Are you remaining relevant in times of change?
Peter Bromberg, Assistant Director, South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative, gave an excellent talk The Value of Leadership, the Leadership of Value: Remaining Relevant in Times of Change as our honored Alice Rankin Distinguished Lecturer on April 23rd. As we have all discovered, things are moving rapidly, and we must adapt to thrive. In Peter’s talk he notes that nothing is inherently valuable, only our customers’ perception of what is of value to them. Sort of the opposite of “Build it and they will come.”
Peter Bromberg certainly practices what he preaches. He developed QandANJ.org, the country’s first collaborative virtual reference service, founded Library Garden, a popular team blog, and was named a 2008 Mover and Shaker by Library Journal.
Peter began with the cautionary tale of Encyclopedia Britannica. Their scholarly print publication thrived as a model for over 200 years. Between 1990 and 1993, they lost 80% of their revenue from competition from Bill Gates’ upstart Encarta CD Rom. Britannica’s unwillingness to collaborate with Gates and realize they were in the information business, not academic publishing, nearly put them out of business. Fast forward to the free Wikipedia in 2003 and then to 2009 when after much resistance, there will be a new version of Britannica online allowing users to edit entries—emulating the Wikipedia.
As Peter notes, history used to “freeze and unfreeze” and was fairly stable over long periods of time. We are now in a period of fluidity where changes happens in unexpected microbursts, not macrowaves. The technologies which disrupted Encyclopedia Britannica, and all the rest of us, are now compacting over time in their frequency.
Peter’s advice is to keep strategic thinking, but throw out long-range planning. Accept that we are in permanent beta and must be in a continual state of learning. Our users used to be in an information desert and now using the internet is like getting a drink from a fire hydrant. Expectations have changed, and new value propositions include better, cheaper faster. Libraries must move from a storehouse model to the business of filtering information to help people to make connections and bring meaning—like the function of the human brain.
Our value has to be user centered—what matters is how you make users feel about themselves in relation to you. As Peter pointed out, what we value is emotional, not rational, and rationality leads to conclusions, but emotions lead to actions. It’s okay to provide statistics to people, but also include stories and pictures.
Many times people don’t know what they want until they get it; as Henry Ford said, if he’d asked what people wanted they would have said faster horses. Peter encouraged us to begin reaching out to users in relatively easy ways he called “low hanging fruit” such as RSS , TOC alerts, continual contact, a website, classes, screencasts, IM reference, and especially being kind and caring—and faking it when we don’t feel like it!
And context matters! Package your services instead of loading people down with too much. Present to them three databases which will give them info they can’t get anywhere else, save them time, etc.
Peter drew some very interesting parallels between continual learning and creativity and taking improv classes (which he does) as a way of letting go of fear of failure and giving up the illusion of control—which we never had anyway. He notes that messing up is a positive sign, otherwise we will never get any better. Improv also requires teamwork ; there are no one person improv shows, and each performer is empowered. All applicable to our roles in libraries!
One thing I will keep in mind from his talk for a positive outlook is “There are no mistakes, only interesting choices”, so go ahead and make them!
Peter’s talk and slides are available at PeterBromberg.com/sla