“My Librarian Thinks I’m a Criminal.”

February 27, 2013

“Librarians at this university take their job way to seriously, we’re students not convicts.”

My Librarian Thinks I'm a Criminal

This comment kind of reminds me of the famous video, Give ‘Em the Pickle.

The moment that I am thinking of comes in another part of the full training video (not found on YouTube that I know of) where  Bob Farrell talks about an experience going to a bank. There at the bank they have those pens that are attached to the counter with a chain. Farrell says the message you are sending to the customer with those types of attached pens is, “You are a thief and we know it.”

30-October-2009 - Pen on a leash

What are some of the messages we are sending our patrons without really realizing it?

Several years ago at my local library I returned a book to the main desk. The clerk, in an effort to be helpful, told me that I could return my books at the front of the library in the future. I don’t think she realized that she also told me this, “Next time don’t bring this here. Take it to the front instead of bugging me.” She didn’t mean this at all but that was the message I heard.

We need to be very careful how we help our patrons. We may be sending a message we don’t intend.

photo originally uploaded by I Am Rob


Library Value Proposition

June 15, 2012
Disney Characters: Pluto, Donald and Mickey

from flickr user armadillo444

We recently had a marketing faculty member come to the library to discuss marketing libraries. At one point in the presentation he displayed a simple evaluation sheet that we have at one of our reference desks with essentially these four questions:

  1. Was our service cheerful?
  2. Was our service efficient and timely?
  3. Was our environment conducive to research?
  4. How important was our resources to your research?

In each of these four cases we discussed who our competitors were. Some of them we were expending a significant amount of effort to ensure when they will not necessarily get users to use our resources. Others our competitors are so far ahead of us that it makes no sense to try to keep up. We should be putting resources elsewhere. Here is a breakdown:

Cheerful and considerate service

Value proposition: we give cheerful service.

Why? Because if we don’t, they won’t come back. Okay true.

But will it get them in the library? If they want cheerful service, will they automatically think, “Hey, I should go to the library?”

Competitor: Amusement parks, entertainment venues, etc

No. They will go to Disneyland if all they want is cheerfulness.

Efficiency and speed

Value proposition: we give fast and efficient service.

How long does a typical reference transaction take? Several minutes. But you get the answer so that is great.

Competitor: Google

Compare this with Google. Searches take less than a second. We have lost the speed and efficiency war. We will never find something faster than the web. Who has a better value proposition based on speed? Google.

Space conducive to research

Value proposition: we are a great place to study.

Competitors: dorms, student centers, study halls

Here is where we could really shine. We are not promoting our space as much as we could. Examining twitter posts about the library one quickly realizes how many people prefer quiet study space over group study space. Dorms and student centers are loud. Libraries (our users are saying) shouldn’t be–or at least they should only be in designated areas.

Relevant resources

Value proposition: we house high-quality resources.

Competitor: Google Books

Again, Google has more books than most libraries and they are getting bigger.


Not sure if I agree with everything that was said but his point about speed was certainly well-taken. To illustrate his point he tried to use our library federated search to find an article he wrote. He searched using his name and two key words from the title. The first screen was irrelevant. He used the facet for author and limited results just to him. He still could not find it. This took a few minutes.

“Oh, well, forget it. You know what…” and he did the same search in Google Scholar and it was the second hit in the results. This took a few seconds.

Our best value proposition from that informal survey is our space, something that is very disconcerting. When our library becomes nothing more than a nice computer lab, what does that mean for our profession?

Our discussion led us to a realization that one of our other value propositions which we don’t capitalize on, but which we have a much smaller list of competitors:

Personal contact

Value proposition: we provide interaction with the user in which we validate them and encourage them in the research process.

Competitors: Family, friends, colleagues

Google does not tell them they can do it. It does not say, “that is an interesting topic.” It does not acknowledge that they are frustrated in the search process. We could be promoting our users to themselves–and then they will come to us more to feel better about their efforts.

My question: is this really a good enough reason to keep libraries as they are presently constituted?

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“My Librarian is a Hypocrite.”

January 6, 2012

It is essential that whatever rules we have in libraries for our patrons we don’t break them ourselves in front of them. Sure I realize that eating happens in libraries all the time but it should be in the staff break room if food is prohibited in the library.

Libraries and Google’s On-demand eBooks

December 6, 2010

A colleague of mine told me a few minutes ago that Google announced it will start selling ebooks through Google Book Search today. I did a preliminary search for Mark Twain’s authorized autobiography here and sure enough, there is a large button that says Buy Now.

Here is the Google restrictions from their Terms of Use:

You may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, transfer, or assign your rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party except as expressly permitted by Google. Provided, however, that nothing in the Terms of Service shall prohibit any uses of Digital Content that would otherwise be permitted under the United States Copyright Act. In addition, you may not remove any watermarks, labels, or other proprietary notices on or in the Digital Content. If you have multiple Google accounts with different user names, you may transfer Digital Content out of an account and into another account, provided you are the owner of each such account and provided Google has enabled a feature of the Service allowing such transfers. You acknowledge and agree that Google may place limits on the number of Devices and/or software applications you may use to access Digital Content and that such limits may be set by Google at any time at Google’s discretion. You acknowledge and agree that Google may record and store the unique device identifier numbers of your Devices in order to enforce such limits.

What is most relevant to libraries? “If you have multiple Google accounts with different user names, you may transfer Digital Content out of an account and into another account, provided you are the owner of each such account and provided Google has enabled a feature of the Service allowing such transfers.”

It appears that Google is aware of the needs of individuals to transfer books from personal devices. Hopefully they will be open to talks with libraries who wish to share books with their users for short periods of time–or perhaps to have institutional logins which will allow all affiliated users with authentication to read (and one day download?) the content.

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Netflix Finally Adds Search For Non-subscribers

April 28, 2010

Not sure when they did this but Netflix has finally listened to my advice (and surely countless other potential users) and offered a search to anyone, not just subscribers.

The next logical step is to offer rentals on demand without a subscription, just a flat rate depending on the video.

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ILL and Collection Development on a Tight Budget

December 12, 2009
Steacie Science and Engineering Library at Yor...
Image via Wikipedia

With the economy the way it is has been over the past year or so a lot of libraries have turned back to ILL as an alternative to shrinking book-buying budgets. I wonder if this is really working the way we want it to.

In the most recent study I could find about the cost for mediated ILL transactions the Association of Research Libraries showed that the average cost of ILL is about $27.00 USD. $17 for the borrowing library and $10 for the lending library. Even if we eliminate the lending library costs, $17 could purchase a fair amount of titles, especially popular but not necessarily brand-new ones.

If the study done in 2002 on patron-driven collection development can be duplicated in other libraries, 68% of titles requested through ILL which were purchased received at least one more use (see  Anderson, et al). In this study, the librarians limited their pilot to scholarly non-fiction titles (Anderson 10). Presumably popular reading titles would see even more usage which could be of particular interest to public libraries who are active ILL participants.

There can be even more benefit to ILL in cases where the borrowing library is requesting a title that they own but all copies are checked out. ILL and holds/recall operations really should work together. Some colleagues of mine and I have been looking at the holds queues in relation to ILL requests. In many instances it is more cost-effective to purchase another copy of a title to offset existing holds rather than spend money on ILL for the title. These kinds of items usually have a large usage potential automatically as is evident by the extended holds queues for local copies. Why spend $27 for one use when you could spend a comparable amount and get 10s if not 100s of uses?

If an item costs the same as an ILL request, purchasing it will at the very least be the same cost-per-use as ILL. But if it circulates even one more time, the borrowing library copy now effectively is 25% of the cost-per-use of ILL. Ordering the book twice through ILL would be almost $60 but if it was purchased once ($30), then used again, the cost-per-use drops to $15. For really popular items the holds queue essentially guarantees several uses, which would bring the cost-per-use down to mere cents instead of dollars.

If a library is not worried about shelf space it makes more sense economically to not ILL items which are popular–purchasing another copy or two for local users is potentially much cheaper in the long run.

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“I Can’t Understand My Librarian.”

October 8, 2009

Twitter user: chrisdude: “I was in the library and I went TO ‘the stacks,’ and I still don’t know what that means.”

For those who have heard this idiom used by librarians but have never learned what the phrase means, ‘the stacks’ refers to the open shelves that any library user can browse through (i.e., anywhere you can find a book, pick it up, and read it/check it out.).

Librarians have a lot of common terminology that can be confusing to anyone unfamiliar to it, just like any subculture. Yes, librarians have their own subculture just like skaters, tweeps, Twilight fans, and bloggers. I was a part-time employee for months before I learned what other librarians meant when they would tell me to “go look in the stacks.”

Some other terms we use that spaz our users (and ourselves):

  • monograph
  • patron
  • reference
  • information literacy
  • resource sharing
  • collection
  • OPAC :: Library catalog :: “The catalog”