Monthly Archives: December 2008

Auld Lang Syne

End of another year. Time to look back, I suppose. Unfortunately, I’m currently sharing DH’s nasty head cold and can barely think straight, much less reminisce. But a few tidbits…

Started a new job this year, which has proven fun and challenging. I’m sure the next year will bring more of the same.

While DH and I are blessed with relatively stable jobs, I’m feeling compelled to downsize a bit. Pull in. I wonder how many others are feeling the same?

Have survived health scares, of my own and those of dear friends. Let’s pray for health for everyone in the coming year.

Of course, the election was historic in many ways, and this new year will bring a new administration. While Obama was not my candidate, he will be my President. Let’s hope he’s treated more kindly than was President Bush. And let’s pray our enemies don’t see this as an opportunity.

Blessings to all in this new year.

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Season’s Greetings

May your holidays be filled with love and joy, with laughter and hugs, and with the blessings of the season.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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Reconnecting

We’ve had an interesting morning here at MPOW.  Our fiber-optic cable was somehow broken, leaving us without the Internet and without phones, since our phones are VOIP.  Wireless access is now available (and therefore I can post) but they’re still working on the rest.

Now, losing Internet access is a bit of a problem for a virtual library.  At my public library, it just meant that we didn’t have the patrons at the public access computers.  If the power was out, we had to check books in and out manually – but we could still do our thing.

Not really possible with a virtual collection.

It’s made me think about the ramifications of having a very small physical collection.  And if we choose to increase the collection, what do we collect?  We are in a physical space that prevents a large collection, as the architectural ramifications of the weight weren’t taken into consideration when constructing the space.  So the collection will remain fairly small – but it could grow a bit.  If you could only have 300 books in an academic library, what would you choose?  Definitely food for thought.

The interesting thing about this outage, however, is that the pace of the whole place has slowed.  Waaaaay down.  We’re talking to each other.  While we talk to each other normally, we usually do so in passing, in quick bursts.  We now have the time to actually have a whole conversation.  We’re reading books and magazines and newspapers and articles that we haven’t gotten to read, that have been sitting on our desks waiting for time.  We’re sitting in the comfy chairs in the library, enjoying the sun and the quiet and the time.

It’s been rather delightful.

It’s gotten me thinking about how the pace of our lives has exploded in the past decade or so.  I’m reading The World is Flat (See: Getting around to reading stuff, above) and Friedman talks about the events that have shaped how we’re communicating now.  While all of that is magical and wonderful, it has also taken a bit of a toll.

I’m trying to figure out how we can recreate this morning without actually having to lose our access.  Or maybe someone should just pull the plug every two weeks or so.

It seems we need to disconnect in order to reconnect.

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Lyric fun

And now, your moment of Carmina Burana zen….

Thanks to Jonya!

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How to Talk Business

There’s an interesting article speaking to European businesspeople, giving them advice on how to present their business plan in the United States.  It gives an interesting insight into the American business psyche, and can provide some insights for librarians (or other non-profit folk) who are uncomfortable or unsure about how to communicate with business folk.

We need to know this, because the people that are elected to our City Councils and County Boards are usually business people.  Knowing how to speak the language means you’ll be able to let them know why the library is important.

The author talks about the fundamental differences in approach:

In the past 2 months I’ve listened to over 40 pitches from French, Belgian, British, and Eastern European companies. About 1 in 15 presented their company in a way that would stick. This is because Europeans tend to build their case in a highly academic way–stating the conditions under which their offering makes sense and building their argument from there.

Hmm.  Not too different from the way librarians tend to approach these things.  Of course books and reading and information are important.  Now fund us.  Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t work very well.

She continues:

American audiences, on the other hand, are used to seeing “the bottom line first” and they do things very fast by European standards. “They’re like cowboys,” a Belgian CEO told me. “First they shoot then they look.” This is a fundamental difference in how people present and perceive information. And it can mean the difference that gets you to that second meeting, someone writing about your startup, and even getting funding.

It’s been my experience that not all business people think this way, but enough do that it’s advantageous to at least be able to get to the point.  Quickly.

Let’s go over a few key points that can help you present your company in a way that makes more sense here:

1. First impression is (almost) everything.

Americans know this very well. That’s why they work on their “elevator pitch.” You have 30-60 seconds to create an impression. Want to spruce it up even more? Have a 1-2 minute demo ready on your iPhone that plays while you speak. Think: Why are you different? What makes you stand out? How do you stick in someone’s mind? Why should an investor want to see you again? These are questions that should always be on your mind and guide what you say— all in 60 seconds or less.

Oh, man, how cool would an iPhone library demo be?  We’ve been told about elevator pitches for a while now.  Substitute “legislator” for “investor” and you can see where this would be a good thing.

2. Speak in benefits. Customer benefits, that is.

Europeans tend to be highly accomplished on the technology side. In the US, you also need to think about, and communicate, what your prospective customers will be able to do thanks to your technology. How will it address a true customer need? Why will a customer use it? Better yet—why will they pay for it? Every time you speak about a feature or capability of your technology, immediately follow with “and that means that customers will be able to…” (fill in the blank).

Again, substitute patron for customer, and you’ve got it.  How are we addressing the needs of our patrons?  Why are we a good deal? Why is the fact that we have a swell collection a good thing?  How will it benefit the community?

3. Start with the end first.

It may sound counter intuitive but business communication in the US is often non-linear and starts with the conclusion first.

I’m from the library and we’re here to help.

4. Know your numbers. In Silicon Valley numbers speak louder than anything else.

It’s not just Silicon Valley.  If you aren’t intimately acquainted with your budget and how you benefit the community, you have homework to do.

5. Focus.

The American idiom is “put a stake in the ground.” It’s when of all the many things your technology can be, you choose one (or two) things for now and go with them. This is a tough one, I know, because you want to show all the great things your idea can become. But where you see options, VCs see lack of direction. So let’s keep things in order: Decide on a focus for now, and put the framing, benefits, and numbers around that choice. You will later have plenty of time to develop your roadmap.

Hoo, boy, can we learn from this one.  Of late libraries have been running off in twelve different directions to be all things to all people.  Stop.  Focus.

6. Investors are not your friends.

They are meeting with you because you might represent a good investing opportunity. As such, come prepared with all your materials and if possible, with a beautifully executed demo and present your case. If you need advice, ask your friends, other CEOs, or advisors if you have them.

Neither are legislators.  They have a job to do, and if it’s politically expedient for them to back the library, they will.  Make it expedient.

7. Networking is key.

Many European CEOs think networking and mingling is “cocktail hour saved for those who don’t do real work.” But in the US—and especially in the Silicon Valley—this is an important catalyst to getting business done.

Yes.  Go to meetings.  Attend Rotary, or the Elks, or Jaycees, or whatever group hosts the movers and shakers in your community.  Get out there.  It’s much harder to cut the library’s budget if they personally know the librarian.

8. Keep it short.

Repeatedly I hear that CEOs talk about their companies for too long. Yes- you want to make sure people understand the breadth of your offering, but more talk doesn’t necessarily get you results.

Bottom line it for them, folks.  These guys work in bullet points all day long.  They really don’t want to hear you wax rhapsodic.

9. Don’t be argumentative.

In most European countries, debating a topic is just part of daily conversations. To most Americans—unless they were on their college debate team—the practice of debate can be unnerving.

It’s very easy to become defensive.  Resist the urge.

10. Tap into the existing infrastructure.

WebJunction.  Your state library agency.  Other libraries and librarians.  Friends of the library.

Some interesting food for thought.  Don’t be afraid to get out there and try.

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Libraries and the Economy

I’ve been reading here and there about libraries feeling the pinch in the current economy.  And what I’m going to say is going to be controversial.  If a public library is losing its funding, the librarian and library board probably had a role in that.

Now, bear with me here.

Those of us that have worked in public libraries know that the tougher the economic times, the busier the library becomes.  People switch to borrowing books and DVDs instead of buying them.  Parents take their children to the library for recreation.  Those that are unemployed or facing unemployment come to use the computers and apply for jobs, update resumes, or search to see what opportunities might be available.

Meanwhile, back at the City Manager’s office, the conversation is turning to how the city can save money, since their budget is shrinking.  In more cities than not, the library ends up being a target.  After all, we can’t cut the police and fire departments, right?  And garbage pickup?  Roads?

Bah.

The local government officials need to be educated as to the value and service that their public library provides, and we’re the ones that need to do the educating.  Frankly, most people really don’t know what a modern public library does.  (See: We’re Really Bad at Marketing, Parts 1-1,354.)  And so when push comes to shove, since we haven’t told them how valuable we are and made the case for our existence, it’s all too easy to cut us.

If you haven’t had coffee with your city administrator to talk about how incredibly busy you are right now, you need to take the time to do this.  NOW.  Make the case.  Invite them to come in and see how the citizens of your community are flocking to your library.  Remind them that your library has the only broadband access for many people.  Use a library calculator to let them know how much they get in return for every dollar invested in the library.

You should be having these conversations constantly.  But it’s not too late.  Go now.

For more ideas, stop in at WebJunction for one of their webinars on Libraries in Tough Economic Times.

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