By Meredith Farkas | December 4, 2005
I’m never afraid to try something and have it fail. I’d rather learn from a mistake than learn nothing because I was afraid to make a mistake. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Certainly, in the four months I’ve been at my job, I’ve learned a great deal (in other words made a lot of mistakes). I came in here with so many ideas about what I wanted to accomplish only to learn that many of them weren’t appropriate when considering the population I was dealing with. My supervisor has been 100% supportive everything I’ve wanted to try, which maybe is the cause of my gusto, but I’m learning to think more before implementing technology solutions.
When I proposed the Web redesign project to the staff, everyone was very supportive. The staff aggreed that they should have a hand in editing content for the areas that they know a lot about. Obviously, it makes very little sense for the newest employee to be in charge of all of the content, especially stuff like circulation and ILL which I don’t deal with at all. After discussing the idea with the Library Director, I created a staff wiki and then spent many hours taking all of the existing content from the Web site and plugging it into the wiki, organized in the new Web page hierarchy I’d developed for the redesign. I then explained to the staff that they could go into the wiki and update and edit the content for the sections. I gave detailed instructions on how to use the wiki and told them that I’d be happy to give any of them a one-on-one explanation. This was almost 2 months ago, and so far one other person has gone into the wiki. No one else has even bothered to look at it, including people who had told me it was a good idea. Yes, wikis are easy to use, but many of the people I work with are averse to new technologies, especially those they don’t absolutely have to learn for their job. I learned something important from this: the tool may be the right one for the job, but if the staff isn’t ready for it, no one will use it.
A couple of months ago I also created a blog. At the library, we had been talking a great deal about how to improve communications between the library, Academic Computing, and the Online Graduate Programs. I had recently given a talk to the administrators of the Online Graduate Program about social software and they were very interested in learning more. The idea of a blog came to me immediately. I thought a blog would be a great way to do that without everyone having to be in the same room. I suggested to the Library Director that I could start a blog where we could share things that are going on at the library and offer information about blogs, wikis, RSS, etc. We could also ask for people from Academic Computing and the Online Graduate Program to take part also and they could share the interesting things they’re working on. I thought it would be a great way to make the three departments feel more like a team (since we’re all supporting the online grad students) and the Library Director agreed. I started the blog, did a few posts about using RSS to keep up and sent out an e-mail to all of the relevant people, letting them know about the blog and asking for people to volunteer to write for it. I got a few “thanks for doing this” comments, but no one volunteered. Looking at my site stats a few weeks later, I found that almost no one had visited the blog. From this, I learned that the group might be tech savvy enough to appreciate the tool, but if they don’t see a need for it, they won’t use it.
I have had some successes though. I’ve helped the Dean of the Online Graduate Program set up a wiki for policy development, and helped another faculty member set one up for similar purposes. I’m helping to advise the Online Graduate Program about blogs, because they want to set one up to share information without e-mail and without having to call a meeting. I have since used the wiki for another project where I developed content with only two other librarians, and that worked out fine. I’ve been working with a faculty member on developing a comprehensive research guide for the Masters in Justice Administration program that includes screencasts to demonstrate each database. Once it’s done, there are several other departments that want me to create something similar. My fellow reference librarians have also shown interest in creating some sort of reference wiki for the reference staff. Each of us has strengths in different areas of research. Rather than running to my colleague every time I have an architecture question or to my supervisor when I have an engineering question, I can find the information I need about library resources in the reference wiki. The librarian who knows a lot about architecture could put her knowledge about architecture resources into the wiki. The librarian who knows a lot about engineering resources could add information about resources that he uses frequently. When a number of students come to the desk with the same assignment, the librarian could enter information about the assignment and what resources they used. That way, the next librarians at the reference desk would have this information at their fingertips. By putting all of this information into the wiki, it’s like having all of your colleagues at the desk with you each time you need to answer a reference question. The difference with these projects is that the people using the tools have a need for the tools and were sufficiently tech-savvy to be inclined to use them.
I’m definitely more cautious now about trying new things. In my excitement to make a difference and in a climate where I was basically given carte blanche, I think I tried to do too much too quickly. Now I know that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I’m only going to try things where there is a real need (and not one only I see) and where the population is ready for what I’m trying to offer them.
One thing I learned as a psychotherapist was to start from where your client is. Some of my clients were in complete denial about their issues. Others were at a place where they could start to better understand their problems. Still others were already on the road to making changes in their lives. The way I approached each client had to be based on where they were at that moment. If someone is ready to talk the trauma in their life that’s great, but you can’t base your intervention on what worked with another client. Similarly, Library 2.0 is good goal to have, but you really need to start from where your staff and your patrons are. Sometimes it’s not the staff or the administration that are the barriers. Even if your staff is 2.0, your patrons are unlikely to use the “2.0 tools” if they’re not using the tools in their daily lives. I wonder how many patrons actually started using Instant Messaging because IM Reference was offered by their library. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. It’s great that all these cool things worked at the Ann Arbor District Library or at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library, but not every library has a population like theirs. They patrons in Barre, VT are certainly not the same as the patrons in Chicagoland or Ann Arbor. In addition, there must be a perceived need that can be fulfilled by this technology. I’m just as eager as the next person to do cool things with technology, but I think we all need to take a step back and ask ourselves “where are our patrons at?” “what needs are not being met or could be met better?” “can technology actually fulfill any of these needs?”
As much as I like trying and learning new things, I really don’t want to have any more “brilliant failures.”