Try It And See What Happens

bungee jumping

Image by peregrinari on Flickr

I’ve noticed in meetings, whether on committees or campus meetings or pretty much any type of meeting, a concern that comes up is uncertainty. How do we know that people will use this service? Will this initiative work? What if we fail? But people aren’t only worried about failure. They’re worried about success too. What if too many people come? What if too many people use this service and it is unsustainable? What if we have too much success?

But uncertainty is the nature of innovation. You can’t possibly know all the consequences of a particular service, initiative, project, etc. In addition, often the unintended consequences are some of the most fruitful. All the planning and studies in the world will never tell you exactly what is going to happen.

While it’s important to plan and anticipate challenges it can also be a hindrance to action. Endless surveys, needs assessments and studying of the situation can bring ideas to a standstill.

If the initiative is something small a good question to ask is “why don’t we try it and see what happens?” If the project is something larger some study is likely necessary, but don’t let it bog you down. Instead of doing everything right the first time make an effort to iterate. Put something out and then change it based on what happens. Host an event and improve on it the next time. Put up the site and alter it based on feedback. Start the new service and then change it after interacting with users.

Get rid of the idea of always getting it right the first time. Do it the first time and then do it better the second time.


How to Effectively Manage Your Time

I’ve been reading leadership/management/organizational literature more recently because of a leadership symposium I attended this summer and also in preparation for the Library Journal/Temple symposium coming up in a few weeks. Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I enjoy thinking about self-improvement and improving your character. The last article I co-wrote was about the 13 virtues of the Next-Gen librarian (modeled after the virtues in Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography).

One book I’ve begun reading is Stephen Covey’s classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I originally picked it up because I remembered (and highly agree with) habit 5 “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” I think this one is key to getting along with colleagues, managers, doing reference, etc.

But now that I am actually reading the book, what I have been thinking a lot about is the third habit: “Put first things first.” Most librarians I talk to are generally very busy people. We have a lot of ideas, initiatives, and commitments. I know I wish that I had more time, and I really want to work on managing my time better. Covey puts forth a simple framework for thinking about time and projects that was really illuminating for me. He breaks activities down into a matrix of urgent/not urgent and important/not-important:

Covey says that the most impact comes when you focus on Quadrant II (important and not-urgent). These are things that you know are important and you know that they would make a big difference, but you “just don’t have the time.” In reality this is the work we should be focusing on and it would do the most to improve our work and our libraries. Clearly working on things like long-term planning, redesigning the website, or figuring out a coherent approach to ebooks, would be much more beneficial than, say cleaning up email or another meeting.

Of course meetings and email are necessary, but it’s easy to get caught up thinking that you have to go to every meeting or that all the emails in your inbox demand your attention. By carving out time specifically for Quadrant II tasks, those important things that keep getting kicked down the road actually start coming to fruition. This type of work is also much more fulfilling. It feels great to finish that article you keep putting off or finally get that annual report done.

Time management is something that I know I need work on and this framework is really helpful to me. Do other people find this helpful or have other useful ways of thinking about managing their time?


Advertising Library Services

Being a librarian, you need to wear a number of different hats. For the IM reference service we have now implemented I needed to do some promotion. I came up with a few advertising ideas including: flyers posted where the students are (i.e. dorms, commons), bookmarks with the URL on them, and screen savers or backgrounds on the library computers promoting the service. The web services librarian and I teamed up on designing the logo:


Advertising takes a lot of thought beforehand in order for your ads to be successful. Here are a few tips that I learned while I was creating an advertising campaign:

  • Keep it simple (people have little time to read a bunch of text)
  • Make it catchy (have something that gets the intended audiences attention)
  • Keep your audience in mind
  • Advertise where your audience is going to be (e.g. for students, put ads in common areas)

A good place to begin online with library advertising is Library Media and PR. They have a number of free logos and excellent tips to get your message out there.