Skimp on the Details

Crosswalk signThe photo in this post is a crosswalk sign in Topeka. Take a good look at all those instructions …

Also note that the crosswalk sign talks to you, too. When the light is red, you are told every few seconds “Do Not Cross the Road” or something like that.

And then when the light turns green, and you get that little “walking dude” icon that means you can cross the street, there’s another voice that starts talking. This voice sounds … um … let’s just say he has a bit of a rural accent, and he tells people wanting to cross the street something to the effect of “it’s now ok to cross the road, and to look both ways” … or something like that (I have yet to actually understand what the guy says).

My favorite part of the crosswalk sign is the arrow with the “To Cross Push Button” instructions. The arrow makes it look like you actually need to cross the street to push the button … in order to cross the street. Hee.

So … doesn’t everyone know how to cross the road when there’s a crosswalk sign? I mean really – you push the button and wait for the signal to walk … right? This is pretty simple stuff, and it really doesn’t need four lines of text and two different voice recordings to help you successfully get across the road.

Guess what? Sometimes, we do the same thing to our customers. Too many instructions. Signage with detailed explanations. Websites that provide way too many details about a library service.

How about our library catalogs? There might be too many details there, too. For example, I just looked up “The Hobbit,” and found this line of text:

Description: 271, [4] p. : ill., maps ; 21 cm.

I can hear our customers now – “Oh great! This book is 21 cm tall  – just what I was looking for!” Not to mention the full MARC record that’s attached. Our customers are just clamoring for that.

What do our customers want? Well – the book. Probably with a simple button that says “check out now” or something similar. At this point, many of our customers are pretty familiar with the “add to cart” idea of a shopping website, and checking out something on a library catalog website is pretty similar.

Here’s your assignment – take a look at a set of instructions for something your library does, and see how much detail you can remove while still making those instructions useful. I’ll bet you will be surprised!

Ask for Suggestions

Ask for SuggestionsI have been thinking about ways to improve our library’s main Facebook Page. We have come up with some great ideas, but one idea was to simply ask our Facebook-using customers what THEY wanted to see in Facebook.

Here’s what we asked (find the Facebook post here):

“Hey friends, we’re doing an informal poll. What sorts of Facebook updates would you like to see more of from us? We want to hear from you regarding what library stuff you want us to post.”

And here’s what our customers said:

  • kid activities. MY little sister and baby would love more of that.
  • new movies
  • Event updates
  • Kid events!
  • kid events!
  • new e-books
  • New movies and books
  • Kids’ events!!
  • Best seller lists
  • Maybe have a librarian recommendation day, like every Tuesday (or other day) have a book or movie recommended by staff? That way we can get to “know” the staff better and learn about books/movies that we may not of thought of otherwise.
  • I would like to know more about the e-books.
  • Winners of the reading program, it would be nice to actually see they get won, even if it isn’t by me ;)
  • More about the kids events, especially the teen events. Storytimes and Blockbusters get so much notice, but there are a ton of great programs slipping through the cracks!
  • Reminders. Like – don’t forget, sign up for tot time starts tomorrow!
  • Event reminders, and not just for kids events. I knew the rain barrel event was coming up, failed to put it in my planner, and missed it! I was bummed.
  • events for adults and kids
  • Upcoming events!
  • pictures or video shorts of people, exhibits, remodels/moves, staff, art. Something to post that makes the library come alive for us.
  • E- book info.
  • Events and the librarian recommendation is a terrific idea.
  • Love Tiffani’s idea of the recommendation day!

So – more event reminders, more mentions of new stuff, more recommendations from staff. More photos and videos.

Yes, we might have come to this same conclusion if we set up a committee to look into improving our Facebook Page, figured out when everyone could meet, and actually had a discussion on it. But it would have been our best guess. And it probably would have taken us 2-3 weeks – we’re a busy bunch, so meetings are a bit of a logistical challenge :-)

Instead, we gathered these comments, for the most part, in a 3-hour timeframe in one day. And it took us maybe a few minutes to write the Facebook post. And it was from customers.

Question – are you using your organization’s Facebook Page to find out what your Facebook-using customers want to do there? If so, what are you hearing from them?

photo by Sylvain Masson

Ten Thousand Signatures – what’s next?

Our Ebooksforlibraries campaign did it. We reached our goal of 10,000 signatures (it’s actually at 10,644 right now)! Watch the video to find out what’s next.

Want more info about our Ebooks for Libraries project? There’s a great write-up about iton my library’s website. I love how the article starts out: “If your business received 10,000 requests for a product you had in stock, would you sell it to them? In just seven weeks, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, through ebooksforlibraries.com, has collected 10,000 signatures requesting publishers provide ebooks to libraries by developing a business model that allows publishers and authors to thrive. The goal of 10,000 signatures was reached today at 9:05 am CDT.

While sales of ereaders and tablets skyrocket, libraries are having trouble getting ebooks to fill up these popular devices. Some of the largest publishing companies are creating barriers to delivering library customers the books they want in the format they want them.

The library encouraged readers to send a message to publishers about the limits they are imposing on supplying ebooks to libraries. A petition was set up on www.ebooksforlibraries.com. Readers – from as far away as Australia and Spain – responded to help surpass the goal.” (read the rest here).

And here’s a link to my original post about the project, too.

Reminders for Frequent Speakers

I went to Blogword Expo about a month ago, and attended a couple of sessions put on by “Internet Famous” people. Their blogs are pretty well-known, their books are at Barnes & Noble, and they speak at conferences. A lot.

Guess what? Some of them were really bad presenters. As I was thinking about why this was, I came up with a few things to do / not to do when presenting … even if you think you are Mr. or Ms. Popular in whatever speaker circuit you frequent. Here they are:

Inside jokes? Don’t use them. One guy took the first five minutes of his talk to pass inside jokes to “his crowd” … which seemed to consist of a few buddies sitting on the front row. This was in a room of about 200 people. So there were about 5-10 people in on the joke. The other 190 of us? Not so much.

Inside jokes can be fun – if you bring everyone else inside with you. Use the joke as a point in your talk, and surround it with the full story. That way, everyone is in on the fun, you can tell your joke, and “your crowd” will still enjoy it too. I actually saw another speaker do that – he gave the background info, then used a person or two as an example, and it worked really well. Inside joke success.

Always give an introduction. You are not that popular. I’ve heard this from a speaker more than once – “You all know me, so I’m going to skip the introduction.” Guess what? We don’t all know you. The guy who did this at Blogworld Expo has a book out, and his blog is very popular. But I didn’t know who he was – never heard of the book or the blog, never attended any of his presentations before. I spent the next five minutes hunting down his blog instead of listening.

Yes, you know some of the people in the room. Yes, you know all the other speakers at the conference. Give at least a brief introduction anyway. At the conferences I regularly attend, the majority of people attending the sessions aren’t “regulars.” It’s either their first time at the conference, or they can only attend once every few years. So chances are, you are new to them. So make a quick introduction.

I’m too cool for slides. Same guy at Blogword Expo actually said this – “I’m too cool for slides.” Sure, Powerpoint presentations can be sorta boring if done poorly, and they aren’t always needed. But honestly – most of the time, if you are talking about the geek stuff I go to conferences for (technology, blogs, marketing, social media, etc), slides help drive home your point. You can SHOW that Twitter conversation. You can SHOW those Facebook Page stats. You can SHOW how your new-fangled technology site works.

Or, take a clue from the emerging web, which is getting more visual every day (i.e., Instagram, Viddy, Pinterest, etc). Your speech is good. Your speech, plus something to look at besides your head, is even better. Especially if the slides compliment the point you’re trying to make.

Prepare. At least the day before. One of the keynote speakers said he was working on his talk that morning in the cab ride to the convention center. And you could tell. The talk had some fine points, and the speaker knew his material, but he also stumbled quite a bit through the points he was trying to make. A little more practice and preparation would have done wonders for his talk.

So, you know. Get your slides done before you get to the conference. Actually run through the presentation once (with a timer). Preparation and practice are boring, but if you do the work, it will definitely pay off “on the stage.”

Your turn. What else should be here?

Bad Reporting and Weird Views about ALA

My wife passed this article from WorldMag.com along to me last night, and it irritated me. A lot. So I left a comment on the article (still awaiting moderation), and thought I’d share it here, too. Here’s my comment:

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I just read your article “The American Library Association’s social activism” by Emily Whitten. Emily seems to be a fine writer, but needs to brush up a bit on her research skills, as her article about the American Library Association is highly inaccurate at best.

Here are some examples of those inaccuracies:

Emily says this: “That sort of social activism was on display two weeks ago at the ALA’s annual conference in Anaheim, Calif., where best-selling author John Irving took the stage before the packed house. He was there to introduce his new novel, In One Person, in which one of the main characters, a transgender librarian, seduces a 13-year-old boy through the books she recommends to him … Such proselytizing isn’t new to the ALA.”

That makes it sound like 1. ALA had only one author talk, and 2. ALA is pushing certain philosophies to all members.

Simply innaccurate on both counts. There were over 300 author events at the conference (which I attended) – here’s a list from the ALA Conference Scheduler.

Two of those were book signings by authors from Zondervan Books, a Christian book publisher. Does that mean that ALA was also pushing a Christian agenda? No – obviously not.

Or how about this – I attended a talk by Fantasy author George R. R. Martin. Does that mean ALA was pushing some weird fantasy elfin agenda? Nope. With all these authors, it simply means that librarians, for some odd reason, are really interested in authors and their new books. Go figure.

Next HUGE inaccuracy: Emily says this: “But more disturbing than the content of the book were the reasons why Irving wrote it: The American Library Magazine reported Irving saying, “There could be one bisexual boy out there like Billy or a transsexual girl [like the librarian] who could be helped by reading the novel.”

Again, this is simply WRONG. Here’s a link to the article in question – and here’s the quote by Irving – “Irving’s son read the manuscript when he was 19, the author said, and told him later that even if people misconstrue the meaning of the book, it doesn’t matter, because there could be one bisexual boy out there like Billy or a transsexual girl (like another character in the book) who could be helped by reading the novel.”

So – Irving did not, in fact, say that, as Emily claimed. His son said it.

Next, Emily says this: “For instance, in conjunction with Gay Pride Month in June, the ALA put its weight behind a campaign to communicate to LGBT communities across the nation that “You belong @ your library.”

Again, WRONG. The You Belong @ Your Library campaign is the annual National Library Week slogan. It’s not about some agenda, other than raising awareness about libraries. Here’s what ALA says about this campaign: “Every day, people of all ages and backgrounds from rural, suburban and urban communities across the country turn to their libraries to find jobs or go online, to get help with homework or complex research projects, to start on a business plan, connect with their kids or simply find a space to relax.”

And one more whopper from Emily: “As for librarians who might feel that such a campaign is more about social activism than intellectual freedom, it’s unlikely you’ll hear from them. Library employees often must have the approval of their superiors—superiors who hold significant positions in the ALA—before they can speak with any member of the media.”

Really? This is so completely inaccurate, I’m not sure quite how to tackle this one. But I’ll try. OK. First of all, Emily is wrong about the ALA/library superiors thing. Sure, some library administrators are members of ALA. But certainly not all. And being a member (and being a library administrator) doesn’t mean that person also “holds a significant position in the ALA.” Those are voted for by members – you have to survive an election for them.

The other part of Emily’s statement is troubling too – sounds like she’s never worked at an organization before. Emily says this – “Library employees often must have the approval of their superiors … before they can speak with any member of the media.”

Well … um … yeah. Worldmag – do you let your entry-level employees talk to the media? This really depends on the individual library, and has nothing whatsoever to do with ALA. For example, at my library, we tell employees that if they are comfortable talking to the media, and know all the facts about said topic, that’s fine (but they need to tell our Communications Director it happened, too). If they don’t feel comfortable doing it, they refer the media person to our Communications Director. We send staff of all levels to a local weekly TV news show to report what’s happening at the library.

OK, so why am I dissecting Emily’s article? For a few reasons. First of all, it’s simply bad reporting at best. Emily obviously didn’t do her research, didn’t even read the research she DID do correctly (see the info about John Irving’s son above), and doesn’t know a thing about ALA, an association for libraries and librarians.

More importantly, on Wordmag’s About Us page, you guys say this about yourselves: “We stand for factual accuracy and biblical objectivity, trying to see the world as best we can the way the Bible depicts it. Journalistic humility for us means trying to give God’s perspective. We distinguish between issues on which the Bible is clear and those on which it isn’t. We also distinguish between journalism and propaganda: We’re not willing to lie because someone thinks it will help God’s cause. Our standards are just as high for the content presented at WORLDmag.com, where we offer an open forum for discussion of the news that arises at the intersection of religion and culture.”

You are NOT doing that. In Emily’s article anyway, Worldmag has NOT been factually accurate or objective, and, I think WAS willing to lie (again, see above) and push some weirdly inaccurate propaganda about libraries out to its readership.

Guys, as a Christian and as a librarian (who is a member of ALA), I’m embarrassed. It makes me wonder how accurate the rest of your “news stories” are.

Do better next time. Please.

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OK. There. I feel better. No, actually, I don’t!

Here’s the deal – I’ve heard this ALA Agenda/ALA controls libraries thing before – in other articles, and locally, too (from a conservative activist organization). And I know that’s simply not the case at all – so much not the case that it’s laughable at best. Simply not how ALA works.

But here’s my question – where in the world is this coming from? I think I know – politicians and activists of all stripes, when pushing their ideas (and I mean extreme right AND left here, guys – not picking on any one side), tend to stray off the path of truth to get their points across.

I guess it just really wigs me out when I see a Christian organization and a Christian writer do this. I know enough about the Bible, etc to know that bearing “false witness against your neighbor” (one of the 10 commandments) tends to be frowned upon. And that’s what I feel this article did. Under the auspices of accurate reporting.

Argh. Just argh.

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Update – to be fair, my comment is now posted, and Worldmag made a couple of corrections to the article (it’s still off, but at least a bit more accurate). So kudos to them for listening.