Conversations That Count: Quit Listening, Start Leading


The Business of Transformation that Increases Engagement

This blog post comes from Nannette Naught, Senior Consultant at Innovative

Can we talk for a minute? I mean really talk? Like we would, if we were sitting face to face, on my front porch sharing an iced tea in the shade.

I’ll go first … I’m frustrated. I don’t understand why we, as library leaders, are letting search engines define our digital transformation. I don’t understand why librarians — the world’s only specifically educated, internationally connected, continuously funded set of human knowledge interaction experts — are looking to social media as the engagement engine of choice. I want us to quit listening to the digital marketers and remember:

  • We built or at least curated, classified, and preserved this city. Long before anyone ever heard of the web, way back in 1967, library began building rich, relevant machine encoded, human judgment-focused metadata for our collections. Generations before that, librarians, archivists, and museum curators built deep, relevant resource collections, complete with accessible finding aids, to facilitate the learning, research, and knowledge inquiry activities of the governments, institutions, and individuals that define our world. If Pandora can use similar techniques to successfully re-invent radio for the modern era as a connected music library with state of the art music classification, I don’t understand why we can’t use them to re-invent the way our patrons discover and experience knowledge in the 21st century.
  • We understand “it’s all about the base” no trouble, we’re committed to serving diverse, distinct communities. Heck it’s a core value of the profession. Long before anyone consulted Siri, Alexa, or Google Home, library service professionals answered questions and facilitated human inquiry — one person, one purpose, one question at time. We knew relationships mattered and context counted; fitness for purpose to the specific person, addressing a specific informational need, at a given time motivated and guided our support provision. And it still does — we teach it in our core MLIS classes and expand upon it in most of our specialized training from literacy to reference to collection and metadata curation. If digital assistants like Alexa can mimic these techniques to successfully embed themselves in 21st century homes, work life, and cars, can’t we use them to embed library into the life of our users, and their digital assistants of choice?

So what are we waiting for? Ranganathan, Gorman, and Noruzi were right:

  • Save the time of the user.
  • Honor the past and create the future.
  • The web is an ever-growing, ever-changing organism. More than ever, our users — the communities we serve — the governments, institutions, individuals, and, in the modern era, commercial institutions that define our world are overwhelmed by its sheer size & accessibility, its invisible & undocumented biases and motivations, and the speed with which it evolves.

And, as Alexa demonstrates, impact cast in a library light — individual, embedded interactions as opposed to click counts as a measure of engagement — increases both user loyalty and use. [1] And aren’t those exactly the outcomes library is looking to achieve with our transformation that increases engagement efforts? More feet (or resource inquiries and calls) in the door. More grant $$, more student $$, more funding $$ in the door of libraries and the institutions and communities they serve.

All leading to successful achievement of Libraries Transform® goals:

  • Increased awareness of and support for the transforming library.
  • A shift in public perception of library from “obsolete” or “nice to have” to essential.
  • Energized library professionals and external advocates that influence local, state, and national decision makers who ensure sustainable library funding.

All of this leads to library transformation that increases engagement as a viable path to not just library sustainability, but library success. Positioning:

  • Library as a hedge against the risks of the current age — Authority, identity, & literacy in a multimodal [2] digital world. Or to your friend here on the porch sharing a cool beverage with you, a chance for library to re-assert its “good investment” status to its funders and the public at large.
  • Library as a vital aid to the activities required for success in the knowledge economy — Inquiry, learning, & research. Or to this ice tea drinking, digital resource developer with librarian tendencies — a chance for library to achieve “essential services” status, like fire, water, and transportation.

Ready to join the conversation?

  • Call or email me at
  • Visit with Martha Rice Sanders and I at ALA Annual, either in the booth or at our Saturday, June 24th Roundtable: Strategic Skills You Would Like to Acquire and the Business Processes They Support at 3:30 pm in the Hilton Palmer House’s Grant Park Parlor.
  • Invite us into your library — We stand ready and willing to help.
  • Participate in our upcoming Hot Topics Series: Engagement Basics, Digital Literacy Basics, Usability Basics, and Project Management for actionable glimpses into how library leaders are actively transforming libraries using these key techniques.
  • Stay tuned to Conversations that Count as we add the voices of leading library educators, data geeks, and change makers. In fact, watch this space in August for the first installment in our Friends series, when Chris Oliver joins me for a discussion of how library might stop “putting the cart before the horse.”

[1] See Accenture’s Technology Vision 2017 which notes: Introduced just two years ago, with over 3 million installed users, Alexa’s conversations have already led users to spend 50% of their online dollars at Amazon. Further, with Alexa embedded in their home, users buying opportunities are increased by 6% and their total spend by 10%.

[2] Defined as: 1) Involving more than one form of suitable carrier, such as a print book, a class packet, an eBook, a PowerPoint presentation, a streamed reading, an on-stage performance, a recorded performance, etc. Akin to intermodal transformation in the physical goods and transportation marketplaces. 2) The practice of managing multiple separate but coherent styles of work in the same process. For example, Bimodal IT.