7 Ways to Cross-Pollinate Yourself and Your Staff

bee pollinating a flower

photo by Express Monorail on Flickr

The staff at our library recently had a meeting in which we were brainstorming new ideas. The question that the director asked to guide our brainstorming was “if time was not a factor, what would you really like to work on or do?” We could think as big or small as we wanted and we came up with some really interesting ideas. One theme I kept seeing in people’s answers was having the chance to look at things from another perspective and being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Cross-pollination is a way to get fresh ideas and break free of a certain way of thinking. It’s important in libraries to not constantly be focused on ourselves and “the way things have always been done.” Sharing and exchanging ideas improves relationships and makes everyone stronger. There are few ways we can do this in libraries:


This is one of the most common ways to cross-pollinate in librarianship. At conferences you can talk to hundreds of other library professionals and hear what they are doing. You can watch and participate in presentations that expose you to new ideas. You can take ideas that you find at conferences, tweak them, and implement them at your own institution. Getting together with a lot of different librarians is almost always a recipe for fresh ideas.

Non-Library Reading

I read a lot of librarian blogs (and if you’re reading this, you likely do too), but I also try to read outside the field as well. I read marketing blogs, education blogs, business blogs, tech blogs. It is from these blogs that I get a lot of new ideas. I learn things about higher ed in general or try to find creative ways to use marketing ideas to promote the library.

Visit Other Libraries

Whenever I am in a new city I like to try to see a library or two. Whenever I attend a conference or event at a library I like to explore their building. Visiting other libraries helps you to envision your own library differently. Perhaps a library you visit has great signage or perhaps they set up their public areas in a very interesting way. You can get a plethora of ideas for how to arrange your library by examining what others are doing. Anyway, libraries are just fun places to hang out in general.

Business Field Trips

No, libraries are not businesses, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn anything from them. Some businesses have almost unbelievable models of service (like the Nordstrom employee who refunded a customer returning snow tires even though they did not sell that product). Some businesses have really cool ways of approaching problems. You don’t have to always go very far either. I’ve posted in the past about places locally that have provided a wonderful user experience. You could attend a place like this as a staff and then debrief about what you’d like to imitate.

Observe Professors or Teachers

Librarians are (or very much should be) educators. Why then do we not learn more from our educational peers. My good friend Gary Scudder just won the Vermont Professor of the year. I think it would be very enlightening to attend one of his classes or see how other folks approach teaching. Not only could we learn teaching and classroom management techniques, but we could also see what students are learning and understand the questions their struggling with. In addition, we could observe our fellow librarians in their classes. Seeing how other people approach teaching is immensely helpful to me.

Job Switching

One of the reference librarians here at Champlain College has mentioned this idea multiple times and I think it is a really cool one. Instead of constantly being in public services perhaps you could spend a semester cataloging or working on collection development. Or instead of doing only cataloging, maybe you want to volunteer for a couple of hours a week at the desk. This might not be feasible everywhere, but putting yourself in another librarians shoes for a little while can help you appreciate their perspective and what they do.

Librarian Exchange

I’m not sure if any libraries are doing this, but wouldn’t it be fun to spend a semester or a few months as a librarian at another institution (locally or internationally)? Both librarians would learn a lot and gain a lot more experience. They would also bring fresh perspectives to their host institution. They’re not bogged down by seeing the same things everyday which would allow them to try different approaches to problems.

These are just a few suggestions for how to cross-pollinate yourself and your staff. What are some other ways to spread new ideas hither and yon?


Library Thinker Series: How do we get non-users to become users?

This post is a part of the Library Thinker Series where we examine some of the larger questions that we struggle with in librarianship and try to come to some insights together.

This week we’re examining the question “how do we get people who don’t use the library to actually use it,” which Steven Bell posed in the comments last week. This is a difficult question. How do we make non-users into users and convert those with library apathy into library enthusiasts?

Here’s my take:

The most useful strategy that I have found for turning non-users into users is two pronged.  It consists of getting out of the library and talking about it a lot. This is key in making people more aware of the library and what it can do for them. First, you are not going to reach non-users by only hanging out in the library and hoping that they’ll come to you. It’s a dead-end strategy. You need to go where non-users are. If you are at an academic library, go eat lunch in the student union or cafeteria periodically. Hang out in other public places and go to campus events and parties. If you’re in a public library the same thing is applicable. Go to community events and hang out in public places. Being visible and creating relationships in the community are the first steps.

The next step is talking about the library and what it does. But when you talk about it don’t just mention the obvious stuff. “We have a lot of books.” People know that. Most people don’t realize all the other awesome stuff that your library does because it’s not on their radar. Talk about the author who stopped by last week or the chili cookoff you recently had. Talk about the collaborative workspaces where people can have group meetings. And don’t forget to listen when you are talking with people. If you hear that someone has a certain need or desire, perhaps there is an easy way for the library to meet it. Connecting the library to something that a non-user values will make them much more likely to take notice and try out the library.

In my opinion relationships are one of the most powerful weapons that you can have in promoting your library. I’m sure there are other things we can do though? How else can we make non-users into users?


Meebo Bar for Libraries

A lot of libraries use widgets on their pages to answer virtual reference questions. They use things like Meebo, Digsby, AIM, and the very cool Library H3LP.  Yet recently Meebo co-founder Seth Sternberg, one of the pioneers of widgets on the web, pretty much said that widgets suck. His argument was that widgets can’t be easily updated (you have to copy and paste in an entirely new widget) and that they take up a significant amount of screen real estate.

Enter the Meebo Bar. It’s a piece of javascript code that’s sits as a layer on top of a website.  This allows it to be on multiple pages so your widget is not just on your “ask a librarian” page or your homepage; it’s everywhere without taking up a bunch or room. In addition, it’s fully customizable so you can include your library’s Facebook page, posts from your Twitter stream, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, and more. Users can get help from a librarian and also connect with them on social media all from a single bar on any of the library’s pages.

For possible downsides, because it is all hosted on Meebo’s server it could be changed at anytime. They might decide one day to include ads on all their bars. Though I think their current model of opting into ads for a small cut of the revenue is working for them. But other than that it seems like it could be the next generation of service for libraries providing virtual reference to their members. I made a quick screencast demoing an example of what a library Meebo Bar could look like. If you want to play with one yourself, you can visit their website or see it in action over at Slate.

Is anyone currently using this? Would this be something that could be useful at your library?