Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Imagine a library…

I’ve recently had the good fortune to tour a number of academic libraries. It’s always an interesting experience in today’s environment, as you will encounter everything from despair to inspiration on these tours. I just experienced a really inspirational library, Binghamton University Libraries (SUNY), led by an equally inspirational librarian, John Meador and his team of managers. Why did I find it so inspirational?

The answer is found in the way John and his team are meeting the economic challenges of today. I think it fair to say that he has faced the enemy, embraced it and overcome it. Despite the economic conditions in New York, imagine a library that:
  • Is open 24 hours a day, 6 days a week in order to accommodate end-user needs.
  • Where when you walk in you’re met by a greeter who provides friendliness and a guiding hand.
  • Digitizes articles on demand and emails them to the requesting staff.
  • Engaged in social networking in a big way, via Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and instant messaging in order to ensure they’re where their users are located.
  • Collapses service points to facilitate one-stop shopping.
  • Provides separate spaces for information commons, study rooms, quiet rooms and an area for cell phone usage.
  • Focuses on making the physical and virtual library easy to use.
  • Provides multiple search interfaces so that users can work with a search system tailored to meet their needs.
Bottom line, you don’t have to just imagine a library like that, John and his team are doing it at Binghamton University.

Not surprisingly, they regularly survey users on their satisfaction with library services and the last survey showed the library scoring a 95.9% for highest overall satisfaction of all their Binghamton University experiences. How many libraries can claim that level of satisfaction on their campus? Furthermore, this service attitude is palpable across the organization. Every staff member you speak with has this focus.

I have a deep admiration for libraries that are run this way. In these times, it’s not an easy thing to do. Yet it shows it can be done. John and his team are setting an example for all libraries.

If you’re running a library, think about the approach taken at Binghamton and how you might use some of their ideas. I hope you’ll find them as inspirational as I did.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Brilliant marketing in an academic library

I frequently lament the lack of training in marketing for librarians. As a result, it is all too often a missing component in library operations, or if it exists, it isn't done very well. So when I do see a marketing initiative that shows real marketing skills, I wholeheartedly embrace and applaud it.

Brigham Young University Library’s new video about doing research in the library is a masterpiece of marketing. It is based on the marketing phenomenon created by the Old Spice commercial which has taken the TV and the web by storm. If you haven't seen it, watch it. Then watch BYU’s version.

It makes you pay attention, it makes you laugh, it makes you think and I’ll bet it helps make more than a few students head to the library. Note that nearly a million people have already watched this video as of this date. It is brilliant, just brilliant. (BTW - They use Primo and Primo Central to provide their students with access to those "bucket loads" of information.)

My hat is off to to the BYU Library staff. I look forward to seeing what new marketing initiative they undertake next.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

An “Internet Kill Switch”??? Let’s check the facts first..

At the just completed ALA Annual meeting, I was expecting a great many conversations around SaaS, Hosting Services, Web Scale and Cloud Computing. I wasn’t disappointed. However, I was surprised when more than one person asked me about the implications for libraries and such services in light of a perceived recent political appeal for what some are calling an “Internet Kill Switch” (i.e. the ability for the Federal government to literally turn the Internet/Web off). Why was I surprised? Because at a national conference of librarians I would expect people to do some quick fact checking before jumping into a discussion that has clearly been stirred into a partisan debate for political purposes (but alas, I guess we're all susceptible at times).

First some facts:
  1. Yes, Senator Joseph Lieberman and others have created a bill entitled the “Protecting Cyberspace as National Asset Act” (and now called the Lieberman-Collins Bill). You can read a summary, or the full text here. Please note there is no mention of the words “Internet Kill Switch” in this Act or Bill, nor does it provide this capability.
  2. This article quotes Lieberman himself as pointing out “The President will never take over – the government should never take over the Internet.”
  3. The bill has not been passed into law, it is awaiting consideration before the Senate; i.e., it is a long way from becoming a law.
  4. As this InformationWeek article points out, there is ALREADY such a law in existence and on the books. It’s the Communications Act of 1934 as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. So, there is nothing new here.
I think this story requires the application of some basic logic and reasoning on our part. Clearly the Internet/Web is tightly interwoven into the fabric of our daily lives. As a result, shutting it down would wreak havoc on national and international levels. Yes, we all know cyber-attacks are a reality. They occur daily by the thousands. Clearly, attacks on key infrastructure or government sites are a major concern and, as such, the ability to wall off select sites at select times might make sense and should be possible. But this is not the same thing as shutting down the Internet or Web. Should the government ever try to do this (and succeed) I quite frankly think we’d all be occupied with far, far greater problems and concerns than the fact that our cloud-based library automation services weren’t available.

Please note that I’m not saying this bill doesn’t deserve close monitoring and possible action to let our politicians know how we feel. That’s always a good idea in a democracy. I just think it’s far more important that, before we react, we use our librarian training and check the details, check our sources and discern what is the quality of the information to be used in deciding how to proceed. Finally, let’s apply some common sense and reasoning to what we’re hearing and then make as informed a decision as possible.

In our society today I know that the extreme factions get far more coverage and publicity than the reasoned middle. However, libraries and librarians are part of society as well and part of our job is to provide quality information for advancing informed learning and knowledge.

We need to do that not just for our users, but also for ourselves.