Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A more detailed explanation about the concept of Knowledge Creation Platforms

For some time, when I've been speaking at conferences/meetings or writing I've been saying that Librarians need to start working actively on moving past Discovery systems and to start building Knowledge Creation Platforms.   

So, I was very pleased this spring with the new Open Access journal 027.7 from the University Library of Basel, in Switzerland asked that I prepare a paper for their publication on this very topic.  I did and it was published this week.  If your interested in more details about what I envision these Knowledge Creation Platforms doing and why I think we need them, I encourage you to read it here.  Note that in saying we need to move beyond Discovery systems that I'm also openly saying that we need our existing Discovery tools in order to build this functionality on TOP of them (provided they have the needed functionality to enable that to happen, something I discuss further in my paper).  

BTW - While the journal is written in German, don't let that stop you because my article is in English.  If you want to read more at the site, also remember that you can use Google Translate, enter the URL and it'll translate much of the content for you.  Not perfectly, but workable.

I hope you'll find it useful and as always, I'd be delighted to hear your thoughts in response to the KCP concept.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dear Librarian: It's me, not you....

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Over the years, I've had a lot of experience installing discovery systems in a lot of libraries. Many of those experiences have involved all too common themes.  As a result of those experiences, I sometimes have disturbing dreams.   One of them is recurring and involves librarians receiving "Dear John" letters along these lines:


Dear Librarian:

I’m so sorry to tell you this, but I’ve decided to find fulfillment with another; I’m leaving you to find information and knowledge with someone else.  Not as sophisticated or even as smart as you, but it's just so much easier.  I know, I know. I begged and I pleaded for you not to change. Even though I knew your search screens were cluttered and hard-to-use I knew how to work with them, especially for finding books. I begged you not to change them. Yes, I remember that I complained even more bitterly when you didn't listen to me and put in a discovery, one-search-box solution. I moaned and groaned and asked you to return to being what you were. I didn't want you to change!  It's just that I had come to know you so well.  I was so comfortable with that somber and serious face that always greeted me each time when I entered into the library. And I was still comfortable with you even though you confused me  with that look of dismay you gave me when I said I’d searched in your discovery interface and had found something I thought would work, but you replied: “No, no, no! You shouldn’t use that discovery interface. Instead you should come to the library and ask: What is the best database in which to find such information?” Then you would show me that search interface for that best database source. But then it even got more confusing, you had to walk me through it and explain it in detail. If we switched to another database, it used a different and equally complex search interface and you’d have to explain it all over again. However, you did that with such patience and such knowledge. I was in awe. You were wonderful. You were a constant in my life, one of the few in a world that is spiraling out-of-control with rapid change outside of the library doors.

But, I succumbed to temptation and I sampled searching for information and knowledge on the Web (I confess, I even used Wikipedia and Google Scholar.). The interfaces were so attractive, so simple, straight-forward and easy-to-use. I often could find so much with just one search interface! No one scolded me for doing so. I could FIND all kinds of information and knowledge.  Even more important I could do this everywhere I went, no matter what device I used, and I could do it all by myself. Why… some of the new interfaces I used even injected humor into the exchanges. I recently got a new smartphone and I can talk to it and ask it to find information for me and it does. If I get silly with it, it gets silly back. It is great fun and so very useful. And then I realized: I have other options in where I find information and knowledge. Oh, I know, you told me: "It's not as good, it's quality information that matters."  Yet, I realized, you taught me well.  I can take what you’ve taught me about evaluating information sources and apply it -- on my own. I don’t have to come ask you what database to use. I don’t need to have you explain how to search. I can just find information by typing my questions and keywords and see what comes back, and then evaluate it and select, or try again. It’s so easy, so simple. It’s hard to explain, but I just fell in love with it.

I feel terrible and I realize I’m being the fickle one here. You did just what I told you to do, and now I’m leaving you because of it. I’m so sorry. I hope we can remain friends. When I long for the smell and touch of a book, I’d love to be able to drop by and see you again. But it won’t be often, I promise (although I’d still like to sleep on your comfortable sofa and chairs occasionally, if you don’t mind). But when it comes to finding information and knowledge, my heart now belongs to another.

So very sorry.

Your former,



This does not have to happen, nor should it, but what I describe above is based on individual events we've all seen happen.  I hope this post will help some to  step back and critically analyze what they're doing, from the end-user point of view, and then make some adjustments.  In the next post, I'll talk about that.

(P.S. A huge thanks to those librarians who reviewed/commented on this before I posted it.  My posts always benefit from your comments. You know who you are.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The approaching divide in the provision of library services…

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Like many of you, this blogger is deeply concerned about the growing divides we see in our society in the areas of income disparity, medical care and the quality and affordability of education.  These gaps increasingly create a society of have and have-nots.  As history has repeatedly demonstrated (“Qu'ils mangent de la brioche”), when this happens, the friction between those segments can eventually result in violent and ugly resolutions.   

So it alarms me when I see the same kind of divides potentially opening up in the provision of library services to the citizens of our respective societies and the students of our academic institutions.  I always like to think that libraries are the bastions of open and free access to the record of human culture and knowledge.  Yet the application of technology to that access can either create a powerful enabler, or a powerful divider, depending entirely upon how we, as librarians, select and use that technology.  Let me share what I’m seeing and you can decide if you agree there is cause for concern.  

The new cloud-computing library services platforms (LSP’s) we’re seeing emerge in the marketplace are offering some truly impressive new capabilities.  Particularly those that are what I call “true” cloud-computing platforms, i.e. those that use a common image of the software to support all customers connected to that platform and, more important for this discussion, that aggregate usage data globally for all library members connected to the libraries using these LSP’s.  The end result of this is a massive pool of aggregated data, which when coupled with analytic engines and astute data analysts, becomes a currency, a treasure chest if you will, for librarians who are willing to understand how to use this data to provision and provide library services.  Plus we’re very close to having what is called transactional analytics, which means that we’ll be able to analyze the data virtually at the same time is being captured and aggregated, and as a result, we’ll be able to act immediately upon what we find.

So what kinds of actions might be possible as a result of all this intersecting technology?  (Remembering that I’m writing from the perspective of an academic librarian).  Here are some sample ideas of things I’m chomping at the bit for my library to be able to offer our members/users:

  1. Interfacing the LSP data with the student data from other campus departments (be it IT, IS or Assessment), we should be able to do detailed comparisons of those students who used library resources in preparation for a test in a course and we should be able to determine if that provided those that did the use the library with a higher test score.  
  2. If a researcher worked closely with library staff in preparing their grant applications and then win the grant award, we’ll be able to compare them with another user who didn’t use the library and didn’t win.  We’ll begin to have some data that deserves further investigation to see if all other conditions were similar and, if so, then we have a compelling reason to show members that using the library as part of the grant writing process improves their ability to win the grant.
  3. We can do the same thing in helping to determine if the result of library usage results is higher matriculation and/or graduation rates.
  4. Our contributions to the success of faculty will be open to analysis to determine if those that worked with librarians and their subject guides or other materials librarians help prepare resulted in professors who obtain higher ratings from students for the quality of their teaching.
  5. Certainly the library will be in a much better position to help show the role of the library and librarians in producing higher scores on assessment criteria and or accreditation processes.

There are hundreds of additional possibilities.  However, to go into those in detail is beyond the scope of this post.  And I certainly agree that this short list is fraught with many missing details that will need to be added into the mix, properly weighted and assessed in terms of their contribution to the desired outcomes.  However, for discussion sake, let’s assume we can work through those details successfully.  Then let’s talk about might happen if we do.

The desired goal of all this data and analytics is to go from being a reactive service organization, to that of a proactive service organization.  In other words, we’ll be able to reach out to the library membership/end-users and show them that when they’re taking a course, if they, like others before them who achieved a top grade, confer with librarians “x” times and use library resource “y” at time points “a”, “b” and “c” then they’ll likely get a higher grade.  Furthermore, we’ll be able to provide grant-writing researchers with that same kind of proactive and predictive incentive.  

Of course, as we do this, the bar of success, across that institution, not just the library, rises for all. Success builds on success.  

The problem of course, is that as we do this we begin to create the gap in the provision of library services.  Some library members/end-users will get excellent and proactive service that will help them achieve more grant money, higher scores on tests and generally create a wealth of opportunities for them to be more successful.  

Others library members/end-users, that are at institutions without these advanced and proactive services, will start to fall behind because they aren’t being as well prepped and thus they won’t easily compete at the same level.  It’s the haves and the have-nots, only this time it’s in the world of library services.

How to avoid that fate?  The librarian today that hasn’t learned about  analytic capabilities and that doesn’t ensure the systems they’re buying are laying the foundation for this level of service are, quite simply, placing their libraries on the wrong side of this new societal dividing line.  

Installing locally mounted ILS’s, or even hosted ILS’s that aren’t true cloud computing solutions are the activities of librarians that aren’t looking far enough ahead to see the implications of what is happening in the rest of our society.  Nor do they understand how easily “haves and have-nots” can result in their libraries, and more importantly in their communities and/or parent institutions, if they don’t stay on the leading edge of this very important transformational technology shift.

As librarians, we must take it upon ourselves to continually learn, to incorporate new technology as it comes along and most importantly, to stay focused on our members and end-users needs. Technology remains a tool for us to use in addressing those needs.   

Of course, we’ll also need vendors/collaboratives who are willing to listen and engage closely with analytic engineers and librarians to understand exactly what outputs are needed in this process and how those outputs can be turned into proactive service initiatives for the library members/end-users.  

Only then will you be able to ensure your library isn’t left on the wrong side of this fast approaching divide in the provision of library services.  I'm guessing your library's member/users will most certainly want to be on the "have" side of excellent and proactive library services.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A valuable marketing lesson for librarians can be found in something as simple as book jackets…

My morning browse of Flipboard contained this post detailing why book jackets are hated.  This hit a particular note with me as I just recently had a similar discussion in our library.  In reading both the this post and hearing what was said in my library, I was struck with the same thought -- many librarians discount the importance and value of marketing in meeting the day-to-day objectives and goals of librarianship.  Which they should not do.

When I first noted that our library removed all book jackets from purchased works, I asked: Why?  The answers were pretty much what I thought I would hear: a) that book jackets are printed on lower quality paper and therefore they wouldn't last as long as the works themselves, b) they added to the cost and processing time of new works and c) once removed, the book jackets were used by others on campus for art and community event projects.  

In response, I pointed out the following:  1) circulation of printed works is flat and/or declining and 2)  publishers spend a fair amount of money trying to come up with attractive book jackets and for a good reason, which is 3) the value of book jackets is in the marketing of the work, i.e., drawing readers to pick up the work, engage with it and hopefully then read (and in the case of bookstores, purchase) the work, and thus,  4) why do librarians think having book jackets display in the online catalog is important? 5) I wasn't worried about the life of the book jacket, by the time it wore out the work would no longer be new and would likely be shelved in the regular collection, and finally 6) if we could get readers to pick up the work and read it when it was new, wasn't it likely that if they enjoyed it, they would tell friends/colleagues and they too would read the work thus further increasing the usage?

To further illustrate my point, I went to the local Barnes and Noble store, where I walked around and photographed a number of their retail display areas. 

 In reviewing those pictures, it further occurred to me that Barnes and Noble, in particular, displays books they want to move quickly, i.e. new arrivals (as they call them) along with books that are on sale at a discounted price with the cover facing the reader.  Works not in those categories, i.e. works that someone might routinely expect the store to stock, are frequently shelved in traditional style, i.e. with the binding facing the reader.   Interesting.

At this same time, I was in the process of visiting and touring a number of leading research libraries across the countries to see their learning commons.  So, while visiting I checked out their new book display areas.  Virtually all of them were leaving the book jackets on their new books.  Furthermore, many of them were displaying those same new works with the covers forward-facing. 

Loyola University - New Book Display
I further noted that the Dean of the Loyola University Library told me they restocked their new work display every morning.  I was visiting with him in the early afternoon and a fair number of the new works on display were already gone.  Very interesting.

So, back at my library, I laid out my findings and suggested we try putting the book jackets on all new works.  When we ran the analysis the cost was actually quite low, even when further adding a cellophane cover to the book jacket to improve their durability.  The processing time also turned out to be quite modest and, as a result of running that analysis, we found some steps we'd been doing that were no longer needed, thus making this investment of time a almost total break-even.

All new works that come with book jackets are now keeping them.  Finally, we ran stats on our new works for the last year so as to establish a base line of circulation comparison data to measure the impact of this change.  So now we'll see what happens.  However, my instinct tells me we'll see an upward climb in the usage stats.  

As librarians, whether we like it or not, we are competing for the attention of our users.  So are our resources.  Which also means that as librarians, we should consider the importance, value and execution of the marketing and promotion component in conducting our day to day activities.  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Do-they-or-don’t-they? Ex Libris & EBSCO Information Services; Content-Neutrality & Content Silos. A living example of why librarians should pay attention when warned of the dangers of content silos.

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The Orbis Cascade Alliance last month did a very important service to the library community and the scholarly & academic community at large by issuing a clear and simple statement and request to both Ex Libris and to Ebsco Information Services (EIS):  “We are writing to express our great concern about your failure to make EBSCO academic library content seamlessly and fully available via Ex Libris discovery services....We urge EBSCO and Ex Libris to quickly resolve this issue. Failure to do so is a disservice to your customers and the faculty, students, and researchers we serve.”  They made this communication, and all the followup communications from all parties, available for all to see. 

This is not the first time this topic has come up. The International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC) issued a statement back in June 2010 stating that they “encourage online providers and aggregators to allow their metadata to be included in emerging discovery layer services on a non-exclusive basis”.  The International Group of Ex Libris Users also issued a petition outlining the same request. And the whole industry came together, through the Open Discovery Initiative, with a clear aim of ”defining standards and/or best practices for the new generation of library discovery services that are based on indexed search”. 

(NOTE: Before proceeding, it can’t go without note that I have twice served as the President of Ex Libris North America.) 

Analyzing the documents, statements and behavior in both marketing materials and from the Orbis-Cascade website, I think it appears the main points of contention between these two companies revolve around the following issues:

How many Discovery systems does a library need to buy and use, in order to discover the content to which they subscribe? 

Most librarians, and most discovery product suppliers, would say one.  Ex Libris certainly does.  EIS’s answer appears to be it depends.  Well, do-they-or-don’t-they?  It really depends.  Let me explain my interpretation of these documents.

EIS markets EDS, their own version of a next-generation, single search discovery solution, in the same category as Primo (Ex Libris), Summon (Serials Solutions) and WorldCAT (OCLC) all products which include an article index along with the discovery interface. There is extensive literature about the benefits of these next-gen discovery solutions, and there is great demand in the marketplace for indexed-based search products. Libraries can find numerous benefits using these options and they can and should evaluate and choose the product that best meets their needs. Most libraries expect, and select, one discovery service for the majority of their content for all of their users.

Yet, EIS’s letter to Orbis-Cascade outlines that their strategy is not to allow library discovery services to index the EBSCO content for the benefit of paying customers. They only offer one method to search the EBSCO content – using an API to their own (note those two words, they’re very important!) discovery service, EDS, which is sold and marketed separately.

What does mean for your library? Well, it appears to say that EIS does not believe in one discovery service, unless it is EDS.  That libraries subscribing to EIS content and using a discovery service other than EDS, will be forced to pay for and use a second, additional discovery service, EDS, in order to access their EBSCO subscription content.  So,  you can either choose to buy EDS or you can be forced to buy EDS if you believe, as Orbis-Cascade and other libraries worldwide do, that another suppliers discovery product gives your organization better value for your money, and you want to use that product to discover your paid-for EBSCO subscription content.

Indexed-search or API-based search?  

EIS, we also learn, believes that indexed-based search is just a bad method to utilize. Their May 8th letter to Orbis-Cascade states that their: "view is that an API solution is superior to a solution that relies strictly on metadata." No, wait. Do-they-or-don’t they? It appears their statements contradict themselves. 

If they don’t believe in indexed-based search, they are clearly in opposition to the vast majority of the profession who believe it to be a core component of modern discovery services. What makes this even more peculiar is the fact that EIS markets EDS as an index-based discovery service – containing both EBSCO content as well as external, non-EBSCO content.  In fact, they just recently announced a partnership with Gale in which they say: “EBSCO Discovery Service creates a unified, customized index of an institution’s information resources, and an easy, yet powerful means of accessing all of that content from a single search box.”

However, I’m sure their marketing people are smart people, so maybe, this isn’t really marketing confusion, but rather a calculated strategy to force their competitors into a “controlled” method for accessing EBSCO content? EIS provides a hint to the answer in one of their letters: Ranking. If your main interest is the content providers’ needs – not the libraries and end-users – it is vital to control the ranking. So, it would appear they’ve found a way to continue to control the ranking of their content and thus avoid content ranking being controlled by the discovery system of the library’s choice. 

And yet there is another problem. EIS participates in the NISO Open Discovery Initiative, which is tasked to help the industry create best practices and recommendations in support of index-based discovery. It is therefore surprising to learn now that a key member of the group is actually clearly opposed to indexed-based search. Now, this is all right – I believe that any and all arguments against the method of indexed-based search should be discussed and reviewed by this group.  However, that should happen in an open and transparent fashion. But as far as I know or can find, this representation of a core objection to the method of indexed-based search was not shared within that group. Should we then assume that because of EIS’s participation in the ODI group, we should expect a change in their corporate strategy in support of index-based discovery? Or is EIS telling us in their letter that the ODI group’s work is good for others, but doesn’t apply to them? Do-they-or-don’t they? Does this make sense to anyone else? Because it sure doesn’t to me… 

The Library, Content Providers and End-Users

EIS is apparently also declaring that single search solutions are bad for content providers. They say that giving users the option to discover content across traditional content silos is against content providers‘, as well as EIS’s, best interests.   

Now let me state that I fully recognize the great importance and the role of native interfaces to the specific content environments – which often include specialized search tools and user interfaces that best match the content in that “silo”. However, it is not an all-or-nothing case, even though EIS is apparently trying to portray it that way. 

Giving users what we all know they want instead of forcing them to only search in traditional content silos is bad for the content provider, EIS says. This is a such a troubling argument, yet it pretty clearly shows where EIS’s thinking is at (and I don’t believe it’s where many librarians thinking is at!). Even more worrisome, I don’t think this is what the majority of content providers think. So EIS is really doing them a disservice as well, because they are out of alignment with those vendors and they are marginalizing the content provided by those vendors.  They’re placing it in a silo and limiting its access, use and impact.  As libraries begin analyzing content usage statistics more fully, and base decisions on renewals on those statistics, content vendors are going to find themselves penalized by the approach of EIS if their content is only available via using EDS. 

But EIS’s priority seems clear - to ensure that users are not “led to believe” that they can get a better user discovery experience outside the content silos via a single indexed-search discovery solution. EIS is well aware of the overwhelming evidence that users want and need single search across content silos, or else why did they build EDS?? So why won’t they make access to all of their content and content enhancements openly available to all discovery interfaces?  It appears they don’t want the competition.  Instead, they want to take the position that their discovery interface preserves the unique values of searching using their native silo searches.  The reason for that is because they limit access to many of those unique enhancements of the content, to their (EIS) search or discovery interfaces. Which is really a big problem for librarians.  As a result, your library is, in effect, locked into a content silo, in which you can only access those content features if you use the products made available by EIS for that content silo.  If you believe that another discovery product better meets the needs of your users, too bad.  If you want their content and enhancements, forget your users’ needs; the only needs that matter are EIS’s.       

So, the bottom line?  It appears EIS does and doesn’t really believe in single search discovery products.  IF your library’s choice is EDS, well, then you can have it.  If you want to do discovery solely with another product, well  then the response appears to be; “Sorry – it’s our way or the highway.”  

As for end-users, well, again, EIS appears to be declaring that single search solutions are bad for them. Yet we now have more than a decade’s worth of overwhelming data about users’ needs and expectations, including the need to have the option (yes - an option) to go to one place, where they will be able to discover content across domains, products and content vendors. 

This is also a critical need of libraries that  face huge challenges in trying to make their users (particularly students) aware of the content for which the library subscribes and pays. These single-search, across content domains discovery tools are a critical component in today’s library technology, but they come in addition to, not instead of, native content interfaces. In fact, many discovery tools ensure that content presented as part of the single result list contains a back-link to the native interface. This is clearly what libraries and their users want: different ways to discover and access content across numerous content-silos. One does not come instead of the other. Rather they complete the spectrum of options and increase the visibility and discoverability of content, especially content that libraries select and for which they pay. The fact that we now have thousands of libraries around the world using single search systems is great evidence of this fact. 

What is indicated by EIS is a radically different understanding of what single-search solutions are all about and the purpose they serve.   Yet, EIS’s priority remains very clear - they seem to think they can force libraries and users, who subscribe to EIS content, into utilizing only EIS’s technology for discovering that content. Sounds like a silo to me.


EIS is also making some very vague claims about rights to content (and/or the lack thereof).  If you examine the second Ex Libris response (dated May 14th,2013) in the Orbis-Cascade list, you will see where Ex Libris very clearly states they aren’t asking for those rights.  In fact Ex Libris doesn’t even need them. In the vast majority of the cases, Ex Libris can get to that content directly through the primary publishers, often with the full-text for indexing purposes.  But this is another instance of do-they-or-don’t they?!?!  Because EIS is now apparently saying that, while they formerly had the rights, now they don’t.  Yet, they provided Ex Libris with content for indexing up until 2010. (Or maybe this agreement ending had something to do with the fact that they introduced EDS to the market in this same time frame?) If your head isn’t spinning yet, well then consider this.  They (EIS) just recently announced a partnership with OCLC.  That seems to imply they do have the rights to make that content available to other parties. So, which version of EBSCO’s marketing is true? Because it seems unlikely they both can be…

However, please investigate and decide on all of this for yourself (and for your library).  Look at the Orbis-Cascade documents and read them and then read between the lines to find the very telling insights that are shown about EBSCO and Ex Libris corporate thinking. 

I have often warned fellow librarians about the danger of content silos.  This appears to me to be a prime example of a very troubling strategy of one content aggregator trying to severely limit the choices and options of librarians. By limiting your library’s options in the discovery of the content your library pays for, by forcing you to use their discovery product, by restricting your ability to apply content neutral, impartial and fair ranking across the content domains. 
It’s about removing the checks and balances in your library’s supply chain.  If we allow this to happen we should expect further restrictions and limitations in the future, all of which are likely to carry severe cost implications for libraries as we see vendors solidify and then take advantage of their position in the market.     

In order to deal with this as a profession, we need to define the guidelines under which we’ll buy products and services dealing with content, content enhancements, and discovery services. We have the annual conference of the American Library Association coming up in mere weeks.  I suggest we encourage these two vendors in particular, as Ex Libris has suggested in part of their correspondence, to have an open meeting and discussion, with invited representation from their mutual customer base, so that we, as librarians, can make sure that whatever is agreed to there actually serves the needs of our organizations, profession and users.  Do-they-or-don't-they? The evidence seems pretty clear but here's a great opportunity for them to clarify.   

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Library Service Platforms and the Issue of Costs

As I speak and talk with librarians around the world concerning the new Library Service Platforms, one place I find that there is a large disconnect in the marketplace is when it comes to the issue of pricing/costs.  

What’s happening is that we have two very different perceptions of the pricing models coming to the negotiating table. 

Library Service Platform (LSP) providers are using a pricing model that is based on the idea that you no longer have to run the computer and thus you don’t need to house it, power it, maintain service agreements on it or even necessarily retain the staff to run it.  They look at the streamlined workflows that are possible using these new systems and again, see efficiency in resource utilization that they feel has value for which they can charge.  As a result, they think you can, and should, reallocate all those costs to the cost you’re willing to pay for the new Library Service Platform.   Furthermore, because these new platforms are the latest in technology, organizations developing them do what any technology company does, particularly when the competition is scarce, they’re charging premium prices for cutting/bleeding edge technology.   Those librarians wanting to help shape these products are frequently willing to pay these higher prices in order to be on the front edge and to have that opportunity to shape the products.   LSP providers extract profit from these early adopters to help speed recovery of their high development costs in putting these products on the market.

Librarians, on the other hand, come to the negotiating table thinking they’ll finally be able to use those previously assigned computer systems to support other projects they’ve delayed doing.   Being chronically understaffed and underfunded, they see it as an opportunity to reassign staff to develop new services they know are long overdue in being offered and believe their providers understand they can’t afford to pay more for the technology.  So they don’t see the savings the LSP providers think they should see and given the associated LSP pricing models are in fact, seeing is an overall increase in direct costs they’ll have to pay to move to this new technology.   

Both sides are right and both sides are wrong in their assumptions and that’s why we have a problem.

What is lacking in this analysis by librarians is that they will be able to offer new (and really quite exciting) services and if they’re smart library leaders, they’ll select and design those new services by carefully assessing those that will create new value and differentiation for their membership/users.   When they do that, ultimately, they’ll be positioned to reverse some of the trends we’ve seen for years, such as the steady decline in the percentage of the university budget allocated to the library.  The librarians, based on these new services, will then able to request and justify additional new revenue that they are in no position to realize today, based on their current technology operations.  

Of course, librarians also have to realize that LSP providers are business operations and owe their shareholders and/or collaborative members the duty of trying to realize the best return on their investments.  So, the pricing models are not as unfair as librarians tend to think.

LSP providers, on the other hand, need to pay attention to the situation of libraries and realize that multi-year payment plans should afford libraries the opportunity to move to these new systems, realize the potential of new services based on these platforms and, at the same time, have the opportunity to work with their funding authorities to justify higher financial resource allocation and pay higher costs later in the agreement life.  Keeping system costs no greater than the library is currently spending, during the initial two years of the agreement, would provide libraries this opportunity.    

The other alternative is what we’re seeing libraries do now, which is to react in shock at the pricing of the new systems and to push out their plans to adopt these new LSP’s.  This isn’t good for any of the involved parties because libraries need to move to these new platforms so they can offer the new services they make possible and the vendors need the revenue these sales generate in order to keep developing these platforms at a fast pace.  

What we really need here is for Librarians and LSP providers to spend some time talking and listening to each other so they can find workable solutions for all involved.  Time is of the essence here.  Perhaps a meeting could be assembled at ALA, the Charleston Conference or elsewhere to engage in such a conversation? 

Friday, May 17, 2013

A new CEO for OCLC. Or is it really more of the same?

No doubt, you've all heard that OCLC has named Jay Jordon's replacement with their announcement yesterday that they've hired Skip Prichard to fill this post.  Since then I've been contacted by a lot of people asking my thoughts on this.  

I have to admit I do not know Mr. Prichard and therefore have no personal knowledge to use here. However, as with previous announcements concerning this post, I wish him the very best and I hope he turns out to be all that our profession needs today.

Sadly, I will have to admit that I was hopeful that the person they hired this time would offer us two things different from the past.  

First, I was hoping the new person would have a much stronger background in librarianship rather than in business.  I've stated before in a blog post that I think OCLC is on the wrong track.  So it's not news that I think OCLC's position in the profession has been greatly compromised in effectiveness by its continual blurring of the line between being a for-profit vendor and being a non-profit library cooperative.  I'm in Europe as I write this, speaking at a couple of library conferences. It is clear from my conversations with librarians at these conferences that many here consider them purely a vendor.  I also know from my consulting work with academic libraries in the U.S. that younger library professionals feel quite differently from older library staff about OCLC.  Many long-time librarians feel that it was through their personal efforts and contributions of records, that OCLC became the organization it is today.   Yet as they retire, the younger staff who are replacing them, and who really never had any personal investment in making OCLC successful, feel it is a slow, bureaucratic and unresponsive organization. They can't wait until they're in positions of power so they can replace or remove OCLC from their library.  That spells trouble for OCLC down the road.

So I was hoping the Board would return to hiring a person that would help realign the organization around the principles of a strong, totally non-profit library collaborative focused on reestablishing and strengthening the value of librarianship in the field. 

Secondly, given the makeup of the profession of librarianship, I was really hoping they would find a strong, talented female leader to fill this post.  Given Mr. Prichard's background, I'm certain they could have found a female equivalent had they tried.  Naming a woman to this post is already long overdue.   

Instead, it is clear that the Board feels OCLC is more of a business operation than a library collaborative and so they've decided to stay the present course, even though it's with a new person.  

I hope I'm wrong but reading Mr. Prichard's resume, that was my gut reaction.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Librarians should make this investment in themselves.

I was recently sitting in an airport gate and as often happens, I found myself waiting for a delayed departure.  These situations often lead to conversations between fellow travelers and that day was no different.  When the conversation turned to professions, I noted I was a librarian and I received the, not at all unusual response, of a grimace and the question: "Isn't that a dying profession?  I mean everything is online right?  Who wants a paper book anymore?"  

As a result of my years of corporate experience, I see this for what it is; an opportunity to sell my profession and the value of libraries to a person who will clearly benefit from what I'm selling.  By the time the conversation is done, I'm showing her WorldCat and telling her how she can use it to find the knowledge or information, in many different forms, not just books.  She tells me she is a frequent traveler and I show her how she can find out what library is nearest her that can connect her with the knowledge.  She bookmarks the site on her tablet, thanks me and we board the plane.  I hope I've helped to reshape her thinking about  the continuing value of libraries and librarianship.

As I reflect on the experience during the flight, it occurs to me that when these encounters occur and when I do public speaking engagements, I find myself relying on and/or recommending three works over and over.  It also occurs to me that I should make those recommendations more broadly known via this blog because I really believe these three books contain incredibly important information for every librarian to absorb, even though only one of them is written specifically for librarians.  The works are:

  • Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and RenĂ©e Mauborgne.  There is no question this book was written for business people, but it's applicability to libraries makes it equally valuable for librarians.  As the title implies, there is "blue ocean" and "red ocean".  The red ocean is the result of bloody competition and the "blue ocean" is a place where organizations can live and prosper because they offer unique value to those that are customers/members of their organization.  Trying to figure out where and how we can offer differentiation for our users is a detailed process involving truly understanding who all are your competitors, what they're offerings do and don't offer, the appeal they have to your common users/members and where you can offer needed products and services to your users/members that they would value deeply.  At the same time the book walks you through making sure that what you do remains consistent with your the core mission of your organization so that you're users/members see it as all related and consistent.   When you get done reading this book (and you'll want to keep in handy as a constant reference), you'll have some valuable tools at your disposal for constantly thinking about how you rise above the commodity level of information/information access and where you can provide valued services on a continual basis.

  • The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser.  In my opinion, this should be required reading for every librarian.  Period. It's that important.  I find myself continually amazed when librarians note their members/users simply go to Google and just accept that's the way it is.  No, it's not.  Not unless you accept it and don't work to change it.  Of course to do that, you have to be able to explain to your members/users, why they're better off talking to you and/or using your discovery tools/approaches when they're looking to expand their knowledge, create new knowledge and how in doing that you'll bring them additional value and benefits that'll make it worthwhile.   Which is exactly why I recommend people read this incredibly important book.  It will help you understand why what we do in libraries is so VERY different than what Google does with their search engine.  It also explains the very dangers that exist to our society and future knowledge creation if we do NOT work to change users/members behavior in this regard.  (Now of course, I realize libraries are not going to replace Google, but we should become the more trusted source of information/knowledge access and creation).  Understanding that differentiation is also critical in being able to do what the Blue Ocean Strategy is telling you, which is to find where you offer unique value your users/customers need and how to extend and benefit from that differentiation.  Together these two books will sharpen your ability to weave a compelling "elevator pitch" that all library staff can use when interacting with library members/users and which can be built upon to offer real and valued new services for your users/members.

  • Finally, I recommend the The Atlas of New Librarianship by David Lankes.  Again, in my opinion, this work should be required reading for every librarian.  Although, I'll note that this work is not a light read in any sense of the word.  It's a massive book because it covers a massive amount of territory.  So, you won't be carrying it along on road-trips (although I have actually done so on occasion - it's very good exercise).  There are few works in our profession that I would consider more compelling, more invigorating or more inspiring than this one.  When you're done with this work, if you don't want to go out and change the world by convincing people of the value of librarianship, you're blood isn't red or your heart isn't beating.  If the size of the work intimidates you, then you can try his subsequent book, which is based on the Atlas and is called Expect More.  While written for supporters and/or board members of libraries, it covers a lot of the same themes, just with less depth.  Still it’s an excellent work as well (and you can get it as an e-book so it's infinitely more portable).  If reading isn't your thing and you’re a audio/visual person, then watch or listen to any of David's talks many of which are on his website.  I do so on a regular basis (my favorite is this one) just because they remind me what we as librarians are about and how we should do our work.  Collectively, David's works are some of the crown jewels of our profession.      

You'll be a better librarian after making this investment in yourself.  You owe it to yourself and to our profession.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Twitter: A valuable feedback mechanism for reviewing what you said, what was heard and how that compares with what you meant.

Over a week ago I gave a talk at a symposium, about the intersection of librarianship and new technology, particularly that used in the new library service platforms.  It's a talk I've given several times in various forms and as I often do, I try to be a bit provocative and cause people to engage, no matter what their point of view.  

After doing a talk, I always roam through the crowd and ask for feedback.  Of course when you do that, most people want to be polite, so I always find this feedback to be quite positive, even when I've told them I willingly accept any constructive criticism they have of what I've said.  I usually get a great deal of positive feedback and very, very little constructive criticism. 

However, as anyone who reads blog comments or Twitter streams knows, when people are speaking more anonymously, they say what they think without much inhibition at all.  So, I always find it interesting, after doing such a talk, to take the time to read the Tweet stream from the event.  Here I find the critical analysis I'm seeking, which I can then use to improve and refine the content.  Should I then have the opportunity to give a talk on a similar topic sometime in the future, I know it will benefit from this commentary. 

When you do this, what you also quickly find out is that despite what you thought you said and showed, there is what people heard and saw, and what they attributed to you as they Tweeted they're interpretations and sightings -- around the world.  These do not always line up. Now, this is human nature at work, but at the same time, those differences can be fascinating, insightful, humbling, embarrassing and rewarding.  Occasionally that all happens at the same time.  To illustrate my point, here are some examples from my last talk:

  1. "The path forward."  In one slide, I show a fork in the road where I talk about the various pathways open to librarianship in the future and where we might want to focus to create real value for our user communities.   When I read the Tweet stream, I found out that people noted something I hadn't -- in the photo I had selected, the pathways ended up in a cemetery!  Oh my.  Well, obviously that wasn't my intent and in fact when I'd selected the picture, I was using a laptop and a much smaller screen, so I thought those small objects were tree stumps and a small monument, all in a park setting.  However, after reading the Tweet stream, and upon closer examination I found the audience was quite right and they were, in fact, headstones. So, that was a bit embarrassing.  That picture, as you might expect, has been replaced in that slide deck.  Plus, I'll now be examining very closely and on a LARGE screen, any pictures selected for use in future slide decks.  
  2. "What is knowledge creation??"  I've mentioned in previous blog posts, and frequently in my talks, that I see helping people to create new knowledge as one of the central pillars upon which librarianship rests.   In reading the Tweet stream however, I learned some thought my saying that was improperly, or too narrowly, defining learning as research.  I wasn't trying to be that narrow, nor did I think I said that at all.  However, if someone interpreted that, then I want to rethink how I an more clearly say and convey what I mean. 
  3. Vendor/product comments. Providing critical analysis of anything is always tricky turf.  Librarians want to be educated, but they respond quite negatively to criticisms of any vendor/product.  So when asked to provide critical analysis, I try to avoid specific product discussions (I'm not always vague enough) and instead I try to educate people by pointing at areas where I think they should ask questions, suggest the questions to be asked and then encourage them to think very carefully about the answers.  Yet, even this approach can still be viewed as being critical.  I saw that in this Tweet stream. Depending on the cultural background, particularly if you cross international boundaries, this sensitivity can even be heightened.  Yet, upon reflection, I feel that being provocative sometimes carries a cost and this one I'm willing to bear because I think, sometimes as a profession, librarians are entirely too trusting.  Knowing the tough questions to ask is important and if that's viewed as not being polite, well so be it.
  4. "What is cloud computing???"  The Tweets reflecting this concern were a valuable reminder that despite the plethora of information that exists on the subject of cloud computing, it is still swathed in massive amounts of misunderstanding and/or a lack of understanding.  The vendors and organizations that are selling cloud-computing concepts sometimes bend the concepts to accommodate their products thus extending this misunderstanding.  It makes it very difficult for people to slice through the hype and get down to the facts.  What some of the Tweets showed me, is the need as the speaker, to be very clear about what constitutes cloud computing. By doing so, I will help to equip my audience to better apply points of differentiation in future analysis they perform. 

All in all, reading those Twitter streams provides very valuable feedback for speakers.  If you give a talk, I recommend you try it out.  It can be a bit painful, but it's a great learning experience and your next talk, like mine, will benefit as a result. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

A new direction...

I want to take the opportunity to update this blog's readers about myself and explain why the blogging has slowed a bit in the past few weeks. 

As some of you may already know, I recently accepted an appointment at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma to become the University Libraries, Associate Dean for Knowledge Services and Chief Technology Officer.   

Before I say more about that, I first want to spend a moment talking about my time at Virginia Tech Libraries and my experience in working with the Dean of Libraries there, Tyler Walters.  Which, to be honest, has been fabulous.  Some may note that my time at Tech was fairly short (about 6 months), but this was in fact, by design.  Tyler and I originally talked about my doing consulting work for him and after numerous conversations, he offered that rather than do a consulting assignment, he would be willing to put me on the staff of the library, part-time, doing the same work we'd been talking about doing. Knowing that I had stated a desire to move to the academic side of the profession, he noted that this move would give me actual work experience "in" an academic library that I could list on my CV.  While doing that we agreed I would be free to continue to seek a full-time position within the profession. Creative thinking.  Mutually beneficial.  I liked it.  For all of this, I'm really and truly grateful to Tyler.  

One thing people on the "business" side of the library profession find out rather quickly is that even though you have the same Masters Degree as those who've worked "in" a library, when you try to return to the library side, it is often met with statements like this: "Yes, but you have NOT worked IN a library for X years".  Really, it's an absurd and infuriating statement.  Particularly for someone like myself who has run a number of companies, or divisions within companies, that showed a lot of success.  I usually tried to counter the statement by pointing out that actually, I'd worked in hundreds of libraries around the world and had a wealth of solutions and ideas for problems rather than just a few based on experience in one or two libraries.  As often as not however, that point fell on deaf ears.  Traditions, as we well know, die slow and hard in the library world.  As I bemoaned my experiences to another library director, he reminded me that the profession of librarianship frequently acts in ways that meet the classic definition of insanity, i.e., the principle which states:  "You keep doing the same thing (hiring the same kind of people) and expecting different results."  I had to sadly smile in agreement.

All of which is to underscore that Tyler Walters saw beyond that and was willing to think "outside-of-the-box".  His thinking was refreshing to say the least.  Tyler represents a breed of director/dean that I only wish our profession had many more like.  He is one of those working to ensure that librarianship remains vital and valued in higher education and society and is willing to explore new pathways to ensure that happens.  

It is my belief (and hope) that Tyler's thinking was rewarded by what the team at Virginia Tech Libraries, and I accomplished while working together.  I hope all feel it was mutually beneficial.  I also strongly believe that under his leadership, Virginia Tech Libraries will continue to be a very successful example for academic research libraries around the globe.  

Which is where Rick Luce and the University of Oklahoma come into the picture.  I've known Rick for many years. He was a customer of Ex Libris North America during the time I was the President and Chief Librarian.  We'd always worked well together and I'd personally talked to Rick and sought his advice, about my desire to return to the academic side of librarianship while he was still the Dean of Libraries at Emory University.  Impressively, he must have taken serious note because after he'd moved to the University of Oklahoma and started some reorganization and creation of new positions, he called me and encouraged me to keep an eye on their job postings as he thought that I might find something of interest.  He was right.  When the posting for the Associate Dean/CTO position appeared, I quickly applied.  After the interview process I was even more pleased to be offered the position.  Here was another library director/dean who could see beyond the usual boundaries when it came to hiring and could see the benefits my background might bring to the operation he was running (a person begins to have their faith in the future of librarianship reinvigorated after multiple encounters like this!).  Again, I want to publicly express my thanks to Rick Luce for having that understanding and for providing me with this opportunity.

With regard to my actual position at OU, in the announcement of my hiring to the staff and faculty of OU, the following was publicly stated:
"With the creation of this position, the University of Oklahoma Libraries is responding to a rapidly changing landscape in higher education and to evolving user expectations.  Knowledge Services will integrate formerly discrete components in the library to achieve a more seamless user experiences when interacting with digital content. Traditional library departments such as Cataloging; Metadata and Library Systems will work together with new areas such as the digitization laboratory to enhance access to digital collections, to preserve digital data, and to examine library technology platforms that best meet the needs to of today's scholars. Knowledge Services will also support learning, teaching and research through the creation of a collaborative commons.  Dean of Libraries, Rick Luce, notes, "As with all academic libraries, OU is experiencing a rapidly evolving and significant transformation in way that students and faculty learn and teach, impacting the way our users need and expect support. We are becoming more  engaged in the integration of information into the digital landscape in support of new pedagogy, in the role of digitization and preservation, and in supporting the infrastructure to manage the life cycle of multiple forms of information. Carl Grant will have key leadership responsibilities at the intersection of digital services and  our transformation to a more user centric organization."
You probably can imagine, given that description and all I've said in this blog, as well as my publications and in my talks, I'm absolutely thrilled to have this chance to go put a lot of these ideas to work in an environment such as is described above.  

For the many followers of this blog, please rest assured, it is my intent to keep sharing my thoughts and observations on our profession, higher education and technology.  It might take me another month or so to get back to a regular (if I ever had one) blogging schedule.  In that same time frame we're moving across almost one-half of this country and I already had a hectic set of speaking engagements planned in the same time frame (not to mention a book that is due shortly). So I beg your understanding.  

Please also note that it is my intent to continue to do some very limited consulting work through CARE Affiliates.    

As always, thank you for your readership and please stay tuned...