The SAOIM conference 2012 was a wonderful place for someone on the other end of the book spectrum – that of bookselling as opposed to being a librarian – to immerse themselves.
The conference was a wonderful opportunity for me to be brought up to speed with everything going on in the world of information science and the management of knowledge in the digital age.
The main thread running through the conference was that of change. There were continuous sombre reminders that if we keep doing things the way they were always done, we will fall behind and deny ourselves the opportunity to experience the richness of this ever-changing, ubiquitous digital era that we are part of.
The value I received from the conference was immense and I thought I would highlight some of the key points raised from some of my favourite papers at the conference.
Stephen Abram stated that Google can answer all the questions in the world in 30 minutes that all the librarians in the world would take to answer in 30 years. Michael Stephens, in his presentation, pointed out that 1% of people start their search with a library web site, while the other 99% go on to search engines. Although these are scary thoughts and to the untrained professional this might seem to signal the demise of the librarian, this could not be further from the truth: We need to understand the difference between the physical access to information and the intellectual access to information. Where the Internet may lack credibility in terms of its search results, a librarian never lies. A library will always remain the primary source of professional, accurate information.
We were asked whether we are listening to what our users want, or is it business as usual? Are we questioning what is working versus what isn’t? We tend to think on behalf of our users but our reality is not their reality. What is comfortable for us is not necessarily comfortable for them. It is important that we assess the user experience when creating products and services
Karen Blakeman’s fascinating presentation alerted us to the fact that we are always being identified when we go online, whether we know it or not. Google is now getting more interested in what we like, what we do, what we are doing on other web sites, etc., allegedly in order to enhance and improve our experience. Our search results are thus being personalised, so as long as we’re logged in to any social media networks, the results we receive from the same search terms will be very different to those received by somebody else using their own computer. Our search results, whether we like it or not, ARE being filtered and the results we are receiving may be biased. As part of search this personalisation can give us important, alternative points of view, we just need to be aware that some of these results can affect “serious” search, and we just need to know how to manipulate it, e.g. sign out of all social media sites, actively delete your search cookies, and check your security settings so that we know whether the search engines can see us.
Michael Stephens gently steered us to moving with time times and suggested that we perform a kindness audit on our work space and policies – walk in as if you were a patron, look at how many times you say “no” or “do not”, be more “user-friendly” for example by using less official sounding words in our places of work to demarcate certain areas. He gave the example of a sign saying “Ask here”, rather than the rather one-sided and impersonal word “Reference”.
With mobile technology becoming the main way that people access information, libraries should be present and available everywhere we go.
Michael invited us to be nimble and be quick: being flexible is good. We don’t need six months of meetings to change a service. Involve your users every step of the way. Let them know what you’re doing and ask their opinion. Have fun in the process. Know that it’s okay to fail. If you do happen to fail, just back up a bit and go a different way.
I really loved Michael’s imploring statement:
“I hope that we tell our story well and that we will guide our users into the digital landscape. I hope we open our doors to everyone, even if they don’t come into our library. Really what we are doing it trying to help people. Technology is how we will do it”
Derek Moore spoke about the Nicholas Talieb’s Black Swan phenomenon: Many centuries ago there was an old saying in Europe that a black swan didn’t exist because no one had ever seen one. That was until someone explored the rest of the world and found a black swan in New Zealand. All the assumptions were then negated. When the Twin Towers were bombed, this was a black swan. The nuclear reactor in Japan being taken out by a tsunami was a black swan. Black swans are unpredicted events.
Derek spoke about the turkey’s life span which consists of happiness versus time – the happy turkey eats to his heart’s content and gets fattened up over a long period. Suddenly the Black Swan event happens to him at Thanksgiving…
Higher education is moving from an instructional paradigm (lectures) to a learning paradigm: Teaching is not keeping up with learning. When we are researching as opposed to being lectured, we are learning so much more. We can no longer plan for the future in a linear way expecting things to always stay the same – nobody really knows what is going to look like in the future and when the next black swan moment is going to take place and where libraries are going to fit into the picture. The only solution is to innovate.
Derek ended his presentation with a great quote by Neils Bohr:
“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future”
Kosie Eloff introduced us to Cloud Computing. So, what is the Cloud? The Cloud is the Internet. We are using the Internet as if it were a computer. We are using the Internet to store information and share documents on the Internet. Thanks to the Cloud, we can operate a computer without having all the programs installed because of what is available online. Kosie spoke about Dropbox, with at least 80% of the delegates acknowledging that they knew what Dropbox was and I am sure that many are already making use of it.
Richard Mulholland, the final speaker of the day, emerged from the late afternoon “Comfort Break” like a phoenix from the ashes. Sporting tattoos and a bird’s nest hair style, and a wild personality to match, he opened his presentation with the statement “I love HATE – when something frustrates you enough, you change it!”
He quoted George Bernard Shaw:
“Some look at things that are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not”
He spoke about the evolution of ice from being produced by ice farmers and then later ice factories. Ice farmers never evolved to make the leap to become ice factories because all they focussed on in terms of innovation was a sharper blade. In the same token, the ice factories were put out of business by freezers. They still can’t get “the sharper blade” out of their heads. Fridge companies tried to innovate by putting a TV in our fridges, simply because they don’t know how to innovate any more. And so the cycle continues…
He asked us to think about the legacies that exist in our industry and reminded us that any business older than 10 years has legacies they need to let go of.
We have to be the place where people want to be. We have to get people to fall in love with what we do. We have to be their absolute favourite place. People that come to you are all coming in for an experience. He used the Starbucks analogy of the cost of a cup of coffee versus the experience – the experience can be worth five times the cost. We are willing to pay a premium for an experience.
He asked us to figure out what our “trick” is and then to have a kick-ass trick to keep our customers coming back to us.
We listen to your favourite music all the time. We eat at our favourite places all the time. These don’t have to be the best albums or the best restaurants in everyone’s eyes. After all, it’s hard to be the best. What is YOUR concept of a favourite Sushi restaurant versus someone else’s? Do you want your sushi with hot chicks and samurai swords? Some will love it and some will hate it. But you can be somebody’s favourite!
As libraries, and booksellers alike, we’re in the business of making customers love reading, it’s not about the book. People in the market for boring are spoiled for choice. Be different. Keep innovating. Fashions change. Waistlines Change. Everything Changes. But we can’t do everything the same way forever. We have to innovate and change and get relevant!
I walked out of the conference on Thursday on an absolute high, armed with ideas and feeling more motivated than I have in weeks. Thank you to the SAOIM team for putting together an outstanding conference and for inspiring our community to rise to greater heights than many of us could have dreamed possible.