Big Ideas, General

Top Five Take Aways from PLA

PLA 2012 in Philly was a great one – a conference that revealed the hard work and innovative thinking of librarians around the country and the world.  It’s taken me a week to recover!  I went to a great preconference, saw some amazing new products on the exhibit floor, went to some inspiring sessions, and networked with some folks who I only knew by name and reputation and now consider contacts and colleagues.

Stay tuned in the next week or so for some more in-depth articles about #PLA12, but in the meantime, here are the top five things that I am bringing back home to my library to guide my actions and keep in the forefront of my thoughts:

5.  Sharpen your focus.  Libraries often try to be all things to all people, heralding themselves as having “something for everyone,” when that is simply not true or realistic.  We need to look hard at our community’s needs and our institutional strengths and prioritize.  Figure out two or three priorities, form a strategy based on those, and go for it!  If you are library in a suburban area with a large demographic of families with young children, perhaps you will focus on serving them.  You will still have programs and services for adults, seniors, non-native speakers, etc, but your decision-making will be made clearer because it is based on a set of institutional priorities.  Maybe your local government has decided to position itself as a retirement destination.  Align yourself with that goal and make it a priority!  And remember that these priorities will likely shift over time, which is why you’ll need to keep up with national trends and shifts in community demographics.

4. Chasing trends is a tricky business, knowing trends is essential.  As part of a truly great preconference called “Digging Deep to Get What Your Community Really Wants,” Barbara Genco and Cathi Alloway talked about this.  Trying to align yourself with the newest trends of the moment can be fruitless, but understanding broad demographic trends can help you plan for the near future and beyond.  Some of the trends they talked about that will have the biggest impact on libraries and how they serve their customers are the rise of solo living across ages,  the concept of the “power patron,” the diverse demography within the growing senior population, and of course, the broad Digital Shift that is taking place across our culture, with a special emphasis on e-content and mobile devices.  I must admit that I had read quite a bit about the Patron Profiles available from Library Journal, but was not sold on their content or value until I had an in-depth look at them on the exhibit floor.  Patron Profiles not only offers a qualitative look at trends in library usage and users, but it also offer actionable advice on how to respond to these trends on a local level.

3. Go beyond door counts and circ stats.  Value relationships over transactions.  Talk less about your stuff and more about your customer’s experience.  We will alway monitor door counts and collect circ data, but they are becoming less and less important as the nature of what we do everyday evolves.  We need to gather richer statistics to offer a more complete picture of what we do and its value.  Libraries are gathering anecdotal, qualitative measures from the Ref Desk that show the depth and complexity required of librarians and the real life questions that our customers come to us for help with.  Librarians are measuring social media engagement to understand how our tech-savvy, digital patrons are interacting with us on our social networks and what they say about us on their own personal networks.  As more and more of the content we provide is digital, the human touch we offer and  the deep relationships we build become more and more important.  They also define our value proposition for the future, which makes it even more important that we develop effective measurements.

2. It’s all about the value.  Library marketing mavens have been preaching this for some time now and it really is what it’s all about.  An ongoing demonstration of value can both bolster advocacy efforts and head off what I call the “library as victim” position and mentality.  First you have to figure out what Alison Circle (who is lovely and very generous with her time, btw) calls your value proposition  She wrote about this in a 2009 article that I still re-read and offered this handy visual diagram:

After you figure out your value proposition, you have to demonstrate it!  This may take many physical forms – annual reports, presentations to stakeholders, testimonials, ROI calculators,  etc.  The important thing is that they are all backed up by real measurement of that value – crunching the numbers will first help figure out what your customers need and then help demonstrate how you met that need and the value it brought to their lives and the life of the community you serve.

1. Be data-driven to become customer-centric.  This is the biggie, IMO.  We all too often *think* we know what our customers want, without ever really asking them.  We develop services and coordinate programs that seem great to us, but are not driven by customer needs or wants.  Truly engaged and successful libraries analyze their community, develop a strategy, implement a plan of action, and continually measure the results of their actions.  Most librarians aren’t highly trained demographers and statisticians, so luckily, there are lots of outlets for help.  Look for upcoming posts about Civic Technologies, the Ivy Group, LibraryAware, and more companies and products that were on display at PLA that will help libraries and librarians better demonstrate their value.

Were you at PLA?  Other than canvas bags and galleys, what did you bring home that is inspiring you?

1 thought on “Top Five Take Aways from PLA”

  1. WOW! Excellent information here. Though I was not able to attend the conference, I feel like I got the best out of it via your blog. This is my fave bit:
    Go beyond door counts and circ stats. Value relationships over transactions. Talk less about your stuff and more about your customer’s experience. We will alway monitor door counts and collect circ data, but they are becoming less and less important as the nature of what we do everyday evolves. We need to gather richer statistics to offer a more complete picture of what we do and its value.

    I could not agree more.

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