Monthly Archives: June 2008

More cool librarians – Part 1

My search for the coolest librarian continued during the annual SLA conference in Seattle.

My previous winner of this (grossly under-recognised) award Louise Guy from Cirque du Soleil was not at the conference this year, although I did bump into Chad Eng, drummer in the death metal band From the Wreckage, looking suitably cool with his shoulder length blond hair and goatee beard.

This year I didn’t come away with a clear winner, but instead a trio of cool librarians.

Mary Ellen Bates

The first, and most surprising discovery for me, was Mary Ellen Bates. She is a big name in the information profession with more than 25 years of experience in business research. She has written hundreds of articles and white papers, conducted hundreds of speaking engagements, and is an acknowledged expert on variousPatty Hearst aspects of online and Internet research. Instead of her usual topic relating to what’s new in internet research and tools, her much more ambitious title was, The Next Information Revolution, and our Role as Revolutionaries. She caught my attention with her second slide which flashed up for just an instant with this photo of Patty Hearst, best known for her attachment to an SLA organisation with truly revolutionary intentions.

Her presentation (which I will cover in a later blog) was primarily about our new clients and customers known as millennials or digital natives. And how we must re-educate ourselves to provide services they want in the way they want. These are customers who will be telling us what they want rather than vice versa at present. Her blunt but effective scenarios contained scenes of librarians explaining the limitations of their databases or catalogues only to be met with, ‘I see your lips moving, but I’m not listening’. Or even worse, a response consisting of one of the two favourite three letter responses of this new generation, OMG (Oh My God) – meaning I’m not impressed, and WTF (What The ‘Heck’) – meaning I really don’t care at all about what you are saying to me.

Mary Ellen BatesAs you can see by her photo Mary Ellen does not immediately strike one as of the revolutionary mould. In fact you could say she looks something close to the stereotype of the female librarian (although sans hair in a bun and wearing a pearl necklace). But with her casual (joking) references to giving up on her crack pipe, and other amusing but unexpected comments I didn’t have time to note, she effectively destroys that negative image of information professionals.

Needless to say, as a cutting edge librarian she has a blog (since 2006) called Librarian of Fortune (Mary Ellen Bates contributes white noise to the blogosphere) at http://www.librarianoffortune.com/

I can’t wait to hear her next presentation.

The Future of the information profession part 2: Report from SLA2008

Not surprisingly this topic came up many times and in many different ways during the recent annual SLA conference in Seattle.

The new generation of information professionals

As I mentioned previously I see the new information professionals as absolutely key to our future, especially given the demographic of the profession which will result in 58 percent of the members of SLA reaching 65 by 2019.

If the three young people (Christina de Castell, Stacey Greenwell, Daniel Lee) on the panel session titled Perspectives of New Information Professionals are representative of their generation then our future is in very capable hands.

SLA Alignment Project

SLA is funding a project with Fleishman-Hillard, the international consulting firm which is leading a team made up of Outsell and Social Technologies. The Alignment Project will be consulting widely both inside and outside the information profession to help SLA anticipate the future and create a strong and relevant brand.

Breaking down stereotypes of librarians

Librarians often suffer from stereotypes in the media, but in my experience many information professionals do somewhat lack in confidence. So it was fascinating to hear Stephen Abram the current President of SLA refer to his early years, when he could never imagine becoming a leader both in his career and of a global association. Having known Stephen for quite a few years now, it came as a big surprise to find out how far he has had to come to reach this point.

Another commonly occurring trait in librarians (which is almost never covered by the media) is their inner strength. I think of it as the opposite of the description of Israelis as Sabras. (Sabra (Hebrew: צבר‎) is a term used to describe a native-born Israeli Jew. The word is derived from the Hebrew name for the prickly pear cactus, i.e. “tzabar”. The allusion is to a tenacious, thorny desert plant with a thick hide that conceals a sweet, softer interior, i.e., rough and masculine on the outside, but delicate and sensitive on the inside. Wikipedia)

Instead, the librarian has a soft outer shell, but inside is a core of steel. An excellent example of this is Ann Sparanese, a librarian at Englewood Library in New Jersey. She is credited (and gets a foreword mention to prove it) with saving Michael Moore’s first book Stupid White Men. To quote Moore, “Librarians see themselves as the guardians of the First Amendment. You got a thousand Mother Joneses at the barricades! I love the librarians, and I am grateful for them!” Salon website.

Adding value to our services

According to research done by Barbara Quint, Google answers as many questions in 30 minutes as all librarians in the world answer at reference desks in 15 years. So the only way to keep ahead of this type of competition is to constantly add value to our service. We need to understand our customers needs better and work more closely with them. That way we can become more of a consultancy service than just providing quick and simple reference answers. This is a topic I have written about in Moving from readers to customers to clients in the Business & IP Centre at the British Library, Business Information Review, Vol. 25, No. 2, 125-126 2008

The Future of the information profession part 1: Report from SLA2008

SLA 2008 SeattleI have just from the annual SLA conference which this year was in Seattle. It was strange returning to the city of my very first SLA event ten years ago. Then I was very green information professional and spent most of the four days trying to get my head around the complexities SLA, the conference and cultural differences between the UK and the USA.

This time I was there to fulfil my commitments as co-convener of the Fellows annual meeting, the First Timers Event and to Chair the Public Policy Advisory Council. Since being made a fellow of the SLA in Baltimore in 2006 I was expecting to be required to continue to contribute to the association.

I was more than happy to be involved with the First Timers Event which is held at the beginning of the five days of conference. I passionately believe in encouraging and supporting new entrants into the information profession. So helping to explain how to get the best out of the conference and to enable networking, as well as the opportunity to find mentors is a job I was happy to do.

The loud buzz in the room from the 300 or so who turned up to the meeting indicated they were more than ready to network with their fellow information professionals.

Chairing the Public Policy Advisory Council gave me great opportunity to be involved with SLA’s effective efforts during 2007 and 2008 to campaign against library closures in the US Government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as a host of other activities. In the case of the EPA libraries, SLA in the form of Doug Newcomb (Chief Policy Officer) and Janice Lachance (SLA CEO) had been in the vanguard of the move to prevent the closures without due consideration and discussion.

Breakfast with Sue Hill to discuss the future of the information profession

I was privileged to be invited to the first Sue Hill Recruitment breakfast discussion last month. These are intended to be networking events for experienced researchers, information professionals and librarians. Having known Sue Hill (the founder and director of the 30 staff company) for more years than I care to mention, going back to the early days of my information career, it was flattering to receive an invitation.

Consequently I made an exception to my strict rule of never attending breakfast meetings (a result of 5.30am starts necessitated by my rural location). However, I’m glad I made the effort because I met several new interesting colleagues. This came as something of a surprise as after nearly 20 years of attending meetings and conferences I thought I hat met nearly all my peers.

Sue HillAfter the initial introductions, during which many of the attendees also revealed Sue’s positive influence over their early information careers, we got down to the serious topic of the future of the information profession. Given the current economic climate, in which services such as libraries and information departments are often the first in line for cuts, plus the more general recent trend to outsource service departments, this was not a theoretical question.

The consensus around the table was that information professionals need to become much more flexible than before, and give more emphasis to continuing professional development (CPD). We need to develop a higher level of technical understanding, improve our general business skills and ensure we understand the business of the organisations we work for to ensure we align our services to these.

It was agreed that failure to look outside of the confines of our information departments, and to become more engaged within our organisations (particularly with senior management). And even more importantly in my view. to move our services up the value chain, would lead to the demise of the profession. Standing still (even if our services are already good) is no longer enough.

Henry Ford didn’t succeed by asking his customers what they wanted

The June issue of Inventique, the newsletter of the Wessex Round Table of Inventors has an interesting article by Sir James Dyson, the renowned inventor of the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner, amongst many others.

He quotes Henry Ford the pioneer of popular motoring, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Although familiar with his line, “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”, I hadn’t come across this one before.

What I like about it (although some might say that it was written with the benefit of hindsight) is the way it illustrates the limited thinking of most business people. In particular the approach that seeks customer requested minor improvements, instead of radical leaps. It is only those with a vision of the future who are able to make significant changes to the way we lead our lives.

Ford MondeoWhat is ironic about the Henry Ford quote above is that it was the Ford motor company of the UK who produced one of the blandest models in recent memory, in the shape of the MK1 Mondeo. The cautious styling of this car was a direct result of the negative press the revolutionary Sierra received when first launched in 1993. Consequently the Mondeo is often cited as the most clinicked car of all time. So many potential customers were consulted that the resulting model became the definition of middle of the road boring. The phrase ‘Mondeo Man’ was used to describe the epitome of middle England values.

I am glad to report that Ford learnt from this mistake and have since produced several out of the ordinary models such as the Ka, Focus and even the replacement Mondeo.

How to get your business into the press

An often neglected form of marketing for business is the press and PR.

In order to help with this tricky topic for newcomers the Business & IP Centre has joined forces with GMT events to provide a series of Get Noticed events.

The right mention in the right publication can have a massive impact on orders for companies of all sizes. It can attract new business partners and can even help a growing business secure funding.

The first event was held on May 22nd, attracting a full house of delegates who heard some inspirational insights into the news media and the world of PR. Delegates heard from Fleet Street journalist and chairman of Europe’s largest media training company, Keith Elliott, from Tracey Hobbs, editor of the BBC2′s Working Lunch, and Richard Tyler, enterprise editor at The Daily Telegraph.

Then the PR speakers, including Francis Ingham, (Public Relations Consultants Association),
Crispin Manners, (Kaizo), Susanna Simpson, (Limelight PR) and Michael Hayman, (The Communication Group) talked about how PR agencies operate, about word-of-mouth marketing, and about why you are your company’s biggest asset.

The next event is on July 10th an includes Phil Halliday from the Financial Times on what makes a news story for one of the world’s most trusted business newspapers.

David Lester the founder of Crimson Business will share his expertise on raising a company’s profile via business magazines.

Sally O’Sullivan, former editor-in-chief at IPC Magazines will look at how consumer and customer magazines operate and how you and your business can feature.

Paula Gardner runs Do Your Own PR, a business that teaches companies of all sizes how to use PR to create interest, keep up with and surpass the competition and generally move up to the next level.

Francis Ingham, director general of the Public Relations Consultants Association, will explain how agencies operate, how to choose the most appropriate one for you – and tell you what PR firms can and cannot do for your business.

Adrienne Routledge, founder of Sapphire PR, a specialist business-to-business public relations agency, will look at how to get the most out of a PR agency.

Kaizo CEO Crispin Manners will cover word-of-mouth marketing.

Booking details from http://www.gmtevents.co.uk/booknow.htm.

Aga goes Web 2.0

Aga CookerHaving grown up cooking with and now the owner of an Aga cooker, I was fascinated to discover that the company is now engaging with social networking by establishing This is my Aga. This web-site very cleverly capitalises on the immense loyalty Aga owners often have to their cookers. Associated with an often life-long ownership are customer stories, varying from farmers who have used the warming oven to save freezing sheep, to tips on how to make the best bread or cakes.

This is my Aga site uses a Google Maps mashup to encourage you to plot your Aga onto a map of the UK. You can then find the nearest Aga to you with (or without) a story. Or search the database to find where all the Aga’s with the same colour (dark blue in my case) are located. Hundreds of people have already registered, but as with any Web 2.0 approach there are risks involved in giving customers a free hand to comment.

Burnt AgaLet down and Disappointment – Sandy
My parents had a aga in 1931 when I was born, and had others for the rest of their lives. My wife and I have had them for the last thirty years and she regularly bakes ten loaves at a time for village functions. The photograph shows the result of the fire after our engineer fitting a new but faulty control unit supplied by aga to our twenty year old aga in December 2007. The Aga is not yet working again 17/05/08. Aga replaced the whole front, doors and all on the 21st of May and it is now better insulated than before, but looks odd with the old top and new bottom We are still very disappointed with the Customer Service Department they are not what the used to be, and are still in dispute with them,

Designing Demand for small business

Last month I attended a fascinating and inspiring session organised by Grant Thornton and Design London.

The Designing Demand programme was developed by the Design Council and is delivered nationally by regional delivery partners. It helps established small and medium enterprises and fast growing new start-up businesses to harness the power of design and transform their business performance.

Designing Demand

The three-hour workshop provided advice on how to recognise situations where design can benefit business. They had some very impressive examples of how design can improve the bottom line for a company with a small up front expense.

One of the most memorable was waste management business Envirotech whose unglamorous business model mainly consisted of collecting and disposing of sewage with tankers.

By re-designing their brand identity from Envirotech old logo to Serious Shit their core areas of business have leapt by 75 per cent to just under £2million. Demand for the new maintenance business and tanker work has increased, bringing total turnover for 2005 to £2.5m.

Designing Demand will be hosting a number of one-day Design Workshop for SMEs, and if you think you would benefit you can book online at http://lda.designingdemand.org.uk