Google’s pretty powerful, right? It’s the most popular search engine, owns the second most popular search engine (Youtube), and there’s Gmail, Docs, etc. It’s a conglomeration of a lot of different services into a single massive company. Google can do a lot of amazing stuff because it’s so big and has so much capital.
But Google’s just one company. There is also strength in numbers. One of the main strengths of libraries are their numbers. There are more public libraries in the U.S. than McDonald’s. Libraries may be much smaller than a company like Google, but because of that they can be much more focused. Google is trying to “organize the world’s information.” Libraries aren’t trying to do that. We’re trying to organize and provide access for information that’s relevant to our users.
Because there are a lot of small libraries serving different communities, we can provide resources that’s relevant to them. The Fletcher Free Library here in Burlington lends out gardening tools. This is because they know that there’s a lot of interest in home gardening in this area. Because libraries are small and many we can know our specific communities and deliver value from that knowledge.
Knowing our users is one of our big competitive advantages, so don’t forget to make use of it. In things like implementing new technologies, figure out what YOUR users are using. Are there a lot of smart phones or regular phones? Do they communicate via email, IM, or Facebook. At Champlain College we’re a fairly small school, but I know that a high number of our students are on Twitter (as of today we’re in the top ten on CampusTweet). But this is not true everywhere. Twitter might not be right for every community.
It’s also necessary to continually learn about your users. Don’t always assume that you know them. Do traditional things like suggestion boxes, surveys and old fashioned talking to people. But also, simply be curious about your users. Wander around, observe them, glance at what they’re doing on your computers. Also listen to what users are saying online. I have a post about how to go about that. I find out some of the most interesting things through some of the alerts I have set up.
To succeed at what we’re trying to do we need to realize what our strengths are and leverage them. One of our biggest strengths of libraries is the fact that they are small, many, and know their users.