In case you’re wondering what’s going on around here these days, I’ve decided to split my blog into two domains. I’m planning to use this space to talk about professional pursuits, librarianship, digital services, and content strategy. If you’re interested in the personal side of Cecily (including bikey posts) head on over to Skeskali.com.
A few days ago, my friend Erica wondered what it would be like if all us old heads who have been talking and thinking so much lately about blogging started to actually do it, so I’m trying to rise to the challenge.
Where does your library website fit within your organization? Is ownership and maintenance the responsibility of one department (or one person), or are responsibilities spread throughout the organization? Is it considered part of systems/IT, or was the responsibility tacked on to another tangentially related department because they had the capacity to handle it?
These days, just about every library of any size has a website. Public library websites tend to focus on promoting library programs and services, increasing community awareness of the library, and providing an efficient channel through which patrons can connect with our collections.
When I first started working in public libraries, I used to believe that the public library website should be managed just as any other branch was managed. I thought the library website was — or could be — the centre of the online community that we were convinced would come our way if properly managed. Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to manage a large-scale library website, and my thinking has shifted drastically.
Our library website is not a community space. Short of our electronic collections (managed by vendors) and the library catalogue, we don’t participate in the daily transfer of materials like library branches do. While the public can reserve space in the physical library for meetings and the like, the online spaces at my library are not open to the public. The administrative responsibility for the website lies with the rest of the organization, not with the public, even though we claim that our site is designed with the public in mind.
I think most public library websites are marketing vehicles. Their primary purpose is to drive community interest in the library’s collections and services, to promote the library as an idea and as a community centre. Library websites are customer-oriented portals that have to balance the customer’s information needs with the library’s mission statement and objectives.
As a marketing channel, the control and oversight of a library website should rest with a library’s marketing and communications department. Backend responsibilities (CMS implementation, front- and back-end web development, and server infrastructure) are rightly placed with the systems/IT department, but responsibility for content strategy should lie with a team that understands users and their requirements. Effective marketing requires a carefully planned strategy that is designed to bring about a desired change (increase in circulation, increase in program attendance, increase in municipal/government/private funding). I don’t think training staff how to use the CMS, how to format content for the web, or how to publish videos to YouTube is sufficient anymore.
We’re experts at gaining awareness, but I think it’s time we shifted our thinking to “how can we build influence?” Traditionally, I think there has been a lot of tension between public libraries and business thinking, but I’m happy to see that tension eroding somewhat. Libraries and librarians captured the credibility market long ago, though some of that influence has eroded somewhat thanks to the widespread adoption of search engines and the increased availability of the Internet. It’s time we started focusing on how we can convert that trust into real influence, and how to wield these weapons of influence, persuasion, and social validation to inspire and motivate people into action.
Part of that transition means moving into the marketing department. Another part is hiring someone whose job it is to figure out how to best communicate the library’s mission, priorities, and goals, to help them develop, as Erin Kissane writes, “realistic, sustainable, and measurable publishing plans that keep their content on track in the long term.” (library) (a book apart) We should continue to focus on user experience and usability (and if you aren’t focusing on that yet, you should be), but instead of an army of one, our organizations may be better served by a team of professionals from all disciplines – marketing, user experience, content strategy, business intelligence – who act as a team of traffic controllers to make sure that all of the content on our websites is going into the right channels at the right time for the maximum effectiveness.
I’ll probably keep thinking and writing about this as time passes. Right now I’m a bit obsessed with the idea of building a digital services dream team, so be on the lookout for that post.
How is your digital services department organized? What roles do you have in your organization? What roles are missing? How would you build a better team?
A while back, a colleague and I submitted a proposal for this year’s Internet Librarian conference in Monterey, CA. We’d planned to talk about creating hackerspaces at libraries, but the organizing and review committee had a different (and better) idea. Instead, we’ll be appearing on a panel of experts titled “Transforming Roles: Who Do You Want to Be?” We’ll discuss the changing roles of information professionals, how we ended up where we are, and the risks, rewards, and challenges of our journeys. Very cool, yes? I thought it was, so I told the organizers I’d be delighted to participate.
Last week I found out that the panel is a Tuesday night session. If you don’t know anything else about Internet Librarian, know this: the Tuesday Night sessions are very well attended, are usually some the most popular, non-keynote sessions of the conference, and is a marquee spot. Not only that, but my name is on the front page of the website.
Now, if you know me at all, you probably know that I lack confidence. I have enough self-esteem issues to stock a newsstand. Sure, I know and have learned a lot about user experience in the years since I graduated from library school. I’ve even been paid to teach college courses on it. That doesn’t change the fact that there’s a very loud, insistent gong of doubt that goes off in my head whenever I have to talk about myself or share what I know in person or in writing. I’m usually fine when I’m on stage, but it’s afterward that I want to curl up and die.
It only took me 25 years in the workforce to realize that being a wallflower isn’t conducive to professional success.
These days I’m starting to speak up and express my opinions at work and online, even when those opinions run counter to the conventional wisdom. Most of the time it comes across like a bulldozer, but one step at a time. I’ll work on finesse later. I’m working hard on learning and practicing empathy and using non-confrontational language.
A big part of this learning process is developing faith in my abilities — in myself. I’m learning to speak loudly and often about what I know, to share it with others, to ask questions, to listen, and to admit when I don’t know something but would welcome the opportunity to find out more about it. And yes, a big part of that is stopping this need I have to — if you’ll pardon the cliche — hide my light under a bushel. I am ready for the next big professional challenge that comes my way. OK, I’m really not ready, but I’m getting ready, and I know now what I have to do to become ready. The biggest challenge isn’t finding the perfect job, or even advancing in the organization, the next big challenge is me.
But if I don’t talk about myself, how in the world can I expect anyone to know anything about me? If I want to control the message that exists about Cecily Walker, I need to be sure that most of that messaging is coming from what I say and do well, not from people who I have wronged or disappointed in the past.
In her presentation, Hess challenged the members of the audience to explain why they’re important in one sentence without any hesitation. I’m going to do that now, but I reserve the right to edit the explanation at a later date.
I am important because empathy for others is the foundation of my personal and professional practice.
It isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough for now.
The key part of that sentence for others is the part after “because”. The key part for me comes before it.
NB: I’m going through a bit of a reorganization with this space. Part of this self-evangelizing kick was to make all of my most personal entries private. I want to use this place to share the professional things I’ve learned. In time, a more personal space may emerge here (or elsewhere) for those who are interested in those kinds of posts.