I was just waiting for the fallout. News of Kiddle, the new google-like ‘safe’ search engine for kids splashed onto the scene over the weekend. In the beginning, most of the tweets in my feed were just quick retweets of news articles introducing the service and a few comments that it wasn’t actually a google product, but rather, used the google safe-search platform. Kids can choose to search by web, images, news or video. The first three results are handpicked by editors to include only articles written for children; results four through seven are also supervised by the editors and include content that is deemed simple enough for children to make use of; and the rest of the results simply rely on google safe-search filters without editor input. Wait, back up…did I just say ‘handpicked by editors’? Yup. Here’s the story as it unrolled on Twitter depicted in my storify.
Join us to learn how to market yourself, conduct a strategic job search, and meet other 20-something job seekers. We’ll convene at the library to discuss job search strategies, and then board the party bus to partake in one of North County’s most beloved pastimes: craft beer tasting.
Where: The Vista Public Library, 700 Eucalyptus Ave Vista, CA 92084
When: Tuesday, July 8th, 2014 5:30 – 7:30 PM
What: Ms. Ima Careerpro, professional career counselor and Miss Creant, library student, will provide some hands on instruction and advice and then we’ll all head over to Mother Earth Brewery for a complimentary taste flight and an open discussion in a supportive environment. The party bus will drop you back off at the library by 7:30 PM.
Why: 1) Being prepared is key to finding a good job; 2) The library has great resources for job seekers; 3) Your community cares about you!
First come, first serve. Sign up by June 15 [here] or in-person at the library: 700 Eucalyptus Ave. Vista, CA 92084 Bring your ID’s.
Questions? Direct them to: email@example.com
Community Engagement Plan: Recent College Graduates Seeking Employment
The purpose of this plan is to develop a consensus on the need for, and the feasibility of, increasing the library’s engagement with recent college graduates who are looking for employment. Prior to discussing the community analysis and the details of the plan, let us look at the impetus for the idea:
Why Recent College Graduates?
It is widely known than an alarming number of college graduates in the United States are already in debt when they graduate and begin looking for jobs. Research shows that, amongst those graduates (bachelor’s) who are able to secure a full time job, about 30% end up mal-employed, or in unsuitable jobs that do not utilize their skills and education (Fogg & Harrington, 2011). In addition, these young, mal-employed college graduates fall way behind financially, compared to their their peers who are earning nearly twice as much (95% more) in more fitting jobs.(Fogg & Harrington, 2011).
The financial and emotional burden of watching our ‘best and brightest’ falter is something that our community should and can address. Workforce development is an ongoing concern that the city, the library, and numerous other community stakeholders have been working on. This community engagement plan suggests that those efforts could be bolstered and expanded by outreach strategies aimed specifically at recent college graduates. Given that nearly 10,000 college graduates joined the unemployed pool last year,with similar numbers in store this year, closer engagement with this demographic is warranted (SD Workforce Partnership, 2013).
The plan ties in well with the recent branding initiative that Vista and her sister cities of Carlsbad, Escondido, Oceanside and San Marcos are collaborating on to make North County a regional hub for business and job creation (Yee, 2014). Having already identified the key advantages and quality of life assets that make North County appealing to businesses, the next stage of the initiative is to develop a marketing plan that focuses on job creation (North County, 2013). The timing seems ripe to engage the talent that will help fuel this growth.
Why the Library?
Public libraries are widely understood as trusted community assets. As Lee Rainie, Director of Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project says, “Libraries have a mandate to intervene in community life” (Rainie, 2013, slide 30). As non-partisan, non-profit, and highly localized institutions, they are in a unique position of being able to help solve entrenched community problems as well as foster and celebrate community enrichment.
Increasingly, libraries are fulfilling this mandate by expanding their reach beyond being repositories of books, computers, databases and other resources, toward becoming facilitators of community development. In fact, recent research by OCLC found that: “the greatest areas for growth and success for libraries in the networked world occurred when libraries took their materials, services and expertise further away from the center of traditional library contexts” (Havens & Storey, 2013). When libraries move beyond traditional services within their own walls and out into the community, they are more in touch with the issues at hand and can then better align their programs with the individual aspirations of their patrons and with the collective goals of local government and business.
San Diego County Library (SDCL), winner of the 2012 Gale/Library Journal ‘Library of the Year’ award, understands this principle and has been working toward empowering the public with a strategic plan that identifies “educated and prosperous communities” as two new priority programming areas (Berry, 2012). Specifically, the Strategic Goals/Operational Objectives for Programs and Services in SDCL’s 2007-2012 strategic plan lists, “Create enriching experiences to engage youth and their families in activities that will help them reach their full potential as adults”, including “Review[ing] the adult program plan specific to community interests (computer classes/training)” (SDCL, 2012, p. 3). The strategic plan goes on to suggest partnerships and collaboration, “with the broadest possible spectrum of community organizations” (SDCL, 2012, p. 4). Partnering with local government, businesses and organizations to help recent college graduates land good jobs is squarely within the purview of SDCL’s plan.
Why Craft Beer?
Fighting for mindshare of 20-something job-seekers will take some ingenuity and a bit of pluck. We need to capture their attention by relating to this cohort in a familiar yet exciting way. Craft beer fits the bill on a number of levels:
It’s not just about alcohol. The craft beer community is a true community. It has social norms, a devoted following, and a philanthropic bent. As a counter-culture industry that rejects corporate conglomeration in favor small-scale production of inventive artisan brew, San Diego breweries maintain a tight knit community interested in “spread[ing] that mentality that the rising tide floats all boats” (Yu, 2014, loc. 5:40). Millennials respond well to these kinds of community-minded companies and activities, and are eager to be a part of them.
The library can piggyback its program on the momentum of the San Diego craft beer industry. As a $781.5 million a year local industry, it has a substantial and growing impact on San Diego County, according to a recent study by the National University System Institute for Policy Research (NUSIPR, 2013). As the Journal of San Diego History notes, “by [the year] 2000, everyone from starving college students to working professionals was interested in craft beer” (Liwag, 2007, p. 34). The enthusiasm continues to this day. Our fair city, Vista, has become the unofficial capital of the North County brewing community, with its numerous breweries enjoying the support of key leadership. Vista’s mayor, Judy Ritter, lists “Emerging distinction of Vista as the micro brewery capital of North County” as one of her “accomplishments” in her City Council biography (Vista, 2014).
Many library programs owe their success to meeting people where they are; not waiting for them to knock on the library’s door. If craft beer happens to be a hot spot in our local community- galvanizing residents, increasing business opportunities, and garnering the support of local government- then it may also be a wonderful partner for a library interested in community development. The library needs to be everywhere: it’s in the schools, in the clinics, at the farmer’s market. It should be in the breweries.
Community Analysis: Twenty-Something Recent-College-Graduates
Our target audience is where millennials intersect with the broader categories of job seekers and college graduates. Millennials, also known as “Generation Y”, are generally understood as the cohort born between 1980 and 2000. For our purposes, we will zero in on the mid-section of that range and call them “20-somethings”.
Characteristics of 20-Somethings
20-somethings are widely understood to be heavy users of social media who prize expediency (some would call this a need for instant gratification) and expect highly personalized services delivered on mobile platforms. These characteristics can be traced back to the cohort’s high rates of technology adoption and their deep immersion in the ‘hyperlinked’ world of the internet where everything is simply ‘a click away’. Beyond their technical savvy, members of this cohort are broadly recognized as adaptable team-players with a strong sense of community (Schewe et al. 2013).
Public Library Usage
While a recent Pew Research Center report found that Americans under age 30 are just as likely to visit a public library as older adults- with over half (56%) of the 18-24 year-olds having visited a public library within the last 12 months- there is a lingering sense amongst librarians that maintaining a connection with this cohort remains elusive (Pew Research Center, 2013). This finding frames my own observations of the local library wherein the majority of users seem to be young children accompanied by their parents, retirees, or teenagers biding their time between school and home. If there was a big group of 20-somethings, I surely didn’t recognize them. Perhaps it’s just that this cohort tends to use the library differently than those over the age of 30. Younger Americans are significantly more likely to access library services remotely than their older counterparts, and Americans aged 16-29 are particularly interested in apps to locate materials and/or access services on their phone, as well as library kiosks at different locations in the community (Pew Research Center, 2013). Nevertheless, these ‘digital natives’ still enjoy print media and their library preferences also reflect a desire to use the brick-and-mortar library as a ‘third space’ – not quite home, but not quite school or work either (Griffin, 2013).
College Grads May Underestimate Their Own Needs
Despite their comparatively healthy use of the public library and their reported assertion that librarians, research databases, and job/career resources are “very important”, young Americans do not perceive the public library as a “valuable asset” in their own lives (Pew Research Center, 2013, p. 5). Of that demographic, college graduates may be even less likely to view the library as a personal asset, placing all their trust in their own information-seeking skills and an internet connection. However, some research suggests that the digital prowess of millennials is overstated and that while they may be quite used to searching the internet for information, they are not adept at harnessing it for research (Becker, 2012). It is likely they could use some help to develop a more strategic job search.
Recent research shows that millennials are the most optimistic of any cohort about their employment prospects, despite the rather grim reality (Pew Research Center, 2012). According to the City of Vista’s 2012/2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the local economy has been experiencing a slow recovery with an unemployment rate of 8.2% in 2013, down from 10.6% in 2012 but still relatively high (Vista, 2013). Stronger job recovery as well as growth will be needed to return to 2006 levels of 4.4% unemployment or even to catch up to the county-wide (San Diego) unemployment rate of 7%.
Most grads are already armed with technology, particularly laptops and/or tablets and smart phones, but they do have instructional needs along the lines of information literacy and the development of a strategic approach to employment research, including the optimization of social networking sites like Google+ and LinkedIn. Extant resources in this domain are prolific on-line and through a variety of channels, including college career centers, alumni associations, the San Diego Workforce Development Partnership, and even the library. What’s missing is a centralized support network and personal involvement at the local level.
The emerging adulthood literature demonstrates that the college to career transition can be quite a challenging period and calls for further research into how the community can help. (Murphy, Blustein, Bohlig & Platt, 2010; Wendlandt & Rochlen, 2008). Indeed, being “in between” without a clear ending in site can be an unsettling, disorienting and lonely experience. With the public library as a hub for a diversified network of supporters including career counselors, librarians, business representatives, teachers and friends, a local support net can be created to inform, empower and embrace this educated yet vulnerable cohort.
How Do 20-something Recent-College-Graduates Look for Work?
While college career centers stress the importance of thoroughly researching companies and industries as part of the job seeking process, many students and recent graduates simply turn to on-line job boards and classified ads to look for jobs. A recent multi generational job search survey found that all generations (Gen X, Gen Y, and Baby Boomers) gravitate to on-line job boards as their top resource (Millennial Branding, 2012). According to Millennial Branding’s survey results, the use of social media for job seeking by Gen Y breaks down as follows:
35% use Google+
23% use LinkedIn
21% use Facebook
8% use Twitter
Although unscientific, a quick reality check with a local 20-something recent-college-graduate confirms some of these claims, if not the order of preference.
Text Message Dialog:
Me: “What resources do you think most new grads use to look for employment?”
Her: “I would have to say, Craigslist, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook”
Me “Awesome. Do you personally use any/all of these?”
Her: “I mainly use LinkedIn, [company] websites, and Craigslist”
We also discussed making use of college career centers and alumni associations, but she claims that she and her friends rely on their own search process rather than pay the fee to access alumni association/ college career center resources, which are no longer free after graduation.
This is a preliminary investigation that introduces the opportunities associated with a strengthened engagement with the local 20-something recent-college-graduate community. It is expected that a detailed action plan will follow if consensus for implementation emerges amongst library leadership, local government, and local business, based on input from the recent-college-graduate community itself and other stakeholders.
This proposal is limited geographically to Vista, California and capitalizes on the momentum of Vista as the up-and-coming ‘capital’ of the North County craft beer industry. The intention is to use local brewery visits to capture the attention of 20-somethings, but the program could certainly embrace other business verticals if deemed effective.
This plan introduces just one event (as described in the mock flyer at the beginning of the document), but it is expected that a series of similar events will follow in order to reach more target users, introduce a range of north county breweries / businesses and to leverage a variety of outreach channels, both virtual and physical, so that an ongoing relationship with the target market can be achieved.
Engagement Goals & Objectives
While the primary target audience of this engagement plan is 20-something recent-college-grads, the overall goal is to engage the wider community in a group effort to empower recent college grads in such a way that benefits the community as a whole. To this end, the proposed program aims to:
Convince recent college grads that by participating in the program they will have fun, learn vital skills and establish a network of support which will improve their chances for locating suitable employment because a strategic job search can make the difference between an okay job and a fantastic one.
Convince local breweries that by giving back to their community they are demonstrating the enormous value that the craft beer brewing industry has always placed on maintaining a culture of collaboration which will enhance their position as good neighbors because businesses do well by doing good.
Convince the library that by facilitating a community-wide effort to help recent college grads land suitable jobs it will be developing a greater connection with these young, educated, community-focused users while simultaneously positioning itself as a community development hub which will positively influence library advocacy and funding efforts because the value-add proposition of the library increases dramatically when when its programs are closely aligned with the pressing interests of the community.
The more specific objectives of the program can be broken down into short, medium and long-term time frames:
Short Term (Immediately – 1 year)
The target group will increase their information literacy skills, particularly in the areas of personal learning networks, database search and advanced use of social media for job searching.
More target group members will secure suitable employment.
The library (or group of SDCL libraries) will experience increased awareness and use by the target group.
A community of recent grads will be developed for continued peer-to-peer support beyond the program.
Local breweries and city governments have will have press-worthy news.
Medium Term (1-2 years)
Successful program participants will act as ‘evangelizers’ furthering the ‘buzz’ for the library in general and the program in particular.
As a result of the program, the library (or group of SDCL libraries) will increase their employment-related resources that can be applied to other users/populations.
The library will be recognized as a facilitator of community development and will experience an increase in community-based proposals/programs.
Long Term (3-5 years)
The library will collect a series of personal accounts and program statics that will enable it to tell a compelling story of the symbiotic relationship between the library, its patrons, local business and city government.
While not all participants will find jobs locally, many will, furthering the goal to lower unemployment and helping to position North County as a vital business hub. It will also directly support SDCL’s strategic goals / operational objectives for programs and services.
An ongoing relationship between the library and the 20-something demographic will help energize library services.
Assessment is tied to the program objectives (see above). The objectives are tied to the program goals, which are in turn tied to the library’s mission, goals and values, as well as the goals of local business and government. To evaluate the overall program strategy, all stated objectives must be measurable. As they are written now, the objectives are mostly measurable through pre-and post instructional evaluation, basic tallies/counts, and via survey and informational interviews. It is expected that this plan will go through a series of changes, large and small, as the document circulates and begins to gain consensus. At that point, assessment must be revisited and then built into the plan as an on-going exercise that informs the subsequent iterations of the program. It should be noted that a similar program by Bensenville Public Library attributes its success largely to a commitment to continuous engagement with participants, using routine personal check-ins and phone calls to follow up: “This ongoing dialogue has helped cement community trust in the library and created a meaningful feedback loop” (Tech Soup, 2014).
The proposed program relies largely on the complimentary beer tasting to encourage participation. We are optimistic that the program’s association with the craft brewery scene, combined with the underlying desire for assistance with securing a suitable job, will be enough to motivate our target audience to act.
The program must also encourage breweries and local volunteers to participate. For this, our message could reiterate the idea that these community stakeholders, together with the library, are both service provider and beneficiary. Breweries benefit from being good neighbors, and community ‘experts’ like career counselors are are always looking for extra positive exposure, while library students seek practical experience to bolster their own resume.
How Will We Get Our Message Out?
Our best bet may lie in mimicking the type of grassroots-style marketing that Stone Brewery does, relying on websites, social media and word of mouth, rather than more traditional print media and advertising to get the word out. This means promoting the event on the library website, it’s Facebook page and to it’s Twitter followers. Crucially, it also means getting the breweries, the volunteers, the city, and the program participants to do the same. Breweries themselves have recognized the payoff of social media marketing and many employ TapHunter to craft creative strategies for them. It might be worth putting a call into Tatiana Peavey, TapHunter’s Director of Business Development, to bounce some ideas around. In addition, it may prove worthwhile to approach the Vista Brewers Guild, an active and passionate group that reaches out to home brewers and craft beer enthusiasts- and the WestCoaster, a website that hosts a digital (and print) monthly brewing industry magazine, an informative blog, event calendar, and beer directory.
We will also take cues from the library discovery literature which concludes that overcoming barriers to discovery involves finding ways for the library to infiltrate the target market’s network of trusted resources (Gabridge, Gaskell & Stout, 2008). This means adding links to our program information on sites where our target market already frequents. According to the literature, this includes Google,Craigslist, JobBoards, and LinkedIn. Foursquare and Pinterest hold potential as well. Finally, for highly local programs like this one, old-school print flyers in cafes, on campus, in restaurants and other 20-something haunts is a potentially cost-effective effort.
The largest costs are associated with library staff hours to develop, negotiate, administer and evaluate the program. A number of resources are already in place at the library, such as databases, on-line resources, and extant instructional content, however, much of the highly personalized support will come from a network of community members volunteering their time, including career counselors and library students. Effective peer-to-peer support will be dependent on a healthy uptake of program participants.
Potential Limitations to Consider
We do not want to reinvent the wheel, or step on any toes. Many local organizations are involved in career development. The various college career centers and alumni associations, the San Diego Workforce Partnership, and the Vista Workforce Roundtable are good starting points for opening up the conversation for potential collaboration opportunities.
Some community members may take issue with associating themselves and/or the library with the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Further, while the the program uses a bus to shuttle participants to and from the brewery, participants must drive themselves home after being dropped off at the library.
It may be difficult to procure complimentary party bus services.
Given the sizeable population of job seekers without a college degree, this program may be viewed as non-essential or as diverting efforts away from an even more vulnerable demographic.
How effective can this program be in the midst of the broader issue of needing to attract more businesses and jobs overall to the region?
Becker, C. H. (2012). Student Values and Research: Are Millennials Really Changing the Future of Reference and Research?. Journal Of Library Administration, 52(6/7), 474-497. doi:10.1080/01930826.2012.707948
Fogg, N. P., & Harrington, P. E. (2011). Rising Mal-Employment and the Great Recession: The Growing Disconnection between Recent College Graduates and the College Labor Market. Continuing Higher Education Review, 7551-65. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/?id=EJ967808
Gabridge, T., Gaskell, M., & Stout, A. (2008). Information seeking through students’ eyes: The MIT photo diary study. College & Research Libraries, 69(6), 510-523.
Schewe, C. D., Debevec, K., Madden, T. J., Diamond, W. D., Parment, A., & Murphy, A. (2013). “If You’ve Seen One, You’ve Seen Them All!” Are Young Millennials the Same Worldwide?. Journal Of International Consumer Marketing, 25(1), 3-15. doi:10.1080/08961530.2013.751791
Libraries are sometimes referred to as a Third Place; not home, but not quite work or school. The Third Place is a comfortable, welcoming, productive community environment. It operates and thrives on elements that may seem mutually exclusive, such as comfortable and productive. Likewise, the public library exists as a non-profit service, yet is increasingly subject to for-profit market valuation.
In a time of increased scrutiny over public dollar expenditures, libraries are under pressure to demonstrate their value. It occurs to me that assessing the value of public libraries may benefit from a Third Way, or a middle ground of sorts, that lies somewhere between the unabashed application of market logic and the complete spurning of it. Daniel Bailey’s recent ode to the importance of the public library argues that our beloved institution is a public good and therefore above and beyond market logic. He laments the stranglehold that the market-based ideological framework has over library funding, concerned that “TINA (There Is No Alternative) style discourses have come to circumvent any deeper questioning of public library sustainability” (Bailey, 2014). To be clear, I’m with Bailey: I see the library as an essential public good and am distraught about the ongoing widespread library budget reductions and closures. But I wonder: is there a Third Way of assigning value to the public library?
Measuring Impact Instead of Performance
Fortunately, libraries are beginning to make their way out of the fog of circulation statistics, recognizing that simple input/output metrics can neither capture the full value of the public library nor tell a story compelling enough to grab the attention of policy-makers. As Bailey points out, library valuation has coalesced around the adoption of econometric tools, formerly reserved for business and industry. For sure, the argument that the community receives four dollars in benefits for each tax dollar spent on library services is both succinct and attention-grabbing (Aabo, 2009). It is also a step in the right direction, away from tracking performance goals toward evaluating impact (Streatfield, 2012). In addition, new methods originating from the field of environmental economics have given us a way to put a monetary value on intangible, non-market goods- the very things that reflect the original and continued mission of public libraries, including: civic engagement, literacy, social inclusion, and cultural heritage preservation. Thus, I think there may be room to accommodate a broader vision of library economic valuation, if not only for practical purposes (when in Rome…) but also because library valuation methodologies are becoming increasingly sensitive to quantifying what was previously unquantifiable.
The Third Way
Nevertheless, the degree to which library economic valuation can effectively measure the full social impact of the public library is still a matter of debate. Many believe that focusing exclusively on monetary values may obscure the library’s true value. But there is a Third Way. It transcends circulation statistics and anecdotal evidence as well as a purely economic rationale, and instead focuses on linking library outcomes, or impacts, to specific public policy goals. By aligning library services and programs with the pressing interests of local leadership, such as civic engagement, eBusiness/eGovernment, education, and employmement, the Third Way positions libraries as essential partners in the business of civic leadership. The Global Library Initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has found that employing a range of empirical impact evidence works best to illustrate the role of libraries in the realization of key social goals. By combining both numbers and stories, the Global Library Initiative valuation studies aim to provide a nuanced demonstration of library value that makes a compelling correlation between the act of funding libraries and the ability to achieve public policy goals (Sawaya et al., 2011). Surely, this kind of work is proof that not all ‘deeper questioning of public library sustainability’ has been squashed out of existence.
.. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Many thanks to the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) blog, and especially to Daniel Bailey, for keeping the public library conversation going. The thoughts I have expressed above originate from my article, Demonstrating the Value of the Public Library: Economic Valuation and the Advocacy Imperative, which you can have a look at here.
Aabo, S. (2009). Libraries and return on investment (ROI): A meta-analysis. New Library World, 110(7), 311-324. doi: 10.1108/03074.800910975142
Bailey, D. (2014, February 23). We must defend public libraries from the threat of a market-based ideological framework [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/archives/39640
Sawaya , J., Maswabi, T., Taolo, R., Andrade, P., Grez, M., Pacheco, P., Kochanowicz, M. (2011). Advocacy and evidence for sustainable public computer access – experiences from the Global Libraries Initiative. Library Review, 60(6), 448-472. doi:10.1108/00242531111147189
Streatfield, D. (2012). Impact planning and assessment of public libraries: a country level perspective. Performance Measurement & Metrics, 13(1), 8-14. doi: 10.1108/14678041211228535
In his 2008 book, Setting the Table, wildly successful restaurateur Danny Meyer shares his favorite quote: “It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and intertwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others” (Kennedy Fisher, 1943, as quoted in Meyer, loc. 2023). What does that have to do with libraries? Just as restaurants are about more than menus, libraries are about more than books. In the end, both restaurants and libraries are about people. Setting the Table offers customer service lessons that are directly relevant to libraries seeking to develop a deep sense of community. Danny Meyer is an expert in creating positive outcomes for his patrons by ensuring they feel like they belong there. Two of Meyer’s key concepts: hospitality and context can be mapped to one of the most exciting and important trends affecting libraries today: participatory service. In fact, Meyer’s unique take on what it means to be hospitable, expressed through a set of coherent, hard-nosed yet deeply personal lessons are applicable to all libraries everywhere- not only those aiming for excellence, but even those that are simply trying to stay afloat during a time in which disruptive technologies are demanding the creative evolution of libraries.
The big kahuna of disruption is, of course, the World Wide Web. In its wake we find a changed socio-technical landscape in which a web-enabled read/write participatory culture expects information to be ubiquitous, easy to find, highly personal and interactive. These expectations are driving libraries to morph from information gatekeepers into learning platforms, resulting in deep user participation and wider community development. In this scenario, libraries focus on developing meaningful dialogues with their community and on finding the right context for value-added services. This reimagined library can be understood as the participatory library and it is nothing if not user-driven. It turns out, the participatory library is not unlike a well-run restaurant.
I’m on Your Side! Hospitality as a Customer Service Tool
The term customer service is about as dry as a boneless, skinless chicken breast cooked on the grill. Yet, in the hands of Danny Meyer, it becomes succulent. For Meyer, taking good care of customers boils down one inescapable, essential and even innate factor: the generous extension of hospitality. Meyer has a unique brand of hospitality that results in the unmistakable feeling that the restaurant and it’s employees are “on your side” (Meyer, 2008, loc. 188). Not only do they recognize you and want to serve you, but they want you to win. For example, in Meyer’s restaurants reservationists are prized because they are the initial point of customer contact and are trained to be “agents vs. gatekeepers”; their purpose is to “make things happen” for the client (Meyer, 2008, loc. 3818). A Zagat Survey participant reports, “The reservationists even feel badly when they can’t accommodate you” (Meyer, 2008, loc. 3830). All of Meyer’s employees are tasked with “figur[ing] out whatever it takes to make the guests feel and understand that we are in their corner” (Meyer, 2008, loc. 1069). There are stories of waitstaff who extended no-questions-asked credit to a woman who left her wallet and cell phone in a taxicab, (while she enjoyed her meal, the staff traveled all the way uptown to retrieve her belongings); of a staff member offering to return to a patron’s home in order to transfer a forgotten bottle of champagne from the fridge to the freezer before it had a chance to explode (and leaving behind a box of chocolates and a handwritten note wishing the couple a happy anniversary); of creating a dessert that a patron had merely mentioned in conversation and presenting it at the end of the night. These stories are sensational in order to illustrate the concept. But the reality is that this kind of upgraded hospitality has been institutionalized across all of Meyer’s restaurants and is truly the source of his success. His employees do this in their sleep. In fact, they were born to do this- Meyer’s strategy from the get go was to to pick the right people and then empower them to shine.
Be the Girl Who Does Stuff: Hospitality in the Library
It’s easy to imagine how far the concept of “making things happen” could take a library. Librarians who are truly “on your side” are outcome-focused, not format-focused. They take the long view. So, yes, they want to solve your immediate problem, such as locating the “story about a girl who does stuff”, but they know that their ultimate goal is to somehow enable that young patron to be the girl who does stuff (McKinney, 2014). These kinds of librarians, including our own @mollymckinney, are not gatekeepers, they are agents. And they belong in the participatory library.
Like Meyer’s restaurants, the participatory library is first and foremost a place where people gather. “A business that doesn’t understand its raison d’etre as fostering community will inevitably underperform” warns Meyer (Meyer, 2008, loc. 2111). Hence, the “stuff” of a library, like the food in Meyer’s restaurants, can be seen as secondary to the community it engenders, the ideas it fosters, and the opportunities it enables. Participatory libraries, a la DOK Delft (aka “Library Concept Center”) and The Human Library
where you can check out a person, are places where people- patrons and employees- participate to make things happen. This kind of library becomes a platform for action, dialogue and outcomes, not a container for “stuff” (Schmidt, 2010). As David Weinberger puts it, “libraries as platforms [focus] our attention away from the provisioning of resources to the foment those resources engender. A library as platform would give rise to messy, rich networks of people and ideas, continuously sparked and maintained by the library’s resources. A library as platform is more how than where, more hyperlinks than container, more hubbub than hub” (Weinberger, 2012). In order to evolve beyond the container model towards a more participatory, library-as-platform model, libraries must heed Meyer’s warning: it’s about the community, stupid.
Hospitality in the Right Context
To create a deep sense of belonging, Meyer advocates an active, conscious, and genuine form of hospitality. But for this to work, context is crucial. Having the right context is about a restaurant, or a library, or a business, or even a piece of architecture that is for and of it’s community; it is not imposed on it, but rather indistinguishable from it. Thus, achieving the right context necessarily involves ongoing, lively, purposeful communication between an institution and its constituents. It won’t do to say, “Here is your library.” That’s a monologue. Instead, we might ask “What do you want your library to be?” That is a dialogue.
Once again, Meyer’s take on things is helpful: he differentiates service, which he sees as the technical delivery of product (and essentially a monologue), from hospitality, which he says can be thought of as a dialogue (Meyer, 2008, loc. 1042). As Meyer found out on a fly fishing trip, trout only bite on something that resembles what is actually hatching (Meyer, 2008, loc. 1234). Hooking, or engaging customers in a dialogue, involves spending a lot of time, through a number of different and perhaps unexpected channels, taking genuine interest in discovering what they actually want, what they like, and ultimately where they’re trying to go in life. Explains Meyers, “When we take an active interest in the guests at our restaurants, we create a sense of community and a feeling of shared ownership” (Meyer, 2008, loc. 1240). This, I think, is the cornerstone of the participatory library model. When patrons are invited to participate with library employees and each other:
through interior design that promotes sharing and transparency;
via technologies that break down barriers to access and enhance communication;
through user-defined programs that address real needs through collective action;
by adding their own user-generated content to a library’s permanent collection;
by taking part in regular assessment of the library’s value proposition
there will be a sense of shared ownership. And as the saying goes: together, we can move mountains.
In case you’re not convinced that a restaurateur understands the heartbeat of a library, consider playing this simple word game in which you take the author’s core message, replacing his restaurant words with your own library words, and see if it still hits the nail on the head:
“…beyond [cooking your food] and [doing the dishes], a [restaurant] must provide a public social environment that distinguishes it from the experience of [eating at home] (Meyer, 2008, loc. 3855).
Here’s my take: “…beyond [providing free access to books and computers], a [library] must provide a public social environment that distinguishes it from the experience of [using your computer at home].
McKinney, M. (2014, February 9). A Story About A Girl Who Does Stuff [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/mollymckinney/2014/02/09/a-story-about-a-girl-who-does-stuff/
Meyer, D. (2008) Setting the table. [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Schmidt, A. (2010, October 25). Services before content [Web log post].Walking Paper (Reprinted from Library Journal, June 11, 2010). Retrieved from http://www.walkingpaper.org/2925
The hyperlinked library model is, above-all, user-driven and the one element that makes this all possible is participation. I’m not talking about participation in the sense that ‘it’s everyone’s library – all are welcome’, but rather that everyone is welcome to participate, literally – in planning services, in evaluating services, and by being present and actively engaging with the library community. As Casey (2011) points out, this is waaay beyond “public input.” It’s not even about blogs or Facebook or other social media tools, UNLESS, those tools are engaging patrons in a bi-directional flow of information. It’s about a conversation, not an announcement.
So, we have the LA Public Library crowdsourcing the design of their new facility , libraries offering display space for people’s personal collections, libraries providing digital storytelling tools and maker spaces, tool lending, teen festivals, seed-saving, garden-creating programs- you name it, somewhere somebody had a good idea and it became a reality…at the library. @joleneck said it so perfectly: “If we build it…they may not come. If they build it, they are already there!”
Lightweight Library Programming
In reality, however, we can’t go implementing every idea that gets dreamed up. That’s why I appreciated Harris’ (2006) point about using “lightweight library programming”. Go easy; try it out; don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Have fun with it. Adapt and recover. Harris’ thinking aligns with Mathew’s Think Like A Startup ideas, but is a bit gentler, a skosh less less adventurous. Yet, anything sounds possible with this concept of “lightweight” – it takes the edge of trying something new.
Perhaps he’s also warning us not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We don’t necessarily need a wholesale replacement of all services and systems. Find out what is already working and leave it alone. Similarly, the library doesn’t need to provide all the pieces to the puzzle, or shoulder all of the costs of a new program. Harris’ (2006) conceptualization of the library as a platform instead of sole provider, means that the library provides the space, and even more crucially, the impetus, for the program, but the rest of the community- patrons and partners- can and should bring something to the table. Remember, the magic comes from community participation. Just as the ‘sage on the stage’ model of education is faltering, business hierarchies are being blown flat, and authority structures of all kinds are morphing, so too should the library evolve away from being primarily a provider of free content; of operating with a top-down information flow. Escaping that unwinnable situation means reinventing libraries into what Stephens (2011) calls “community based space focused on helping people.”
Harris (2006) also talked about libraries being “above the level of a single patron” (paragraph 18). Here, he urges libraries to meet community needs in a way that doesn’t impact what was already working for the majority of patrons. This really hits home with me, considering what went down here today at the library. I decided to study at a nearby library because I had heard that it had some neat features, such as a living ‘green’ roof, a teen room, and interesting commons area. And it did. It also had a big hullabaloo. That is, everyone there today experienced a frightening situation. An elderly man left the library and was accosted by a young, and obviously mentally ill, patron who followed him out, shouting profanities and stopping just short of physically abusing him. The screaming insults were heard throughout the library. Mothers pulled their children close. I grabbed my belongings and looked around for an emergency exit. It was not unrealistic to expect gunshots. In the end, nobody was (physically) hurt, but everyone was shook up. That poor old man will probably never set foot in the library again.
So, I kind of hate to bring up this subject when we were so nicely cruising along, but it fits. What are the limits of ‘helping people’? A consistent portion of public library patrons are mentally ill, many of whom are homeless and wind up at the library to escape the streets. These are full-fledged members of our community. We cannot close our doors to them, nor can most of us, turn a blind eye to the situation. To the extent that they are disruptive, problematic patrons prevent libraries from being above the level of a single patron, so to speak. But we cannot pick and choose our patrons- that’s what country clubs are for- so we must come up with a community-wide fix, or at least a patch. In any event, I don’t think libraries can be saddled with too much social work. In the context of ‘service before content’ (Schmidt, 2010) wherein the value of a library is tied to its ability to positively impact the community as a whole, dealing with the homeless-in-the-library problem feels a bit like an unfunded mandate. And not the only one. It is well known that the public library is turning into the unofficial point of access for an increasing array of eGovernment services (Bertot, Jaeger, Langa & McClure, 2006). In 2011, Libraries Connect Communities reported that that 96.6% of libraries helped patrons apply for or access eGovernment services (as cited in Bertot & Jaeger, 2012, p. 32). As early as 2006, Bertot and Jaeger found that government agencies were referring people to the public library for both access and assistance, wherein libraries were increasingly becoming facilitators of eGovernment. Perhaps this is our rightful role- to come in where the government left off, but we can’t do it for free.
Bertot, J.C., Jaeger, P.T., Langa, L.A., McClure, C.R. (2006). Public access computing and internet access in libraries: The role of public libraries in e-government and emergency situations. First Monday (Online), 11(9)
Bertot, J., Jaeger, O., & Sarin L. (2012) Forbes Folly. American Libraries, 43(9/10), 30-33.