Perception 3 – Millennial Thinking

The other day my good friend urban library director asked me what came after Library 2.0. I had to think for a minute to realize that “Nothing” came after Library 2.0. There was “23 Things” that went around the world as the right information for the right time. Then as Web 2.0 was sweeping the nation, somebody dreamed up Library 2.0 which was simply new technology that might be used by a library. Since then there has been nothing new – of substance that the majority of the library world embraced – to come along to explain or elaborate on how we go about developing a 21st Century Library. Library 2.0 implied there were more iterations to come. There weren’t, and there aren’t.

Of course, that got me thinking on the subject and reflecting on many of my posts over the past couple of years. Many ideas and perceptions flooded into my mind and what surfaced was “Perception 3” – not 3.0 because there is no subsequent iteration to a new perception and millennial thinking. Even before I had a clear concept of what it was, Perception 3 stuck in my mind as maybe what comes next for the 21st Century Library. Let me elaborate.

Most of my life I’ve believed that when approaching any task, there is a right way, a wrong way and then there is another way – the Army way – or the government way – or the Dallas Cowboys way – or the Smallville Chamber of Commerce way – or Douglas County (CO) Library way – or whoever’s way. This essentially makes three ways of approaching any task or challenge or problem. Let me further elaborate.

The right way is the conventional wisdom way of approaching something. This is usually based in experience – we’ve always done it this way – and takes a safe conventional approach based on a generalized conventional perception that all conditions are equal to all previous conditions where this approach was successful. Only in the most simplistic sense can this be true. No two conditions or set of circumstances can ever be identical. The world is coming to understand this more as more and more actual situations prove that to be the case. Every situation is unique in some way, usually unique in many ways.

The wrong way is simply that. The solution flies in the face of reason and common sense – one does not use a sledge hammer to drive a picture hanger nail into wall board. One does not ask a prospective hire if they are married or have children. The wrong way is often the easy way, short-term solution with no regard for the long-term effects. The wrong way may also be the popular way, or fad way, or any other simplistic perspective on any task. The vast majority of the time it won’t work.

“Perception 3” is about approaching a solution to a challenge in a situational way. What are the circumstances, conditions, factors that influence the outcome and the root issue/cause of the situation that needs fixing? More importantly, what are your capabilities or resources to address the issue?

I recently read a review by Brian Kenney of Douglas County (CO) Library Director Jamie LaRue’s model for an e-book platform – Giving Them What They Should Want – at Publishers Weekly website. The thrust of the article was regarding the title, providing collection materials that librarians determine are what library customers should read, as opposed to what they want to read. Kenny raised the question: “That strategy seems to represent a new chapter in a debate public librarians in America have had for 150 years: should we be providing our readers with the material they want, or should we be providing books we think they should read?”

That’s actually not what this post is about, because what I got from the article was a clear sense that Douglas County Library is doing what’s right for it and its community. LaRue had the capability to create his own e-book platform and buy materials from non-traditional publishing/distribution sources to provide his customers with more choice than he could have provided through traditional sources. It works for them!

Serving an affluent, totally wired population of 300,000, the seven-branch DCL system was ripe for e-book experimentation. Well funded – with a materials budget of $3.3 million – the library was an early adopter of e-books, and remains both an Overdrive and 3M customer. Furthermore, DCL has LaRue, an entrepreneurial director, who has assembled a like-minded team.

So when the e-book drama with libraries began, LaRue went to his board and got its blessing to invest in the technology and software for DCL to host its own e-book platform. The library system acquired an Adobe Content Server, a MySQL server, and VuFind, a discovery layer that provides a unified, simplified front end, serving up results from the catalogue and the e-book collections in one user-friendly set.


LaRue didn’t wait for conventional thinking to tell him it was a good idea. He assessed his situation, he considered the circumstances, conditions, and factors that influenced the issue, as well as determined the WHY of the issue and established a goal. He determined the outcome he wanted for the situation that needed fixing, as well as the constraints on his library’s capabilities. There should be no criticism of what works for somebody else.

My point is: It was the right thing for DCL – LaRue knew it and used Millennial Thinking to make it work.

My other point is: It isn’t right for other libraries unless they have highly similar resources and communities. So, it would be wrong for them to try to adopt the DCL Model that LaRue developed. It’s actually even misleading to refer to it as a “model,” because it has very limited general application as it exists in DCL. Although someone else might be able to adopt some of what LaRue accomplished to fit their library’s circumstances, capabilities and community.

“Perception 3” is a new way of looking at YOUR specific situation, and finding the solutions that work for you. Perception 3 is rooted in organizational perception and framed in organizational capabilities. Perception 3 is Millennial Thinking!

Obviously, this flies in the face of traditional thinking and problem solving, but honestly, what has that accomplished since the beginning of the 21st Century? What have our professional organizations and schools of library and information science provided in new ideas and approaches to make 20th Century libraries relevant for the next 100 years? or even for next year for that matter? The drastically rapid technology, education and social advancements have impacted the way libraries are perceived and what services customers demand to the extent that the “right way” – the safe and traditional way – is useless. When libraries are on the threshold of irrelevance, shouldn’t somebody say “business as usual won’t save us” and strike out into new ways of librarianship? Librarians like LaRue and Kansas State Librarian Jo Budler appear to be doing just that.

Sun City Library, San Diego (CA), developed an advertising/sponsorship idea and consider it a win-win for the library and local businesses. Gwinnett County (GA) Library Board recently voted against it. Some solutions work for some libraries, but not all.

That is the Perception 3 approach – Millennial Thinking – What works for your library!


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4 responses to “Perception 3 – Millennial Thinking

  1. Frank

    Dr. Steve,
    I agree with you a one size fits all approach rarely works for everybody.
    However the Gwinett GA. Library Board has it wrong as the problem there is why in the digital age are you printing ads when you can send them electronically for free many times, in this case not enough thought was paid to a good idea. Just like searching skills the level of expertise with an idea is the issue not the idea.

    • Apparently you skipped over the part where I suggested that “There should be no criticism of what works for somebody else.” Since people who are not intimately involved in a decision process have little basis for criticism, I choose to believe that Gwinnett County Board got it right for themselves and their community, no matter how they arrived at that decision.

  2. Frank

    You’re right not all ideas work for everybody just for people who can utilize them.

  3. Frank

    Dr. Steve,

    Is millenium thinking about a new structure for libraries as a business where entrepreneurial skills are needed like having a CEO who could utilize a new funding structure like the new B Corporations or LC3 where profit isn’t the goal but the sustainability of the public purpose or entity is. Under this structure more partnerships in saving Libraries could be developed and be win/win situaations for communities and the vendors or suppliers who help them. Here is an article in the Economist that made me think of this topic, Based on your experience are the negatives if any to great to at least try it in states where they have passed the laws for it?

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