Monday, November 29, 2010

Getting real about going virtual

Today I was reading Stephen Abram's blog, Stephen's Lighthouse, and his post urging us to be more proactive when it comes to attending virtual conferences and events in 2011. Clearly there are more and more opportunities for virtual participation and an entire industry has sprung up to support it. I'm sure most of us have attended (or even hosted) hybrid conferences that offered at least a virtual component, if not a complete virtual track.

At NELLCO we have dipped our toes into the virtual event water. In 2008 we ran a survey to find out what members wanted from the Interest Groups. We had 54 responses and about 1/5 indicated that they wished we could provide more of an opportunity for distance participation. To help us meet that need we license Webex and use their Event Center as a virtual presentation environment. We have begun making some inroads. We did a 4-part series on advocacy earlier this year, we often host virtual product demos of electronic resources we offer to our members, and we have had a handful of virtual attendees at some of our Interest Group meetings over the last few years. But we haven't developed a standard operating procedure for virtual or hybrid events; it's not yet been operationalized. I'm going to share the two primary reasons for that as well as my personal reservations about jumping into the virtual deep end.

First, we simply lack the internal support system to do virtual well. It's more than just a speaker phone and a conference line. That we can manage. But to really do virtual in a meaningful and engaging way requires good IT support, independent facilitation for in-person and online (and perhaps even back channel) components, and sufficient technology, including video components. So while we will continue to do what we can with our current technologies (webex and audio) we aren't likely to be wowing you with our virtual presence anytime soon. Good intentions on the part of the event host don't necessarily result in a good experience for the participants.

Second, I'm not sure the Interest Groups are the right forum for virtual participation. In the survey mentioned earlier members were even more vocal about the value of the face-to-face experience that the Interest Groups foster. From the responses, attendance at the IG meetings is more about the collegiality, the opportunity to learn firsthand what's happening in other libraries and how folks are managing, coping, leading, etc. While the meeting content is important for members to be able to justify their attendance, the real value is in the other attendees. In Hybrid Meetings That Offer the Best of Both Worlds, an article in Associations Now by Kathleen M. Edwards, one lesson learned by virtual event pioneers is that content is king. Since content isn't the prime mover for our members to attend our IG meetings, it may not be the right place to standardize virtual participation.

So now to my personal reservations. In a nutshell it's this: if we build it, you will come. If all of our meetings and events can be attended virtually, will the entire face-to-face component evaporate? With travel budgets shrinking and demands on staff increasing there might be a big push to 'go virtual' when you can. And if that happens I think the Interest Groups would quickly founder.

In a Leader Connect post, Ahead of the Virtual Event Curve, on 11/23, Rebecca Rolfes offers some sage advice that I take to heart.
Worrying too long about cannibalization only increases the likelihood that someone else will offer your audience a virtual experience that you should have owned.
I think the challenge for NELLCO is offering the right mix of online and onground opportunities. This means being strategic about when, where and how we offer virtual engagement.

What are your thoughts? What's the best or worse attempt you've seen at providing a virtual conference or event experience? Is there a way NELLCO could do more in this arena?

Thursday, November 18, 2010


This weekend I'm attending my first ever TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) event! At the invitation of my son, Sam and his girlfriend, Danielle, I'm heading to Montreal early Sat. to attend TEDxMcGill! The theme is Relentless Curiosity. I'm so looking forward to the experience. And especially to hearing from Henry Mintzberg, noted Canadian scholar, on why managers need to be curious. In an article in The Economist in 2009, Mintzberg is quoted as saying, "the job of managing is fundamentally one of processing information, notably by talking and especially by listening." He noted that the average manager "thrives on interruptions and more often than not disposes of items in ten minutes or less." And he found that managers were able to engage in sustained, uninterrupted work (more than 30 minutes) only once every two days. You're probably not surprised, given the extreme multi-tasking in which we all regularly participate. But Mintzberg's study took place in 1975! An era devoid of the hyperconnectivity of our modern lives. I am definitely curious to hear his ideas.

Have you attended a TED event? Any tips for me as I prepare? Any stories to share?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Embracing openness to enhance collaboration

We're all agreed that this is a new day in the world of information exchange. It's been said time and again that the impact of the digital revolution on civilization is akin to the advent of the printing press. Absolutely, undisputedly, transformational. But it's not enough just to recognize that truism. We need to absorb it, dissect it, exploit it and embody it. Institutions, organizations, associations, corporations and non-profits can no longer afford to ignore the growing influence of social media as a market influencer. The spin masters are being out-spun in the cloud.

Recently, in many different settings, I've been thinking about this. I was recently invited to attend a workshop at ODDA to help me identify my leadership style as one of either abundance or scarcity. While I couldn't attend I'm pretty sure I know which side of the divide I fall on, and which side I prefer. In other settings I've heard colleagues lamenting over the fact that 'we' can no longer manage (or even monitor) information flow as we have in the past. For the most part, these are my contemporaries, professionals who remember a more orderly and heirarchical communication pattern in the world. And, as anyone who knows my control freak tendencies will suspect, I feel their pain. But we simply don't have the luxury of nostalgia when it comes to leading our organizations. If we ignore the ubiquity of social media in stubborn fealty to the way things were when we were cutting our teeth we'll quickly become obsolete and irrelevant. Instead, we can move forward only if we embrace new media and become active participants.

I'm currently reading Charlene Li's Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, in which she defines open leadership as follows: having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.

Ms. Li suggests five sound rules to guide our behavior as open leaders.
  1. Respect that your customers and employees have power.
  2. Share constantly to build trust.
  3. Nurture curiosity and humility.
  4. Hold openness accountable.
  5. Forgive failure.
She recognizes that there are challenges in adopting an open leadership strategy, but I suspect as I continue reading I'll learn that the benefits outweigh the costs. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lyrasis summit takeaway - Just Start!

On Tues.and Weds. of this week I attended a meeting for library consortium leaders hosted by Lyrasis at their Atlanta headquarters. It's a real pleasure to gather with this group of colleagues and have the opportunity to exchange ideas, challenges, solutions and successes. Their combined expertise is staggering and the group is a think tank for library collaboration. Over the course of our two days together I was reminded of a few familiar adages. The first is if you've seen one consortium, you've seen one consortium! Even though we share so many common features, have similar missions and speak the same language, we are each unique. Whether it's our funding streams, our budgets, our size, our geography, our governance or our infrastructure, each of us has distinct characteristics. In an effort to compile a snapshot of those commonalities and distinctions I ran a survey back in 2005. I've tweaked it a bit to reflect changes in technology and I'm running it again in 2010. If you represent a consortium I would appreciate it if you would complete the survey. It will remain open until the end of Nov. After I compile the results I'll share what I've learned here.

The second adage, which I quote often, is the perfect is the enemy of the good! I thought of this again in Atlanta as I listened to various consortium leaders talking about innovative projects or programs that didn't get off the ground because every imaginable potential shortcoming or problem couldn't be completely addressed in advance (my interpretation, not theirs). Seeking perfection usually results in paralysis. How often have you seen a reality show about hoarding where the compulsive hoarder claims to be a perfectionist? Uh, how's that workin' for ya? I remember when I was in my late 20s and trying to decide whether I should quit my job and risk pursuing an education. I was sitting on a park bench churning the decision over and over and an older woman sat down next to me and just started making conversation. I shared with her what I was struggling with and she gave me the best advice I've ever had. She turned to me and said "Just start." (I stared back blankly) "Just start taking steps in the direction of what you want. If obstacles arise you'll either overcome them or not. But at least you'll know." Nike said it best. Just Do It!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Stopping the Echo to Start the Dialogue

A recent posting over at Organsing Chaos highlighted one of the recurring obstacles we as librarians place in front of ourselves. They're referring to it as the Echo Chamber (see Ned Potter's (the wikiman) video below). It's the apparent difficulty we have conveying our value to outsiders. How often have you or one of your colleagues repeated this pronouncement in one form or another: "Librarians just aren't good at marketing ourselves!" The more we repeat it the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy! So let's just say no! Let's quit accepting this as fact and start challenging it. The next time you hear it engage in some probing. Ask the speaker if it's a fact or just a perception. Ask for some examples. Have some counter examples ready to share. Ask what steps can be taken to help us become better advocates for our profession. We have to change our own perspective so that we can be more effective in educating others. When those outside of the chamber begin to recognize the value we bring there may be new and unexpected opportunities for collaboration!