Thursday, 25 October 2012

Marketing - who's your audience?

Marketing can be a contentious word for librarians.  For public librarians it smacks of commercialism and selling out to a capitalist ideology.  For corporate librarians, business researchers or web content managers, it's something their firm does to attract external customers.  In either case, it's apparently nothing to do with them.

However, without marketing librarians would have no users.  Marketing simply means communicating with people who might find your services useful, so that when they need those services they think of you and may choose to use your services (rather than some other means) to meet that need.  To communicate in an effective way, first you need to understand people's needs (market research), know where and how they communicate (marketing channels), and understand what's important to them (value proposition). 

Activities like having a library web site, user education, putting up a poster about a reading group - they are all marketing activities.  It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking 'what services do we have; we need to promote those services', and to design communications around that 'push' mentality.  However, marketing works a lot more effectively if you start by considering your audience - and work from a 'pull' perspective.

Who could you be marketing to?  The obvious answer is 'our users'.  While it is important to maintain a relationship with existing users, for example sending out surveys to check on their customer satisfaction, or telling them about new content or services, if that is all the marketing that's being done then the best outcome you can hope for is to maintain the status quo, in terms of numbers of users.

The real aim of marketing is to increase things.  Increase the numbers of users, increase the number of visits, number of loans or number of enquiries, or increase the amount of renewals or interlibrary loan requests made online.   Carefully targeted marketing, for example about business directories and start up guides demonstrated at a fair for entrepreneurs, or about art and design books at a craft fair, can draw new patrons into the library or onto the library's website.

Thinking about who you audience are (or could be), and where they are (in physical spaces or in virtual ones), and crafting your message to meet their needs and be seen where they hang out, can get you a long way.

Marketing can also be done to an audience of stakeholders, senior managers and budget holders.  This sort of marketing communicates to these groups how the library services help them meet their needs - that is, the goals and targets of the organisation as a whole.  

If you work in a public library service, this is a part of a larger city or county wide public sector body, with funds from taxpayers and goals to meet.  It probably has a whole series of goals.  In Glendale, CA where I live, for example, some of the city's goals include:
  • Encourage neighborhoods to take ownership for improvements 
  • Increase neighborhood involvement by educating residents to take active responsibility for their neighborhoods 
  • Retain and expand local small business as a foundation for community economic development.
  • Communicate successes to illustrate that Glendale neighborhoods are safe.  
  • Seek opportunities to inform the public regarding the role played by Glendale in support of Luke Air Force Base
I wonder whether the city council members are aware of how the public library service could help them meet these goals?  A strategic and business plan prepared by the library, demonstrating this, could be an important factor in raising their awareness of the value of the library to the city, and help in future budget discussions.

Whether your audience is a group of potential new users, or the media who influence city councillors, consideration of their needs and communicating how you can help them meet those needs, is marketing at its best and most effective.


Friday, 19 October 2012

MOOCs - My Experience So Far

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are becoming more common, and from the numbers signing up certainly seem very popular.  For example, the course that I am currently doing (World History since 1300 from Princeton on Coursera) has over 80,000 signed up and 1,700 submitted the first assignment.

There are several university partnerships that have sprung up to offer MOOCs for free, the best known being Coursera (originally Stanford, Princeton, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania and now many more), and EdX (MIT, Harvard, Berkeley).  There are also a number of other providers, such as Udacity, Academic Room and others, which either focus on one subject area (Udacity is IT focused, for example) or offer one-off video lectures and articles rather than fully formed courses.

So what is it like as a student on one of these courses?  My experience so far has been largely very positive, with only one or two very small niggles.

Main Screen of the History of the World since 1300 course on Coursera

This is the main menu screen of the course, which is based around two weekly video lectures, plus recommended text and the forums.  These latter have been very active and have provided some valuable peer-to-peer learning, as people discuss issues and offer links to additional reading and video resources.

The video lectures menu

The video lectures are broken down into 10-15 minute segments, with embedded quizzes at the end of each one, but the main assessments comes from the weekly essay assignments.  We are given a choice of 3 topics and need to pick one on which to write our essay.  These are then assessed by five peers, using a rubric covering argument, evidence and eloquence, and a score given which is the average of the peer scoring.  As an incentive, if you don't evaluate your peers' essays, you can't get to see you own score!

The quality of the lectures has been very good, and the Professor and one of his graduate students have taken an active part in the forum discussions, making it possible to pose questions and get informed responses (as well as well aimed questions to seed the discussions).  Technically the VLE system has been working well, with the only problem being having to scroll through lots of material to get to the most recent posts (at the bottom) - which was raised early on and that they have tried to fix by adding a 'newest first' button in each forum thread.

One minor niggle, which several people have reported on the forums, has been lack of feedback to the essays.  In addition to giving a numeric score, peers are supposed to write comments under each section.  However, many people seem to be just receiving one or two lines (or one or two words!) as feedback, or are only getting written feedback from 1 or 2 of the 5 people who reviewed their essay.    

Many people have also been discussing the issues that arise from so many of the enrolled students having English as a second language, as those studying the course come from all around the world.  There have been lively discussions of how to score someone who is clearly trying hard but having trouble expressing themselves, versus someone who just can't be bothered to write clearly or doesn't have the understanding of the course material.

This particular course doesn't offer a certificate, although many other Coursera courses do.  This doesn't matter to me personally, as I'm doing the course out of personal interest, but it has been mentioned as being of concern by some students.  Overall it has been a great experience so far, and I have just submitted my second essay assignment and have my fingers crossed I get a good grade!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Event - SLA SoCal Award Dinner

Last night I attended my first event since moving to the USA, a very enjoyable award dinner for the SLA's South California chapter.

Just over 20 people gathered at the Almasour Court golf club for drinks and dinner, followed by a very entertaining after dinner speaker.  Nick Smith is a library technician at Pasadena Public Libraries, but is also a passionate historian and storyteller with a speciality of US Civil War history.  Nick told several stories about civil war veterans who had either come from, or retired to, the LA area.  

Some were poignant (the soldier who didn't get his Medal of Honor award until long after he had passed away - it was finally awarded by Bill Clinton), some were funny (the Indianapolis gunboat that was captured by the Confederate army, and then promptly blown up by them when they were worried it would be re-captured) but they were all interesting and told in a very entertaining way.

Joyce Hardy receiving her award

Two awards were also presented during the evening, a merititious service award to Richard Hulser for his work mentoring students, and a lifetime achievement award to Joyce Hardy (pictured), in particular for her work organising the SLA SoCal archives. 


Thursday, 4 October 2012

Now You Are a Manager

You may have been working towards a promotion for ages, and finally won that coveted team supervisor role, or perhaps your job has just kind of expanded almost without you realising it and now you are coaching a volunteer or graduate trainee.  Whatever the route, one day you realise you are a manager now.  This can be a scarey thought!  Many people have had a manager who was less than ideal - they may have been a micromanager, bossy, unappreciative or just too busy to have any time for you.  Most people are determined that they will never be as bad.

I remember when I was first offered a management role, at Manpower back in the mid-1990s.  Although it was for a very small branch, with one full time consultant and one part time administrator, suddenly I had gone from just having to worry about my own performance to being responsible for delivering half a million turnover, managing two staff, and being the person clients meant when they said *let me talk to your manager*.  Although I had a regional manager and head office full of senior specialists to call upon, it felt like a very exposed and scarey position!

Making sure you are a better manager than those aweful managers you remember from the past means learning a whole new skill set.  Many people are entrusted with supervisory roles because they were a great performer in their previous job.  However being good at doing a particular job doesnt necessarily make you good at managing others doing that job.  Doing and managing are very different activities.  Knowing how to do the job is useful, when knowing what to delegate, being able to coach others to do a better job, and knowing when part of the job isnt being done very well.  In other words, it is necessary to the job of managing, but it isnt sufficient.

So, what other skills do you need to be a good manager
  • Able to set an example - act as a role model
  • Value individual contributions - treat colleagues with resect, solicit alternative opinions
  • Cultivate collaboration & continuous improvement
  • Set stretch targets - challenging but achievable with the resources available
  • Inspire and motivate others - create a vision, set goals, offer praise
  • Adept at critical and analytical thinking - ask open questions, ask why and so what, question the status quo
  • Influence others - either persuade with strong arguments and facts or bring people round to see the benefits to themselves of your ideas
  • Building relationships - with your direct reports, with your own manager, with their manager and the rest of the senior team, and externally with suppliers and other partners 
  • Able to translate organisation and team goals down to individual level - including understanding budgets and desired outcomes
Some of the tasks you will be doing as a manager are also different from those you do as a team member.  These include things like setting objectives, delegating tasks, monitoring progress, giving feedback and reviewing performance.

Some of the best tips Ive seen for new managers can be found at Work Awesome. They advocate making sure you allow team members to be pround of their work - this means taking account of their ideas, allowing them to implement those ideas where they fit into the overall team goals, and giving credit to them for the idea and the outcomes.  It means not micro-managing them while they are doing the work.  There is a difference between having one-to-one meetings at agreed intervals, where progress on current tasks is reported, and you checking several times a day to see how things are going and to tell them how to do each step along the way!

The other key advice they offer is to "catch me doing something right".  It is very easy to spot when someone has missed something, or isnt using the best technique to get something done.  However, if the majority of your conversations with your direct report are criticisms of what they are doing or how they are doing it, you will quickly demotivate them and they will end up thinking "why bother, nothing I do is right, there is no point trying any more".

Although this seems obvious, it is surprisingly difficult to make sure the balance stays in favour of praising more than offering criticism.  Issues tend to jump out and catch your attention. You could end up being very busy attending to all those issues. Someone doing good work - ie, "just doing their job" - tends to be taken for granted.  Try and take time to notice the little things - a simple "thank you" or "well done" or "thats great" works wonders, especially when delivered in public.

Another useful site, which has a list of common mistakes new managers tend to make, is the management site at  One of the key points they make is that a major change once you become the manager, is that everything that happens in your team is now your responsibility.  This holds true whether it is something you did or knew about, or not.  You are accountable for the performance and behaviour of your team members.  This means it is up to you to have developed those relationships, delegated and motivated effectively, and communicated often and well, so as to minimise those "oh ......!" moments.