Monthly Archives: July 2012

The DUH?! Moment

A few years back Millennials popularized the term DUH (pronounced d-ŭ-h) as a response to a statement – meaning “Ya, of course, everybody knows that!” Using voice intonation it is expressed as both a question and a statement – thus the DUH?! question mark and exclamation mark in writing. The point? There is a major distinction between the “DUH?! Moment” and the “AH-HA! Moment” (popularized by Oprah). This distinction between the two is highly applicable to librarians.

The “So what?” answer is that I’ve recently had both, which is what made me “AH-HA!” the fact that there is a major distinction, and that the distinction is applicable to librarians today.

As I was driving through a small town looking for the library, it struck me that they needed a “LIBRARY” direction sign for both east and west bound traffic on the main street that pointed to the library, which can only be seen if you’re traveling east bound and actually looking for it. The fact that they needed a street sign was a “DUH?! Moment.” because that one simple act can have so many benefits for the small town library – actually ANY library. (OK, it may not be so simple dealing with the government bureaucracy to get a sign that every community should be entitled to have, but that’s not the point.)

As I talk to librarians about 21st Century librarianship ideas, I get a variety of reactions. The most encouraging reaction is the “DUH?! Moment.” Yes, that makes perfect sense – why didn’t I think of it before. I also get the AH-HA Moment” reaction, which is also encouraging but not quite as much. The other reactions I get vary from “Interesting.” to “Are we still talking about libraries?” to “What planet are you from?” to a real jewel reaction of “I’m too old for this crap.”

The reason that the “DUH?! Moment” is so encouraging is that the librarian who has it is already thinking along the same track as a 21st Century Librarian. The idea makes sense to them and they were so close to already being there that a simply suggestion was all it took for them to “get it.” There is encouragement in that.

The librarians who hear an idea and get an “AH-HA Moment” are learning something new and revolutionary to their frame of reference for librarianship. That is also encouraging, but they have further to go to “get it.” They may have a few more steps to go to get to the “DUH?! Moment” where it makes perfect sense and the next step is to adopt that idea into their professional mindset.

The other librarians who react with “Interesting.” still don’t really get it but there is hope that if they think about it more they might get an “AH-HA Moment.” Those who react with “Are we still talking about libraries?” are a long way from any “Moment” in broadening their understanding.

The “What planet are you from?” and “I’m too old for this crap.” reactions are from those who really need to retire or find another career. The likelihood of them even being open to new ideas and new ways of understanding librarianship are highly remote. These folks present a major problem for our profession – resistance to change.

It’s not that some librarians can’t change, it’s that they don’t want to change. They entered librarianship with a pre-conceived idea of what librarianship was and what kind of career they wanted to have and they are not going to change that. Change would definitely put them outside their comfort zone as a librarian, and that’s too painful to consider.

Many librarians I talk to about librarianship in the 21st Century don’t recognize the changes as affecting them right now. They will acknowledge that change is coming, but most act as though they will deal with it when it lands on their library door step. My contention is that it will be too late at that point. If librarians are not totally prepared before the changes that are already affecting this profession hit their library door step, they never will be. Once the dam has burst, it’s too late to go out looking for a boat.

If individual librarians are not looking for the signs and preparing to meet the changes, they will never see them before it is too late. At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, it seems like one has to sound like an alarmist to get people’s attention. I’ve been saying that change is already here for a long time. Are you prepared, or will you need to look for a boat?
Change is Here – NOW!
Change Is Not Coming – IT’S HERE!
Technologies to Watch
ALA Finally Catches Up?
The Public Library of 2020


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Library Profit = Community Relevance

I have long advocated that 21st Century libraries need to operate more business-like, and that 21st Century librarians need to develop business acumen. While this is essential to 21st Century library operations and survival, it may need more justification to be suitable to some as a 21st Century librarianship principle.

The major distinction between the library organization and a business is the “bottom line.” Businesses are in business for profit. Since a service business is most closely analogous to a library, a service business either delivers better service than their competition, or they earn no profit. Without profit they won’t stay in business. Libraries also provide a service and should be able to measure the “profit” of their service. The problem is that libraries as a governmental agency operate like all government agencies – as a cost center – where the bottom line profitability is virtually never measured.

Considering that not all businesses are highly profitable, there is a continuum of profitability. If your business is highly profitable then you are thriving. If your business is unprofitable, you are dying. That’s an undeniable business principle – if you’re not thriving, you’re dying. To keep from dying a business must thrive.

Just as not all businesses are highly profitable, so too not all libraries are highly “profitable” in the sense that the funds being spent to keep the library in business are not being spent most effectively to cause it to thrive. How relevant or irrelevant a library is to the community it serves is the measure of its profitability. The library’s “profit” is measured in terms of “community relevance.” In business, if you’re not profitable you die. For libraries, if you’re not relevant you die.

Library Profit = Community Relevance

There is a scale of profitability and relevance, it moves in the direction of profit or loss, and relevance or irrelevance. The center state between profit and loss is “break even” – neither profit nor loss. Unfortunately, there is no “break even” state for a library – unless one wants to consider where libraries have always traditionally been – dependent on the good will of tax payers and governance – as break even.

While libraries have historically operated with heavy reliance on other factors such as positive community history, citizens’ good will, a presumed inherent value to the community, and some basic community services that no other agency provides (i.e. summer reading, and ……….…), those traditional support factors are disappearing like so many things in our society are changing. A library can be marginally relevant, but that is closer to dying than it is to thriving. A library that is marginally relevant is not likely to be good enough to survive. Under any circumstances, marginally relevant is a tenuous place to exist in the 21st Century.

It should also be an undeniable 21st Century library principle – if you’re not thriving, you’re dying. To keep from dying a library must thrive.

Library Profit = Community Relevance


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