Good times!

Woo-hoo!  I have a new book in the works – ALA will be the publisher again.  The preliminary book title is:  Learning from Others: Studying Businesses to Identify How to Drive Transformational Change in Libraries.  I’m lucky enough to start a four month sabbatical July 1 and my goal is to get the majority of the book written during those four months.  Then the book would hopefully be ready for ALA in 2015.  I’ll be interviewing a lot of businesses (some local, some regional, a few national) with the goal of identifying lessons from them that might be helpful in driving transformational change (versus incremental change – read the book to learn more!) in libraries.  I’m excited about this idea and looking forward to pursuing some new ideas!

The Business Model Innovation Factory

direction_innovationI’m reading The Business Model Innovation Factory (see prior blog).  I think the author’s perspective on innovation and change is fascinating.  Here is some of what is causing me to nod my head while I’m reading:

Transformation is hard.  We have to make it easier by creating the conditions for ongoing experimentation.
If we want to stay relevant in the twenty-first century we have to experiment all the time.  Transformational business models must be designed around ways to improve the customer experience, not around ways to improve the performance of the current business model.

Today’s public libraries understand the need to change to stay relevant to our communities.   However, I think we are still tweaking and improving our current business model (delivering books and information) versus make substantive changes that will improve our customer experience.  We all say that we “aren’t book repositories anymore” but when you walk in the door of most public libraries you still see an organization and infrastructure build around the management of books.

The question I’m asking myself right now is “What value does the library provide (or should the library provide) to the community?  I would love to hear if other libraries have thought about this.   This is a question the author asks.  If you know your value then you can look at your organization to ensure it is structured to provide that value.  Seems logical!

Transformation versus tweaks

image-to-represent-finance-transformationI went to an exceptionally interesting meeting this morning at Bowdoin College.  The speaker was Saul Kaplan who is the founder and Chief Catalyst (love that title!) of the Business Innovation Factory and author of The Business Model Innovation Factory (now being ordered for the library).

He put in words some thoughts I’ve had for some time but haven’t been able to articulate nearly as well as he did.  His concept (and he certainly isn’t the first to say this but he says it very well) is that organizations facing the imperative for drastic change need to go through “transformation versus tweaks”.  This means that we can find a million small, incremental ways to do our business better but that isn’t enough if the world is shifting drastically around you.  Instead, you need to find a whole new way of doing what you do, essentially developing a new business model.

What does this mean for public libraries that are facing huge change in their environment?  To me it means that if the library is no longer a book repository but instead is becoming a community center (as is the case with Curtis Library), I need to stop looking at the book as the center of the library’s world and start looking at people as the center.

For example, what’s the first thing you see when you walk in the door of most public libraries?  The circulation desk.  That’s the old model.  What about if the first thing you saw was a comfortable space with a “guide” whose sole job was to help you at the library?  I don’t know how to make that happen or even if it should happen – but thinking that way sure does tilt my assumptions on their head!

Transformation is scary.  We talk about “baby steps” at Curtis because sometimes change is so difficult to implement.  However, maybe what we need to do is plug our noses and jump into a totally new pond of water.  Easy to say, hard to do.  But it does sound like one more tool for getting that old elephant to dance!  We’ll see what thoughts are floating around after I read Kaplan’s book.  I’m looking forward to it.

Trend tracking at the Virginia Library Association Annual Conference

ImageLast week I had the pleasure of attending the Virginia Library Association annual conference to talk about trend tracking.  I was so impressed to see such a big turn-out of Virginia librarians – those folks know how to do conferences right!

My goal for the talk was to share a methodology that will help libraries identify and take advantage of developing trends to provide new products and services to better serve their communities.  It isn’t hard to do trend tracking.  I think it is mostly a matter of a) seeing its value and b) being willing to commit the time to doing it.  Check out the presentation about trend tracking on my Presentation page if you want to see how the process works.

Why do I feel so strongly about trend tracking?  Because I think libraries must constantly be looking for new tools and processes that will help them stay ahead of the monumental wave of change happening to our profession – and it is a fun way to develop exciting new services at your library! One of the people I talked to after the presentation said trend tracking reminded him of the Lean Start-up movement in the business world.  He’s right – they are very similar.  If you know of other methods of doing this, I would love to hear about them!


1904 Reading Room, Curtis Memorial Library

1904 Reading Room, Curtis Memorial Library

This is a photo, taken in the 1904 building at Curtis Library where I’m the director, by local photographer Bill Burke. I particularly like Bill’s b&w photos so I asked him if I could get this one enlarged for my office. If you want to see more of Bill’s photos, check them out at We are going to be starting a new web page soon called “Curtis Creative Spaces” where we will be featuring the work of local artists – a digital art gallery. I can’t wait…


Dancing elephants

Dancing elephants

Why a dancing elephant? Well, I think of public libraries as being a lot like elephants. Smart, slow-to-move but once they get going in a direction, hard to get them to change direction! Public libraries need to become more like dancing elephants…still smart but a lot more likely to move quickly, able to change direction easily, nimble. How do we do that? One great idea I got from attending ALA in Chicago – encourage risk-taking and develop a process to learn from experiments that don’t work. If an organization learns from its mistakes and failures – then they aren’t mistakes and failures. Good food for thought.

Library websites

newsjpl2-1024x558I love the San Jose Public Library website.  It is simple, clean and makes a lot of sense. We keep working on our library’s website but it still doesn’t feel “right”.  I think people mostly use the site to find out what programs are available at the library.  That isn’t all bad.  But, if that’s all they are accessing then why do we spend all the time and energy on the other “stuff” on the site? I’m trying to find examples of some “great” library websites to either confirm or deny my perspective.  In that process I found Matt Anderson’s blog and his list of 20 great public library websites.  Definitely worth checking out!  Thank you, Matt!

Prepare, prepare, prepare

jobinterviewnoteI’ve gone through many, many, MANY (did I say many?) job interviews in my life.   Recently, I was chatting with Emily Weak at (about a guest blog I was writing for her about my book What They Don’t Teach You at Library School) and we started talking about interviewing.

I mentioned that I had hired a senior librarian who had done an incredible job of preparing for her interview, better by far than anyone I had ever encountered.  Emily suggested that the librarian and I write a joint blog, talking about our interviewer/interviewee perspectives.  So, we did!  I hope you find it helpful.  If you are interested you can find the blog at 


LibrariesI love Neil Gaiman’s writing.  And, he “gets” libraries.  Good thoughts for a Friday!


25massiveopeninfoI’m fascinated by MOOCs – massive online open courses.  I love the idea of unlimited, quality classes being available to anyone.

Coursera which is one of the first of the online education companies offering courses in this way had (according to the NY Times) a faster launch than either Facebook or Twitter!  So, there is obviously an interest in the concept.

I’m trying to figure out how public libraries should react to MOOCs.  I would say we are more SMOCs (somewhat massive open course) providers than MOOCs – but we are all operating in the same territory. As a starting point I’m going to make sure that the library’s customers know about MOOCs and what they can offer.  I may also add links to some of the larger and most reputable MOOCs on our website. MOOCs seem too good to pass up!