Librarian Entrepreneurs

“Doing more with less” is a phrase that regularly comes up in libraries. It is also a regularly maligned phrase since you can’t really do more with less, you can only do less. Andy Woodworth gives an example of cutting a pizza into different parts. In doing more with less you really are just spreading your resources more thinly and giving everyone less quality service. I don’t believe that library budgets should continue to be on the chopping block. This country needs less ignorance and more enlightenment, more curiosity and creativity, not less. But the reality is that we’re in a period of less resources, even while usage and programming are up.

This is not something new for libraries though. They are used to not being flush with resources. And I think this can be a huge strength. Last Friday I attended the ACRL NY Symposium on Cultivating Entrepreneurship and there were some great examples of people finding creative ways to secure resources whether through working with other departments, developing their own technology tools and selling them, working with companies as sponsors, or leveraging free online tools. The best, stickiest, most succinct, definition I have come across for entrepreneurship is from the Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson. He says,

“Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.”

We may be in a time of less resources, at least from traditional funding sources, but we are also in a time in which there is an abundance of opportunity. More students are going to college but less are graduating on time. People need to retrain, unlearn, and relearn to be a part of the now ever changing job market. Higher education is in a period of significant disruption. These are not problems but distinct opportunities that libraries can capitalize on, but in order to do that we need to be entrepreneurial.

Libraries are already scrappy. They find extremely creative ways of avoiding budget cuts and advocating for library voter support. What is needed in addition to being scrappy and creative, is an entrepreneurial outlook: seeing opportunities and pursuing them without regards to current resources. There may be less traditional funding, but that doesn’t mean the resources aren’t out there. Instead of a zero sum game where there are only so many slices of pizza to go around, maybe we start recognizing that there are also tacos, and chicken wings, and chili and lots of other resources we may have overlooked. Maybe we continue to leverage and expand our use of the abundance of free software, platforms, social media and web tools available. Maybe we strategically partner more with departments or offices around campus. Maybe we secure more funding and work with from those in the business community to whom we send graduates. Many of these are becoming increasingly socially responsible and want to do good in addition to making a profit. Maybe we crowdfund more really good and needed library ideas.

Resources are out there. They may not look the same as they always did, but funding should not hold a good idea down. Opportunities are also out there. We often see them as problems, as things that annoy us, or as things that scare us. When you start looking at things that make you uncomfortable though, you begin to see that it is often an area that needs attention and where good work can be done.

Let’s not do more with less. Let’s do more with more.




How To Reduce Clutter In Your Library

many, many bookcarts

Image from Yuba College on Flickr

It can be difficult to drop things that we’re doing or get rid of things we’ve had for a while. Just watch the show Hoarders. We become attached to our possessions and ways of doing things. It is necessary though. We can’t do everything, collect everything, and be all things to all people. If we try, we will either become bloated or stretch ourselves too thin. We have to know our communities and tailor our services to their specific needs.

Gretchen Rubin, the author of the Happiness Project wrote a great blog post over at Zen Habits about identifying and getting rid of clutter. Much of what is in this post is relevant to libraries and the way they collect resources, implement technology, and provide services.  Here are a few of Rubin’s questions seen through the lens of libraries:

  • Would I replace it if it were broken or lost? If we’re not replacing specific library books when they get lost, did we really need them in the first place?
  • Does it seem potentially useful—but never actually gets used? A book or database or technology may have seemed like a really great idea and perfect for your community, but it isn’t getting used. Sometimes this has to do with marketing. Sometimes it was simply a bad decision. Don’t retain a resource or maintain a service because it seemed like a good idea at one point. Retain the ones that are valuable and used by your community.
  • Does it serve its purpose well? Is the collection you purchased doing what you thought it would? Is the new service you’re providing doing what you wanted? If it’s not actually doing what you intended you may need to reevaluate it.
  • Has it been replaced by a better model? Has a newer edition of a book come out? Does a technology you have been using have a new competitor that might be cheaper or  work better than what you’re currently using? If so, maybe it’s time to upgrade. Conversely, don’t get something simply because it is the newest and shiniest. Evaluate if you need it or if your version of it still fills your need.
  • Is it nicely put away in an out-of-the-way place? Perhaps you’re considering offsite storage or compact shelving for books. This could be an option for some institutions, but maybe you just have too much stuff. Could you just get rid of some of it?
  • Does this memento actually prompt any memories? Sometimes we develop emotional attachments to things. “We need to keep this specific collection because we’d feel bad if we got rid of it. Libraries are supposed to have this reference set!” If your patrons don’t use things, there is no need to keep them around.
  • Have I ever used this thing? Look at your reference statistics. When was the last time that book circulated? Never?! In seven years?! Hmmm, it might be a good candidate for Better World Books. The same thing goes for electronic resources. We have the ability to look at usage. Tie your decisions to your patrons usage. They vote with their clicks and their checkouts.

I’d bet you could start getting rid of things today, reducing clutter, and begin freeing your funds, space, and time for much more valuable ventures. What clutter do you have at your library?