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.
Today an instant messaging reference system was born at Edgewood College. What I had been planning and working on for about three months finally came to fruition and I am really eager to see how it turns out. We are not doing any advertising yet for the new service. That will come in a month or so, after the staff has become familiar with answering questions and we get some feedback about actual policies.
I directed a staff training session today to familiarize everyone with IM-ing, buddy lists, and away messages. I had everyone sign up for Meebo accounts, add each other to their buddy lists, and then start chatting with one another. It worked well because people could joke about IM lingo and emoticons, but they also asked a number of good questions. By having them jump right into an IM setting and trying it out with each other they actually learned much more quickly than if I was simply up there lecturing. They quickly got the hang of buddies and how to send and receive messages. I recommend this form of training for anyone who is teaching others to IM. It gets results.
At the actual reference desk we will be using the IM client Pidgin because it has better alerts and is more customizable than the web-based Meebo. So, I also plan on sending them some practice reference questions before the semester starts so they can become used to the Pidgin client. But they have the basics of IM down which was what I was trying to accomplish.
The training was not as easy to develop until I met with my “Library Instruction” practicum adviser earlier in the week. Among other things, we eventually discussed “learning outcomes” which I had never heard of before. They are basically what you want your learners to be able to accomplish once they leave the classroom. This then made it much easier to design my training session. I simply took what I wanted the library staff to be able to do and then built my course around those goals. It sounds obvious but I hadn’t looked at it that way before.
After the training session our web librarian posted our Ask A Librarian page that we had worked on (mostly him) and our IM service was finally up and running. The web librarian and I posted our new status on the liswiki and the libsuccess wiki to include our names among the other distinguished virtual reference libraries. I am excited to see what kind of response we get. I will continue posting on how it works out.
A few days ago I presented the work that Jonathan (the web librarian) and I had done on getting an instant messaging reference service up and running at Edgewood. It went over very well and even some of the more luddite librarians thought that we could do this. There were a lot of questions about implementing it and how it would actually work. This is why I am glad that Jonathan and I did so much planning and research and brainstorming.
I sounded surprisingly knowledgeable up there for one simple reason: I was knowledgeable. Jonathan and I had been working on this for about two months. He asked questions on some listservs and I scoured the web and library blogs for people that had done this before and tried to learn from their experiences. The sources I kept going back to and adapting to my own needs were: a PowerPoint slideshow called “How do you IM?” on the LibrarianInBlack blog, “IM me” by Aaron Schmidt and Michael Stephens, and the Online Reference Best Practices Wiki. They all were very helpful in getting me started. I find it is very useful to use other people’s knowledge. It saves you a lot of the leg work and allows you appear smart even though you are leeching off of these other people’s wisdom.
I demonstrated what the Pidgin software would look like as well as the Meebo chat window, and then we allayed any concerns and answered all the questions that came up. We helped the staff understand what we were actually going to be doing it and why. But I tried never to say that “this is how it is going to be.” I kept telling the staff that their input was needed . I do not want them to think they are getting this imposed on them. I would like to have them all contribute and share their opinions so it can be an effective service.
The meeting went very well, and I even got applause for my presentation. The next step will be staff training. This will begin after winter break since it is always hectic at the end of the semester. I might have to do a little research on how best to go about training staff and getting them comfortable with IM. This is going to be fun.