Library HQ/Word to the Wise

The SirsiDynix Institute is a great resource for library professionals, including Word to the Wise, which is a list of library technology words to help you stay up to date on the latest technology buzzwords surrounding the library industry.

Musings from Stephen Abram, SirsiDynix Institute Chief Strategist Challenges to Innovation in Libraries - March 2008

In June, I participated on the keynote panel at the SLA Denver Conference where we considered this topic and, later that month; I participated in the second annual ALA LITA Great Debate panel at ALA in DC, "Are Libraries Innovative Enough?" (The podcast is on the LITA Web site,

I spent the week of Canada Day and Independence Day immersed in the issues of innovation in libraries. On July 4 I was a guest in Joe Jane's summer credit course he was teaching on transforming libraries at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Information Studies. And then, coincidentally (are there really any coincidences?), I met an old friend, Mike, for lunch and what was the topic? You guessed it, the innovation gap. Mike is a very talented and senior consultant and he's not from the world of libraries at all. He advises senior executives all over the globe and he and I asked ourselves, in a meandering conversation over Thai and Diet CokeT, the following questions:

  1. Can organizations be truly innovative? Professions? Is the public sector different?
  2. What allows good ideas and innovations to diffuse through our organizations?
  3. What are the root causes or barriers to innovation?
  4. Are there some solutions to this puzzle?

Continued from SirsiDynix OneSource: This is just a column, but it seems to me that a conversation that interested me might interest you. I can't cover everything, but it might spark some conversations with your colleagues.

So, why does the diffusion of ideas and innovations in libraries feel so slow?

Some definitions of "diffusion" might help:

At the SLA Leadership Summit in January, I met and heard Chip Heath, co-author with his brother Dan, of the book Made to Stick. I love the story in that book about ulcers. It's almost an updated tale of Sister Kenny who (I learned in an old B&W movie) found a better treatment for paralysis caused by polio, but whose ideas were dismissed for many of the same reasons as those of the doctors in this story.

This is the story of two Australian doctors, Dr. Robin Warren and Dr. Barry Marshall, who discovered that ulcers are caused by bacteria (H. pylori). This is accepted knowledge now, but the story of how the medical establishment resisted the discovery is illuminating. They found the bacteria and its effects in the early `80s and had great difficulty in publishing their results. In 1984, in a pique of frustration, Dr. Marshall (reminiscent of Dr. Banting injecting himself with insulin to prove its safety), had to make himself sick with pre-ulcers by consuming a large dose of H. pylori bacteria and then curing himself with simple antibiotics and Pepto-BismolT ingredients! Eventually (finally?), 10 years later, the National Institutes of Health endorsed antibiotics as the preferred treatment for ulcers. Hundreds of millions of people suffered needlessly for well over a decade because of this delay in accepting the innovation. It ends well with both doctors receiving the Nobel Prize in medicine in Fall 2005.

Now, we information professionals know a little something about the value of information. We can improve health, learning, policy, discovery, competitive advantage, and infinitely more. Do we have to poison ourselves to get attention? I hope not. Can we get our ideas and innovations to diffuse more quickly through our profession, our host institutions, and enterprises? How?

In their book, the Heaths offer that it comes down to trust, credibility, and belief. People believe because their parents and friends believe. (Just think how many people in your community believe that crime is up because everyone believes that - even though it is down in general over 65 percent!) They say that our personal experiences lead us to our beliefs and, beyond that, faith and the role of authorities that we trust is substantial. Just think of the amazing number of email hoaxes sent to you (if you're anything like me) by people who should know better but who got it from a trusted source - their friends! Personal trust is a very powerful thing.

Now, to be fair, the good Australian doctors also suffered from being outside of mainstream medicine - they were practitioners instead of traditional researchers, and they were from Australia instead of the primary medical R&D centers in the North America and Europe. They were from a hospital and not a university. At one of their early presentations they were openly mocked! That's quite a hole to dig out of in the nasty world of R&D politics.

Now, think about it. Are librarians mostly insiders or outsiders? Are we in the mainstream or on the fringes? Do we speak the language of those we need to influence or our own argot? Are we as trusted as we'd like? Are we personally connected to the social networks through which change and ideas diffuse? Do we have personal equity and professional equity? Hmmmm, I'd hazard that we're not as connected as we'd like or need to be. Do we use our users, trustees, and boards effectively to diffuse our innovations?

Continued -- Musings from Stephen Abram, SirsiDynix Institute Chief Strategist - Challenges to Innovation in Libraries - April 2008

Where does SirsiDynix try to innovate?

SirsiDynix has a long tradition of innovation having achieved a number of firsts in the industry.

In the last three years, we've:

Been the first ILS company to add RSS feeds to the OPAC. And we did this right since it's not just the OPAC, but we can also integrate RSS feeds from multiple OPACs, the Web, licensed resources, and more.

  • SirsiDynix has been offering APIs and API training for more than a decade now and empowers you to be as flexible as possible with your data and your system - even at the consortia level.
  • We launched EPS: The Enterprise Portal Solution. While our competitors are getting their beta versions out, we have years of experience in partnership with our wonderful clients with great EPS implementations in public library, academic, college, school, and special library clients and Web sites in the U.S., Canada, and internationally.
  • We introduced Unicode to the ILS and OPAC and implemented it in many sites globally. We have good experience now in the difficult path to supporting the world's whole argot and the diversity of the North American urban and academic needs.
  • We launched Rooms and created a new category where content can be organized in context.
  • We launched SchoolRooms - the most innovative and amazing school support product ever developed. It's an EPS environment that has lessons to support every student in grades K-12 built in collaboration with hundreds of teachers and librarians. It has been installed and implemented (and occasionally customized) in whole states, public library systems, and after school programs. With integration of local school OPACs and local public libraries, as well as state and board resources, along with animations, visuals, graphics, targeted articles, teacher and parent resources, and much more, this is the most comprehensive solution and biggest innovation to date.
  • Our Docutek VRL Plus virtual reference products continue to produce exciting innovations with a particularly exciting project in New Zealand involving a nationwide school's innovation.
  • The FSU and SirsiDynix Normative Data Project combined with the SirsiDynix Director's Station and Web Reporter tools have the ability and power to change the way we view public library strategies and strategic insights.

What's coming up in SirsiDynix innovation?

Of course, some stuff is still in the secret vault, but we are providing sneak peaks and some innovations to support your success:

  • SirsiDynix has demonstrated a commitment to share our latest usability studies for public and school libraries. This is exciting.
  • You will have noticed that we have positioned the free sessions from the SirsiDynix Institute on opportunities for innovation as well as some of the exciting things our clients are doing. The SDI Live sessions at major conferences have been well attended and I travel a lot to spread the word on innovation opportunities.
  • Our Serials Solution partnership continues to move federated search and OpenURL into the next phase of development.
  • Watch for exciting innovations in SaaS (Software as a Service or ASP), which promises to generate saving for libraries while improving your ability to cost-effectively manage the changing hardware and software space.
  • At SuperConference and elsewhere you might have seen some of the advanced user-centered design work we are doing with visual search display and faceted browsing. We don't believe that a third-party product pasted on top of the OPAC is the best solution. It is vitally important that it is integrated in the entire user experience. Watch for exciting things here.
  • Lastly, we are doing a lot of research and testing on what the next generation of resource sharing should look like.

The Heaths propose in their book that credibility is a critical component of trust and that by tapping credibility networks, you get your message out to the people you want to influence in a very powerful way. Tap our trustees, leaders, and users' circles of influence so that we can advocate more effectively for ourselves.

Change happens through those who show up. I encourage you to invent the future and not just let it happen to you and your organization. I hope the innovations of SirsiDynix, our partners, and yours can find good alignment. It's a dynamic environment out there. Let's keep sharing.

Stephen Abram, MLS, is Vice President, Innovation, for SirsiDynix. He is the Chief Strategist for the SirsiDynix Institute ( ). He is an SLA Fellow, president-elect of SLA, and the past president of the Ontario Library Association and the Canadian Library Association. Stephen would love to hear from you at .

Musings from Stephen Abram, SirsiDynix Institute Chief Strategist So What Does Experience Actually Look Like? - May 2008

Most of us live happily in a benign state. We live from day to day with occasional diversions and moments of extreme excitement or danger. Some experiences are so intense that they sear themselves on our memory and change us forever. Others are just sound and fury. What kinds of experiences change us and what kinds just occur? Can we create library experiences that transform the user -- physically, interpersonally and virtually?

I have been discussing the difference between personal and abstract experience for a while now. I think it is an integral concept to the experience economy and to library strategies of all types. We keep library statistics of our transactions and have too few studies of the impacts of our initiatives and operations. There lies the crux of transformational librarianship. Can we plan for impact; huge, transformational impact? What would our libraries, websites, intranets or portal be if we measured their transformational impact first?

As an example I list a few experiences below that are transformational by nature. Some of my librarian colleagues have vociferously argued with me that there is no real difference between the real experience of the following situations and the results of steady and serious observation and research. I respectfully disagree. But from the debates I’ve engaged in there is some conflict here.

For example, I believe that it is impossible to truly understand any marriage (or the institution in general) as an external observer. I know I don't really understand mine. I know that I understand my marriage in a far different, more transformational way than I did before marriage. I have been transformed. I know I didn't understand as deeply, as I do now, the nature of parenthood, and, for me, fatherhood, until I went through the last 23 years with my two kids. I am unsure that the knowledge is transferable. And understanding the experience of pregnancy prior to that was impossible, I'll never be able to comment properly on that even though I was the half of the couple with morning sickness (!). My experience as a close observer was enough to know that I didn't `actually' know! Everyone deals with illness in their own way. I know that my own life-threatening experience with non-Hodgkin's' lymphoma was highly personal and cannot be indicative of any other person's cancer experience. That said I am surely able to offer support from a personal perspective that is informed by an individual context. That's about sharing and providing advice in context - just like libraries do. I surely have never experienced what it's like to live in extreme poverty or wealth, or live through or fight in a war. I can read about these experiences and become more knowledgeable and hopefully more empathetic.

We can experience any number of the above situations in the abstract. We can read about them, see live plays or television shows, or observe our friends and acquaintances. We can conduct many types of research. Our challenge as we move libraries forward to have even more impact in our communities is to build experience in context. I don't know what it's like to operate in a second language. I don't know what it's like to learn differently that I do. I really don't know what it's like to have a job I've never had. I don't entirely know what it's like to be an ethnic kid, a Millennial, a Spanish speaker, a native teen or retired senior in this day and age.

And that's OK. I can ask others. I can research. I can read or listen to their stories. I can do focus groups and beta tests. The real advantage to me is to have the insight and perspective to know that my experience of life is not the alpha experience. I cannot trust my known reactions alone to guide me to the best experiences that I can create in libraries. I know that there is clearly no one right answer, no one right website design, no one right search box, and more. The world is a complex stew of many people bringing a wealth of diversity to the party. And our communities are a wonderful bubbling stew of diversity. It's only shades of gray.

So, what are the experiences we create in libraries and our communities? We know that the top reasons people use libraries are for community, learning, interaction, discovery and entertainment. All of these words describe a form of personal experience. We can find some of this in our list of top reference questions in public libraries.

  • Careers & Employment
  • Entertainment (print, audio, media)
  • Family Health and Fitness
  • Food & Drink
  • Hobbies and Genealogy
  • Home Improvements
  • Parenting
  • Personal Finance, tax & investing
  • Reading choices
  • Quick reference questions
  • Spiritual needs
  • Travel

Each of these domains represents a wealth of questions and answers that are harder to deal with than just reading a book. Indeed. this is the great power of what libraries, done well, deliver. We can deliver our responses holistically. We're not just a cold search box on a frame of white.

In schools, colleges and universities we have curriculum aligned questions along with questions and projects driven by new research and discovery, the business of teaching and education as well as the personal needs of students to manage their educational careers. In special libraries there are the focused questions to meet the mandates of fellow employees to do their jobs - either from a research focus or a personal developmental focus. Each requires more than just `content' or answers. Learning and engagement and interaction matter.

So now we sit at the precipice or tipping point. We have been gifted with a wealth of new technologies that are transformational on a personal and social level. The landscapes of learning, work, communities, research and discovery are shifting before our eyes. That is exciting! We have the wonderful opportunity to build something new, special and transformational but on the strong foundation of the past, rooted in great library traditions. The conversation is titled 2.0. The tools loosely fall into this bucket. Each of these tools, whether we're talking clouds or tags or blogs or instant messaging or portlets RSS or streaming video or wikis or whatever, is a mere component of the total experience we're trying to create planted firmly and primarily in the land of the end user (and not library staff needs). The best way to discover the future is to invent it ourselves. So - working from the end user in - what does that unique experience look like in your information, community or learning ecology?

Stephen Abram, MLS is Vice President, Innovation, for SirsiDynix. He is the Chief Strategist for the SirsiDynix Institute ( ). He is an SLA Fellow, President 2008 of SLA, and the past president of the Ontario Library Association and the Canadian Library Association. He is the author of ALA Edition's Out Front With Stephen Abram and Stephen's Lighthouse Blog. Stephen would love to hear from you at

Musings from Stephen Abram, SirsiDynix Institute Chief Strategist So You Say Your Library is Really about Books, so "Who needs anything 2.0?" - June 2008

What have you done for a book lately?

You've probably done a lot! You've catalogued them so they can be found. You've made bibliographies so people can find other books they may like or need for research. You've recommended books to patrons and friends. You've written book reviews. Maybe you've done an index to a book, or edited one, or written one. You've done book talks. Great! Library folks have been doing this sort of stuff for centuries and doing it well.

We do books so well. We just can't get any better, any hotter, any more admired and loved!


I visit and see so many libraries - physical and virtual - and see so many innovations that excite me and promote books, reading and what we do so well. I also see a lot of folks who claim that new technologies are unnecessary in libraries and especially anything TwoPointOh! I fail to see the distinction and I don't think it's just me. Library practice demands that we look for anything that improves our mandates to promote learning, community, research, and reading.

Of course anyone can improve and do better. That's why we call it information practice. You just keep practicing as professionals - just like medical practice, nursing practice, teaching practice and accounting practice. Professionals get better, though never perfect, with practice. There's no denying that our traditional practice is a great thing. We protect, preserve and serve the human cultural and research record and connect users with the right books, at the right time, in the right place. That's awesome. Then again, good information practice thinking demands that we ask what are the negative issues with the traditional way we practice and how can we get better or complement it?

Traditional practice with books is not as scalable as we might want and our users might want. How do we get readers' advisory to scale as well in libraries as Amazon does on the web? Traditional practice offers a personal touch with a human being. Can we extend that personal touch beyond the walls? Many of our advisory and recommendation activities are largely anonymous or at least lack the personal branding that excites connections betweens readers and advisors. If we really care about books (and reading), can we use the new tools on the web to put our service options on steroids? Why 2.0? Well, because it offers the first real opportunity to use technology to go beyond search, storage and retrieval and actually engage with readers in a scalable way beyond our walls and beyond physical book formats.

Can 2.0 be about books?

25 Things 2.0 Can Do For Books, Just Books

  1. How are you doing Book Clubs now? Do you have support for print book clubs? Are there recommended books that you keep in a book club bag? Do you include a copy of the publisher's book club or reading guide in the bag? Do you link to good guides for book clubs on the web for all types of book clubs? What does the virtual book club support look like? Can they share reviews, comments, etc. online?
  2. Have you tried an audiobook club? Just license an audiobook for the whole community and let many folks read it at once. If you can't afford the license find one of the many book podcasts or audiobooks that are free on the web and add them to your collection. Have you tried a book club using e-books? Do you have a webpage with your top 12, 20, 30 eBooks and reading guides for each? This seems like a good way to get beyond the not-enough-copies problems.
  3. What are your web tie-ins to promote reading and book clubs? How big is your collection of reading guides, book club support, webliographies, blog posts, one-city-one-book ideas from other libraries? Can you mine these for ideas to promote parts of your collection like bestsellers from 2 years ago whose circ is are slowing down? Nothing is sadder than an unborrowed book except for a whole load of the same book taking up shelf space.
  4. Who takes Star turns at your library? Have you promoted with names and pictures specific staff or even the director? What would your Blogfluence score be in your community? Who is your Oprah? Are there different folks for teens, adults, kids, men, movies, etc.? Are their reviews and selections promoted inside the library and virtually? Can they be on a READ poster? Do they have personal web pages and social sites?
  5. How are you promoting eBooks for non-fiction? If you have a Books24x7 collection of technology eBooks, have you created a GeekZone club to promote the collection? Alternatively, can it be a Tech for Dummies/Idiots club or service for those who want help? How about car manuals online? What's the target market there? Think about your eBooks and use 2.0 promotion tools to get them used.

Keep an eye out for the July 2008 SirsiDynix One Source for items 6 - 25 of the 25 things 2.0 can do for books!

Stephen Abram, MLS is Vice President, Innovation, for SirsiDynix. He is the Chief Strategist for the SirsiDynix Institute ( ). He is an SLA Fellow, President 2008 of SLA, and the past president of the Ontario Library Association and the Canadian Library Association. He is the author of ALA Edition's Out Front With Stephen Abram and Stephen's Lighthouse Blog. Stephen would love to hear from you at .