Rebranding Your Library

I attended OCLC’s “Extreme Makeover” seminar on Friday, here at the ALA midwinter conference. It was definitely a worthwhile event even if it wasn’t exactly geared to the academic library segment. Still, I picked up a few good ideas I’ll be thinking about for my library. I won’t go into great detail about the session because the folks over at It’s All Good have lots of detailed notes on what each speaker had to say.

I found what Jennifer Rice and Patricia Martin had to say about rebranding and defending your brand in times of competition had the most value. Jennifer, in particular, told us about the six most important consumer trends and how that impacts us. This led to the development of a matrix for determining what your library brand should be (hint: a learning community). These two also touched on themes of simplicity/complexity in terms of user wants and needs and giving users an “experience.” We know that users want simplicity, but sometime our library brand requires them to encounter complexity. How do we balance the two without causing the user to go to a competitor? Although the speakers talked about giving the user an experience (their examples were based on companies that do this, for example, buying coffee at Starbucks isn’t just about drinking coffee, it’s about having an “experience”), I think they were talking more about sensations. A library experience, I should think, reaches the user at a deeper level. It connects with something he or she is passionate about. How do we deliver that sort of experience.

The final speaker Antony Brewerton is known for the marketing campaigns he does for his library. But as the only academic librarian (and only true librarian) on the bill, he did little to connect reaching users to collaborating with faculty. It’s great to have fancy brochures of the type shown from his library, but if we do a good job of connecting with faculty and encouraging them to drive students to the library’s resources through assignments and associated instruction opportunities, I think that will go much farther in helping academic libraries reach their user community – and avoid marginalization and irrelevance – something that was mentioned more than a few times in this symposium.

Let’s hope OCLC keeps offering these good programs at ALA events.

Joan Lippincott: Read, Listen, and Learn

I participated in the ACRL/NY Metropolitan Chapter’s symposium yesterday on “Connecting With the Net Generation,” at Baruch College in Manhattan. A highlight of the day for me was an opportunity to meet Joan Lippincott, Associate Director of the Coalition of Networked Information. It also reminded me that I had wanted to encourage ACRLog readers to listen to a podcast interview with Lippincott that was recorded at this year’s EDUCAUSE conference. It’s 30 minutes well spent. If podcasts aren’t your cup of tea just yet (although this is a good time to try one) that’s no problem. You can still read what Lippincott has been writing about the netgen and how libraries can do a better job of making the right kind of changes that will help us better connect with our students. Lippincott had a good article in Library Journal‘s October 1, 2005 issue. That article contains a link to another of Lippincott’s must reads, her chapter “Net Generation Students and Libraries,” in the EDUCAUSE publication Educating the Net Generation, edited by Diana G. and James L. Oblinger.

What I really liked about Lippincott’s presentation on netgen learners yesterday is that while she presented a number of suggestions about what academic libraries could be doing to better serve or reach the Millennial generation, she made a point to tell the attendees, “I realize that many of you are not going to rush back to your libraries to make all these changes, but if you can just accomplish one or two of them it may help to make a difference.” I think it was great for her to acknowledge that many of us are in situations where we have many pressing issues to deal with, often with limited or shrinking resources, but to encourage us to attempt creating change – slowly. This is a refreshing change from other library pundits who come up with clever catch phrases that ultimately ring hollow and perhaps do no more then make front-line librarians feel badly that they aren’t changing quickly enough, that their systems stink, that their programs aren’t hi-tech enough, or any of the other things you read that fall into this category of non-help (you can read more about this in a Library Journal “Backtalk” column). We need more speakers who come from a non-library situation who will stand up and give us sensible advice.

I spoke about Googlelization and Google Migration and my presentation materials (slides, websites of interest, and handout) are available at my website if you are interested.

Impending Demise Of The Local OPAC

That’s the title of a provocative presentation made by Gregg Silvis, of the University of Delaware Library systems office, at the annual PALINET meeting. I made a reference to this program in an earlier post, and I finally attended last Monday. Silvis began with a retrospective of OPAC development, and reminded everyone of how much maintenance work legacy catalogs used to require. You may date yourself if “filing above the rod” actually holds some meaning for you. Our catalog history is largely one of massive duplication of effort. Even though bibliographic networks and library automation eliminated many forms of duplication, to this day thousands of academic libraries duplicate effort when they maintain their local OPAC. Silvis’ radical solution to the duplication is to forego all local loading of catalogs, and instead use WorldCat as a shared, universal OPAC.

Silvis acknowledges that his vision for the OPAC is conceptual and short on specifics. His immediate goal is to share the idea with colleagues for feedback and refinement. He also reminds us there is more to library systems than the local OPAC; acquisitions, serials, and circulation are largely local entities and need to remain that way. But he clearly demonstrated how much of the information provided in the OPAC is available through WorldCat records. Among the advantages are a standardized and better interface than most OPACs. A uniform OPAC could allow for the display of only local holdings when desired. Challenges include a host of serials issues, potentially incomplete holdings information, and an inability to manage item specific information such as special collections material.

While it’s an idea that clearly needs more work it is not without merit. If we could manage to centralize the primary types of information into a national OPAC, it would indeed eliminate vast amounts of duplication conducted at local libraries. Those now performing that work could shift to public services where more outreach is needed, or could focus attention on local collections where backlogs exist, such as the archives or special collections. Clearly there are significant stakes in such an idea for OCLC and library automation vendors. While some pundits are calling for a radical re-thinking of the OPAC interface, this idea goes beyond that in many ways. We don’t necessarily need an OPAC interface that supplies a “Google experience” for library users. It may be we need one that just provides consistency. Silvis says he plans to give the presentation a few more times, and to continue gathering feedback from academic librarians that will help to refine the concept. I encouraged Silvis to turn the presentation into an article. It seems like an idea worthy of reaching a wider audience.

ACRL-Ohio Conference Report

I attended the annual meeting of the Academic Library Association of Ohio on Friday, which included a keynote on censorship in America by Mad Magazine writer Joe Raiola, as well as more traditional academic library fare such as programs on accreditation, information commons design and assessment, emerging models for human resources management, and integration of library resources into online learning environments and campus portals.

Raiola’s keynote is likely to have people talking in Ohio for some time, as it was (true to its content) wholly uncensored and veered into areas both obscene and profane. Raiola made some excellent points about censorship, including that there is no form of censorship as effective as self-censorship, and his discussion of the place of Mad Magazine founder Bill Gaines in the early debates over comic books during the 1950s was interesting, but no few audience members were offended by his use of language defined by the FCC as obscene and his targeting the political and religious right as the objects of most of his humor. Personally, I enjoyed it, but I anticipate a local renewal over the issue of the appropriate place of political commentary at library conferences.

I also attended an excellent introduction to blogging in academic libraries by Ohiolink’s Candi Clevenger, author of the LibTalk blog, who described blogs as an opportunity to “tell your library’s story with a human touch.” I didn’t agree with all of her assertions about best practice for library blogging, but it was a good talk that raised some important issues and generated good discussion. You can find find her handouts here.

There were lots of other good presentations and I’ll invite our Ohio readers to include comments about their favorites.

Perspectives from the Frankfurt Book Fair: 1 attendee’s impressions

Thanks to Heather Moulaison for this report from the Frankfurt Book Fair.

For me, “book fair” brings to mind rows of vendors with stale candy trying to hawk their wares under unforgiving fluorescent lights. That’s what I was expecting when I left for the Frankfurt Book Fair roughly two weeks ago. ACRL has been sponsoring a booth at the fair for years, and this time, I was one of the recipients (through WESS, the Western European Studies Section) of a small stipend to attend the Book Fair (from Oct. 18-23) and staff the ACRL booth. Unfortunately, it looks like funding for the ACRL booth and the stipends is going to be cut entirely next year.

After having been there, “Everyone goes to the Frankfurt Book Fair because everyone goes to the Frankfurt Book Fair” rings true; I was involved with a fantastic group of attendees and made great international contacts. Surprisingly, though, the Book Fair programs were most definitely worth attending and describing here.

First I saw a presentation by Google. Thinking back on last year’s OCLC Environment Scan that, to paraphrase, said patrons want to search OPACs the way they search Google, I was pleased to hear finally what Google claims to be about: focus on positive user experience, never detract from that experience, insure the purity of the search, act first and refine later, function as a switchboard between user and content. The bulk of the presentation covered the two aspects of the Google Print program: the Publishers program where publishers voluntarily submit works, and the Library program where libraries open their stacks to Google. Google Print did seem to make sense from the publisher point of view. Even the Library program didn’t seem quite so villainous after it was clear that small snippets are shown on the results screen and the entire work is not ever revealed. If it’s used as a supplemental tool to helps patrons to find things, my cataloger’s mind tells me this can’t be a bad thing. The copyright/intellectual property issues weren’t addressed. I left thinking for the first time like Google Print is probably a good thing for libraries and patrons, but despite the “public good” aspect, I still wasn’t convinced that the Library program is a fair use of copyrighted material according to the law.

Perhaps the most interesting session was the one on electronic publishing. I wasn’t able to stay for the entire program, but saw quite a lot. The head of the French National Library, Jean-Noël Jeanneney, began by presenting a short talk on the impact of electronic publishing. He followed the structure of the traditional French lecture: 1) discussing convictions that a digital divide is being created, that books will outlive the web, and that there is a necessity for cultural diversity with the creation of new technologies; 2) addressing the problems and dangers Google presents if they establish a monopoly on digitized information and if only English language results are available; 3) responding with the notion that other possibilities exist, that government should lead organized ventures and that democratic projects like wikipedia were valuable. He didn’t discuss concretely any of the French or European digitization plans. During the presentation, Jeanneney reasserted that his position on the matter of Google’s projects does not stem from an anti-American stance. It seems to me this was in response to articles in the Anglo-American press; I remember some in the Chronicle of Higher Education alluding to his chauvinism, in the French sense of the term.

After questions from the audience, Jim Gerber from Google gave his presentation; he used roughly the same PowerPoints as the one I’d seen the day before. Gerber took a couple of shots at Jeanneney; for example, his introduction included the fact that the two had something in common: Gerber, like Jeanneney, was not anti-American. Google’s stated mission is to organize all the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Librarians of the world, snicker in unison? Audience questions tried to get at the legality of the Print program and the need for licensing and contracts, but those questions were brushed aside. Archiving seemed to be on the minds of those seated around me – and the problem of what would happen to the digitized versions in the future. Were we all to trust Google blindly? They are, nevertheless, trying to make money. These were the questions that didn’t get asked officially, but were mumbled amongst the librarians in the group.

Did this whet your appetite for information about the Book Fair? Look for more coverage in an upcoming edition of C&RL News.

–Heather Moulaison, Cataloging/Modern Languages Librarian, The College of New Jersey