Yes, I will Learn with you. . .

When I wrote my “Technology requests ought to begin with a ‘yes'” post, my intention was to highlight a dialectic between those who want to fight the so-called “culture of ‘no'” and those who want to emphasize the need for planning and sustainability. My argument was that technology has changed (and I stated the reasons) and that our thinking needs to be altered somewhat to go with it. I suggested that a technology request ought to begin with a “yes,” but insisted also that after that “yes” there needs to be modelling, planning, priorities and so on.

My harshest critic was Mark Lindner, who said (here):

“But what he actually said about saying yes immediately is extremely simplistic and also ill-advised from a managerial perspective. Do anyone want a manager who immediately says yes to things and then after asking a few questions retracts that yes? Does anyone want to be that manager?”

It’s funny, because I went to David Lee King’s presentation at CIL on change management and asked a question: “Ok. So I have alot of priorities and work to be done, and certainly not enough resources to do it all. I don’t want to say “no,” but i sometimes come off as if I am saying ‘no’ simply because I note a whole number of kinks that need to be worked out first. How can I take on the “culture of ‘yes'” under those conditions?” [not a direct quote]

David put the question to the floor and Halleluah! doesn’t the very first responder say “well, you should start with a yes and then openly and honestly address the idea in a list of priorities.” [also not a direct quote]

So, as a quick response to Mark, yes — I do want to be that manager and I believe that the generation of librarians coming up want precisely that kind of manager. Or at least they want something different from a manager who immediately says “no” or “man, that’s going to take alot of money and work to do” first. These folks understand change; they will understand how “yes” can become “no” as priorities shift, resources deplete and the devil-details bare their horns — and, if you believe the literature, they have the same sort of feelings about their employers. Loyalty means less than lifestyle and meaningful work. But more than anything, they want a chance to show that, actually, it doesn’t really cost that much (in staff time or money) to host a good many technologies.

I’m also going to re-state something I said before. Some technology ideas do not get the same interest as some very expensive and resource-intense non-tech things, like renewing online resources without getting any use for them, or putting on a program, or scheduling a whole slate of “how to use a database” classes, or creating large quantities of print promotions or participating in local events or purchasing large collections of books or setting up a society newsletter or engaging in a newfangled partnership or building a new central library. The list goes on and on.

Yet, for some reason, when a “tech” solution comes out, the starting point for many librarians is “no.” You get “no.” Then you have to “change manage” your way into even the slightest consideration. This is not to say that the non-techie things should not be done, but it does mean that I believe technology things need to be given the chance to show their merit. Starting with a “yes” will go pretty far on that one.

I offer “yeses” all the time and I think I am liked for it. And sometimes I do have to say “ok. Maybe that needs to sit down on the priority list for now as we take care of other issues.” But of course, this is a too literal interpretation of my “begin with a yes” post. I am talking about opening the door to passions and possibilities, rather than controlling the pace to protect people from anxiety. I think this approach can help people want to put the effort behind their projects.

In the library world we need more possibilities and less fear — definitely less fear — about technology.

Asking someone to write a one-page brief on what they want to do, for instance, is alot more fun for staff when you have a “yes” attached to it. The brief may get bumped on the priority list, sure — but in the end, you have that brief in your files (or a tweaked version of it) just waiting for the opportunity to happen . Your staff have an opportunity to know their passions are being listened to and are being given their fair shake at being implemented. And god forbid, a manager — or dare I say “leader” — might learn something along with it.

And that brings me to another point. As managers we talk alot of about training and life long learning, yet sometimes in our daily rush we refuse to do a simple Google search when someone comes up with something we never heard of. So maybe my “yes” doesn’t really mean “yes” purely, but “yes, I will learn this with you.” Truly, madly, deeply, the library world needs administrators who will demonstrate their appreciation for technological change. That takes learning, and frankly, while the tech world moves quickly, the tools are there (Google, blogs, Wikipedia) to help us learn technological things fairly quickly as well.

And if there is anything that social software has taught me, its that learning is alot more fun when you have a cool group of people doing it with you. Wouldn’t it be nice if that cool group for librarians included the people who are supposed to lead the organizations we work in to success?

DrupalEd is released!

I just did a test install of DrupalEd, a learning management system recently released. As per usual, I am willing to let people play around with it with a level of forgiveness that can only be reserved for things that have no corporal substance.

So far it looks pretty neat, but then again, I haven’t really got my elbows into the dirt yet.

Just let me know if you want to try it.

Heart’s All A-Twitter

Well, I’ve had a twitter account for a while now, I just haven’t been ready to use it very much. I didn’t add friends or etc. and probably more confusing, I used my long-lost moniker “Greebie” as my login.

(Aside:  I’ve had “Greebie” as an alias since the 80s.   Back in the BBS days, I was called “The Grblyn.”   Friends would call me “Greebie” for, erm, short.   I’ve used it ever since.)

As mentioned before, I really felt that Twitter really helped people connect during the CIL conference.

Well, I’ve started and I’m ready to go! It reminds me alot of my old chat room days, just much more friendly and convenient.

My CIL Impressions

I’m going to try and say alot of things over the next week or so, but I thought I’d summarize some key thoughts for now.

  1. Meh.  It was a conference.   It was a good conference even.  But sitting through the good and average in terms of presentations, I realize that I want conversations that matter more and more.     I think I want to hear more of and about the unconference world, because I think libraries need that much, much more — especially where Library 2.0 stuff is concerned.
  2. Nothing really changed my thinking in any significant way.  This is a bit of a shame, because I’m always on the look-out for that one keynote or major presentation that is just going to blow me away, in a perspective sense.   It didn’t happen.   Steven Cohen was close, but his topic was RSS tips, which really isn’t a “blow you away” sort of presentation.
  3. Highlight presentations.    My favs were Steven Cohen (as I said before) on RSS, Roy Tennant & Tim Spalding on the Future of the OPAC, er catalogue.   David Lee King‘s presentation on change management in libraries was great too.   Steven just has a great energy for presenting that kept things interesting.   Roy and Tim were dead on, and I saw a good many audience members drooling at the prospect of a “fun” and “fun-ctional” catalogue.   David did a great job engaging the audience in discussion.  I also went to Michelle Boule & Meredith Farkas‘ presentation on the 5 weeks project.   It was good, but having spent so much time watching that project flourish, I probably should have went somewhere else.
  4. Greatest Decisions I Made:  Setting up a meeting with Jessamyn West.   We had a great talk over coffee on everything from “Slow” Libraries to my hometown to what it’s like to work for rural libraries (great, but a hard push to get technologies implemented).
  5. Worst Decision I Made:  Not bringing my laptop.    Poo on the whole “turn off during the conference” thing.   With all the twittering going on, it really seemed like I was missing the “real” conference.   The laptop comes with me next time.
  6. Great people I met:  David Free, Meredith Farkas, David Lee King, Helene Blowers, Jessamyn West, Amanda Etches-Johnson, Nicole Engard, Steve Cohen and Ellyssa Kroski.   I really didn’t get a chance to talk to a few other bloggers like Rachel Singer Gordon and Iris Jastram, but at least got to see them and say “hello.”   On the whole, I think it was the networking stuff that was most useful to me.
  7. Most fun at the conference:  Dinner with Ellyssa and her husband.   Tapas and Spanish beer!  Yum.
  8. My suggestions:  Allow for fewer longer presentations and more time during the day to network etc.    Have real mingling opportunities, like some kind of gala or something.   Bigger venue, if possible.    Arrange for some wireless love for the conference if possible.

A List of Pre-CiL things Before I Head to Washington

  1. Yes, I will be at CiL and definitely want to chat with you.   Just say “hello!”
  2. I just got my copy of Walt Crawford’s Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change.  What I didn’t realize is that a good lot of Other Librarian posts are cited in there.   So, obviously I’m going to review and obviously I’m going to be positive.  Unless Walt disagrees with me of course.  🙂
  3. As a addition to #2, I think Walt’s approach to blogging and publishing is very interesting.   It is an excellent idea to go back on the biblioblogosphere and see where the contradictions, predictions and ideas go in the long run.   To a degree, blogs (ones that are regularly updated, anyway) are necessarily a reaction to the environment.   It is nice to reflect on what is hiding under all that fog in the end.
  4. Eye allergies started today, just in time to go see a whole lot of people I admire.   I’m hoping very much not to have to be drugged for any amount of the presentations.
  5. Our son has been throw-up-y this evening, just in time to make us anxious about leaving him for a couple of days.   He seems in good spirits and we suspect is has to do with a bunch of chocolate he ate today.   We hope so!
  6. I’ve decided not to bring my laptop to Washington, so I will not be blogging during presentations.   I will post my notes after the fact, though — maybe with some thoughtful analysis too.   I might pick my three favs and share those instead of blogging *everything*.   That’s because a) so many people are likely going to be blogging as well and b) a good lot of presenters are the types who would share their powerpoints anyway.

Google Earth and International Social Justice?

Although this is an early media thing, it appears that Google is using its Google Earth tool to highlight atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan.

I have to reserve judgment here if only to grasp what I think about this.   My initial reaction is to think this is a positive thing — where our governments and the international community appears to be silent on these issues, Google and other large corporations may be able to pick up the slack — if only by highlighting the reality of what is going on.

I hope this embarrasses the heck out of the leaders of Sudan, and starts a call to action in politicians in that region.

This also makes me wonder about what librarians and libraries could do about social justice issues internationally.   Right now I am reading Jeffrey Sach’s The End of Poverty which, to my surprise, is high on action, inspiration and optimism which goes along with the only conclusion one can really make about a good lot of countries in Africa — there is a big problem there;  the problem is our fault;  we have the ability to fix it and we do not.

That said, the sword that swings at Darfur can swing at anyone.     Assuming Page and Brin do not live forever, where does this power end and who will end up with it all in the future.    Is being spied on by the entire Internet any better (or worse) than being spied on by governments?   This will be a hard question to answer in the not-so-far-ahead future.

Again, I still have to reserve judgment, because I am not convinced that I have all the details here.   It is a definite area that I am interested in, though.

My Spin on the Five Blogs Meme. . .

Well, I don’t keep much of a collection of RSS feeds. Basically I use live bookmarks so I can pick and choose the headlines I like. I may go to Google Reader sometime to be more ritualistic and purposive about blog reading, but, well, I don’t want to right now.

That leaves me in a quandry though, because I’m coming in late to this meme and the blogs in my feed have pretty much been linked 5-10 times each already.

I’ve also heard a bit out there about all this five blogs stuff being a little tete-a-clique.

So, while I promise to link to all the favorites throughout my blogging life, I’ve decided to make a list of Five Blogs I’m Going to Add to My Aggregator Because of the Five Blogs Theme.

  1. Jennimi – I really like the template and Jennifer E. Graham has a great writing style. Her two most recent posts were decidedly readable and relevant to boot.
  2. Off the Mark – Meredith mentioned me in the same breath with Mark Lindner, Walt and Karen Schneider. I think I’m ok with that.
  3. LibraryBytes – Yeah, *that* Helene Blowers. Adding her feed is a “no brainer” if it ever was one. This is just an oversight to be honest. I read the blog, I just haven’t ever added it to my live bookmarks.
  4. Libraryola – I have a great interest in the cross-connects between Library and Information Studies and Public Administration. Chris Zammarelli says he’s interested in e-Government, that’s a match!
  5. Open Access News – A great find from Dorothea Salo thankyouverymuch.

And if you are not on this list, it’s probably because 1) you are already in my aggregator 2) I just forgot to add you 3) I haven’t come around to your blog yet OR 4) Somewhere, somehow your content and my eyes haven’t found the right chemistry. Don’t worry, keep blogging. All [Harlequin] romances begin with tension to start anyway. I might come around some time or another.

What the Library 2.0 Crowd is Trying to Say about Technology

(Or at least my impression about it).

A discussion on Meredith’s blog about brought me to an epiphany about why so many bloggers are pushing Library 2.0/Web 2.0 technologies.

You know, I never really write about Flickr, blogs, wikis etc. To me, these things are just too obvious to talk about — basically it’s all file sharing. But that shows my hubris, because as I look at things like the 5 weeks phenomenon and Sarah Houghton-Jan’s course, there is alot of demand to know about these things, what they are and how they can be implemented in libraries.

This just suggests to me that technology problems are ultimately organizational culture problems. How can something that seems to some to be a “no brainer” seem so high-level risk to others?

I know value is to be had from many of the great technologies out there, whether it be a blog, wiki or whatever. And I know you cannot approach these technologies willy nilly as if implementing a technology has no impact on the way work happens in other places. Lots of unexpected things can happen and it all needs to be accounted for.

In some ways, these facts are common ground for both “yeah-ers” and “nay-ers” in the tech world. When one looks at the “forest” of the biblioblogosphere, one is apt to see a cyclic dialectic of “yeah-ers” emphasizing value and the “nay-ers” rebutting with the need for planning. Then the “yeah-ers” say “I know that things need to be planned, but remember the value this offers and then the “nay-ers” say the same in reverse and so on.

Anyone looking from the outside must be saying “you folks agree! Stop the bickering and labeling and wasted breath!”

So what is the problem here? What has changed in the world to make this discussion any more contentious? What is sitting in the silence of all this library 2.0 stuff? What is it that is failing to come across?

I think it is this:

Technology has reached a stage that any idea to implement a technology ought to begin with a “yes.”

I mean it. Begin with a “yes,” then work through the barriers or fit the idea into a list of priorities after. No, that does not mean “implement new technology NOW!” It means “give us techies the benefit of the doubt and then determine if something is not sustainable, too resource-intensive or whatnot after we have had the opportunity to show you it can be successful.”

Say “yes” and then say “let me see the model or plan” and then criticize it on its merits. Then do a 5-minute Google or Wikipedia search to find out what we are trying to do. Say “yes” first, then ask the hard questions and when the idea falls off the rails say “ok — let’s look at this for another time.”

Here’s a list of at least 10 reasons why I say this:

  1. Unlike the past, technology is very cheap. We are in a world where Dell is about to sell desktop computers to China for about $300 bucks each. In general, it is getting harder to spend technology budgets without new ideas [lots of them] coming around behind it.
  2. Like has been demonstrated in Desk Set, computers are a complement to, not a threat to front-line personal interaction-based services.
  3. Despite our gripes, librarians know about information technology better than a good lot of professionals. This is a solid nische for librarians everywhere. It can give us credibility in the outside world where it is so deeply desired in the profession.
  4. We need to be a voice for the benefits of technology as a counter-point to all the lawyers, police and over-reactive parents who suggest, imply or say outright that the internet is all about security risks and invasion of privacy. If we move cautiously in this role, we will be rowing this librarian-ship, in a world full of motor-powered yachts.
  5. Some of the stuff the techies are proposing are alot less difficult to maintain than traditional approaches that get a “yes” almost without a blink of an eye. See this comment I made on Meredith’s blog for more explanation.
  6. In a world that, for better or worse (I think for worse), lives primarily in cities and towns that require automotive transportation to do just about everything, people from all spectra of life want the convenience of learning at home. Technology facilitates this possibility.
  7. The way technology is moving right now, if a solution is not quite there right yet, it could very well be in less than 3 years.
  8. People need to play to learn. The actual act of doing a doomed-from-the-start project may have benefits that outweigh even those that would have occurred if the project was successful.
  9. Staff are people too. Many technologies used at work can have great benefits at home. That goes for you too.
  10. We are dying to flex our muscles, because we have been working hard at building them. Starting with “no” is like telling us we are fat in our jeans. We know we are not. We know we are sexy, in-demand and turning heads everywhere we go. You will not teach us humility, it will be through action, mistake and consequences that we will gain that virtue. You might as well let it happen. Library staff will be retiring in the near future — more than mere working bodies, you will be losing experience in your organizations. You need to be building that stuff up in your staff lickety-split. This is what performance management is all about.

In sum, the world of technology has changed. Implementing information technology is not like planning a NASA-sanctioned trip to Mars anymore. Sure, it does need planning and purpose and placement in a priority list, but it also needs to be flowing downstream in the white water like a rubber dinghey, with your staff riding on top of it.

A good way to keep things flowing downstream is to say “yes” to a tech idea first and then tell us not to forget our lifejackets.

An Infamous 2X2 Matrix

There is nothing like a good old fashioned 2 by 2 matrix to make someone look really slick about something, isn’t there? I’ll have to admit, this one is pretty obvious. You have two sides to a situation. Sometimes things cost alot. Sometimes things require considerable cultural change in an organization in order to be understood or implemented. You can have a spectrum of costs and a spectrum of transformation. You can develop pretty good strategies based on these.The Change to Cost Curve But before you get to this point, you need to think hard about a few things:

  1. Do I underestimate my colleagues (ie. is the change more distressing to you than your colleagues)?
  2. Have I assessed the “real” costs of implementing the whatever-it-is?
  3. Do you have the knowledge to implement and maintain it?
  4. Will the project bring benefits to the organization?

Good. Then here’s what I’m trying to say with my little 2 by 2 matrix. It’s just a model, and can be tweaked. This is not about telling but about introducing an idea for discussion. Oh, and a chance to play a little bit more with

There are five kinds of projects and they can be described by five quotes “forget it,” “no brainer,” “push the bricks,” “make the case” & “establish a crisis.”

“Forget it”
The first are those that are pipe dreams — they are too expensive and require too much change in the organization to really be taken seriously (for now). Put the idea in the back of your mind for future reference. Sometimes opportunities knock that bring the “forget it” ideas down to “no brainers.” Maybe bring these out in your brain storming sessions to stimulate other, less costly and outlandish ideas to the forefront.

“No Brainers” — Low cost, low feather ruffling

Everyone should have a list of no brainers on an open-ended action list — one that, hopefully, people will refer to frequently in those spaces of time where you are not quite sure where to go next with yourself. Waiting for a response from somebody to push one of your bigger projects forward? Well, move on to a no brainer, send that one pager on for approval and move forward with it. Bingo!

Well, to be realistic, sometimes the no brainers are the hardest things to get implemented simply because they are no brainers. A lack of sexyness can sometimes cause a lack of doneness.

“Push the Bricks” — Low Cost, High feather ruffling

For some reason, things are going to make people nervous. Maybe there is a learning curve for a new project or activity. Maybe the change means a fear of restructuring in a tight labor force. Maybe it’s just psychological neurosis. The point of all this is that people barriers are just as big or bigger than money barriers. Be prepared for confusion, annoyance, and down-right nastiness. But feather ruffling is what you still need to do.

This is not the time for report writing — yet. Your job at this stage is primarily “pushing at bricks” to determine where you will find a budge and that budge will be your place to move in. Beware of the red herrings though:

  1. “It takes too much technical knowledge” — find this out for yourself. If something is worth doing, it is worth learning how to do properly.
  2. “You better make sure that so-and-so knows about this one” — go ahead and make sure. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I heard that “so-and-so will flip when he/she finds out” only to find out that they think the idea is great and we should go right ahead.
  3. “But in order to do that, you’ll need to. . .” — yup. That’s right. You have to work to make something happen. Funny that.

Have a mantra and keep using it in your conversations. Eventually people will start singing your tune. That’s when you write your report and make the project happen.

“Make the Case”

In a way, money issues are fairly easy compared to people issues. Essentially, you write up a business case for the money. It gets evaluated against other projects and you win or you don’t. Your typical business case goes like this:

  • recommendation (what are you doing?)
  • background
  • benefits to organization (why are you doing it?)
  • success measures
  • costs
  • project plan and timeline (when and where?)

The most important thing about money projects is not to let it bother you too much if they don’t get approved. Just move on and find yourself another thing to go for.
“Establish a Crisis”

The crisis projects are the hardest ones, of course to make happen. Typically when something costs big bucks AND is going to ruffle lots of feathers, you have to point out a crisis to make it happen. If something is still beneficial even after you spend lots of money and cause lots of anxiety, it must be critical to the future survival of the organization, otherwise the whole thing is a “forget it.”

Establishing a crisis, is a difficult thing. First you have to establish credibility in your organization. If people tend to treat you as a dreamer, then you need to find someone who will agree with you to make this happen. Then you have to get lots of information to justify why you think your organization is in crisis, and how the high-cost, high feather-ruffling project will prevent that crisis. Numbers are really helpful here. A nice big chart showing a downward curve always seems to strike a chord. I’ve also heard of people videotaping critical responses by customers to be helpful as well.

Then it’s big planning. A big report chock full of information supporting the change. Then, bit by bit, you make those changes happen. Funny enough, when I’ve seen this sort of change happen, it’s was so gradual that it was barely noticeable. Somewhere along the line, you will have to find a way to congratulate yourself on this one somewhere along the line.

That’s that. I know this is all pretty obvious to anyone who has ever managed a project, but sometimes having a nice chart helps things move along.