Five Changes that Impact Technology Plans

I’ve discovered that the feedback from technological change is sometimes more severe than technological change itself. While it is important to keep up with technology, sometimes you have to keep your ear to the community as well.  Here are 5 non-techy things that I feel technology managers need to understand very well.
Macro-Economic Change:

So, the economy climbs, exports climb and people start buying your currency in droves to collect those great products. Factories are put up in rural or suburban areas to meet the increased demand for products. This drives the price of the dollar up.

But then your little waterfront retail shops fall because no one wants to visit your town with such a high cost of travel to your country. Walk-in traffic decreases. But those busy rural and suburban folks still want those books on gardening. All of the sudden your from-home website use increases and your public-use computer use decreases.

The reverse situation can have its own problems. The dollar shrinks and all of the sudden you have busloads of tourists at your doors. Your city council says the computers ought to be left open for your “taxpayers” but the tourists definitely want to upload their photos to Flickr and so-on.

Demographic Change:

Your city is hosting the Olympics and people are moving into the core in droves. You can’t buy a beaten-up shack for less than 1/2 a million in the downtown and the housing projects that used to be affordable to the poor are now being torn down for condos.

The poorer folks move out into the suburbs to find affordable homes and bring their teenagers with them. Their neighbours, who have loved their little township to death for decades, start to panic that the place is being run-down by a bunch of rowdy hoodlums. The teenagers come to the library, of course, because there is free access to games and Internet. They are good kids, but they get loud and excited since this is their time out of the house. But the townsfolk like their old, quiet place of higher learning stocked with as many old copies of Agatha Christie that it can handle. Moreover, they get on the computer to do “real” work like finding out gardening tips, or catching the latest news.

Fights start. The youth get rowdier as they realize they are not accepted in this community. The townsfolk have pull because they elected their boy “Tommy” to council and know his phone number off by heart. Add a case of violence to the mix. And then add an off-handed racial remark or two. The technology, including every decision from what goes on the computer to how long people can stay on it, sits in between the two.

How will you advocate for the youth while respecting the wishes of the townsfolk?

Labour Market Changes

You got a job posting that needs someone who can code in every computer language from Fortan to Ruby on Rails. It turns out that Google is hiring en masse and everyone with tech skills is moving to Palo Alto. I guess you are going to have to train someone and you don’t know the half of what this person needs to.

Changing Policies

So political party one finally kicked out political party two. It was about time the pendulum swung right? But wait. That technology grant you used to get every year has all of sudden changed its focus. It used to be all about economic development and now its about encouraging diversity in the workplace.

The previous government used to be concerned about family values and the protection of children from harmful materials. Now the government thinks that public spaces do not do enough to ensure that persons with disabilities have equal access to services, including the internet, but also to e-government services.

Privacy was the big concern before; but now opening up databases to authorities to prevent emergencies is the big deal.

Where does the library stand and what priorities do you make?

Cultural Change

Not that long ago, you used to serve a predominantly English-Speaking society. Through immigration or culture, you now have three or four different languages represented in sizes big enough that they can’t be ignored. Many of these non-English speakers want resources to help them learn English. At the same time, they want recreational reading in their own language, just to relax. But you can’t even sound out cyrillic letters, nevermind try to read Russian or Ukrainian.

And another language is much more offended by certain kinds of literature than you suspect. Your website can’t hack the new languages either. And you Public Computers are not configured for other languages.

So, these are just five changes that impact technology in libraries — Web 2.0 or otherwise. It is perhaps even more imperative that technology managers read these trends than it is that they read new tech trends.

To me Web 2.0 is like air conditioning in your car. Of course you want air conditioning. But if you can foresee something that is going to hurt your engine, then I think you need to deal with that first. Many of the sorts of things I described above are engine-type threats. If we are really going to approach a Library 2.0 world, we have to consider future impacts as well as possibilities.   Technology management is not all about technology.

The Change Process and IT

The issue of change has come out again, particularly with a re-visit of Michael Stephens’s Phrases I Hope I Never Hear Again , by the Krafty Librarian. T. Scott has also chimed in.

Broadly, the point here is that IT departments say “no” for seemingly ridiculous reasons, most of them related to a refusal to allow change. The broad question is whether or not these represent psychological barriers or “real” barriers. As T. Scott explains:

It is, I suppose, a natural human tendency to look at the people or situations we see obstructing us and paint them as ignorant, behind the times, just not “with it.” If it weren’t for them and their bad, old-fashioned attitudes, we could really get something done! But it’s just not that simple.

And the Krafty Librarian takes an interest in what happens after the IT department says “no.”

What has this gotten me? Well my IT people know who I am and they know that I am a technology forward kind of person. As one person said in regards to the intranet page as well as other major technology hurdles/barriers that are shared among the four hospitals, “you are the only one of the librarians to bring these problems up, and make us aware of them.” I harbor no illusions that despite this compliment there isn’t also a dart board with my picture on it covered in tiny holes, but I do have some small victories to count from my battles.

These all remind me of the change process, and at the heart of all this is not a technology problem, but a communication problem. For instance, one of my colleagues has problems using Firefox on his computer. Originally, I thought it was one body responsible for the problem; then i discovered it was another body entirely. All of the sudden, I realized getting this person’s situation to change would require a long list of phone calls that frankly, I was not willing to make. The colleague manages without Firefox, so he doesn’t bother to get the problem fixed. Except he asks me for an easy way to set up an RSS feed, and I say “Firefox” every time (I like to encourage the use of live bookmarks, rather than aggregators).

Then you might ask me why, if I was director, I wouldn’t immediately start to use a blog for communication? Well, it’s quite simple. I would not use a tool for communication if I didn’t have a reasonable assurance that people would read it. A blog can be a regular thing, or it can be like that internal newsletter that everyone just discards without reading. Email is not that much a time-waster, actually — and everyone — from senior management team to shelver — reads it. Unlike blogs, emails in the org are short and sweet, like the way Guy Kawasaki describes them.

My focus may be on the external, rather than internal issues for the library. For example, I might want to focus my attentions on the library board, city funding, local partners and etc. and these people, in my world anyway, do not blog or even read blogs.

And, not because it’s hard, but because it’s new — people will want training to read a blog. Not everyone, but enough to make a proposal to start a blog a headache.

Then, of course, I’d be trapped into using taxpayer or my own time — about an hour or more weekly — waxing philosophic on whatever library.

Well, actually, most of this is not true. If I was director, I would start a blog. But I wouldn’t expect major increases in productivity because of it. I would expect to have to email and blog at the same time (and hopefully would find a way to automate this process). I would be a little bit wary that the blog would be seen by few to no-one, even if I told everyone that they had to read it. I would expect the change process to commence.

And the change process always begins with confusion. People will say “what is going on here?” What is this guy trying to do?

Then there is fear. And conflict. From some (usually most). People will feel outdated and in need of training. With my training budget, they would’t get training, so they’ll fear a lay-off or that proficiencies acquired by the new technology will result in layoffs down the road.

Others will feel exhilarated because they thrive on change. They’ll be ready to dive in head-first, sometimes without considering the consequences of the change.

Or maybe not. The point is that change is hard, and problems with a “culture of no” are ingrained throughout an organization, and most often not the fault of a director or any particular department. In fact, those who are absolutely against a culture of no, feed that culture in my opinion. Like the difference between using a “shock and awe” sort of attack to completely obliterate a dam, versus using tiny, well-targeted explosion to set a crack and let nature take its course. Simply telling people they are out-dated or backward is not going to move things forward. Much better to explain the course and encourage people to start walking.

It is a difficult thing to take one’s own thoughts and opinions and bridge them somehow into the thinking of an organization. I never cease to be amazed at the things that get accomplished simply by introducing a concept and how, in other ways, things I work hard at making happen never seem to catch on quite the way I wish.

But most of all, the seeds of change fall in the wake of good planning and tonnes of documents and reports.

You can’t change the direction of water, only the basin in which it sits. Sometimes the water will make its own basin to travel.

Doctor Norman Horrocks, OC

As the current president for Dalhousie University’s Associated Alumni, I had the great fortune of emcee-ing a night of celebration for Doctor Norman Horrocks who recently became a successful nominee for the top honor for Canadian civilians — the Order of Canada. The event was very well attended (no surprise) and this was my first emcee ever, so I was more nervous than usual. I think I came out unscathed.

Anyone who knows “Norman” knows that there is no more deserving person on earth. Just look at the man’s CV (ie. click on “Doctor Norman Horrocks” above). Madeleine Lefevbre did a wonderful speech in his honor, citing The Tipping Point to describe Norman as a “Connector.” That’s basically right. Gladwell’s description of connectors are precisely Norman-ish. He knows folks and brings people to people better than anyone I know (besides my wife).
I definitely have to speak of Norman’s generosity as well. I won’t go into details, but Norman’s generosity has touched me more than once and I will be forever in his debt. There were lots of folks who would have been more worthy to emcee this event, and I feel like I had a leprechan in my pocket to get this honor.
There was a lovely basket made of goodies appropriate for a good Lancastrian. The only thing missing was the fish and chips! I said in passing that I would take him to John’s Lunch (which is a chip shop near me) to make up for it.
But another show of what is important to Norman, is how he closed everything up quickly to ensure that student and alumni had plenty of time to network. He is definitely not the sort to let any shy new librarian get out of networking at these events. Be a wallflower at your peril!

Overall, I think everything went off very well and I have to thank all the organizations who helped out, including APLA, CASLIS, SIMSA, MHLA, HLA, Dalhousie University Libraries, and of course, the school itself. The Dalhousie Student Chapters of SLA and CLA were also nice enough to volunteer to help with the tables. Nothing like a team of partners to make our team look good. Thanks for all that.

But most of all, congrats Norman and I am definitely serious about the fish and chips.

Staff-focussed Librarianship

In the private sector, organizations usually choose one of three targets for their mission: shareholders, customers or staff. The choice of focus will always depend on what the organization does and how it can best survive in its particular industry.

If securing capital is the most important, a shareholder focus might be the best approach, since being able to secure capital can result in better products for customers and more competitive wages for staff. I can’t say I know industries well, but I would say that a mining company might be a good example of an organization that could end up with a shareholder focus.

If attracting revenue is the most important, then a customer focus might be the best approach, since revenue brings dividends to shareholders and competitive wages for staff. A retail chain might be a good example of this sort of organization.

If attracting great minds is the most important, then staff focus is probably the best approach, since great staff attract customers and encourage innovations to bring value to shareholders. Can you say “Google” anyone?

Why am I bringing this up? Well, I read Sophie Brookover’s article on work-life balance in libraries. I am quickly learning that us X-gen folks are going to have to mediate between the boomers and nextGen for alot of things. In this case, I thought the boomers would look at this article and start a tirade that would go something like this:

Are we going to have a generation of librarians who sees the answer to every problem as “give us more of everything and less of work?” How are libraries going to survive when those who have the answers to our bad policies refuse to take the positions where they would make changes themselves? Flat organizational structure? How flat? A library board doesn’t want to have to call 20 people just to implement a decision. And I haven’t even chimed in on accountability yet.

Of course, we all know the boomers are going to retire eventually and the NextGeners will begin to take over. But the rest of us “in-between” folks are going to be struggling to help boomers understand the NextGen-er’s penchant for egalitarianism while at the same time explaining the devil in the details to the NextGen-er.

At the same time, it is clear in my mind that attracting great minds will be key to the survival of libraries over the next few decades. As I spent my time in the 90s hearing about how important the “customer” is, I believe the people coming into the profession now will be hearing how the path to the customer will be in the minds of the people libraries hire.

Unfortunately, with public officials with big carving knives looking at libraries as if they were a big fat Thanksgiving Turkey, a “more pay/benefits/power with less work/accountability/responsibility” model is just not going to work. Work-life balance is important, but you need both a life AND a job to achieve this effectively. And do I have the answers to these problems? No way! The pressures of the profession are going to require the innovation of millions to solve.

But I do think I can help formulate the problem a little better. Here are some of the issues raised by Sophie and my re-frame. I am not trying to say I disagree with Sophie on this because, again, there are so many permutations of this problem it is hard to generalize effectively. But I am calling on Sophie and NextGen-ers to bring some “how can we give you what you want” to go with the “what do you want?” Somehow, boomers, NextGen-ers, x-Geners, managers, non-managers, professionals and paraprofessionals have to find a way to be facing the problem together, rather than seeing each other as the problem.

Work-Life Balance

My wife works for a private sector company in a highly-competitive and demanding industry. The pay is good, the benefits are few, and people do get fired for not meeting the company’s high standards. In the early days of her job, she worked long hours, took work home, worried about work things while at home and had little life-work balance.

Like Sophia, we have a small child now and family is very important to us. But even before we had our son, Wanda had decided enough was enough. Did she quit? Nope. Did she ask for concessions? Well, not really.

What did she do? Well, she made a commitment to herself. She has set work hours and does not take work home. She sets work priorities in order to meet her expectations and engaged in a discussion with her boss about the limitations of what she could do in the average work day. She worked smarter instead of harder. Her reports became more concise and she planned to keep her meetings short.

The result? The stress and panic stopped. She became more productive, not less. She recently got a promotion and her boss’s assessment was even more glowing than her own. Last year she won an award for a “winning mindset.”

My thoughts? A work-life balance is a personal commitment that employers can support. In fact, employers should insist that employees hold this commitment to themselves.

Daycare benefits, time-sharing and other things are separate from work-life balance. You do not need children to have a life, although children do result in changes of priorities. I’d love a daycare policy. Many of my next-door neighbours would see it as useless. In Canada, where we have a less-than-sustainable birth rate, there are all kinds of government-sponsored benefits to support work-life balance. In the US, the birthrate is sustainable, so fewer benefits. (I was absolutely shocked to discover that my friend’s wife only had 4 months leave after giving birth to her daughter. We get a year that can be shared by both father and mother.)

The bottom line is that a free daycare policy is ultimately a “have children” policy. It says “we want young mothers and fathers in our organization,” it does not necessarily say “you should have work-life balance”. I think it is great if an organization wants to attract young mothers and fathers (or wannabe mothers and fathers). I also think it is great if an organization wants to attract people who don’t want to be parents, or whose children have already grown up. Benefits policies will always depend on attracting the right staff for the positions you hold. Work-life balance is a completely different monster.

Public Service and the Decision to Manage

This one is short. People who do not vote hold a dubious position when they complain about governments. I will say this as well. People who refuse to think about themselves in decision-making positions hold a dubious position when they complain about organizational policies.

I used to think public service was just providing the best possible experience for the public. Now I see it as a duty or a calling. When I was on the front-lines serving the public, I got to feel like a big hero. People told me outright how thankful they were. Now I see that those were the days when I got to take the credit for all the planning, decisions and implementation a great deal of folks in the organization did on my behalf.

People who truly value public service ought to consider a management position. There are more headaches, yes. But, given my work-life balance example above, I think they are manageable, even for people with children. There are fewer (non-monetary) rewards, yes. But if you feel called to a profession that values information, and you feel that you are able enough to make decisions that bring people and information together, you should accept the responsibility to stand up and hold a position of power when the opportunity comes.

Organizational Structures

“Flat” vs “Matrix” vs “Top-Down” organizational structures is what I was taught in school. “Centralized” vs “decentralized” is another. It is like an organization is a pile of dough to be squashed, rolled, stretched or shaped in wonderfully creative ways so to produce unique results.

The standard call suggests that flat organizational structures result in devolved decision making, a more “team” oriented approach. “Top-down” is more controlled, even micro-managed, where departments turn into “silos” of ineffectiveness, where bosses make arbitrary decisions that serve only to cause headaches for everyone else.

Here’s are a few ways to see org structures. The first is as a distribution of wealth. Through the collective effort of the employees, libraries managed to get capture a big fat deer for their meal (we call this an employee budget). Somehow, a decision must be made about who gets the biggest piece. There are a billion ways to make this decision, but a good one is on something called merit. Futher, in order to maintain loyalty in the organization, you want to have a path towards advancement.

This vision of an org structure is probably excrutiating in the eyes of a NextGen-er, because, we are told, NextGen-ers aren’t likely to consider loyalty important. But if every library organization is flat, where are the rewards for staying in the profession? Librarians might move from public to academic for a change of view, but while there are differences enough to satisfy for a year or two, the similarities are staggering enough to make a series of lateral moves a living hell.

But you do not have to see organizational structures totally in terms of distribution. Organizational structures are also coordinated through knowledge sharing and are practical things. For one, a CEO does not want to receive emails (or blog comments or phone calls or whatever) from 300 people every day, so s(he) divides the organizations into divisions and gets one page summaries from the “next level down.” It may not be that a director/CEO does not want to hear from the front lines, it’s just that she cannot open that door to everyone and get her own work done too.

Org structures also encourage expertise. Even in the world of super multi-taskers, there are still advantages to some specialization. For one, I know that my organization does not want me to be their finance person. It is much better to let other people know about that stuff while letting me focus in on what I do best. For public libraries that cover a wide geographical sphere, flat structures simply mean sitting in more irrelevant meetings, and using up the travel budget in the meantime.

Does this mean libraries cannot have more flat structures? No. These points are merely to highlight that org structures are complex things. In fact, more often than not, they are created through the actions and behaviors of employees more than they are “designed” by managers. When someone makes recommendations about org structures, he or she really ought to have more to say than “flat” or “hierarchical.”


As NextGen grads enter the workforce and Boomers prepare to leave it, a shift from “customer-focussed” strategy to “staff-focussed” strategy seems inevitable. Right now, the discussion appears to revolve around “what do NextGen-ers want?” leaving the “how do we give it to them?” up to the people in the organization.

But, as I hear about increasing enrollments in library schools, it is obvious to me that many NextGen-ers want to be happy being librarians. It is paramount, then, that the “staff-focussed” strategy turn from a “how do we give it to them” conversation to “how do we work together to get what we — new hires and organizations —  want?” If anything is to change in organizations — to the flatter or to the more hierarchical — we need to be looking together at the common problem.

Right now, it seems that everyone is looking at themselves on opposite sides of the same mirror.

From Student to Professional: The “YEAH BUT” Transformation

I barely read Librarian Wannabes anymore, although I am still subscribed to a daily digest. It’s not that the list is not a good resource anymore, it’s just that I have been through a few cycles already of people asking the same questions: “is the labor market dried up?” “how much on-the-job experience do I need?” “what’s the best school?” “is it better to do in-person or online?” etc. These are all very important questions, I am sure, but there are always enough people to chime in on these discussions and my responses still haven’t changed that much.

Today I saw John Gant’s excellent letter on Job seeking for librarians and it inspired me to attempt the next level — that is to offer meaningful advice to students about what (in my view) is important in the professional realm.

The challenge here, however, is that I have a major advantage over the “librarian wannabe” and I definitely want to acknowledge this. A wannabe has to deal with a level of uncertainty that I have now probably (and thankfully) forgotten. When I was a wannabe, I just wanted people to tell me that my job was guaranteed after I graduated. And, of course, no one could — so I’d come up with other questions instead — “are librarians going to retire en masse in the future?” “Does my paraprofessional experience mean anything to the workplace?” Aka: “What is the future oh great professional swami?”

Of course, the best that anyone in my position can do to help out with uncertainty is to sing a few verses of “Que Sera Sera.” There are so many factors that apply when careers and the people who want them encounter each other, that it is hard to comment.

It seems to me that every class is going to have its individuals who will excel in library school but, for one reason or another, will not find a job. Some of the factors will be individual — for instance, a person will lack social skills, making them perform poorly in interviews. Some factors, unfortunately, will be social or cultural — for example, while one might hope that discrimination does not exist in the workplace, men still dominate technical librarianship. Others will be based on what people are willing to do versus what work actually exists.

In the end, the labor market will always appear tight to those who cannot find a job and the people who do love these people will not say otherwise because doing so amounts to saying “you aren’t cut out for the job.”
Those who get jobs will always think that it was their own individual success that got them there, rather than some external factor. Those who do not get jobs will see external factors (like the labor market) as the most important. It is absolutely impossible to be objective on this front.

So, I ask myself, how can I be helpful here? Well, one thing I have done is talked to both students and professionals and I can relay some differences between what gets the idea of “librarian” into a prospective student and how the professional actually behaves. I will do this by headlining a few things I have heard from the “spanking new” library school student and how well it meshes with my experience (and the experiences of other professionals).

But first I want to make two things clear. 1) I am generalizing. Exceptions abound and I am glad for that. However, I am willing to guess that even the “exceptions” will know one or more librarian wannabes who fit into my generalization. 2) That students have a rosy view of their librarianship future doesn’t mean that we are going to have a horrible workforce. Part of going to school is testing one’s perception of something versus the real thing. In no way am I trying to imply that library school students are naive or otherwise missing the point. In fact, I think the rosiness is something to cherish in librarians. I just want to point out that the visions are rosy, and do my part to make sure the rosiness is tempered with plain old common sense.

So here goes — what do library school students seem to think, and what “yeah buts” do I have to add to them?

  • “I like Things to Be Organized, therefore I will be a Successful Librarian”

YEAH BUT #1: you have to get used to the idea that you will be dealing with other people’s messes all the time. If you can’t live with a mess, you better learn to fast. A library that is always perfectly organized is one that no one uses and that is a bad thing.

YEAH BUT #2: managing and organizing information is always 3 parts organizing people to the one part organizing stuff. If you do not want to think about people when you organize stuff, you probably have to re-think your choice of becoming a librarian.

  • “I got into Librarianship because I Like Books”

YEAH BUT #1: I did a little reading myself over vacation. Besides that, I can’t really tell you the last work of fiction I read. Being a librarian is definitely not being a “professional reader.” You read articles, blogs, reviews, reports, and maybe some management tomes if you are lucky. But your book-reading days are going to take a serious hit. See if you can change your love of books into a love of book-lovers, then you are going to be cooking with gas.

YEAH BUT #2: Do you love other information technologies as well? The way something is displayed is not as important as what is being displayed. You better be ready for a world full of wikipedias, blogs, YouTube and the like to go along with the hard copies.

  • “I worked towards my Master/PhD/Post-doctorate in X and then I thought I wanted to become an academic librarian instead.”

YEAH BUT #1: You probably will notice alot of people in your class are saying the exact same thing. Many of them already have the PhD. How is your resume going to be more impressive than theirs? Don’t you think you need a fall-back?
YEAH BUT #2: librarianship is not proxy-academia. Will you be able to reconcile the service aspects of the job with the [not as prestigious as professors] research and teaching aspects?

  • “I Love Kids and Kids’ Books.”

YEAH BUT #1: Do you love parents and the books that parents want their kids to read also? How about teachers? Cub Scout/Girl Guide Masters? As a professional, you will probably be talking to these folks more than you will be talking to the kids in their care. Your staff will be doing the puppetshows & storytimes most likely.

YEAH BUT #2: Do you love foul-mouthed, kissing-in-public teenagers that will also visit your children’s department? Can you be calm, assertive, and positive among teens of all shapes and sizes? Can you insist on respect while at the same time show it consistently?

YEAH BUT #3: Can you mediate (and be fair doing it) when the adult parents of children and teenagers come to loggerheads?

  • “I got into Librarianship because I feel strongly about Censorship/Privacy/Intellectual Property etc.”

YEAH BUT #1: Can you show sufficient empathy for the parent, public servant, political official, or pundit who disagrees with you while at the same time using solid evidence to support your views?

YEAH BUT #2: Can you consistently take challenges to your assumptions as seriously as if it was cancer? Can you take a step back from your beliefs and identify problems in the broad view?

YEAH BUT #3: Could you accept that a higher body may require you to implement policies with which you do not agree? Can you tell the difference between a “toe the line” situation and a “blow the whistle” situation? Can you speak truth to power, while accepting that by becoming a public servant, you give up power for the benefit of anonymity in public affairs.

  • “I like the idea of being one of the world’s only subversive professions left.”

YEAH BUT: Can you inspire other subversives too?

That’s a general list of some things that I think librarian wannabes should think about while they go to school. I’m not worried that wannabes have rosy expectations of the profession, because I believe that most wannabes can re-shape their perception when they see they are deluded. At the same time, there should be a tinge of these rosy concepts sitting in their heads as well. Notice, that I used “YEAH BUT” rather than simply declaring the beliefs as mythical. There is truth in such beliefs as “librarians protect the public from censorship,” but there’s also the reality that no subject is clear-cut and grey areas abound inside every subject.

And how is all this related to the labor market? Well, I guess the point is that you just have to forget about the labor market for a bit and ask “is this what I really want?” If you can’t deal with the sort of realities I describe here, you are doing no one a favor by toughing it out through school. If you can deal with these realities and still keep that rosy understanding of libraries then the labor market is just one of many barriers that stand in the way between you and your idea job. The problem then is just a matter of how to get beyond the barriers.

The Power of Appreciation

I am horrible at Thank you notes.   This is not something I like to admit.   It’s kind of a blessing in a way though, since people do not give me gifts and I really do not want them in the first place.

I don’t know what it is, I guess I get so forward-focussed that I forget the important things people have done for me.  On the positive side I never hold a grudge.  *shrug*

I’m learning, however, that the thank you note is important and is probably essential for the job hunt and future careers.   At MPOW we got added vacation as part of a new terms for non-union employees.   I sent a thank you to the board for approving the new terms and the response was amazing.    While the thank you note was somewhat out of character for me — after today, I’ve learned that it may be essential and is a habit I intend to build into my life.

Did I deserve the extra vacation?   Well, of course.   But I’m sure that, unless he’s a jerk, Robert DeNiro still says “thank you” when their fans say, “ohmygosh I loved you in ‘Raging Bull.'”   Does DeNiro deserve accolades?  Yes.   Ought he still say “thank you?”  Yes.

The “thank you” factor is important.  Employers need to know that things like raises and vacation allotments and the like are doing what they are intended:  rewarding performance and showing trust in the staff.  When you put out a statement like “I really value you,” silence can be a very loud thing.

A small “thank you,” I have learned, can be just as loud.   Sure you deserved the raise, but so did the board deserve to approve it.   They might as well hear about how nice it was to get it.   Terms are fairly legal mumbo jumbo things on paper, but behind all that formality are real people who want to do special things for people who use libraries.    You want to do special things, and extra money is a great incentive for that goal.   Boards want to do special things and they put funds into your bank account (meaning they take away from other things like collections, technology and other capital expenditures don’t forget) because they trust you to make those special things happen — over collections and technology.  In my books that’s a pretty big statement — “we think our staff bring more value to customers than more technology.”    “Thank you” is just about the least a staff person ought to do when the extra bucks or vacation time come down the line.

Technology Saves Lives — the Kimveer Gill Story

Like many people in Canada, I have been closely watching  the story of Kimveer Gill who shot and killed at least one student in a Montreal college and injured many more.   This was eerie on many levels.   For one, it was quite apropos for my entry about the moral responsibility for being happy, raising important questions about whether happiness is truly possible for all people.

The other “eerie” is the one that is more obvious to any Montrealer — that is the similarity of this attack with that of Marc Lepine.

As it Happens has reported on this incident, and I am very intrigued by how the use of cell phones, text messaging and iPods may have saved the lives of quite a few students in the school.   It seems that many of the students in their classes were informed about the attacker by text messaging.   This meant that they stayed out of the danger area and managed to get out of the school alive.   Then I think about how, if this was 5 years earlier, many more students would have died.

My heart goes out to the families of all the victims, and my prayers in particular go out to the four people who are struggling for their lives right now in a Montreal hospital.

Privacy, Happiness, Love, Ethics, Gregariousness, Moralism (aka PHLEGM)

I want to talk about all of these things, some are related, others are not. I think the acronym may have driven the title a bit, but all of these things were in my head before I began to write the title.

On the day of my birthday, the day everyone else calls “9/11” I was thinking about World Peace, the environment and poverty. Then I reflected on how I feel at the lovely age of 35. I concluded that I am a happy person, despite all the troubles in the world. I also came to the conclusion that, in my position of privilege I have the responsibility, not the right to be happy. The world doesn’t owe me anything, but I owe the world lots. And I am certain that I do my best at paying the world back when I am happy, not when I am depressed or angry or afraid.

Someone, somewhere killed the notion of happiness. My first instinct is to blame Robbie McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” but I’m sure it has been dying for some time. Somewhere along the line Happiness turned into this passive, self-centred, slothful, complacent, hyper-consuming value to be shunned by productive members of society. It wasn’t always so. You used to have to work at Happiness, and it meant developing yourself into a good person, making sacrifices, doing your part to bring happiness and justice to others. The happy person sought to be wise as well as smart.

In the midst of this knowledge revolution, people are sharing information at a rate that is unfathomable to individuals. Information “stuff” is bought and sold in a marketplace with self-contained value. Consumption of information is almost as valuable as producing it. People will spend their hard-earned money to have people consume their products for free. Somewhere in this game, people are developing solutions to big problems. But with the solutions come new problems that require more solutions. So is there an end to this train? Will “progress” ever stop? Ought it ever stop? Ought it continue?

Personally, I believe it should continue. I think technology and progress are not an illusion — although they are overhyped at times. I don’t believe technology is the cause of other problems like poverty and environmental degradation. And I think there has been a net benefit to our technological progress so far.

On the other hand, the failure to address our root behaviors through understanding Happiness will kill us in the end as our machines become more and more powerful.

But somewhere with all our problems and solutions we have lost touch with what Happiness is. Happiness is not complacency, but may in fact be the opposite. A happy person can be outraged, but their happiness lets them see through their own anger and focus their energies on bringing justice to the situation. The happy person loves their anger, and sadness and fear for alerting them to areas of alarm. But the happy person is not controlled by these things. The happy person has a kind of jujitsu that uses the bad in the world into something good. The happy person is by no means complacent.
But we have lost this understanding in society I think.

A solid example is the Fortuny incident. Jason Fortuny took a BDSM women-seeking-men ad from one city and posted it to a Craigslist site to see how many responses he would get from men in 24 hours. Then he proceeded to post all the responses to the Encyclopedia Dramatica. (I’m not posting too much links here, because the story is definitely NSFW).

It is pretty hard to feel sorry for the victims here, but somehow I am more appalled at Fortuny than I am with the creeps who responded to the ad. There is definitely a tort here if someone wants to take it on, but the larger point is that this guy is taking technology and information and distorting them into something that will bring benefit to no one.

The test about whether this is appropriate or ethical action is whether or not we would like a world full of Fortunys. What if everyone made everyone else’s secrets public? You could confide with anyone via email, IM, or whatever? The world would be a much worse place.

The happy person would have no need for this such nonsense, and better yet, would be focussed on more positive solutions to pressing problems. Even in absence of equality, a world of happy people would always be a good thing. At least with a happy world, we would know that inequality, poverty and war would buckle eventually.

NSLA (Nova Scotia Library Association) Conference Presentation

So I will be presenting with Kelli Wooshue at NSLA on October 1st about Web 2.0, using a lesson plan similar to what we did when we presented to our management team.

If you haven’t heard about this in previous posts, essentially we get people to do very specific tasks with a Web 2.0 technology and then we ask them what they think Web 2.0 is.

This presentation will be different in two ways however. One, we will be using different techs than what we chose for Management team. Two, we will incorporate some elements of World Cafe into the presentation to try and create as friendly an atmosphere as possible. Finally, we will also have some “helpers” roaming around in case we have technical issues or otherwise.

And candy. Oh yes. There will be candy.

I will also blog what happens. That’s important too. I may even find a way to do pictures.

Ryan. . .

What Sold Me? Shinerama and Public Library 2.0

A story:

I walked down Coburg Rd, which turns into Spring Garden Rd in Halifax NS. If you have lived in this town for any amount of time, you know that walking down Coburg Rd on the day after Labour Day means you are going to meet Shinerama folks — new college kids on every corner asking you for a donation to the Cystic Fybrosis Foundation.

I always give to Shinerama — usually a loonie or a toonie or so. But this day was different. I had two 10s in my pocket. 10 bucks was too much to give, so I intended to visit the local coffee shop to buy a coffee and make change. As I walked past, a young woman looked at me.

“Look guys,” she said to the group of volunteers. “We’re missing all these people.”

I spoke up and pointed to the coffee shop nearby. “I’m going there and then I’m coming right back here.”

“I’m staying here until you get back!” A young man interjected.

“It’s a deal!” I said. I came back with a $5 bill and a half-dozen cookies for the volunteers.

The volunteers were really surprised and thankful. I didn’t think it was that big a deal. It’s a little shameful when charity volunteers are surprised by such a small donation. But something they did “upped” me to double-plus the donation I usually give. I’m not completely sure, but I thought some reflection could be relevant to leadership in libraries.

What sold me on this transaction?

  • The Cause? Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I don’t think CF was important in my decision. I think the cause would have mattered for a larger donation, but in this “sell” situation, the cause could have been anything.
  • “Because They Were There?” Time and Place are definitely a factor. As my wife always says, “80 per cent of success is just showing up.” But “showing up” normally gets people a twoonie (a 2-dollar coin), not a fiver and cookies.
  • Marketing? I think this played a big factor as well. Not only did I know that Shinerama happens after labour day, but I passed by a couple of Shineramers before I met these guys. Being aware of who they are and how they operate was a definite plus to the decision.
  • Enthusiasm and Dedication? Also a factor, but again just worth a twoonie. Shineramers are always enthusiastic and fun — they have their faces painted, funny costumes and the like and they really get into the project. I think the enthusiasm is targetted at getting attention from friends, but it’s going to be win-win if it gets them donations.
  • The Guy who Said “I’m staying here. . .?” This one was the clincher, but the real question is “why?” Upon reflection, I think this is the answer: his reply said two important things essential to good leadership. 1) I hold you accountable for your promise and 2) I’m going to put my neck out for it. In a short phrase he turned a giver-receiver relationship into a team relationship. We were now partners in the Cystic Fybrosis cause, and I brought cookies to show that I cared for the team members. My responsibility for the rest of the day was to show my donor sticker proudly and cheer on the rest of the volunteers.

Why should this matter to libraries? Well, while working in a library, you get the feeling that you are providing service for customers. They pay the taxes, you provide the goods and the deal is done and finished.

I wonder if there are little phrases that we can put into our customers heads that say “no no, wait, we are a team for the life-learning cause.” I think this is a big deal. Reading , learning, using a computer or doing research does more than bring numbers to the library.

Using a library for whatever reason makes a person happier, healthier, and more knowledgable. It sets a model for others to follow. This has a positive benefit on society, not just on the individual. It is one enjoyable thing in the world that does not have to be work.
Sometimes I think we are stuck in a dichotomy between “are we an obligation (like a public service) or a transaction (like a business)”? The truth is that public libraries may be neither. Maybe Library 2.0 says “libraries are not a benefit to society — library users [in all their many manifestations] are.”

The Library 2.0 funding strategy: We don’t need more funding for libraries — we need more funding for library users!