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.