Spring 2013/14 Syllabi for St Catherine University

If you are interested in reading a draft syllabus for the Spring 2013/14 semester for my SCU MLIS classes here you go

7040 Syllabus Spring Weeknight 2013-14 for my Tuesday Night Class

7040 Syllabus Spring 2013-14 for my Sunday Afternoon Class

Please note that these syllabi are subject to change.

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The Trader Joe’s Way for Libraries (a Manifesto Part III)

One of my highest read, and most satisfying post for me to write, was the Apple Way for Libraries (a Manifesto?).  In this post I summarize Apple’s customer service, user experience, and products and services and what libraries can learn from them.  I followed up this post with The Starbucks Way for Libraries (a Manifesto Part II), in this post I will highlight lessons from Trader Joe’s and their secrets for success.

Trader Joe’s does many things extremely well.  They are exceptional at employee loyalty, customer service, and customer loyalty.  I remember attending a LACONI library program in which a team captain from Trader Joe’s told us about their amazing customer service philosophy.  I also remember living in Grand Rapids, MI and listening to coworkers talk about driving to Detroit or Chicago to shop at Trader Joe’s.  They would take up lists from all of us for those specialty items we couldn’t live without.  I don’t think they made the trip solely to go to Trader Joe’s but certainly made it a priority of their travel.

So what is it about this company?  The first thing you notice about Trader Joe’s are their employees.  They are dressed in brightly colored Hawaiian shirts.  They are easy to spot and request assistance from.  And they move throughout the store with an attentiveness to their customers.  I know that as an employee, I hated the notion of uniforms, but man does it make a difference for customers.

We also see that Trader Joe’s employees are happy.  Like make me puke cheerleader happy.  As I will outline below, this is from Trader Joe’s employee selection process, compensation, culture and staff training program.  The experiences that these happy employees create for us customers truly sets them apart from their competition.  Let’s be honest, Trader Joe’s products are not that great.  They are actually kind of cheap, but the user experience blinds us to that.

Trader Joe’s pays their employees well.  This has always bothered me about libraries.  We pay our frontline staff darn near minimum wage.  We are then surprised at high turnover, poor customer service and low morale.  This is a very shortsighted philosophy.  Not only would higher pay lead to better performance, customer service, and improved morale, staff would work harder.  If staff work harder then you need less of them.  In the end, libraries could reduce overhead, and create better experiences by paying staff better.  Heck, even Starbucks and Apple recognize that a Walmart pay philosophy leads to poor customer experiences.

The higher pay allows Trader Joe’s to focus on the second key to their success, hiring exceptional employees.  I have long lamented that libraries just fill their organization with warm bodies.  This leads to such bad experiences for our patrons.  Trader Joe’s spends considerable time selecting their employees.  They run them through a vigorous training program.  They engrain the Trader Joe’s culture in them, and teach them exceptional customer service.  All Trader Joe’s captains (store managers) are promoted from within.  As a result, employees see growth potential.

I want to swing back to staff training.  As I continue to examine excellent organizations I have noticed a key trend.  Exceptional organizations have systematic employee training processes.  In the libraries I have worked in, lead, or asked about, the general trend for employee training is here is our policy manual and staff handbook please read them and sign this form.  Starbucks, Apple and Trader Joe’s would not let an employee anywhere near a customer until their employees are trained in the company’s expectations of customer service, educated in the company’s philosophy, and deeply exposed to the company’s culture.

The customer, or patron in our case, needs to be given consistent service.  Organizations ensure this through staff training programs.  My students just did the typical reference experience assignment in my introduction to reference course.  It is really surprising, and saddening, to hear about the number of students who went to the same library and got very different levels of customer service.  Solid staff training leads to consistent (and hopefully exceptional) customer experiences.

Trader Joe’s has engrained staff training and customer service deep into their culture.  The more I examine organizations and organizational excellence, the more I realize that the mostly invisible culture of organizations are what leads to its status as exceptional or mediocre.  This explains why library A and library B can have similar budgets, staff size, patron base and yet one can be held up as a great library while the other is mediocre (or worse).

A big part of Trader Joe’s culture is derived from its 7 Core Values:

  • Integrity. In the way we operate stores and the way we deal with people. Act as if the customer was looking over your shoulder all the time.
  • Product-driven. Our strategy emphasizes price, product, access, service, and experience. We want to excel at one, be very good at another, and meet customer expectations on the others.
  • Produce customer wow experiences. We celebrate the special way we treat and relate to our customers. We think retailing is all about customer experience, and that is what really differentiates us.
  • We hate bureaucracy. We give everyone a license to kill bureaucracy. All officers are in cubicles. The CEO is in a conference room. We have very few layers—a very simple organization.
  • Kaizen. Each one of us every day is trying to do a little better. This is infused into our training programs. We really stress teamwork and working together, while we do not do elaborate budgeting at the store level.
  • Treat the store as the brand. Individual products are not the brand. The store is. Brand is really the covenant between the company and the customer, and the real key is day-to-day consistency in meeting and satisfying needs. Last year we were very surprised and proud when an article came out in Entrepreneur magazine said three companies that got branding right were Krispy Kreme, Nike, and us.
  • We are a “national/neighborhood” company. Our customers benefit from our national buying ability, but we want each store to be close to the customer and really a part of their neighborhood.

Almost all of these core values are applicable to libraries.  As I read through them, I need to remind myself that these were not written for libraries.  Trader Joe’s employees need to read and memorize these values.  You can even find flashcards online that employees have made to help them pass the core values test.  Does your library have core values?  Do you know them by heart?  What about it’s mission and vision statement?  These types of artifacts are visible representations of the library’s culture.  If you don’t know them, it speaks volumes about the library culture. How these types of artifacts are created, and how your library is managed.

The core value I want to highlight most from Trader Joe’s is its commitment to kaizen.  This is a relative old management concept that is derived from the work of W. Edward Deming.  He helped shape this concept in Japanese manufacturing at the end of WWII.  It is a process that focuses on continual improvement to products, services and processes.  A kaizen philosophy is a focus on improving the experience for the patron at all levels of the organization.

We see an adaption of this philosophy in the Google 20 percent process which is also found at 3M and many other innovative companies.  The idea is that you give each employee 20 percent of their work time to work on projects that are important to them.  I was happy to see the results of this when I introduced it at Prairie State College.  While I couldn’t give the full 8 hours, I encouraged employees to take 4 hours a week and devote it to projects they are passionate about.  In 1 year we rolled out an institutional repository, held a one book program with the 11 public libraries in our college district, and rolled out some participatory services.

The lesson in kaizen, and from Apple and Starbucks is to empower employees.  Empowered employees feel more connected to the organization.  They take a deeper ownership over their work, and they are more committed to creating wow experiences for the patrons.

It takes me a lot of time to deeply examine these organizations.  I read a lot about their training programs.  I go to their locations and experience their customer service first hand.  I wish that libraries approached customer service, culture building and staff training the same way we approach cataloging.  We catalog through OCLC to achieve consistency in records, to reduce cost, and to share the burden.  Libraries should unite together to create stellar staff training programs and customer service philosophies.

Do you know of libraries that excel at this stuff?  Do you know of a great library staff training program?  I would love to read them, so please feel free to pass them along.

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The Starbucks Way for Libraries (a Manifesto Part II)`

One of my highest read, and most satisfying post for me to write, was the Apple Way for Libraries (a Manifesto?).  In this post I summarize Apple’s customer service, user experience, and products and services and what libraries can learn from them.

In the next two posts I want to look at two other companies that we can learn from Starbucks and Trader Joes.  One of the common threads between all three companies is their approach to integrating customer service philosophies into their staff-training program.  This is an area that libraries typically lack.  We usually don’t incorporate our customer service philosophy or culture into our training programs or employee handbooks and this is a fatal mistake.

If libraries want to truly remain relevant to our communities, one important key is to provide exceptional customer service.  It is that customer service, and high touch philosophy that differentiates us from competition.  Don’t get me wrong, a few libraries do this very well, but by in large, we are not good at this stuff.

Just Say Yes

Much like Apple, Starbucks focuses on creating a powerful retail and user experience for their customers.  Starbucks empowers employees at all levels to resolve issues.  They have their “Just Say Yes” policy.  The policy states that employees are to provide the best customer services even if that means operating outside of company rules.  For example, Starbucks uses the Latte Method”:

  • Listen to the customer
  • Acknowledge their complaint
  • Take action to resolve the problem
  • Thank the customer for bringing the situation to their attention
  • Explain to the customer why the problem occurred

What this means is that any Starbucks employee can replace a drink, remake a drink, provide free product or anything of the sort.  They do this without approval from a manager.  One of the best examples of this is if a customer tries to pay with a check.  Starbucks doesn’t accept checks, so the employees can offer a free sample or small version of the drink to the customer.  In this wonderful customer service example we see a win-win-win for everyone.  The customer gets their drink (and free of charge), Starbucks retains a customer for the small price of 25 or 50 cents. The employee feels empowered and valued in their job.

Libraries could learn a valuable lesson here.  Frontline staff should have the authority to correct, reduce, or waive fines without seeking approval.  This saves the time of the patron, makes the employee feel valued and empowered and improves the patron experience.  The philosophy here is let’s not win the battle and lose a patron.  In many cases, the employee is all ready empowered to do this but they don’t feel empowered.  That’s why a solid training program is such a necessity.

Connection

Starbucks also encourages all staff to connect with the customer.  The employees are told to enthusiastically greet the customers and welcome them to the store.  The employees are encouraged to engage in conversation.  They are encouraged to use open-ended questions to elicit conversation.  The employees are empowered to offer up suggestions for customers.  For some reason, libraries in general, try and avoid this.

Whether we think we are protecting the privacy of our patrons or something else, I’m not sure, but it seems rather foolish.  In both public and academic libraries a large portion of our patrons are frequent users, we should make it our job to learn their names and greet them.  This creates a much more positive environment and experience for everyone.  To me, this represents a trust issue between managers and employees.  But the real loser here is our patrons.

Moreover, and the harder one for many of us to swallow, is the advice that all frontline staff should feel empowered to make suggestions to patrons.  Let’s face it, many of our circulation clerks know our patrons reading habits more than the librarians do.  Is there really any harm in them telling Ms. Jones “hey, I just read this and I think you might like it?” or even better, “I saved this for you because I thought you might enjoy it”.  If Starbucks trusts their minimum wage employees to make recommendations based on the products that professionals have selected, why can’t we follow suit?  Do we really distrust and dislike our frontline staff more than Starbucks?

The last lesson I want to discuss from Starbucks deals with smiles.  Starbucks train their employees to smile at customers.  Yes, that wonderful smile that can brighten up your day and create a powerful experience.  Heck, there is even a song about Starbucks Smile.

I once heard that Starbucks fires 250 employees a year for not smiling enough.  On the one hand, this seems very harsh and controlling, on the other hand Starbucks seems on to something.  We all know that frontline staffer who is always grumpy.  Patrons even try to avoid them.  This is a major problem for administration.  It turns off patrons and turns heavy users into advocates against the library.  It also decreases morale among the staff.  Managers need to be courageous enough to deal with these problems instead of allowing them to fester and infect the staff and patrons.

The best part of Starbucks training program is its self selection process.  Starbucks knows that if an employee is going to quit its within 90 days or after more than 3 years.  Those that can’t hack it leave quickly; those who can make it, love their job and stay for a long time.

Creating a positive user experience has been growing in popularity in libraries for a while now.  However, in most cases it refers to digital or technological experiences.  This is good, but it is not nearly enough.  We need to focus on creating a positive user experience in all aspects.  Starbucks, like Apple and Trader Joes, do this through employee training, adopting a customer service philosophy, and holding everyone accountable to that philosophy.  The Starbucks store can be a total mess, their website can be down, their coffee can be overpriced and too bitter, but I’ll take all of that for the warm greeting, the smile, and the “Tony, do you want your tripio today or a grande Pike”.

In my next installment I’ll take a look at the Trader Joes philosophy and why people drive hours to get to the closest Trader Joes.

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My Facebook Sabbatical

On October 3rd I decided to take a Facebook Sabbatical.  I was inspired by my friend Leah White and the Fast Company article by Baratunde Thurston entitled #Unplug: Baratunde Thurston Left the Internet for 25 Days, and You Should, Too.  Much like Leah, I decided to leave only Facebook.  My reasons are different from hers.  I have never been a heavy user of any other social media tool than Facebook.  My Twitter account is really only used while I’m at conferences.  I occasionally try to read through it, but I mostly feel overwhelmed by all the continual noise that comes from it.

Leah White describes her experience in a wonderful blog post.  She accurate describes the detox like withdraw from Facebook.  I highly suggest you give it a read.

My experience was slightly different.  Like Leah, I deleted the app from my phone.  However, on my first day I noticed myself mindlessly opening up a browser and typing Facebook.com.  I even did this in meetings, and when speaking to other people.  (I’m sorry if I ever did this to you, that was very rude).  So I installed page blockers to all of the browser on my computer (Safari, Chrome & Firefox).  This certainly helped me a lot.

There were some unintended consequences to my blocks.  Many people create content on Facebook and link to it from Twitter and other social media sites.  I couldn’t access any of this.  Facebook was also used to authenticate myself on a lot of sites.  For example, my Goodreads account login uses my Facebook for authentication.  I had to try and remember passwords for sites that I hadn’t actually logged into for some time.  This demonstrated how deep into my life Facebook has reached.

For the first week or so, I substituted Twitter and Instagram for my Facebook habit.  This waned as I entered my second week.  Something interesting happened during week two.  I start Yelping like crazy.  Weird, I know.  That has also waned.  Now I’m barely even using my phone.

One lesson I really learned with my substitution is that social media provides us with more than a network.  It provides us with a voice.  I think that is lost in most of our discussions of social media.  Whether I decide to use my voice or not, I know that I can and that is really important.

During this time I found more focus.  I started writing a lot more (the whole voice thing); expect more blog posts soon.  And I started to think more.  I kicked around a lot of ideas in my head.  Both of these could be caused by something other than my Facebook Sabbatical, but I don’t think so.  I had expected to read more, but no change in my readings habits occurred other than reading the Sunday paper.  I did find myself listening to NPR more though.  I also did more things.  Erika and I even went to the Science Museum (awesome) and I meet with more people face-to-face.  Again, all of this could be contributed to something else, but I don’t think so.

I also found myself more focused on the here and now.  I may not know what the social scene is like at Internet Librarian, and what were the good afterpartys, I do know that we have friends coming over for dinner tomorrow, I managed to learn all of my students names, what is happening in the city I live in and what important things are happening on a global scale.  I am also getting more in touch with myself.  I now, sometimes, find myself just sitting quietly.  A few days ago I had coffee with a new friend from Chicago.  As I patiently waited, I didn’t check Facebook or anything else, but I immersed myself in the coffee shop, the smells, the sounds, the taste of the coffee and the conversations happening near me.  This has happened so many times over the last 30 days.

Leah makes a great point about the social “highschoolish” pressure on Facebook.  I think that’s very true.  For the librarians, just take a look at the ALA Think Tank.  I, on the other hand, would extend this to other social networking sites as well.

I also think Facebook gives us a copout for not admitting friendships have met there natural conclusion.  This is really hard for us to admit.  But so many friendships in our lives are only for a season.  With Facebook, it seems we don’t have to come to terms with that.  Facebook gives us a way to not have to say goodbye.  Heck, my dad’s Facebook page is still active even though he has been dead for 2 years.

I certainly think my Facebook Sabbatical had a detrimental impact on my personal learning network.  A lot of articles that I read, I find through Facebook.  I was hoping that Twitter would take up this role for me, but it didn’t.  Perhaps its because I’ve had a Facebook for so much longer, or because it is my de facto social media site, I’ve devoted more time to my newsfeed and friends.  I am far stricter with who I friend on Facebook than on Twitter.

This whole experiment has gotten me to think a lot about social media from a librarian perspective.  For some years we have heralded the positives of social media with virtually little discussion of its negative impact.  Those who have been bold enough to question it are quickly labeled a luddite, dismissed, harangued and vilified (of course on the social media sites, grow up and while your at it get off my lawn).  We know that echo chambers and filter bubbles are detrimental to our society.  We also know that during the rise of the Internet and social media, our worldview has shrunk.  Some argue this is not a result of those phenomena (but they certainly cannot prove that).

So will I return to Facebook?  I think so, but I’m not ready yet.  I need to set some pretty strict rules for myself.  I think I will not add the app back (this whole experience leads me to wonder how much I actually even need a smart phone).  I think I want to limit myself to like 15 minutes a day.  Which on the one hand seems like a lot of time, and on the other hand is nowhere near enough time.

Overall the experiment has been great.  I certainly want to try more experiments.  Like the Matt Cutts TED talk about trying something new for 30 days.  I want to try using only a Chromebook for 30 days.  I want to write a letter a day for 30 days.  I think to get the full experience, next time I will follow Baratunde’s model and remove myself from the Internet entirely; a full digital detox.  I want to understand how truly locked in I am.

Are you considering a Facebook Sabbatical?  If so, may you find the experience and the experiment deeply fulfilling.  May you find spare time, deep connections with those you love, and to know yourself a little bit better.  And may you find your eyes open to all that we let into our lives and an honest dialog of positive and negative impact that has on us.

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IA Greatest Hits: What Librarians Lack: The Importance of the Entrepreneurial Spirit

A repost from June 17th

I have been around libraries for a while now.  I have been an administrator at both a public and academic library.  I have done some consulting work.  I write, publish, and present on a variety of library topics.  I am preparing to embark on teaching LIS at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN.  From all of this experience, I have reached one important conclusion!  Libraries and librarians, by in large, lack entrepreneurial spirit.

In Nina McHale’s recent post on Breaking Up with Libraries she states:

Also in the mix is my general frustration with library technology. We pay BILLIONS to ILS and other vendors each year, and for what? Substandard products with interfaces that a mother would kick to the curb. We throw cash at databases because they have the periodical content our clients need locked up inside them, and over a decade after the failure that was federated searching, we STILL do not have an acceptable product that provides a user-friendly interface and makes managing the data behind the scenes as easy as it needs to be for library staff.
Let’s face it, many of us feel this way.  We are completely frustrated with library vendors.  Book publishers are a never ending battle for us.  Much of our “supply chain” is controlled by for-profit companies  that simply are not interested in the user experience of our patrons (many of which would prefer us out of the game completely).  And what do we do about this?  We lament.  We complain.  We argue.  But we take it and throw our hands up in defeated disgust.
In the 19060s, 1970s and early 19080s, when librarians recognized a problem we took great risks to solve those problems.  As a result, many of the vendors we currently deal with were started by librarians.  But over time and for various reasons, those ventures were taken over by companies, often by equity firms. Just look at the new President and CEO of OCLC, Mr. Skip Prichard. While I’m sure he’s a nice guy and all, he is not a librarian.  He is actually a lawyer by training (insert lawyer joke here).  OCLC, the nonprofit corporate that relies solely on member libraries, is run by a non-librarian.  Innovative Interfaces’ new CEO, Mr. Kim Massana, comes straight out of the corporate world with an MBA and an MS in finance.
Since the middle 19080s, we have engaged in some form of learned helplessness.  As a result, many of the newest (and often most used) technologies that deal with information have been created by folks outside of our profession.  For example, why wasn’t Netflix, or Good Reads or Google started by librarians?  I’m not sure what killed the entrepreneurial spirit in our profession, but it certainly appears to be dead.
So you may ask, what is entrepreneurship?  As a concept, it is as hard to define as innovation or creativity.  The single best definition I’ve see comes from a Harvard Business School Professor.  He states, “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” (Howard Stevenson) It takes several readings to fully grasp what he means.  For me, entrepreneurial spirit is about risk taking, problem solving, grit, innovation, perseverance, and resolve.
Until we can inject entrepreneurial spirit back into our profession, I think we will continue with the status quo.  I just don’t think that someone outside our profession is going to step up to save us, and more importantly, improve the experience for our patrons.
In a recent HBR article How to Start an Entrepreneurial Revolution and accompanying blog post we see a call that states:
  1. Revolutions start local. Start the revolution in one locale and spread it from there. Every ecosystem has its own idiosyncrasies, and skepticism is prevalent, so start with quick wins that make sense in that specific location. And make quick correctable mistakes. Once you get on the right track in one locale, you can spread the revolution quickly. You don’t have years to wait for measurable results before scaling up, just know you are on the right track.
  2. Revolutions need participants. The “shot heard round the world” will be a town-meeting-style, entrepreneurship stakeholder workshop to create excitement and commitment, and to learn. Convene representatives of banks, churches, universities, public schools, unions, cooperatives, entrepreneurs, the municipal and federal government, trade and industry associations, economic development organizations, some “foreign” diaspora resources, and the media. Meet with them individually to prepare them, and learn about the assets and liabilities of the local entrepreneurship ecosystem.
  3. Revolutions require resources. In parallel, connect the community’s entrepreneurial support resources, both online, and bricks and mortar. It’s very possible to get that up and running in just a few weeks, and the same platform can be scaled immediately when the revolution heats up.
  4. Revolutions need revolutionaries. No society is devoid of entrepreneurs, ubiquitous protests of “we have lost our entrepreneurial spirit” notwithstanding. They may be under the radar, languishing in non-entrepreneurial positions, or channeling their entrepreneurial spirit in non-productive ways, but they are present. Find and enlist them. Support and mentor them. Galvanize the entrepreneurship resources and stakeholders to support them as well. Use your positions of power to help them find new customers, investors, advisors, and business partners.
  5. Revolutions need a call to action. Use the conventional and social media to generate unprecedented legitimacy for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. Ask people with the hunger to create to come forward with their ideas and then “flood the zone”: give interviews, have television programs, bring in high visibility experts, create billboards, etc.
  6. Revolutions need an inner council. Convene a small band of revolutionaries to advise you, many of them entrepreneurs. Listen to them. Share your concerns openly. Engage in frank, candid, open dialog. Avoid speeches, politics, and grandstanding. Reach out to the people who have left your community and who became successful outside, because there are almost always pools of entrepreneurial talent living overseas, and most of them would love to help back home.
  7. And last but not least, revolutions need leadership. Public leaders and their co-instigators have a key role to play in sparking the revolution and keeping the torch lit. If you are not at the top, go and enlist the most senior public officials around — mayors, senators, prime ministers or whomever. Get them to go out and visit new ventures, large and small. Give them awards; tell your public that entrepreneurship is key to your future. Repeat the message, and repeat it again, on television, online, in tweets, blogs, and Facebook posts. Make sure they inspire everyone to do his or her part.

So may you start a entrepreneurial and innovation revolution.  May you see problems as challenges to be solved instead of things to complain about, and may you play an active role in solving the problems that we face.

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Mission Matters: Backtalk Library Journal

Last January I published this short piece on mission for libraries over at Library Journal.  The embargo period has ended so here is the entire piece:

Do you know your library’s mission statement?  Did you write it, but can’t remember it?  Maybe that says something about your library’s mission statement and the danger of statements that lack passion.

While mission statements may have fallen out of vogue, they are still the single most important statement guiding your library.  A mission statement spells out the library’s most fundamental goals, and it explains how and why you spend money.

But many statements are not memorable:

The mission of the public library is to provide materials and services for community residents of all ages for personal enrichment, enjoyment and educational needs.  The library is dedicated to providing practical access to all forms of media.  The educational needs of elementary and secondary students will be supported and programs developed to stimulate children’s interests and appreciation for reading and learning.

or

The library district provides a wide variety of materials and services to patrons of all ages. To fulfill this mission, the library district has two roles: that of provider and that of partner.

Do the above statements evoke the passion the library has for its community? Do they declare what that library really does? Are they memorable? Are they meaningful? Not really.

One of the best mission statements ever written is found in the preamble of the United States Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Does this move you?  It should!

The world we live in today requires passionate mission statements, because we need to provide passionate services.  Not only are we facing tough economic climates, but also we have more competitors.  It is our mission statement which differentiates us as well as guides us and holds us accountable.

Conventional bottom line approaches only work in organizations that make a profit, and I don’t know many libraries that pull that off.  The best way to measure positive social impact, which is our bottom line, is to benchmark performance to your own mission statement.

Here is my library’ mission statement. While it may not suit your organization, or your community, it is very meaningful to us:

 The Mission of the Prairie State College Library is to be the library of choice for students, faculty, staff and the community.  We will achieve this by creating innovative policies, services, and a physical and digital environment where members can explore and discover their world, relate and connect to their community, develop and foster their identity, grow and expand their mind, and find and inspire their creativity.

Ask yourself, does your mission statement capture all that your library does?  If not, perhaps it’s time to revisit it.  As librarians, we love to borrow from each other, but this is not the best place to do that.  Your library’s mission statement should be unique.  If your mission statement is the same as the library down the road, then why should people choose your library over that one? Or over Amazon?

The mission of the Prairie State College Library demonstrates our passion to our library users.  It expresses our commitment to the fundamental reasons that people read in the first place.  The mission inspires the staff to work harder to accomplish that mission, create an organization that patrons want to be a part of, and it allows us to tell the real story of the library to those who threaten it with reduced funding.

So, go out and write an inspiring and passionate mission statement for your library.  May that mission statement help transform your library into a library your community adores and regards as indispensable.  And may that mission statement provide you with a purpose to wake up to every morning.

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IA Greatest Hits: What Librarians Lack: The Importance of the Entrepreneurial Spirit

This post was originally published on June 17th.

I have been around libraries for a while now.  I have been an administrator at both a public and academic library.  I have done some consulting work.  I write, publish, and present on a variety of library topics.  I am preparing to embark on teaching LIS at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN.  From all of this experience, I have reached one important conclusion!  Libraries and librarians, by in large, lack entrepreneurial spirit.

In Nina McHale’s recent post on Breaking Up with Libraries she states:

Also in the mix is my general frustration with library technology. We pay BILLIONS to ILS and other vendors each year, and for what? Substandard products with interfaces that a mother would kick to the curb. We throw cash at databases because they have the periodical content our clients need locked up inside them, and over a decade after the failure that was federated searching, we STILL do not have an acceptable product that provides a user-friendly interface and makes managing the data behind the scenes as easy as it needs to be for library staff.
Let’s face it, many of us feel this way.  We are completely frustrated with library vendors.  Book publishers are a never ending battle for us.  Much of our “supply chain” is controlled by for-profit companies  that simply are not interested in the user experience of our patrons (many of which would prefer us out of the game completely).  And what do we do about this?  We lament.  We complain.  We argue.  But we take it and throw our hands up in defeated disgust.
In the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, when librarians recognized a problem we took great risks to solve those problems.  As a result, many of the vendors we currently deal with were started by librarians.  But over time and for various reasons, those ventures were taken over by companies, often by equity firms. Just look at the new President and CEO of OCLC, Mr. Skip Prichard. While I’m sure he’s a nice guy and all, he is not a librarian.  He is actually a lawyer by training (insert lawyer joke here).  OCLC, the nonprofit corporate that relies solely on member libraries, is run by a non-librarian.  Innovative Interfaces’ new CEO, Mr. Kim Massana, comes straight out of the corporate world with an MBA and an MS in finance.
Since the middle 19080s, we have engaged in some form of learned helplessness.  As a result, many of the newest (and often most used) technologies that deal with information have been created by folks outside of our profession.  For example, why wasn’t Netflix, or Good Reads or Google started by librarians?  I’m not sure what killed the entrepreneurial spirit in our profession, but it certainly appears to be dead.
So you may ask, what is entrepreneurship?  As a concept, it is as hard to define as innovation or creativity.  The single best definition I’ve see comes from a Harvard Business School Professor.  He states, “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” (Howard Stevenson) It takes several readings to fully grasp what he means.  For me, entrepreneurial spirit is about risk taking, problem solving, grit, innovation, perseverance, and resolve.
Until we can inject entrepreneurial spirit back into our profession, I think we will continue with the status quo.  I just don’t think that someone outside our profession is going to step up to save us, and more importantly, improve the experience for our patrons.
In a recent HBR article How to Start an Entrepreneurial Revolution and accompanying blog post we see a call that states:
  1. Revolutions start local. Start the revolution in one locale and spread it from there. Every ecosystem has its own idiosyncrasies, and skepticism is prevalent, so start with quick wins that make sense in that specific location. And make quick correctable mistakes. Once you get on the right track in one locale, you can spread the revolution quickly. You don’t have years to wait for measurable results before scaling up, just know you are on the right track.
  2. Revolutions need participants. The “shot heard round the world” will be a town-meeting-style, entrepreneurship stakeholder workshop to create excitement and commitment, and to learn. Convene representatives of banks, churches, universities, public schools, unions, cooperatives, entrepreneurs, the municipal and federal government, trade and industry associations, economic development organizations, some “foreign” diaspora resources, and the media. Meet with them individually to prepare them, and learn about the assets and liabilities of the local entrepreneurship ecosystem.
  3. Revolutions require resources. In parallel, connect the community’s entrepreneurial support resources, both online, and bricks and mortar. It’s very possible to get that up and running in just a few weeks, and the same platform can be scaled immediately when the revolution heats up.
  4. Revolutions need revolutionaries. No society is devoid of entrepreneurs, ubiquitous protests of “we have lost our entrepreneurial spirit” notwithstanding. They may be under the radar, languishing in non-entrepreneurial positions, or channeling their entrepreneurial spirit in non-productive ways, but they are present. Find and enlist them. Support and mentor them. Galvanize the entrepreneurship resources and stakeholders to support them as well. Use your positions of power to help them find new customers, investors, advisors, and business partners.
  5. Revolutions need a call to action. Use the conventional and social media to generate unprecedented legitimacy for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. Ask people with the hunger to create to come forward with their ideas and then “flood the zone”: give interviews, have television programs, bring in high visibility experts, create billboards, etc.
  6. Revolutions need an inner council. Convene a small band of revolutionaries to advise you, many of them entrepreneurs. Listen to them. Share your concerns openly. Engage in frank, candid, open dialog. Avoid speeches, politics, and grandstanding. Reach out to the people who have left your community and who became successful outside, because there are almost always pools of entrepreneurial talent living overseas, and most of them would love to help back home.
  7. And last but not least, revolutions need leadership. Public leaders and their co-instigators have a key role to play in sparking the revolution and keeping the torch lit. If you are not at the top, go and enlist the most senior public officials around — mayors, senators, prime ministers or whomever. Get them to go out and visit new ventures, large and small. Give them awards; tell your public that entrepreneurship is key to your future. Repeat the message, and repeat it again, on television, online, in tweets, blogs, and Facebook posts. Make sure they inspire everyone to do his or her part.

So may you start a entrepreneurial and innovation revolution.  May you see problems as challenges to be solved instead of things to complain about, and may you play an active role in solving the problems that we face.

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