Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Cart Before the Horse

There's been a lot of animated (heated?) discussion lately about library 2.0, technology, and patron services - mostly due to the recent posts of the Annoyed Librarian. Some of the discussion has deteriorated into flames being tossed about, and a lot of the discussion has been insightful, well-crafted, and thought provoking.

One of my favorite posts comes from Meredith Farkas, where she talks about tech lovers - herself included - putting the cart before the horse in terms of technology in (some) libraries:

I remember when I came to Norwich over two years ago, eager to implement blogs, wikis, etc. And a lot of the initial things I tried to implement failed. Why? Because I put the tool before the need, I didn’t consider the fact that my colleagues may not want to use these tools, and I didn’t really consider the maintenance burden these tools have.

This is a perspective I have wrestled with myself, and I find, and have to admit, that I have done the same thing.

I have been pretty unsuccessful at implementing very much in terms of 2.0 technology at my library (for various reasons, but most notably the fact that I only work part-time, and there's only so much I can do and take on as my sole responsibility), but one thing I did take on was the maintenance of the library's blogs. Our main blog was put together by our former director, and I then created a teen blog, and a teen book review blog. None were even remotely "successful" in terms of patron use.

My goal was simple: to post news, upcoming events, and new book lists for our adult and teen patrons in an easy-to-access place. I was told, point-blank and from the get-go, "No one is going to read the blog - why bother?" And, unfortunately, that assessment was correct. Once I realized that few of our patrons even knew what a blog was, never mind the concept of RSS, I tried to market them via flyers and my ever-popular bookmarks (which fly off the circ desk). Still, no one shows any interest in the blogs, and all have (from what I can tell) fewer than five subscribers - one of them being me.

My excitement in the technology, and my desire to help move my library "to the next level," clearly trumped the patrons' desire - or need, it seems - to read our blogs. Naturally, I have found this frustrating, especially since I still truly believe that if I could somehow effectively inform the patrons of the technology and how convenient it is to use, that I would certainly win over at least a few people. But, I simply am not afforded the time/opportunity to do that.

So, I persevere, partly because I'm stubborn and unwilling to concede "defeat," and partly because I still hope against hope that it will catch on. Although, I do think that if the blog feature were truly incorporated into the web page (ala Joomla, Drupal, Scriblio, WordPress, or even Blogger, for that matter), it would work; patrons do visit our web site, just not the blogs. But again, unless I decide to design a new site during my off-time and out of the goodness of my heart (read FREE), I don't see it happening anytime soon. And maybe that's ok.

Oh, well, I tried. I may have tried "wrong," but I tried.


Ben Brophy said...

That's really interesting. I am starting a volunteer gig at a school library this Fall, and the librarian has asked me to help her implement some Library 2.0 stuff. But I am wary of the same things as you.

There some common sense wisdom that to start a sccessful business you should find a problem or annoyance people have and solve it.

The same might go for a successful new service. So what are the problems you could solve for your patrons? Once those are understood prioritized, then look for solutions. If those are Library 2.0-ish solutions, great. That's what I'm going to be looking for at the school library for sure.

Jeff Scott said...

A good trick for implementing some library 2.0 concepts is to set something up where it runs itself for a while. The blog at my library is self-feeding and provides newsletters of all sorts several times a day. New books, top fiction, all about new and interesting stuff. I also set up twitter that runs itself. I only have to make sure it is running.

Set up something like this, then just advertise it as you can access the library's stuff wherever and however you can. Always provide a way to email everything (blogs, newsletters, info blasts, can all be done with feedburner)

T Scott said...

Some of these things just take time. I was talking with my deputy director this afternoon about a library toolbar that a couple of our reference librarians cooked up. It's pretty cool. We'll try to promote it. Maybe it'll get used, maybe it won't. They had fun working it up and they learned some things while doing it. It didn't take a huge amount of time and maybe it'll be a hit. Maybe it won't. I'm curious to find out.

As the director, I always have to be conscious of the balance between the use of resources and the outcome. But I believe fervently that an atmosphere of experimentation is essential.

Think of it this way -- it's not that you've been unsuccessful. You just haven't been successful yet. Keep playing, and you will be.

Anonymous said...

I found the same frustration with library blogs - no one uses them. I had our blog up most of this year and still have yet to receive one comment. It may be that we give people too many places to look. They'll go to the web page to see what going on at the library, or to access their account on the library cataog but that's about it.


Anonymous said...

You may want to think about using the feeds from the various blogs you run for the Middletown library as a way to update the library's website automatically. Still have a link to the blogs on the site, but in the news section, you can automatically populate the webpage with content from the blog. Why would you want to do this? It's a lot of easier for people to add content to a blog than to add content to a website. A blog can have many authors who simply type into a box, whereas the website usually has one gatekeeper and everything has to go through that person.

Check out . This site takes your RSS feed and writes a small bit of JavaScript that you add once to a webpage. Everytime you add a new blog post, it shows up on the webpage. Good luck!