Thursday, April 2, 2015

How Can Libraries Find the Money To Make Big Changes? (Part 2)

In the first post of this series looking for money with which to finance change in libraries, we looked at the importance of active strategic plans, both at the levels of the parent organization, the library and all levels within the library. As noted in that post, obtaining new revenue via that pathway is a longer-term approach, one that will reap big dividends in the end, but represents a gradual approach as results happen, data is generated and confidence is grown. So now let’s take a look at a first step you can take in the shorter term. 

One of the most likely places to find resources to fuel new ideas is from within your existing resources.  How?  Especially, when you’re already working full speed and still feel like you’re falling behind?  The answer is by using metrics.

Metrics are a complicated subject and certainly understanding them fully requires more space than I can cover in this blog post.  However, let me cover, at a high level, a few topics and get you started and I’ll also provide a link to a post you can read if you want to know more.  

It’s important to understand that what metrics do is provide measures that will tell you and your organization if you’re moving in the right direction.  Are you  achieving the goals set forth in your strategic plan?  Of course to do that, what’s being measured must be in alignment and support the goals set of the strategic plan.  In other words, metrics provide focus.  Second, they provide accountability.  Now I’ve noted that’s a term a lot of people in libraries treat like a skunk on a hiking trail, i.e. they turnaround and head the other way.  But the result is the same, you backup and make no forward progress.   Accountability isn’t to assign blame, it’s to determine if you’re doing the right things and if not, to determine what should be done and to get moving in that direction.  It needs to be accompanied by an attitude of “failure is part of learning”, so while you don’t want to repeat the same mistakes twice, making mistakes is how we figure out the right way to achieve a goal.  An oft quoted Thomas Edison once said about the light bulb: “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  We need to apply this more frequently in libraries and we need to more willingly share the ways that don’t work so we can all more efficiently focus on finding the ways that do work.

Once you’ve determined what is to be measured, the results must be shared and used by all of management.  While many libraries internally operate like a landscape of farm silos, each operated by their own farmer, the reality is that libraries are more tightly woven than fine silk linens and we need to realize that only by working together do we produce a tapestry worthy of art that all want to see.   Management teams need to schedule regular reviews of the metrics and have open conversation about here this positions them on the goals of the strategic plan and to determine what adjustments need to be made.  If you want to read a bit more about metrics, here is a good, quick overview.

Another tool to be used in making new resources available is to conduct a true competitive analysis of the Library’s services.  I’d strongly recommend you convene a sub-committee of your end-users (students, faculty, staff community members, etc) in order to have this done.  You need to remove bias and the colored glasses from the perspectives taken and understand from the end-user’s community member’s point of view, what they see as the advantages and disadvantages of your various services.  OCLC sometimes does this for us with the periodic “Perceptions” reports, but unfortunately, the last one of those was 2010.  A half decade later, one could rightly questions the continued validity of the assessments made there.  So plan only on looking at those to understand questions you might want to ask and how to ask them.  The scope should be all end-user/community facing services.  Discovery, reference, liaison, circulation, ebooks, inter-library loan, etc.  Find out where the users go to get those services right now and specifically ask about the result of those services.  In other words, don’t ask where else they go to borrow a book from another library, ask how they obtain materials to read.  Look into how often they use those services.  Do they find them easier to use or more difficult?  Less costly or more costly?  Faster/slower?  You need a comprehensive, but very unbiased look.  When they report back read the assessment with an open mind because you’ll have been handed a treasure chest of facts.  If they tell you the service your library provides is inferior and little used, you have a candidate for elimination.  If they tell you it’s competitive, they’ll likely have also told you why and what you can amplify to make it even more competitive.  Don’t hesitate to discontinue the service because these are resources you’re wasting.  They can be redirected to support new services which will hopefully allow you to start generating greater value for your end-users/community.  If you want to read an excellent book on how to do this, read Blue Ocean Strategy.  You’ll find my review of that work in this post.

In the next and final post in this series, we’ll look at efficiency and effectiveness and the methodologies to use in finding those within your current operations.

Monday, February 16, 2015

How Can Libraries Find the Money To Make Big Changes? (Part 1)

My last blog post “If information has become ubiquitous due to the Internet, can librarians do the same?” caused a number of people to ask: “Wonderful ideas, but how do we pay for all of this?” It’s a very fair question.   Unfortunately, it is one, which frequently causes librarians, in response, to throw their hands in the air as if it’s hopeless.

Many librarians indicate that what they hear from their administrators is: “Do more with less” and feeling totally maxed out just trying to do what they’re doing now, they simply can’t wrap their heads around the idea of doing even more, without more resources.  However, I’ve always said that when confronted with that directive, we need to hear: “Be more efficient, be more effective”. I still maintain that position.

So, let me share some ideas about how you an organization go about doing that, over the next several posts.  Are these ideas easy?   No, of course not.  Are they quick?  It varies.  Some are quicker than others, but combined into a packaged approach, you’ll be able to show results from early on and well into the future.   Results that will help your library clearly establish its value to the communities it serves.

1.  Strategic Plans. When encountering a librarian reading my ideas and asking: how do we pay for that, my first response is to ask if the University has a current strategic plan published on the University website? (Here is ours at OU) Then I’ll ask the librarian(s) if they know what it says and can they, in fact, tell me something about it? More often than not, at best, I’ll encounter a blank stare or a mumbled response that they think they’ve seen it, but really can’t remember anything it says. Then I’ll ask if the Library has a current strategic plan and is it on their website? (I’ll frequently already know the answer, as I’ll have checked. The results of that checking are, shall we say, grim.  Here's ours at OU Libraries) If they have one, I’ll ask how often it’s reviewed in a year to ensure progress is being made on the goals/objectives that were set? All of which is a strong indicator of why a library is not performing well and/or is not being recognized for it’s contributed value to the University. 

It is staggering to me to believe that a Dean/Director of Libraries, in today’s funding environment, can expect to have a compelling and positive discussion about the Library finances, if they can’t sit down with their administration and directly show how the Library’s Strategic Plan supports and contributes to the goals of the University’s Strategic Plan.  Not only show but also do so in documented and measurable terms!  

For example, if the Universities plan calls for higher student retention, higher matriculation rates or the creation of a new degree or a program – the Library’s strategic plan needs to have some goals and objectives that show what the library is going to do to support those being achieved.  When achieved (and hopefully exceeded) it gives powerful support for why the University needs to continue to, at least, support the library at its current funding levels.   If the University’s goals have been exceeded, it makes a powerful case for the benefits to be shared with the Library.  Of course, this is not a quick path to more revenue.  It will take at least a year and possibly longer, before it starts to pay off.  However, it is likely to strongly support a case for not cutting the Library’s budget, if these linkages are drawn using metrics that make the case.

2.  Organizational Support of the Strategic Plan and Accountability.  Also, when talking to Librarians about their Library’s strategic plans, I all too often hear that it’s an administrative exercise, once done, it’s dropped in the drawer and forgotten until the next round of the exercise.  That’s a terrible mistake to make.  A strategic plan should be a living document and can serve in multiple ways to help build discipline in the organization that will allow the organization to achieve large goals and put the organization on a sustained high-performance track.  Creating objectives from the department level all the way to the team member level can do that.  Most strategic plans state goals.  While this isn’t the preferred route, it is frequently the route that results because people dislike accountability.  Yet any Dean/Director and/or department manager worth their pay, should take goals the Library Strategic Plan and turn it into objectives for their departments and team members.  What’s the difference between a goal and an objective?    According to this reference:
“Goals are long-term aims that you want to accomplish. Objectives are concrete attainments that can be achieved by following a certain number of steps… Goals have the word ‘go’ in it. Your goals should go forward in a specific direction. Objectives have the word ‘object’ in it. Objects are concrete. They are something that you can hold in your hand. Because of this, your objectives can be clearly outlined with timelines, budgets, and personnel needs. Every area of each objective should be firm. Unfortunately, there is no set way in which to measure the accomplishment of your goals. You may feel that you are closer, but since goals are de facto nebulous, you can never say for sure that you have definitively achieved them. Objectives can be measured. For example, ‘I want to accomplish x in y amount of time’ becomes ‘Did I accomplish x in y amount of time?’ This can easily be answered in a yes or no form.”    
If objectives are defined and they are linked to the Library (and thus the University’s) strategic plans, then when a performance period is over, both the team member and the manager should be able to sit down and say: “Did we accomplish this or not?”  Sure there will likely be a conversation why it wasn’t achieved if that is the case, but at least everyone knows what the expected result should be.  

Furthermore, that meeting shouldn't be once a year.  A better practice is to ensure that each team member has a quarterly meeting with their manager to ensure progress towards the goals is being achieved.  If the goals are no longer valid, this is a perfect opportunity to revisit and revise them, rather than waiting till the next annual evaluation cycle.

It's also important that the entire organization receive regular reports about how it is doing in achieving the plan.  A quarterly meeting, led by the Dean/Director is a good vehicle for achieving this.  So is a written report that can be distributed across the community to show the value being created for the community.  (Here is ours at OU Libraries.)

Performing these steps above helps to position the head of the Library to be able to take into their next meeting with the funding authorities, real measurable results that will document the Libraries value in achieving, and aligning, with the goals of the parent organization.  

That will also put in place a much firmer foundation for finding the money to make big changes than I see many libraries currently using.  

(Next time, we’ll talk about increasing efficiency and effectiveness by realizing that what brought you here, won’t take you there.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

If information has become ubiquitous due to the Internet, can librarians do the same? image
After my last blog post on library branding, I had an engaging exchange with a good friend who often says things that cause me to pause and think. That conversation was about what constitutes “expertise” in today’s information environment.  Then, over the holiday break, I read a recent book called “Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You, How Do You Know It’s True? by Charles Seife.”  Finally, during that same holiday break, while visiting with another friend, who had recently written and self-published a book, he told me that while doing the research for his book, his very knowledgeable librarian, using substantial libraries resources, couldn’t find anything for him that he hadn’t already found using Google or Google Scholar.  In my thinking all of these dialogues converged together.  Here’s why.

A point most everyone, including librarians, agrees upon today is that due to easy accessibility, today information is truly ubiquitous in our environment.  Tapping or talking into our mobile devices readily retrieves information.  Increasingly, we can use normal conversational language in forming the inquiries.  In response the answers are delivered to us in mere moments.   It’s fast, it’s easy. Who needs a library or even a librarian anymore?  As a librarian, I know I’m not alone in having encountered numerous college and university administrators that have said this, nor am I alone in being asked at parties or at airports or on airlines, when being introduced and explaining I’m a librarian, being given the sad, sorrowful look and asked: “With eBooks and Google, aren’t libraries and librarians a thing of the past?”  That’s when I know I have someone in front of me that needs a major update on librarianship.  (Not that it’s really their fault. As I’ve long said, librarians do not excel at articulating their value-add).

Yes, information is ubiquitous today but here is the problem; so is so-called “expertise”.   Senator Patrick Moynihan once said, in an oft-quoted statement: “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not everyone is entitled to their own facts”. Unfortunately today, that no longer seems to be true.   As Seife documents in the book mentioned above, the criteria for holding “expertise” has been substantially lowered.  Today, you can be an “expert” by being a celebrity, by being rich (and buying a think-tank to generate “facts” that support your position) or just by being very persistent and vocal in making your position well know.  You can say just about anything online, and if you get a big enough following of people to read and repeat what you’ve said, you’ve by default earned the title of “expert”.  Social media, blogs, pod-casts and today’s TV media all permit, promote and foster the creation of so-called experts, most of who would not pass previous generations criteria for that term. The use of research and/or facts to support positions, particularly research and facts that have passed through tests normally applied to scholarship, have become totally secondary if required at all.  

We also know that we’re facing a population where concentration is becoming rare.  Multi-tasking has become a way of life, as has our supply of mobile devices. Soon those devices won’t even require carrying because they’ll be strapped to, or embedded in our bodies further exacerbating the problem.  Thoughts have become messages limited to 140 characters (Twitter) or videos that need to be limited to 3  minutes on YouTube, 15 seconds on Instagram and 6 seconds on (a definite trend there!).  We know Facebook and Google are using profiling to place us in silos in order to increase their ad sales.  However, those silos also result in us no longer thoughtfully exploring ideas or positions, particularly those that might conflict with our points-of-view.  As a result, we end up with a society, community, campus where we only read what we agree with and where we count on trending Tweets or friends to tell us what we think we need to know from the overwhelming, and ubiquitous, information flow.  It’s a very difficult environment, where simplicity triumphs over sophistication.

Now, let’s get back to libraries and librarianship, because it is this environment we’ve just described that gives librarianship the opportunity to create new, real and sustaining value.  However, as with so many opportunities, it also requires change. 

My previous post pointed out that librarians have not been diligent in keeping their brand up-to-date.  We’ve let the word “books” be our brand for way too long.  That was OK when libraries were THE place to go get information and most of it was made accessible in a book format.  However, that day is long gone.  

This has been compounded by the fact that when we did adopt new information tools, we lagged in the adoption curve and thus when finally introduced, we all too often, in a rush, simply tried to fully emulate that tool (look at our new search tool, it’s just like Google!).  When we did that, it meant we did not take the time to make clear the differentiating values librarianship provided (deep Web searching, alternate points-of-view, appropriateness, authoritativeness and authenticity).  This resulted in the commoditization of the new tool and as a result, it was quickly discounted (why do I need to go to the library, I can search Google and I’ll find more?). These problems were further exacerbated by the rise of mobile devices.  Librarians tended to simply push out their Google like interfaces (although frequently dumbed down) onto those devices. Now lacking the face-to-face interaction with the user, librarians easily became one with the technology. The result?  Librarians became identified with their technology and the total package was commoditized.  Which is where too many libraries still are today and why so many of us have ended up in those painful discussions about their profession and its future viability.  

Leading librarians saw what was happening and decided they had to adapt and so they defined a new pathway.  One, which allowed the value of librarians to be affirmed and even, expanded.  While not in the majority, their examples are now solidifying and are offering solid answers to the questions asked in those discussions.  The results work to ensure that expertise is seen as something that must be earned and measured by established academic criteria and not simply by creative marketing.

If we look at the recently built Hunt Library at North Carolina State, the newly announced, planned library at Temple University in Philadelphia or those institutions that are beginning to transform their existing facilities like the University of Oklahoma Libraries you can see recurring themes emerging with the use of phrases like: collaborative workspaces, intellectual commons & crossroads, knowledge creation, innovation centers and entrepreneurial centers.  In other words they are places where ideas come together, intersect, are examined, analyzed and improved.  This is done under the guidance of people who have earned the title “expert” through the normal channels of academic rigor and peer review, sometimes via face-to-face, sometimes virtually using librarians new investments in technology to support this exchange.  As a result, librarians are increasingly now able to be where their users are located and to add new and demonstrable value to the knowledge creation and supply chain.  Our goal has to be to make the value of Librarianship as ubiquitous as information

(In an upcoming blog post, I’ll talk about ways to fund the retraining of librarians and the reshaping of facilities to support these new pathways.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It’s time to define a new brand for libraries. Let’s make sure it leaves people soaring, not snoring.

I’ve always studied other professional fields as a means to try and understand the profession of librarianship and the future of the field. In particular, I’m interested in looking at points in the history of a business and reviewing where mistakes have been made from which we might learn valuable lessons.   You undoubtedly already know some of the most famous examples. Theodore Levitt wrote a classic piece on this topic for the Harvard Business Review in 1960 called “Marketing Myopia” in which he refers to examples such as:  railroads which didn’t understand they were in the transportation business; Hollywood, which thought it was in the movie business instead of the entertainment business; and numerous other smaller examples that existed at that point in history.  

In more recent times, we’ve seen the cycle repeated by a long and impressive list of those who apparently chose to ignore history, including the music industry thinking they were in the record or CD business rather than the music business and Polaroid and Kodak thinking they were in the film/camera business rather than the photography business.

Today, as I listen and read about our profession of librarianship, I have a deep gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach when it comes to the issue of branding.  All too often I find the parallels between the examples just mentioned and what I see the librarians doing in shaping the perceptions of our users about librarianship.  The result could have a major impact on the future of our profession.  It’s important to remember that, for most of those businesses that didn’t truly understand where they added value for their customers, there was not a positive ending.   

So, when it comes to librarianship, what am I specifically talking about?  Librarians’ continued belief and acceptance of “books” as their brand.   When I originally read OCLC’s 2010 Perceptions report, it stated:  
“In 2005, most Americans (69%) said “books” is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the library. In 2010, even more, 75% believe that the library brand is books.” 
I have to say my discontent took firm root at that point. That report went on to say: 
“Brands are hard to change, almost impossible for a brand as strong as libraries—in an environment where saving money on books is even more valued by consumers.” 
Recently, OCLC issued a very interesting new report titled: “At a Tipping Point; Education, Learning and Libraries” which deals, in part, with this topic again. 

This new report says: 
“Our 2014 research tells us that the library brand remains firmly grounded as the “book” brand. In fact, from 2005 to 2014, the perception of the book brand has cemented. Sixty-nine percent (69%) of online users indicated that their first thought of a library was “books” in 2005, 75% in both 2010 and 2014.”
Very significantly, the new report also states: 
“How concerned should we be about the library brand? The answer must be tied to how significantly we believe the context in which libraries will operate in the future will change.” 
“Brands are not impressions held in isolation. Brands are attitudes informed and shaped by the context in which they operate. Shifting needs shift brands—often faster than any change in the brand product itself.”
I would argue that the context in which libraries operate today has already changed dramatically and certainly will continue to do so into the future.  For me, the key in the above is “shifting needs shift brands”, because that statement gives us the keys to the passageway to redefine our brand.

This OCLC report contains some extremely important observations about branding, how it is formed and what it takes to change it.   For instance, it notes: 
"The library brand, “books” has solidified” and that Campus Libraries are now known as “a place to get work done”.   “Libraries have a context challenge, a brand category problem. Relevance is determined by perceptions, not products, not services, not reality.”….  “The library brand is too strongly associated with books, a category that both library users and non-users perceive to be less relevant with the rise of the Web, mobile information and e-books.”… “Strong enduring brands remain relevant by creating and promoting clear differentiators that match the consumer needs while retaining congruency with the expectations of the brand.”
Exactly!  Differentiators that match needs and relevance are determined by perceptions, which are something we can and should define.   Now note that I don't believe that OCLC is saying we should adopt the perception of "a place to get work done" as the library brand.  They didn't say that.  But I do think we should apply some critical analysis to what they're telling us here.  We need to ask some very important questions.   For instance: 1) In digesting the perception, have we really thought about what our users/members are telling us? 2) What is it they are working on?  Is the perception just an indicator of that larger reality? 4) How do we take that perception and turn it into a brand that inspires people to use the resources and services of libraries? 

Frankly, if we just accept the new perception (a place to get work done) as a brand, I'd find it as lacking as the old one (books).  This was underscored for me this week when Library Journal printed a column about the new Amazon Lending Library announcement.  It noted (emphasis is mine):  
“This massive amount of press attention is not only discussing a new service—and who knows how it will turn out—but more importantly, they rarely mention libraries and what they offer,” said Gary Price, editor of LJ infoDOCKET. “So, it’s as much [a point of concern] about mindshare and relevance as it is about a new Amazon service.”
Of course, he’s absolutely right.  Let’s understand though, that this question of mindshare and relevance is as much our fault as librarians as it is anyone’s.  Historically, we simply have not actively defined the perception or the brand to be about anything but printed books.  Think about it.  We use books in our advertisements. If our discovery tools have a browse function, we tend to use visual representations of the book spines (why do we continue to think browsing spines is an easy thing to do?!?) or we use the book covers.  Why?  Why not use audio clips from the authors or photography to give a portrayal of what a work is about? Now, if we let ourselves be defined by the latest findings about users perceptions as a place to get work done, we'll leave our users snoring rather than soaring.

Let’s pause for a moment and put some foundations in place for the rest of this discussion about branding.

As many of you will know if you regularly read this blog or hear me speak, I’m a huge fan of David Lankes work: “The Atlas of New Librarianship”.  One of the many things I so like about this work is the mission statement for librarians, which states: 
“The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.”  
It is simple, clear, and compelling and creates a firm foundation for us to use in creating a new brand.  Now, let’s disassemble that statement just a bit by looking at some definitions of some of the key words used in it (from 

Mission:  any important task or duty that is assigned, allotted, or self-imposed

Knowledge:  acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition

Creation: the act of producing or causing to exist

While we’re at it, let’s add in this definition:

Book:  a handwritten or printed work of fiction or nonfiction.

Now, using those definitions, my take on Lankes’ mission statement is that we, as librarians, take it as our duty and our responsibility to help people produce knowledge through the investigation and use of facts, truths and principles.   Nowhere in there do I find it stated that we must do this only via printed or handwritten works.  

Let me be clear; I love books and I deeply believe in them as a medium.  However, I realize that they are not the only medium for creating and conveying knowledge.  While simple, we must realize this reality in defining a new brand for our profession.  Our new brand must reach out and extend across all the mediums used in conveying existing knowledge and must embrace all people across all societies in order to expose them to the value of librarianship in creating new knowledge.

When changing a brand, marketing experts will often talk about the need to ensure that it aligns with the way the organization operates.  OCLC, as noted above, stated: “retaining congruency with the expectations of the brand”.  Which makes sense.  The users/members of your library want to see that you and your organization walk the talk.  Which, given the knowledge creation approach, is totally consistent with what we see actually happening in many of the leading libraries today. Collaborative learning areas, maker spaces, innovation hubs and visualization tools are all examples of a new dimension of knowledge creation that goes well beyond just reading books.  

At the same time, a new brand needs to be catchy and memorable.  Forbes magazine did a wonderful summary that reminds us of some of the brands that fall into this category.  The following is a subset of those mentioned in that article:

  • The Ultimate Driving Machine (BMW)
  • Just Do It. (Nike)
  • Don’t Leave home Without It.  (American Express)
  • Got Milk? (California Milk Processor Board)
  • Think different (Apple)
  • A diamond is forever (DeBeers)
  • It takes a lickin’, but keeps on tickin’.  (Timex)
  • A mind is a terrible thing to waste (UNCF).
  • We bring good things to life.  (GE)
  • When you care enough to send the very best. (Hallmark)

We need, we really must, find a new brand that encompasses that kind of thinking and stickiness.  In London, they call Libraries “Idea Stores”.  I like that.  

While not offering it as a brand, I heard David Lankes give a talk in Florida in which he said libraries should use the word “Question” instead of “Read”.  I also thought that was great because it would cause people to not just accept, but to dig into what interests them, to challenge themselves to learn and to create new knowledge as a result.  

I’ll offer some other possibilities as a continuing step in the community thought process about library branding:  

  • Libraries: A time to know, a time to grow.
  • We feed hungry minds at the Library
  • Growing requires knowing.
  • The world’s best brain food: Libraries.
  • Creating knowledge? The Library has what you need.
  • Your Library: Come grow your mind.
  • Share to grow.  (Contributed by: )

Ok, those probably still need a lot of work but you’ve got to agree they’re more inspiring than: “A place to get work done”.  Furthermore, they focus on the result rather than the process.  Maybe what OCLC could do for us is create a competition inviting both end-users of libraries and librarians to submit branding ideas and then pick the best one.  

Our brand is critically important to our future.  Let’s be sure it defines librarianship accurately, is congruent with user needs, is compelling and, most importantly, that it is inspiring.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

When you step up to that podium, please remember ALL that you represent...

I’m at an international conference and something happened today that bothered me.  I had to take a walk to decide why that was the case.  I did and now I think I know. 

Here’s what happened – during a series of "rant" presentations, a person from the U.S. stepped up to the podium and used language (and displayed some PowerPoints) containing what is commonly called “street language”.  Now, I’m no prude and I understand sometimes language like that is used to show intensity (and it was the stated goal of the session to be a rant) or the ability to communicate broadly across all levels of society.  To be honest, I’ve been known to say a word or two that crosses that same barrier, although not in in this kind of forum.  And that’s what bothered me.  It didn't offend me, but it bothered me.  Here's why.  

This is an international conference and primarily a conference of people who work in libraries and/or Librarians. We’re in the business of being the purveyors of existing knowledge and most certainly a key part of the ecosystem responsible for creating new knowledge.  As such, we are in possession of a rich tapestry of words, phrases, images and recordings that we can use to express our ideas and thoughts. For instance, I love to read Thomas Jefferson or Cormac McCarthy’s writings. Those are two very different authors, yet both are authors who take ideas and express them in amazing sentences consisting of words and phrases that not only convey a concept, but also intrigue and cause one to stop and peel the words apart and look for the layered ideas and meanings contained within. The thoughts conveyed are often illuminating, sometimes disturbing but always intriguing and certainly mind expanding.  It conveys a brilliance that causes one to admire them deeply.  Of course, I also realize, we also shepherd materials that contain far more colorful language.  But those convey something different.  

When a person steps up to a podium to speak in a international conference like this one, they’re obviously taking the opportunity to convey something they think is important and of interest across a wide set of boundaries.   Which is great. 

But here’s what they need to remember, and what I think was lost today, and I sure wish it hadn’t been.  When we step up to that podium, we represent ourselves, our organizations, our profession AND when at an international conference, our country.  There are nearly 500 people at this conference from countries around the world.  So, it’s not an intimate gathering of close friends, it’s a major professional conference. In that context, as a speaker, when you choose to use street language to convey your ideas, you’ve conveyed a lot more than you realize.  

For instance, remember, you don’t likely know all the cultural norms and customs of all those attendees.  So you’re conveying your understanding (or lack) of their culture.  If you use street language, you might also well offend others, just by putting those words on the PowerPoints or saying them.  Which might result in their minds shutting off before you’ve even fully voiced your ideas for them to be heard. For others, you’ve conveyed something (albeit maybe a small something) about you and our profession.  Most certainly, you’ve likely conveyed something about our country that, in this case, may confirm some of their worst impressions, probably formed from what we regularly transmit via television around the globe. Is that what you really wanted to convey?

So here's what I wish people would consider when they choose to step up to that podium.  Remember who and what you represent and please choose your words carefully so as to convey fully and accurately the ideas you wish to share.  Respect others and their cultures.  Finally, let’s use the best of the richness of the vocabularies, materials and ideas we shepherd across the centuries to convey what's valuable about our profession and the people who work in it.  Let’s set the bar really high, not really low. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

OCLC®. The questionable behavior continues…

Over my years in this profession, I’ve often found myself bothered and sometimes outright disturbed by OCLC®’s behavior in the marketplace.  Particularly when I lead companies that competed with them in the marketplace.  Now, as a librarian in an OCLC member library, I’m not finding the behavior any more acceptable.  Frequently their actions lead me to wonder if they weren’t openly flouting anti-competition laws -- at least here in the U.S.

Now we have another example of that behavior with their recent decision to substitute WorldCat® Discovery Services for FirstSearch® or WorldCat Local in order to make the library’s cataloging accessible and visible in  

For the uninitiated, a little background.  Per OCLC’s website:
FirstSearch is an online service that gives library and education professionals access to a rich collection of reference databases.”   
WorldCat Local is a webscale discovery solution that delivers single-search-box access to more than 1.7 billion items from your library and the world's library collections.”
I often wondered why you had to buy FirstSearch and/or more recently WorldCat Local in order to get one’s library holdings to be accessible in WorldCat?  Although, one must note that libraries appeared to have endorsed the model for many years by acquiescing to this policy.  

OCLC’s response to this is that those libraries that buy just their cataloging or Inter-Library Loan service from OCLC (in other words, only the catalogers and ILL staff people at those libraries) will be able to add their holdings to WorldCat.  WorldCat Discovery is NOT required for those holdings to be exposed to other cataloging libraries (again, just the catalogers and ILL staff).  The cataloging service consists of the record supply, record quality, KB and holdings registration piece.  FirstSearch and WorldCat Local were the components that supplied the exposure and discoverability pieces, which also includes the mobile interfaces, API’s and further syndication of the metadata.  

Now, comes the most recent announcement, where we’re being told FirstSearch and WorldCat Local are being replaced with WorldCat Discovery Services and that’s what we’ll have to buy to make our records globally accessible.  Here is the wording from the OCLC website:
“WorldCat® Discovery Services, is a new suite of cloud-based applications that brings the FirstSearch® and WorldCat® Local services together, so users and staff can discover more than 1.5 billion electronic, digital and physical resources in libraries around the world, through a single search of WorldCat and a central index that represents nearly 2,000 e-content collections. WorldCat Discovery provides libraries with the ability to add several individual fee-based options to their service. WorldCat Local subscribers have access to all these options as part of their current subscription, and are invited to participate in a WorldCat Local community beta phase starting in late April 2014.”
This announcement should raise the hackles of many librarians.  For instance, my library, not unlike others, has already purchased and is using a Discovery product.  Now, we might also want to use WorldCat Discovery because we’re a research library and serve an incredibly large, diverse user/member group, but what we don’t want is to be told we must buy WorldCat Discovery Services, nor do we want the cost.

With regard to the costs, OCLC reps have publicly stated (emphasis is mine throughout the paragraph): 
“All current FirstSearch subscribers receive access to WorldCat Discovery as part of their FirstSearch subscriptions at no additional charge. If your library subscribes to WorldCat Local, FirstSearch access is included in this subscription. The release of WorldCat Discovery means that many libraries with existing unlimited FirstSearch subscriptions may now benefit from a discovery service without incurring costs beyond their current subscriptions.”
It might begin to sound a bit repetitive after my post last week about caveats in provider wording, but this paragraph again demonstrates how important it is for every library to read carefully the wording put out by supplier organizations.  Because clearly, not everyone is going to get this new bundled offering for the same price as they were paying before.   Furthermore, it doesn’t matter if it applies only to 10 libraries or 100, some libraries are going to be forced to pay increased costs, very likely to buy a service/product they may not want in order to get the product/service they do want.  

Now sure, most of us buy cable TV services, so we’re quite familiar with this type of abusive behavior. But we hate it and complain about it constantly and loudly and recently, even that bundling appears to be under attack per this recent NY Times article. However, OCLC is owned by us and is supposed to be serving us!   So someone please explain to me why we are doing this to ourselves?!?!  

Again, let me step back for a moment and clarify why bundling is not only wrong, but raises other concerns.   Bundling products and services must be done in such a way so as not to violate anti-competition laws.  Wikipedia indicates anti-competitive practices:

  1. Restrict free trading and/or competition between businesses.
  2. Demonstrate abusive behavior by an organization that dominates a market.  This includes anti-competitive behaviors that lead to a dominant position (such a behavior includes tying, defined as the practice of selling one product or service as a mandatory addition to the purchase of a different product or service. 

Now, I’m reasonably certain that if someone asks one of the competing firms offering Discovery products (Ebsco®, Proquest®, Ex Libris®) if they think requiring WorldCat Discovery Services to be used by every library, in order to have their records accessible by all WorldCat users globally, constitutes a restriction on competition, I’d be surprised if they gave any answer other than: “Of course”.  I think it’s very likely this behavior might result in some libraries feeling they need to cancel their preferred discovery solution and adopt WorldCat Discovery Services, rather than trying to explain to their boards and/or administrators why they’re maintaining/supporting two separate discovery services and bearing all the associated costs.    Certainly, if that happens, it would seem competition in the marketplace has been restricted.  

OCLC’s position is that FirstSearch has been expanded and improved with this offering and thus they’ve offered greater value to the membership by replacing the FirstSearch product, which solely searched reference databases, with WorldCat Discovery Services, which searches all of WorldCat and therefore serves as an important reference tool.  

However, we have to view this in a larger context, which is that OCLC is an organization that dominates a market, i.e. bibliographic services and on a national, if not global scale.  Their behavior in this case is clearly that of “tying” or bundling products/services together in such a way as to make WorldCat Discovery Services a mandatory purchase in order to obtain the maximum value of your OCLC cataloging service investment.  

Now I’ll be the first to admit I’m no lawyer and this requires professional legal review to be certain, but the behavior certainly seems questionable and raises major concerns. Given this kind of convoluted business logic, there are librarians saying: “this seems like a road that could easily lead to OCLC requiring a library to purchase WorldShare Management System in order to make "accessible" the cataloging they contributed [and paid for].”   If you need two discovery services for your metadata, well then why not require you to have two library management systems?  I mean, what the heck, it’s only more money, time and staffing. That’s not a problem for most libraries.  Right?!?! 

I’m advocating that OCLC behave in a manner which makes their multitudinous products and services available in discrete, clearly described, defined components, with equal access and pricing to both libraries and for-profit firms that might be willing to use those discrete components as the basis for competitive products and services.  Furthermore, the amount charged over actual costs should continue to be closely monitored by the OCLC Board of Trustees to make sure that it stays within a reasonable percentage, encouraging overall marketplace competition, open and widespread usage of their infrastructure products/services and a sustainable OCLC organization. Reasonable discounts for “bundles” should solely reflect the organization’s reduced cost of sales and administration and absolutely must not be aimed at reducing competitive offerings in the marketplace.  In fact, it should encourage them.  

This sustainability point gets confused, in my opinion, within OCLC. The operating results as a percent of revenue (targeted at 2-4% of OCLC’s net contribution to equity) are frequently used as an indication that they are not overcharging the membership for products and services.  That might be true as a average, but how about when considered on a more granular level? You might want to remember this legal case before answering. Plus there are other items to be considered in evaluating that statement:

First, and equally important to the sustainability of OCLC, are the annual revenues, which (shown below and from their Annual Reports) don’t show such a positive picture:

(in millions)

2009 $240
2010 $228
2011 $205
2012 $203
2013 $206

Clearly, real growth continues to be absent.  OCLC claims this is the result of the recession, divestiture of some assets, the reality of economic conditions of libraries and the fact that they’ve held a cap on fee increases.  

However, growth needs to be restored and thus OCLC should be internally (and possibly are) asking two questions:
  1. Is OCLC making the right investments?  This requires close analysis of the cost of developing a product/service, the revenue it is generating, where it is in the lifecycle of a product/service and the competitive landscape.   Competing with existing products/services is a costly business and must be closely scrutinized unless it is offering a quantum leap (.i.e. major differentiation) forward for libraries and their end users.  Furthermore, this must be balanced against areas where there is entirely new needs that would help broaden OCLC’s reach beyond libraries, yet stays within closely related areas, such as research data management/storage/access or knowledge creation platforms.  Determining which investments will provide the greatest growth in revenue is the end goal here, particularly at a time of flat and/or declining revenues.
  2. How does OCLC best support the profession of librarianship?  I keep wondering if we wouldn’t be better served by OCLC if they truly focused on developing core infrastructure services such that those services could be broadly built upon by libraries, the companies and OSS developers that serve them? The revenue model would be based on recurring subscription fees and I personally believe would ultimately lead to growing revenues because they could become a more widely trusted and utilized partner across the profession and among those companies and organizations that serve the profession.  
The bottom line here is that OCLC is, theoretically, a non-profit organization owned by and serving librarians and library users.  I think it’s time—past time—for it to behave accordingly.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Do-they-or-don’t-they? EBSCO Information Services; Part 2

With Ebsco’s new announcement about metadata usage with discovery systems from all vendors, it appears an important step forward has occurred for those libraries and their members/users where discovery products are utilized.  However, as with most announcements of this nature, a close examination of exactly what was said needs to be performed before a firm answer can be determined.

One of the most important things for librarians to realize about this recent Ebsco announcement is that market forces work when they’re utilized.   Ebsco was clearly rushing this announcement to completion in order to beat a deadline; I specifically suspect an order cancellation deadline.  I personally heard from three Ebsco team members in one day, concerning this pending announcement.  Given the public dismay expressed by the Orbis-Cascade Consortium towards Ebsco and Ex Libris, one might suspect that the consortium, or another large customer like them, made it clear that their Ebsco content renewal would not be happening unless progress was made on this front. 

The next most important thing to realize is that this deal does NOT fully meet the demands of librarians.  As I, and others, have openly and repeatedly said: What we want is for any EBSCO content we license to be searchable under the Discovery interface of our choice.  That is not what we got.  What we received was at best 70% of our request, somewhere around 120+ databases total.  There are some very important products in that list, but equally notable is the exclusion of ABC-CLIO, CINAHL, the Wilson Indexes and others where Ebsco has done a great deal of work in enhancing the searching of databases through the use of subject terms.  We did get the metadata, abstracts and (Ebsco’s words here) "full-text where possible". The reason I note the phrasing “where possible” is that many content suppliers often try to negotiate exclusive agreements with the publishers.  If they’ve done this and then cite the exclusivity as a reason they can’t supply us with the full-text to index, that would be self-serving at best.  I asked this question and was told we should compare what other providers, such as ProQuest are doing to see if in fact the offering is different.  If so, then EBSCO claims they will seek to modify their agreements with the publishers.  We shall see.  

In fairness to all concerned, Ebsco is a business and not unlike other businesses, must please owners/shareholders as well as customers.  Growing value by preserving the unique and differentiating features of products is a tried-and-proven business strategy.  Of course, Ex Libris and ProQuest are also businesses trying to do the same.  Consequently, and at the same time, all parties will be trying to negate the unique and differentiating value of their competitors while at the same time, maintaining their own.  It’s just business.  So, you have the classic compete/cooperate conundrum.  When dealing with a direct competitor, such as these companies will be doing under this metadata policy, it requires a great deal of trust to flow in both directions.  As you will know from reading my previous post on this subject, trust is something that is in exceedingly short supply between these companies.  To restore that will require small steps with plenty of stop-and-evaluate moments along the way.  The Ebsco representative I spoke with clearly stated that depending upon the usage of the Ebsco data under these discovery interfaces, they might revisit this policy in the future.  Note however this wording in the release: “As a content provider, we want to work with all discovery vendors in a way that encourages and requires mutual sharing. Because all major discovery vendors are also ILS vendors, content providers, or both – there exists a logical "two-way street" and opportunity for collaboration on behalf of our mutual customers.”   There are a LOT of exit ramps in that wording.  Caveat Emptor.  Plus, it’s important to note that Ebsco has the sole distinction in the field of being the only metadata supplier to have ever withdrawn their metadata from Ex Libris' Primo Central. And if it happened once….   

The policy Ebsco issued also indicates that the databases being withheld from this policy might be included at a later date.  From the policy:  “A&I resources are developed with specialized components and remain our industry’s most sophisticated data sets, but as such, require intricate, refined search algorithms and approaches to properly leverage their value. At present, not all discovery services are designed to leverage the specialized components of these individual collections, and as a result, are likely to inadvertently de-value and subsequently harm library research were these to be included without proper guidelines. As approaches for discovery service development around A&I resources are more thoroughly documented (with the help of Ebsco and possibly other subject index providers) and subsequently addressed, Ebsco will re-visit its policy for sharing these unique databases with other discovery service vendors.”  See my comments about product differentiation above in evaluating these statements.  What is somewhat frustrating about this however is that the profession and industry have largely come together under the umbrella of NISO and have formed a working group called the “Open Discovery Initiative” to deal with these very kinds of topics.  Ebsco is a member but appears to not totally buy into, nor support, the recommendations of the group.   For the profession of Librarianship, this is frustrating.  From a business perspective, it’s understandable in the short-term, but in the long-term these kinds of decisions tend to hurt the profession overall, thus diminishing the overall market size and thus the number of potential buyers (libraries).  In other words, this is shortsighted on Ebsco’s part in my opinion.

There are a number of answers that Librarians must continue to pursue to properly evaluate this development in the marketplace.  They include:

  1. Bias and Known Item Searching.   There was a very interesting article on Discovery systems in this weeks Chronicle of Higher Education that reinforces a concern I’ve expressed numerous times in this blog about bias in results.   This is a massively complex question and the Chronicle article will give you some flavor of the complexity surrounding the bias issue.  Known-item searching is frequently a point of frustration with many Discovery users because the single-search box approach is left to try and sort through data elements and properly recognize things like author name from words in the title and anything else the searcher might throw into the broad search.   EBSCO’s content and subject enhancements and products like Ex Libris’s Primo can, and frequently do, bump heads here.  Primo has had numerous enhancements to improve known item searching.  But it is likely those enhancements when combined with EBSCO’s subject enhanced metadata, might not produce the prioritization that EBSCO would like to see of their content.  This is in part why EBSCO should provide more compliance with the NISO ODI recommendations, but as I pointed out above, to do so would diminish a key product differentiator, so it seems unlikely to happen.   The result, as the subject of the Chronicle article noted, is that many discovery users just give up and use Google Scholar.  Clearly, that is very unfortunate for librarianship.
  2. Library-by-Library Analysis.  Each library will need to do an analysis of what EBSCO content they subscribe to and pay for and what will be included under this policy such that it will be discoverable with the library’s chosen discovery tool.   Overall utilization of the EBSCO content should also be factored into this model.  One needs to determine a per/use cost and keep careful track of the ratios of those discoverable within the discovery tools and those that require use of a native interface.  It will remain a library decision if that utilization cost is worthwhile for the library members/users.   Clearly, renewal decisions should utilize this analysis.

To wrap this up; was an important step forward achieved?  Possibly.  It’s a better policy than was previously used by Ebsco.  Still, there are a number of caveats in the wording, and in what was verbally said, which could result in this policy suddenly being retracted.  That’s a continuing cause for concern.

The bottom line is that as librarians, we must continue to use our purchasing power, combined when necessary, to collectively and where appropriate, exert pressure on content suppliers to provide what we need to make for meaningful experiences with our discovery tools.  As I said above, this looks like progress, but it is not all that we need. So we must continue our efforts, until such time as we can search all content we license, under the discovery system of our choice.