ALA Midwinter Conference: Communicating with Library Members and Guests

While Infopeople continued responding to new requests for sessions of Cheryl Gould’s “Fully Engaged Customer Service” workshop in libraries throughout California, attendees at the American Library Association (ALA) 2009 Midwinter Conference in Denver earlier this week were talking about a different aspect of reaching library members and guests: through increasingly sophisticated online tools. Halfway between what we commonly refer to as Web 2.0 tools and what earlier in the conference were called Web 3.0 offerings, the more advanced of these innovations might leave us feeling as if they sense our information needs and are ready to meet them without formal prompting.
A rapid-fire and broad update on creative ways of reaching library members and guests was at the heart of OCLC’s 90-minute “Communicating with Your Users in Their Space” session Sunday morning, beginning with Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library Digital Branch & Services Manager David Lee King’s summary of how libraries are using what he called “outposts” (Facebook pages, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and others)—those places where libraries go beyond their own web pages to reach their current and prospective customers. Those interested in viewing King’s examples will find his presentation on SlideShare.
Cindi Trainor, Coordinator for Library Technology and Data Services at Eastern Kentucky University Libraries, continued the session with an introduction to LibX, a free browser plug in which leaves us feeling as if the tool knows what we want even before we do—and proceeds to nudge us toward finding it much more quickly than we otherwise would. Of particular interest are the LibX “context menu,” “browser cues,” and “magic button,” which help users find resources they might otherwise miss both within their library and through offsite providers.
WebJunction Senior Manager, Partner Services Rachel Van Noord brought us back to customer service basics through her “Engage Your Community: Five Principles for Developing Online Learning Communities” presentation (accessible from a link on the right-hand side of a WebJunction documents page). And Slide #18 in the presentation—a “continuum of engagement” chart which illustrates the levels of participation through which we pass (exploring, connecting, responding, personalizing, consuming, contributing, collaborating, facilitating, and leading) offer a great overview of how we move from working as individuals to serving as part of a collective to “help others get the job done.” It also might serve as a useful tool for any of us wondering how engaged our members and guests really are. And what we might do to engage them more fully.

ALA Midwinter Conference Postscripts: It’s a Girl @ Denver Public Library

Denver’s Central Library this morning delivered the ultimate example of great customer service as the American Library Association (ALA) 2009 Midwinter Conference was nearing its conclusion: a newborn girl.
A security officer, assisting a woman who had gone into labor, put his coat on the floor so the mother would have a soft place just inside the east entrance to the building, and other staff members held up blankets to provide the woman with as much privacy as was possible. They remained in position while paramedics delivered the child, Denver Public Library Training and Development Coordinator Sandra Smith confirmed this afternoon. The mother and child reportedly are doing fine; no additional information was available out of deference to the mother and the latest Denver Public Library customer; and there are, without doubt, going to be plenty of online stories about the library staff’s quick reaction to something they probably did not study in library school.
It was already clear, even before I learned why Library Public Information Officer M. Celeste Jackson was being interviewed by a local news camera crew in the lobby of the building early this afternoon, that this is a library system with a commitment to innovation and customer service even in difficult financial times.
There is a colorful easy-to-read map available in the building’s lobby for those who want to take a self-guided tour. Staff in the first-floor children’s, reference, and popular materials (fiction, videos, DVDs, books on tape, and CDs) areas are well positioned to answer questions. And clean, easy to read signage provides quick guidance to how the library’s resources are spread throughout the building.
It doesn’t take long to spot a wonderfully retro solution to the perennial problem of not having enough staff to provide immediate face-to-face assistance. Where Ohio University Libraries has been experimenting with the creatively high tech idea of using Skype so in-building users can talk to staff without having to find a reference desk, Denver Public has, under signs with the words “Ask A Librarian/Pregunte A Un Bibliotecario,” hung phones on walls throughout the building.
Picking up one of these hotlines, I learned from a member of library staff that the service was instituted when staffing cutbacks prevented the library from providing the level of service they wanted to deliver. The system, he added, is generally well used and there have only been a few crank calls from those picking up the phones.
It’s also obvious that the Library somehow avoids a problem which plagues many large urban library systems: library users who routinely have to be forcibly removed from buildings for disruptive behavior. There were few signs of this problem at the Central Library today, and a few frequent library members and guests confirmed for me that they are feel safe and comfortable using the facility.
Smith credits it to the well trained Security staff and the policy of encouraging anyone displaying disruptive behavior to review and sign the Denver Public Behavioral Contract so they can remain on the premises: “With each individual, it spells out a plan that emphasizes the message that DPL will work to encourage and facilitate the customer’s return to the library after the specific concerns have been addressed. These contracts are supported by city attorney and local courts,” she noted.
It is clear, from talking with the library’s training and development coordinator, that there is an institution-wide commitment to customer service and the prerequisite training; all staff are currently in the process of attending in-house “Crucial Conversations” sessions, and a well developed curriculum of workshops on a variety of topics is at the heart of the system’s commitment to developing and nurturing a community of learners.
N.B.—For a California-based example of innovations in customer service, please visit the Infopeople website page for Cheryl Gould’s “Fully Engaged Customer Service,” being offered both in open-registration and contract versions.

ALA Midwinter Conference: Did Someone Ask About Training?

For those of us who have attended many Infopeople training sessions, the simple question “How do you train staff?” was guaranteed to grab our attention during a session at the American Library Association (ALA) 2009 Midwinter Conference here in Denver this morning. And when the topic under discussion—the newly opened Knowledge Commons facility in the J. Willard Marriott Library on the University of Utah campus—drew attention to an immense new area of training opening up in the library world, it reminded us once again that one of the best aspects of training is that the need for it never ends.
Jill Moriearty from the Library’s staff introduced us to her campus’s wonderful addition to the growing world of information commons facilities—libraries featuring a tripartite combination of print collections, state of the art computer equipment, and library staff capable of serving as intermediaries between these powerful resources and those who want to know how to effectively use them. She described how staff worked for several years to create an appropriate vision for the University of Utah Knowledge Commons and how that vision has already begun evolving during the first few weeks that the facility has been open to its campus constituency. And she emphasized the need for a “tier training” program which begins with Knowledge Commons basics; continues with specific sessions designed to train staff on basic and advanced aspects of the software available in the facility; and includes leadership and management training so that the enthusiastic staff working in the Knowledge Commons will be well prepared to work with those who need the help they are expected to offer.
The countless examples of first-rate training techniques available to those of us familiar with and involved in Infopeople offerings help us see that much of what is already available will remain useful to staff in any library which follows the information commons model. Train-the-trainer techniques are obviously important here, as are hands-on workshops such as “Photoshop Elements for Libraries” and “Practical Podcasting and Videocasting.” And libraries which continue moving to fill users’ incredible hunger for assistance in learning how to use the overwhelming number of resources available to them are going to keep trainer-teacher-learners very busy in the months and years to come.
N.B.: Those interested in scheduling contract sessions of Infopeople’s various tech training workshops will find more information on the Infopeople website.

ALA Midwinter Conference: Web What.0?

It wasn’t all that long ago that Infopeople instructors helped introduce many of us to Web 2.0. Our colleagues at OCLC this afternoon upped the ante by hosting “From Linking to Thinking: How We’ll Live When Information Surrounds Us” at the American Library Association (ALA) 2009 Midwinter Conference here in Denver.
Featuring presentations and a spirited yet collegial debate by David Weinberger (author of Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder) and Nova Spivack (founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based technology venture Radar Networks and the Twine.com project), the session featured plenty of predictions of how Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 are going to develop over the next two decades and lead to the development of online artificial intelligence.
For those of us involved in training programs for library staff, members, and guests, the picture is exciting, dynamic, and more than a bit daunting. We’re going to be working even harder than we already are to keep up with the expanding nature of information retrieval/sharing through online social networks so we can help our colleagues in libraries meet library users’ evolving needs. And, Weinberger asserts, we are going to have to do it together through the sort of group efforts and collaborations which produce tools including Wikipedia.
Even the sort of innovations we saw through the daylong “Mashup the Library” conference at Santa Clara University last spring already seem familiar in comparison to what Spivack described during his “Library 3.0” presentation this afternoon. Drawing from material posted online a couple of months ago, he provided a concise decade-by-decade summary of the continuing evolution of the Web: 1980-1990, the PC era; 1990-2000, Web 1.0; 2000-2010, Web 2.0; 2010-2020, Web 3.0; and 2020-2030, Web 4.0, culminating in the “intelligent web.” Then he described some of the work being done through Twine.com, a new, free service which allows users to “collect online content—videos, photos, articles, Web pages, products—and bring it all together by topic, so you can have it in one place and share it with anyone you want” in the latest expansion of social networking and information retrieval and sharing.
“The Web literally is becoming the nervous system of the planet, and like any nervous system, it doesn’t merely take input, it generates output,” he said in an interview included in an OCLC brochure given to participants at this afternoon’s session. “This is truly as if our species is evolving to a new level of collective intelligence.”
Key roles to be played by libraries in this setting, Spivack suggested to his audience, include “digitizing everything”; placing increased effort into finding, not searching; and asking whether questions about libraries’ relevancy should be rephrased to become questions about how libraries might best market what they do so they can effectively meet user’s needs as we move toward a Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 world.

ALA Midwinter Conference: When Trainers Eat

The title and idea behind Gail Griffith’s current Infopeople workshop—“Community Engagement”—came to mind again less than a few hours after I arrived here in Denver this afternoon to attend the American Library Association (ALA) 2009 Midwinter Conference.
Griffith, as mentioned in an earlier Infoblog piece, reaches out to those who like to practice, play, and learn. She offers a workshop which is “about doing and practicing, not so much about studying models” as she helps current and prospective library leaders learn how to better create and sustain communities. And that sense of engagement perfectly describes the community of trainer-teacher-learners which gathered at the local P.F.Chang’s China Bistro this evening to take advantage of this all too rare opportunity for face-to-face engagement instead of the online relationships many of us have on an ongoing basis.
There were eleven of us with overlapping connections through ALA and its training group (CLENE), Infopeople, WebJunction, and TechSoup, and it certainly helped that Infopeople instructor Pat Wagner, who lives in Denver, suggested the perfect place for this group. A place where we could easily see and hear each other. Where we could concentrate on our exchanges rather than spend lots of time trying to determine what to order or how to split the bill. And where we could hear what colleagues from the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Denver, Chicago, Charlotte, and the South New Jersey area are doing in and for library training programs.
Opportunities to collaborate even more closely and effectively were never more apparent than as we sat together for a few hours. Even the staff of the restaurant did everything they could to serve and be part of our community of learners, taking us for a tour of the kitchen, back of house, and under the house areas in what they said is Denver’s second oldest building. There was a pride of ownership there that all of us as trainers could respond to and appreciate. They talked about how every member of the kitchen staff worked as a well functioning team. They showed us the immense basement area. Then they led us to what our guide referred to as “the catacombs”—a sub-basement area which, at one time, led to a series of underground tunnels linking the building to others throughout the area and which still feels like the sort of place which people might enter and never again be seen.
“This,” Lori Reed, Employee Learning & Development Coordinator for the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, quipped, “is like the Blair Witch dinner” as we found ourselves exploring those underground nooks and crannies one doesn’t normally expect to find in a P.F. Chang’s or any other restaurant. And when the evening ended, our community had grown just a little tighter. A little more engaged. And probably even more appreciative of all the treasures our involvement in library training projects brings to us in the most unexpected moments.