Conference

June 15, 2014

I thought the session on embedded librarianship at the SLA Conference last week went very well. It was a 90-minute session, so I used the first 30 minutes to explain the knowledge cafe format and introduce the topic; and the remaining 60 minutes were devoted to small group discussions (three 15-minute segments) and closing.

My presentation is on Slideshare at  by the way.

There were about 60 people in the room when we began the group discussions, and over 50 remained at the end. That was too many participants, and too little time, for the classic knowledge cafe conclusion of having every participant make a closing statement. Instead, I set up a couple flip charts and put out some sticky notes, and asked everyone to write down their closing comments. Several people spoke up to request copies of all the comments, and there was unanimous agreement that I should post them. So, here they are: DisruptionAlignmentParticipantComments  .

I think they will mostly make sense even if you weren’t at the session. I’m thinking about analyzing them; maybe coding and grouping them. But I don’t know when I’ll get around to it, so I hope you’ll post your own comments and responses.

Quotation of the Week

June 13, 2014

I just read this yesterday. It’s from the Harvard Business Review, Nov. 2013; specifically Charan, R. (2013) “You Can’t Be a Wimp: Make the Tough Calls.” Harvard Business Review, 91 (11), p. 74.

“In the boardroom of a company whose most profitable division was directly affected by Napster, the online music service, the CEO and directors debated for roughly an hour about how to kill Napster. After all the brouhaha, one quiet director made a simple but incisive comment: ‘No law is going to prevent social change.’ He recognized that the consumer was being liberated and the industry was about to go through a radical shift.”

I wish that the vendors of academic and professional content would absorb that insight. In particular, the managers of the Harvard Business Review don’t seem to be reading their own stuff. They continue to cling to their traditional business model and to impose extraordinary restrictions on the use of their material.

Embedded Librarians at the SLA Conference

June 1, 2014

Next up, the SLA Conference in Vancouver. I’ll be leading a session on embedded librarianship, “Disruption, Alignment, and Embedded Librarianship: Connecting the Dots, and Avoiding the Traps” on Sunday, June 8 at 1:30 p.m. The session is 90 minutes long, and you can count on it that I’m not going to talk the whole time. Instead, we’ll use most of the session for interactive small-group discussion modeled on David Gurteen’s “knowledge cafe” format. So, if you’re going to Vancouver, please come and participate!

Embedded Librarians in Second Life

April 24, 2014

I’m looking forward to joining Dr. Valerie Hill (Valibrarian Gregg) and the ACRL Virtual Worlds Interest Group in Second Life for a presentation / discussion about embedded librarianship, this Sunday, April 27, at Noon SL Time (US Pacific time) / 3 p.m. US Eastern. It’s free, so if you haven’t been in SL in awhile, this is a great time to dust off your avatar and join us! Here’s Valerie’s tweet about it, which gives the Second Life map location:

Diverse Initiatives, Common Challenges

April 21, 2014

I’ve posted my presentation for the Texas Library Association Conference on Slideshare, at . It’s entitled “Embedded Librarians: Diverse Initiatives, Common Challenges.”

I especially enjoyed preparing this presentation, because it gave me a chance to some ideas that had been percolating for quite a while: that different sectors of librarianship are experiencing similar pressures and undergoing similar trends, but we are too stovepiped as a profession to notice, most of the time. I took an audience poll at the beginning of the session and was delighted to find that there were public librarians and school library media specialists in the room, as well as academic, corporate, and other specialized librarians.

If They Close the Library …

April 2, 2014

“If they close the library, how will they know they even have a librarian?” I’ve heard this statement before, and I heard a variation on it again yesterday, in a conversation about information services at a nonprofit organization. I wonder if it’s still a widespread concern among librarians. If it is, that’s sad, and troubling.

It implies that the visibility and value of the librarian come from the size of our domain, the number of volumes, the square footage, the listing in the office directory. In the age of information ubiquity, that attitude is the gateway to irrelevance.

Now, I do believe there are plenty of contexts in which the physical library is important and will remain so for the foreseeable future. But even in those contexts, we have to start with the question, what does the community need from us? If the answer includes a physical library, fine. If the physical library needs a book  collection, fine. But in other contexts, the answer will be that the community no longer relies on a physical library space, or collection. And regardless of the answer, librarians must demonstrate that they add value by applying their unique professional expertise, not only as custodians of buildings and collections. In those cases, the space and collections are the platform, not the pinnacle.

So, here’s my answer to the opening question: “Because the librarian is going to get out there and connect with the community and contribute to its members by applying the skills of librarianship!”

What’s yours?


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