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Monday, November 23, 2015

The Theory of Thirds

I've introduced, or encouraged the introduction of, many changes in organizations. Here's what I've learned. Faced with change, staff divides into thirds.
  • One third says, “I have been waiting for this moment all of my life.” They embrace it enthusiastically.
  • One third says, “Gosh, I don't know. I have some questions about this. But if you'll provide some support, I can probably do this.”
  • One third says, “Over my dead body.” The problem, of course, is that they don't usually say that out loud. They think it. They feel it. But they pose as one of the other thirds.
Working with the first third is fun. Such people revel in the change. They come alive. They stretch and grow. They invest themselves in the future, and so it comes to bear the stamp of their personalities and gifts.
The second group voices legitimate concerns that, if answered with diligence and respect, can turn a wild idea into a profound institutional transformation. It too, results in personal and professional growth of the staff.
The third group, alas, holds many of our libraries, many organizations of all descriptions, hostage. People in this group oppose the change without voicing objections that can be addressed. Through overt or covert action, they sabotage change.
Of course, they may well have significant concerns of their own. Often, they believe they are preserving what was good, not that they are stymying what is necessary. But concerns that remain unvoiced cannot be effectively dealt with. At this point, such staff members have moved into passive-aggressive obstacles who still collect their paycheck, but no longer do the job the institution has decided it requires. Such employees may well believe that they are doing the job they were hired for. But in libraries, as in everywhere else, jobs change. These changes are not up for veto by each employee.
I understand, by the way, that not every change is a good one. The employee may even be right. Sometimes administrators and communities come up with bad ideas. But when you have been informed that your job has changed, and you refuse to do it, then there is a disconnect. There should be consequences. Often, there are not. The resistance and sabotage is ignored, overlooked. It is permitted. And so it persists.
I believe that this situation is quite common in our world.
What should happen instead?
I believe that leaders, that supervisors, should take the following steps:
  1. As clearly as possible, job expectations should be communicated, succinctly, and pointedly. At the beginning, this should be done verbally, face to face, and privately.
  2. Then supervisors should be able to describe, without rancor, with clear specificity, observations of the behavior that contradicts that expectation. The trick here is not to focus on the judgment (“you're lazy!”), but on the incontrovertible facts. (“You said you would create a training checklist by Oct. 30. It is now December 1st and no one has seen it.”)
  3. Finally, supervisors should present an unambiguous choice to the employee. “Now you know what we need, and why I believe we're not getting that from you. You have a choice. Please come back in a week and tell me what you have decided. Will you do the job we pay you for?”
Then employees will divide again. Some few will step up and say, “I'll do my job.” Some will say, “I'll try” (and so join the second group). Some will say, “you're right. I don't believe in this change, so it's time for me to go somewhere whose direction I support.” And there are always a few who will stay, but continue to fight dirty. And at that point, supervisors should begin whatever process they need to discipline and terminate the insubordinate.
But I believe in people. Given a clear choice, most of us do the right thing, eventually. And those that don't, really should lose their jobs. The failure to hold people accountable to clear direction is one of the biggest institutional failures, all too common in libraries and businesses alike.
But what happens when the non-performers leave? From the perspective of the library, why, now you can replace them with people from the first third, people who are eager to implement the change. From the perspective of the employee, they are now free to find a better fit for their beliefs - and often, they can and do.
Finally, I would also advise leaders to put the greatest investment of time in the first two thirds, and to deal with the final third with simple directness and efficiency. It's more fun, your institution moves faster, and your staff sees that openness and initiative is its own reward.
But what do you think? Does your institution divide into these categories? And what others ways have you found to get everyone pulling in the same direction?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


I just finished Sarah Vowell's "Lafayette in the Somewhat United States." A wonderful book. I wonder how many people know that our success in the Revolutionary War was absolutely dependent upon the French - whose navy fended off British forces while Washington defeated Cornwallis in Yorktown. Among the greatest of Revolutionary heroes was the Marquis de Lafayette, who left his French home and family at 19 to pledge his honor and life to the Revolution, and went on to become, while still in his early 20s, a major general under Washington. As Vowell quotes, "He acknowledged to his American hosts on his triumphal return tour to the U.S. that there was 'much to deplore' in the South's practice of slavery..." But then, "Lafayette lifted his glass at one reception to toast 'the perpetual union of the United States,' adding, 'it has always saved us in time of storm; one day it will save the world.'"

In 1917, when the American Expeditionary Forces marched on Paris on July 4, 1917, General John J. Pershing headed straight to the tomb of Lafayette, where he declared, "America has joined forces with the Allied Powers, and what we have of blood and treasure are yours. Therefore it is that with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great republic. And here and now, in the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue. Lafayette, we are here."

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Paris, this has particular poignancy.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Emacs and org-mode

I am a long time fan of mind maps and outliners. Recently, I've spent a few hours messing around with one of the oldest text editors of all: Emacs. It goes back to the 1970s. Over time, the editor was "extended," so that it now has over 2,000 commands, and has "modes" that let you program in various software languages, read newsgroups, send email, create websites, and on and on. But the mode that interests me most is an outliner called org-mode (for "organization," I guess). In addition to powerful commands for creating outlines that can be expanded, collapsed, moved, and instantly exported (to pdf, html, odt, and more), org-mode also supports an almost overwhelming array of text editing and planning options (to dos, due dates, etc.).

Way back in 1982 I bought my first computer, a Kaypro II, running CP/M and a "Perfect" package of software. Perfect Writer was, it turns out, a subset of Emacs. So looking at it again, I find that my fingers remember things my brain had forgotten.

Back then, I left Perfect Writer for Wordstar, then NewWord. Most of what I wrote wound up being printed, and Perfect Writer had extremely complex and unpredictable formatting commands. But these days, I produce files, not pages, and Emacs, or emacs (more frequent spelling), is a fascinating, and even absorbing environment. More to the point, files created back in the 1970s can still be used today by almost any other editor. Why? Because emacs produces plain text files. The commands allow you to do almost anything, but the files themselves are readable by everything.

Moreover, emacs is fast on almost any computer, absolutely bulletproof (40 years of debugging), and to top it off, is free in both senses (open source and no charge). It runs on Unix, Linux, Windows, and OSX. There are even various applications for Android and iOS, although none that are quite full-featured.

Be prepared, though. On the one hand, you can pound out text in seconds. A handful of commands are all you need to get started. But emacs is one of the deepest rabbit holes in history, and some people now manage literally every aspect of their lives in it. There's a learning curve that's more like learning to play piano than learning to type. It is its own universe.

But when it comes to writing, about anything you want to do can indeed be done. You just have to dig it out first, then try to remember how you did it.

I started with this file, a good, basic introduction. Have fun!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Odilo: A Contender


Some months back I did a webinar on Odilo, an automation vendor (including an ILS, discovery, ebook acquisitions, hosting and delivery) with its roots in Spain. It has been present and growing in North America since 2012. I’d like to revisit the company, because I think it offers some compelling advantages to some of the offerings in today’s market. Indeed, that market, with very few exceptions, has been stagnant in some important and disturbing ways.

Where we are in 2015

The fundamental issues of libraries and ebooks haven’t changed much since 2010: the Big Five and a few distributors still dominate the market, and their pricing and licensing models (lack of ownership, loss of discount, poor integration) have made libraries all but inept in this new space. We buy fewer books just as the number of new volumes (especially outside the Big Five) is skyrocketing. Random House prices for many new titles - now reliably at 6-8 times greater than consumer - erode our budgets. HarperCollins titles that wink out of our catalogs after 26 uses, regardless of the remaining demand, create new work for our acquisitions department. Anemic APIs and walled-garden mobile apps (OverDrive, 3M/Bibliotecha) create unpredictable user interface barriers.

What has changed? New pricing models (free for some time period, with variable pricing after that) now dominate self-published titles on Amazon. Self-publishing is now the fastest growing category for new writing, and most of it is completely absent and ignored by library buyers. (In large part, the reason is lack of reviews, although many library publications are now cautiously investigating the content.)

Too, the growth of many other epublishers - Sourcebooks, Rosen, IPG, Lerner, Crossroads, Akashic, Poisoned Pen, and many, many others - creates a largely untapped opportunity for libraries. These are traditional publishers with vetted content and strong editorial control. Their ebook catalogs rival and often exceed the quality of the Big Five. Moreover, these companies are eager to see their works in libraries, so gladly offer both ownership and discounts. What’s missing, as with self-publishing, is the library infrastructure and workflow systems to acquire and deliver them.

The DCL model

From 2011 through 2014, the Douglas County (Colo.) Libraries built and maintained its own integrated ebook platform. I believe there were several lessons to be learned from the experiment.
  1. First, as a proof of concept, it was successful. Libraries could indeed directly negotiate with epublishers and authors to gain physical possession of the files, to secure discounts that quickly recuperated the cost of development, and secure the protection of the content through industry-standard digital rights management.
  2. Second, it became clear that some of the components used to build the infrastructure - mainly, our tweaked version of Vufind - simply wasn’t robust enough to handle a large collection of ebooks. We needed something that scaled up. Vufind is a brilliant discovery layer, but it wasn’t designed to handle the necessary functions for ebooks. We needed a new, independent module for that.
  3. Third, to present a genuine alternative to the Big Five/Big Distributor model, the ebook platform needed to be larger: statewide, multi-state regional, or national. Publishers couldn’t deal with thousands of independent library platforms. Too, it is simply more efficient to share technical infrastructure and maintenance needs.
To attempt to solve this, DCL worked with the Colorado State Library to replace the hosting and discovery layer with well-tested alternatives from Odilo. We created an alpha site with some sample content. The model, Evoke 2.0, included acquisitions, basic integration with Sirsi Dynix, Innovative Interfaces, and Koha, and the hosting and delivery of content. That hosting meant the library could actually buy and own the content, and could also publish its own.

At about that point, some changes in leadership resulted in loss of momentum. I left the directorship of Douglas County, and my successor shifted focus to some urgently needed building projects. Along the way, some of the local ILS partners didn’t make some of the tweaks on their end to wrap up all the integration. But Odilo’s software did everything it was spec-ed to do. Odilo, back then, was doing much of what Sirsi Dynix’s eResources Central has promised to do for several years now.

That is, Odilo’s software represents, right now, an acquisition, discovery, integration, and delivery mechanism not only for Big Five content, but for the far more interesting and significant new content from indie publishers and authors. I believe that Odilo represents one of libraries' best immediate strategy to assert our agency in the publishing market.

Who is Odilo?

Headquartered in Madrid, Spain, with offices in Cartagena, Spain; Mexico City, Mexico City, Mexico, Denver, Colorado, and New York, New York, Odilo has been in business as an ILS for about a decade. Odilo currently serves some 43 countries – and as the catalog of all of Spain. It offers various products: discovery, management, and delivery of print and digital content.

Odilo’s circulation functions are well-tested in many standalone and consortial settings, as is true of the main vendors in the United States. Of particular interest is its work with Michigan's The Library Network. But this is where the discussion begins in the 21st century. Of greater importance is the ability of the ILS to get, integrate, and deliver digital content.

Odilo’s discovery tools, and platform-agnostic interface, are fast, un-fussy and clear. But more impressive are Odilo’s relationships with a plethora of both established and emerging publishers (the United States’ Big Five, many independent and small publishers both within the nation and abroad), its ability to consume other vendor APIs (OverDrive and 3M, for instance), and to integrate separately hosted content.

I mentioned, above, the rise of new business models. For instance, suppose a library wanted to buy two permanent copies of a title, and lease multiple other copies to meet a surge in demand. If the publisher is willing, Odilo can accommodate that arrangement. Among its many other options: Odilo offers Pay-per-Use (always available), One Copy-One User (perpetual, metered, and expiring), Simultaneous, and/or Subscription content licensing options. That encompasses licensing management with the Big Five, but I want to stress that libraries that look only this far, only at that increasingly smaller subset of the publishing world, are missing the big picture.

I also want to highlight Odilo’s “market place.”  Here, the company’s longstanding arrangements with many Spanish language publishers could be of interest: Odilo’s software allows for not only individual orders, but packages representing the thoughtful collections of publishers whose works have proved popular elsewhere. In this way, libraries could create and share their experience with new publishers, too.

Of great interest to me is the creation of “local author” collections, highlighting the best of local histories, or geographically based authors. I have long argued that libraries need to move from simple gatekeepers to gardeners - and Odilo offers just the right tool shed. Local content can be presented alongside hot bestsellers.

I am also very pleased to report that Odilo, unlike some of its competitors, charges no platform fee.

Finally, Odilo grasps that local systems want local branding, too. See this example for TLN:


What now?

I do a lot of professional speaking, where I underscore a fundamental shift: librarians have to abandon Fort Circ and Fort Ref. We need to move from a passive acceptance of how things are to a more active and engaged creation of new service models. The same thing applies to Fort OverDrive and Fort Acquisitions. It’s astonishing to me to see people shifting ILS platforms, but still being unable to accept a local ebook donation, or to tap into the greatest explosion of writing in the history of mankind.

To be blunt, if we remain in thrall to Big Five licensing schemes and Big Distributor vendor lock-in, we cannot be taken seriously in the ebook market. We will lose readers - we are already losing them. Odilo will not be the only new player in this emerging epublishing environment, but right now, I urge any library unhappy with its current arrangement to look them over.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Brand management audits: align your story with your strategy

After I left Douglas County, I teamed up with David Starck, one of my former Board members. He's also a gifted graphic designer. He approached me with a business proposition: he'd noticed that a lot of libraries were distinctly amateur in their approach to "managing their brand." Suppose we were to offer an audit service? We could come in, review all their collateral (those advertising items that even in the digital age libraries generate by the ton), take a tour through their buildings, then review their long range plans. We would try to answer the question: have you aligned your story (the way you present yourself to your community) with your strategy?

Reviewing the collateral is enlightening. It's amazing how often just these three things, the library envelope, the library stationary, and the library card itself, have different fonts and spacing, different logos (or the coloring of the logo), and sometimes even different library names. One of the foundations of "brand management" is graphic consistency. If the library itself can't keep it straight, how can the public?

The walk-through of the buildings is also eye-opening. A long range plan (right there on the library's website) says children's services is key. But walk into the library, and you can't even see where children's services might be. Instead you see copy machines and computers. But technology isn't addressed in the long range plan.

My 30+ years as a practicing librarian help me see the issues in building layout. David's been in graphic design about as long. Both of us are well versed in library planning. Together, we bring a truly fresh eye to the library's gaps between how it presents itself, and how it says it wants to present itself.

Then what? After touching base with the director, we write up a report summarizing not only what we saw, but what we think a library might do about it. There's the easy/cheap option, a middle option, and the high end. Sometimes, the cheap option is all that's necessary, and we say so. So the library gets an affordable, comprehensive look at its brand.

What do we mean by "affordable?" For most libraries, we offer the product for between $2,500 and $5,000 (depending upon the library's size and number of facilities).

Who needs it?

I'm tempted to say, at a time when we're competing for mindshare and funding with all kinds of businesses, that the answer is every library.

But suppose you're thinking about going to the voters. Talk to us two years ahead of time. We'll clean things up for you.

Or suppose you're just hopelessly outdated, and don't know where to start. We'll produce a road map, with all the low-hanging fruit clearly identified.

David and I both work fast. Typically, we can wrap it all up in about 6 weeks. Interested? Feel free to contact me at jlarue @ jlarue . com.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

When patrons misbehave: 10 guidelines

One of the surprisingly popular talks I've been giving (most recently, this morning in Rapid City SD) is about public library policies. I don't focus on particular wording, or even a checklist (although such checklists do exist, like this excellent one from the Colorado State Library). Instead, I focus on the general orientation that boards and staff should take when confronted with the inevitable issue of patrons behaving badly.

Although it will come as a surprise to some, the best response to trouble isn't always to create a new policy so that stern librarians can ensure it never happens again. I propose a set of guidelines, instead. They are:
  1. Begin with general policy guidelines. Start with ALA's Library Bill of Rights, one of our clearest statements of professional purpose.
  2. Use your best judgment. No matter how thorough your policies may be, there will be surprises. Remember the mission and values of the institution, and do your best.
  3. Presume innocence and good intentions. Most people are wonderful.
  4. Treat everyone with respect: eye contact, smile, handshake - but don't touch when they are upset.
  5. Model appropriate behavior: speak quietly and courteously.
  6. Set sensible boundaries and state them clearly when necessary. When wild things happen, sometimes it just never occurs to people that they're out of line. So tell them: "Sir, you are speaking very loudly, and other people are having trouble working."
  7. Know when to make an exception. Most of the time, the rules are reasonable, and people follow them. But sometimes, people are in various kinds of trouble, and holding to the rules is actually bad service. That's why libraries hire smart people: to discern the difference between usual and unusual, and make a good call.
  8. Look out for each other. Buddy up, whether it's to extricate one another from awkward situations (someone monopolyzing or creeping out a librarian) or perilous ones (walking out into dark parking lots).
  9. Holler for help when you need it. When you feel that your safety, or public safety, is threatened, you're not a SWAT team officer or superhero. Call 911. That's just knowing your own boundaries.
  10. Review policies after an incident. Was it a one-off event, or a trend? Every problem doesn't need a policy. Most situations don't. But reviewing an incident while it's fresh helps to clarify what steps might have been taken to make things better.
What policy guidelines would YOU add to the list?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Six trends

I've been doing a talk for a while now about what I believe to be the five transformative trends most deeply affecting libraries today. But after each talk, I pick up a lot of insights from the audiences. After my last talk (for NEFLIN, in Jacksonville FL), I realized that I now think there are SIX trends. And I have begun to think of them as a movement from one thing to another. So it looks something like this:

  1. EMERGENT LITERACY ==> from book desert to book abundance
  2. DIGITAL PUBLISHING ==> from gatekeeper to gardener
  3. COMMUNITY REFERENCE ==> from embedded librarian to community leader
  4. SELF-DIRECTED, COLLABORATIVE LEARNING CENTER ==> from consumer to creator
  5. GENERATIONAL TURNOVER ==> from Boomer to Millennial
  6. ADVOCACY ==> from head to heart

Literacy. That is, given what we have learned about the importance of early literacy, there's no excuse not to push more books in the homes of children between the ages of 0-5. And we can track that.

Digital publishing. In the area of digital publishing, many libraries have already begun to grasp our new role as helping our communities to write better books.

Reference. In the area of reference services, it's not enough to get librarians to leave the building. It's time for us to step up to true community leaderships, part of a broad-based team.

Learning. What I used to call "library as place" has become something more. I think this phrase is unwieldy, but it's right: public libraries aren't just hosting programs. There's a new intentionality about what they're doing. It's a conscious learning focus, but it's not the prescriptive focus of schools. The driver is still individual interest, but perhaps because of the next trend, it is far more collaborative.

Turnover. Each generation has different skills. Our institutions change to reflect the demands of new patrons. What does this mean for libraries? I think it means some new thinking is required about "succession planning." That does not mean "making the next generation just like us." Rather, it means more thoughtfully managing our human resources processes to provide a new kind of interim support to a very bright generation that, thus far, hasn't had much management experience. The focus over the past 10 years or so has been leadership development, which is certainly important. But it's hard to be an effective leader if you don't know how to manage.

Advocacy. Finally, libraries have done a terrific job of marketing use. We push our services, and our gate counts show that it works. But at the same time, we have lost, across the nation, the support that once was almost a given. Our marketing and advocacy has to shift away from all of those heady arguments about statistics and services, and toward a more heartfelt communication of meaning and of value.

Anyhow, this is how my thinking is changing as I both test my observations, and see shifts in library practices. It's still an exciting time to be a librarian! I've also been thinking about ways to make this talk more interactive...