By Meredith Farkas | October 27, 2006
I just got home last night from California around 8:30 PM and am now, at what was 6:10 am for me yesterday, sitting at Dartmouth at a terrific conference they give every year. This year’s theme is Cool Tools and New Technologies and I’m thrilled to be part of a terrific roster of speakers today including Ken Varnum and Roy Tennant (whom I’ve been following around the country lately!).
Happily, there is wireless all over campus here at Dartmouth (be still my heart!), so I will be live-blogging the conference.
Roy Tennant – Never the Same River: Libraries and Technological Change (keynote)
Roy is discussing how what he has learned as a river guide applies to learning about technology and dealing with technological change. Each day, the river changes. There are different dangers each day, different things to avoid. Like in a river, the only constant in libraries is change. And we need to learn how to cope with change, rather than fighting it. We need to figure out what the flow is and put ourselves into it.
Roy went to library school in the mid-80s and was involved in automating UC Berkeley. He realizes that the concepts from what he learned in library school are similar (search and retrieval, etc.), but everything else is totally irrelevant to what he is doing now.
When you run a bad rapid, you need to do scouting, where you pick your course through the rapids. It doesn’t mean that you will be successful, so you need to pick a plan B and be ready for even that not to work. It’s the same with technology. In libraries, you need to look for trends — what is coming down the pipe, what is becomming important to libraries. Some trends won’t go anywhere, while others will come as a surprise. People need to be flexible and able to rejigger technology plans. Reading blogs can help you to keep up with trends. Keep up with the literature, though peer-reviewed literature has long turn-arounds. Magazines like LJ can help you to keep up with more current info. But don’t just look at library literature. Look at business literature, technology literature, etc.
Roy talks about fear, how fear can be a good thing. It focuses your attention. Some libraries fear Google, and it can help to focus our attention on things we need to change to keep up with our patrons. Not being aware of threats can make us complacent. Action can dispel fear. Anticipation is worse than action. When you see threats to libraries, get busy and do something about it.
While action is good, don’t take risks you don’t understand. You have to understand what is at stake, what might happen and how likely it is to happen. We need to think about what could go wrong with the technologies we want to implement.
An ounce of finesse is better than a pound of force – line up support, anticipate and prepare for objections, acknowledge and address problems.
Keep the priorities straight – it’s about the customers stupid! Don’t make decisions based on what is easiest for you. Don’t expect your users to look at things the way you do (librarians like to search, users like to find). Use your services like a patron would to see if it’s usable for them. Usually you will find that your services and systems are not easy to use. Talk to your users and find out what they want/need.
“Once you’ve done it, they can’t tell you that you can’t” – take risks, be opportunistic, better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission (omg, I so agree with that!).
Sometimes you really have to get your tail in gear or miss out. Watch out for critical action points – the times when inaction will lead to failure. At those times, give it everything you’ve got to make it a success. Sometimes the difference between failure and success is making effort at that critical junction.
Teamwork is all about paddling together. You need to strive to work effectively with your team members. If you don’t feel motivated or effective, you will be a drag on everyone else. Get out of the game if that is the case.
“Always rig for a flip” – plan for disaster, because it can happen when you least expect it. Envision worst-case scenarios so that you can plan for dealing with those issues.
Anything worth doing is worth doing with a sense of humor – learn to laugh at yourself. Have fun with what you’re doing.
Sometimes decisiveness is more important than the decision itself – there are often several “right answers” in any situation in libraries, but a decision has to be made. Even not making a decision is making a decision.
Things Roy knows are true
-Neither an early adopter nor a latecomer be. Let other people (early adopters) play with the technologies and hit the rapids. But don’t be the last person to adopt a technology.
-Never underestimate the power of the prototype. Roy is a big fan of prototyping – depicting graphically what you have in mind or wire framing, etc. It’s very difficult to explain your ideas until people have something to look at.
-Back it up or kiss it goodbye.
-Buy hardware at the last possible moment. Things are getting so much more affordable and better, so only buy something when you absolutely need it.
-Never buy software with a zero at the end of the release number
-Disk space is cheaper than dirt
-If you can’t be with the operating system you love, love the one you’re with. Use the tool that’s in front of you to get the job done. When you can, choose the tool, but if you can’t, make the best of it.
What we must do – Collectively
-Create and facilitate change – both in ourselves and our organizations. How can we make change less scary?
-Reward innovators and punish loiterers. Hire people based on personality rather than skills. You want someone who can change and continue learning.
-Invest in people and infrastructure – give your staff the tools they need to be effective. Otherwise, they will waste a lot of time waiting on outdated computers or waiting to be able to make a change to something.
-Use the best people for a job – committees can kill good ideas. You need a task force who will actually get things done.
-Use technology to create more efficient ways to work.
What we must do – Individually
-Learn as we breath. We need to learn all the time without even thinking about it.
-Make strategic learning decisions. You can’t learn everything, so focus on what is most important for that particular time. Learn only as much as you need to complete that task.
-Say it simply
-Strive for flexibility. Learn to deal with uncertainty.
-Share ideas; build prototypes.
-Push your organization into the future (kicking and screaming).
… ok… now it’s time for my talk. Won’t be blogging this one.