Strategies And Practices For Library Impact

2020 & Beyond: Strategies and Practices for Library Impact

2020 & Beyond was a two-day program held at the iSchool at U of T on 20 & 21 July 2017. it consisted of a series of sessions and speakers on a variety of subjects. Most of the speakers were with us at the session, while a few presented via Skype. I'll be summarizing the sessions individually, but a full itinerary and speaker bios can be found on the program website.

It wasn't a large conference. There a couple of dozen in attendance, plus sponsors and speakers. The balance between CEOs and managers was pretty even.

Day One

The keynote session was entitled "Mix It Up For A Fabulous Future" and featured a digital artist named Eric Chan, AKA Eepmon. He described the various projects he has worked on over the last few years, including a collaboration with Canada Goose, an interpretation of the Chinese Folding book with Library & Archives Canada and an art installation called "Intersections" that projects open weather data live on a canvas. Essentially, the takeaway was that we need to collaborate with anyone (which is what he does) - business, institutions, whoever. Another seemed to be that we shouldn't be scared to approach people - his work with Canada Goose came from an unsolicited email sent to the CEO, and nothing would have happened if he hadn't been willing to try. Finally, libraries must open up to the 'digital ecosystem' to remain relevant. He also name-dropped a bit, told some stories about meeting celebrities.

Next came a session entitled "The Future: Key Issues, Trends & Actions" with Jane Dysart and Barbara Franchetto. Here's a list of what came up:

  • Flexible space: This is pretty self-explanatory and is the idea that we create spaces that are adaptable for future needs that we cannot now envision. It also included a plug for a portable screen company (giveaway pen included), which I found kind of cynical.
  • Blockchain: Blockchain is the database system behind Bitcoin. I couldn't really figure out the exact impact, other than it's supposed to be revolutionary. Looking at the Wikipedia page, it looks like Blockchain can create decentralized libraries and information networks for distribution of digital content, possibly displacing the Apples and other content providers - e.g. The Alexandria Project. So I guess the prospect of even better distribution of digital content could disintermediate us further.
  • Other revolutionary tech stuff on the horizon (or already here, just not so widespread) includes giant touch screens, voice tech and VR/augmented reality.
  • In terms of impact measurement, it was suggested that we would need to look beyond our impact on our clients and look at our impact on our client's clients.
  • Outline of various collaborative efforts, namely IFLA, FOPL's lobbying efforts and joint efforts of FOPL, SOLS and OLA.

Next up was Strategies & Practices with Vickery Bowles (TPL CEO) and Carol Shepstone, the incoming chief librarian for Ryerson.

Vickery outlined TPL's transformation efforts and strategic plan formulation. Priority areas include advancing digital platforms, tech/training access, breaking down access barriers, community connections and service excellence. These were broken down individually. I won't list everything, but there were a few points that stood out:
*One of the elements of advancing digital platforms is personalized service. In this context, they're talking about collecting data, presumably for things like book recommendations. This could be something worth exploring for us - if Amazon can recommend books, why can't we? That said, I'm not that impressed with the books that Amazon and other services recommend.
*Breaking down access barriers includes reducing fines and fees in neighbourhoods that the city has identified as priority areas in their Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy 2020. This is interesting, but if we were able to change our fines & fees, it would probably have to be across the board.
*Under tech/training access, one of their goals is to build a knowledge workforce, which sounds pretty cool.
*One thing that stood out was her assertion that no other public institution has the mandate, reach, infrastructure, talent and community presence to meet the sorts of goals listed, so that was heartening.

Carol Shepstone outlined her experiences building a new library at Mount Royal University in Calgary. General points included the use of working groups to avoid silos, being comfortable with ambiguity and trying to think outside of the library "box."

The first afternoon session was about collections. Our guests were a librarian from Vancouver PL (via Skype) and a special librarian from a health library consortium in Toronto. First, the VPL librarian (Christina) outlined current trends in eBooks. Commercially, they appear to have peaked. However, when broken down by category, almost half of the fiction sold is in eBook format. Nonfiction and juvenile books are more like 10-12%. eBooks are pretty big in the English-speaking world, but haven't made as much headway in Europe or elsewhere. Libraries as a whole have made some progress with the various concerns we have with cost and accessibility, but there is still work to be done.

One implementable take-away from this session is VPL's "Vancouver Indie" program. Authors can submit self-published books (fiction mainly, more later) to the library for this collection. If they get checked out four times, they 'graduate' to the regular shelves. This could be a workable solution to the self-published titles submitted to us - it allows us to maintain some semblance of quality standards (it's made plain that this isn't a curated collection) while supporting local authors and letting the marketplace determine whether or not something is worthy.

Lori, the health librarian, was speaking from a more academic perspective on journals and vendor management. Not much relevance for us.

Next subject was HR. Dan Pontrefact, Chief Envisioner for Telus, had some very nice things to say about libraries. His thing is that, as a society, we're too distracted and frenetic, and that increasingly, this is seen as normal and fine. He suggests that employers encourage open thinking, which would be encouraged by time to reflect and think critically. In his own case, he takes 90 minutes per day and four hours on Friday to unplug, disconnect and think.

Andrea Checetto from Markham PL was in to discuss staffing. She had some really interesting things to say, even for someone who isn't usually in a hiring position. Some of her main points:
*Decide where you want to go before figuring out how you want to get there. Once you plan your mission and goals, tailor your hiring accordingly.
*Skills and competency are different things. Hire for competency, since people can learn skills. And she specifically used the word "learn," saying that "training is for dogs."
*Markham has a no library tech hiring policy. I'm not sure if this was the goal, but the policy has had the effect of increasing diversity and bringing different perspectives to the library.
*Provide opportunities for training and mentorship. Andrea suggested that non-library organizations with strong customer service reputations (e.g. Disney, Starbucks) may have training available for other organizations. Also, she said that they fully expect to lose employees to other organizations after three or four years.
*On customer service, she suggested that it's a waste of time to try to engage the 20% of employees who will always be negative and never change. She says managers should concentrate on the "next" group - those susceptible to influence from the negatives but for whom a slide into negativity isn't inevitable.
*Finally, Andrea noted that small things could help - outside staff meetings, food at staff events, etc.

Day Two
First up on day 2 was industry insights with Stephen Abrams and a rep from Whitehots. Some random points, since they brought up different things:
*Since the stacks are disappearing, what's our brand, books or community hub?
*Welland opened a new branch in a local mall where 80-90% of the books face frontward. Limited traditional shelves.
*Artificial Intelligence? Apparently WhiteHots is working on a collaboration with Collection HQ where, if you create a shopping cart, CHQ will rate its potential for checkout success based on collection stats.
*Why can't we text patrons?
*Targeted marketing could be helpful, but how can we get the data?
*Males and commuters are underserved.
*Talked about FOPL's new social media aggregating dashboard tool - I think we're participating?
*SA talked a lot about FOPL's lobbying and government relations efforts. The Ministry of Culture has issued an RFP to look at an Ontario Digital Library. Also investigating a non-profit broadband network to serve rural areas. FOPL and other library organizations are trying to align themselves with the current government's missions - e-learning, lifelong learning, seniors' isolation…also meeting with opposition members.
*Other stuff - FOPL is working with the Ministry to replace elements of the annual survey with widgets.
*Mentioned something about whether our ILS (Horizon) offers the Google API so that online book searches will direct users here
*Claims that 50% of ILS searches visit Amazon first before checking the library - really?
*Also said libraries need to outsource 'transactional' culture and that we "cling" to Dewey. I thought the second thing was a bit much.
*Will ChatBots someday be able to take over basic reference work? Will AI be capable of cataloguing?
*Augmented Reality is being used to supplement gallery and museum displays. The idea is that you download an app and get extra content - for instance, you would hold up your phone against a display in a gallery and see added video, audio, pics (kind of like Pokemon Go). Similarly, Beacons (or iBeacons) are small transmitters that can hold all sorts of content. They're affixed to objects and send an alert to your phone when you're near. For example, there are beacons on a Jane Austen statue in London that inform passers-by what they're looking at with added content on Austen's life and works. Theoretically, they could also hold thousands of eBooks. The presenters try to make it sound kind of utopian, but all I can think of are nightmare scenarios as in this video where you're bombarded with ads and messages 24/7.
*Because things are changing so quickly, adaptability is a challenge. Ottawa PL is looking at an innovation fund so they can be nimble and adopt/evaluate tech quickly. TPL is working on a digital innovation strategy. And of course, Pickering is involved in the Smart Cities strategy.
*Finally, a weird point - one of the presenters (SA?) claimed that patron-selected books circulate six times as well as librarian-selected books. I have no idea where this snippet of data came from, but it sounds kind of suspect.

The next session covered Change Management. The presenter (Gordon Vala-Webb) says that two-thirds of people aren't engaged in their work - disengaged or simply not engaged. This, he believes, is due to command-control cultures that are the norm in most organizations. This is a holdover from a less-disruptive time, when there was a long cycle during which a company could create and cash in from an innovation. They could almost coast on that innovation for decades, and characteristics like predictability, control and repetition were seen as positives. Now, they have to constantly restart the innovation cycle, be radically responsive and deal with an always uncertain future.

So change management helps in this. Change management is defined as a targeted effort to to influence to change their actions in order to achieve a goal. The presentation was very business-y and contained a bunch of acronyms and diagrams with arrows pointing at odd shapes, but essentially, implementing change management involves managing constraints (removing and sometimes putting them in place to influence behaviour), creating new connections and putting catalysts in place (e.g. rewards). Acknowledge that change is difficult, nudge, seek feedback and, where possible, find fun.

Next was "prickly topics." This was an exercise that involved moving around from group to group discussing items that keep us up at night, discussing and grouping them using sticky notes. It wasn't really the sort of thing that you could summarize in notes.

The final session was Positioning For The Future. We used an instant online survey tool called Menti - we logged into a website and answered questions while our answers were tabulated and displayed on the screen. We were asked questions like "are our mandates threatened," that sort of thing. The speakers were a special librarian and a former CBC journalist. The special librarian suggested a number of things, but they can basically be summed up by going the extra mile for clients - following up, integrating themselves (the library) into the organization and always being front & centre and partnering within. The ex-CBC journalist (Brendan Howley) was involved in FOPL's Open Media Project, which is the social media dashboard that I think we've signed up for (mentioned above). He's a sort of social media guy, and some of the things he's noticed include:
*people want "actionable intelligence," not information
*there's more trust in libraries than ever before, so we're well-positioned
*Millennials are still pretty psyched about books, and they also have high levels of trust in libraries and librarians
Howley sees us as participatory culture engines.

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