The 100 Years War – An Evolution of the Library Customer

By: Clark Swanson

Clients frequently ask, “What is the future of libraries?” Much to their frustration, I respond, “I haven’t a clue.” Their question, I think, misses the point. The real question relates to their customers. That is, how will your customers evolve and change in the years ahead?  That’s a question we can answer. The following represents an effort to do that in the broadest of terms, defining the future customer.

Friday afternoon provides the OrangeBoy team a welcome break from the demands of our week. Client e-mails, texts, and calls slow. Those who spent the week traveling return. Frequently, the most interesting conversations take place during this time. Jack and Erin occasionally break out in song on Friday afternoons, sometimes accompanied by dance.

These conversations provide a window to view a generation’s consumption behavior. In this sense, they serve as our Lucy. One can reasonably expect they will shape the forces of consumerism for the next 100 years through their children and grandchildren. A glimpse of their passions and proclivities tell us much about how we might shape our service offerings in the long years ahead. I want to introduce you two of our team members who serve as a generational proxy.

Erin, age 23, hails from Chicagoland. On her desk sits two cell phones, a Nokia Windows Phone and a Samsung Android. She moves seamlessly from one to the other, even while responding to e-mail and Lync messages on her laptop. Erin has accumulated thousands of followers on Instagram. At home, she and her significant other each have their own X-Box.

Shelby, age 22, came to us from Marietta College with degrees in Physics and Math. She recently purchased her first car, an electric blue Ford Fiesta. Shelby carries only one phone, an Android. She loves music and listens to Spotify most of the day. When not at OrangeBoy, you may find her involved in a local theatre production.

My business partner Sandy once called Erin “self-supervising.”  Shelby loves nothing more than solving a problem. She makes so little noise that one hardly knows when she arrives or leaves. We love them both, and Sandy and I take much enjoyment watching them establish their lives.

They move about this task in ways we find foreign but quite interesting. The most obvious involves something we talk about with our clients frequently—mobility.

Many mistake mobility for the use of a mobile device. At times, I carry as many as five mobile devices — three pads, a Windows Phone, and a jet pack. Yet as Erin and Shelby both know, I lack mobility. Mobility relates to ubiquitousness. Erin and Shelby live in a world where technology exists as part of the scenery, and they take no special notice of it. I make technology a conscious choice.

You see this as Erin shuffles effortlessly between phones, or as Spotify follows Shelby where ever she ventures. In either case, the devices they use understand what they want at any particular time. It just appears. They think nothing of it.

Their immersive technologies leave Erin and Shelby with an altered syntax. A different operating system drives their world. Shelby characterized it this way: “I applied for and received student loans online without ever talking with a person, but to get a library card, I have to show up at a specific location, at a specific time, with specific forms of identification. It makes no sense.”

The operative phrase here, “It makes no sense.”  Erin’s even more earnest:  “I simply don’t understand libraries.”

Their point, I think, relates to how their generation moves through daily life. Contact with people, whether bankers or librarians, have been engineered out of the systems they use. Conditioned to this, they view such interactions with a befuddled look, as to say, “Why would I do that?”

I have seen that look many times, and it still garners a double take. Yet as Sandy once asked, “Who has to change?”  Her question went unanswered, but we both knew the answer.

Sandy’s question relates to a third element of their lives. They expect service whenever and wherever. Shelby returned from apartment hunting one Monday miffed that leasing agents required Saturday appointments. Even within the realm of the physical, Erin and Shelby expect something beyond convenience. They expect the world to mold to their schedules.

Their desire for “right now” comes with an implied understanding they readily accept. This only comes in yielding their privacy. Or, as Erin put it, “I don’t expect privacy.” Erin and Shelby fully understand the personal data they consciously or unconsciously contribute may flow to unexpected places. They do so, however, with the belief that this “contribution” yields greater choice.

Choice strikes at the heart of their lives. They expect it. Perhaps more than any other generation, this one has lived with the consequence of choice longer than any other. It started early in the lives with standardized testing, culminating in the SAT. They chose a college. They signed student loan papers. Why now should they surrender this? They won’t. Like Frank Sinatra, they intend to do it their way. Shelby calls this do-it-yourself couture. Translated, you make your own life.

 

The Glass Half Full

By: Sandy Swanson

Half empty or half full? A classic example used in numerous articles and self-help books asks us to identify how we see the glass. The thought is that if we see the glass half empty, we are pessimists. We have a client, Wadsworth Public Library, who chose to see their financial situation quite the opposite way. With their optimistic attitude and determination, they passed a levy that had failed just eight months earlier. You can also read a related article about the Wadsworth Public Library on the Library Journal blog, The Digital Shift.

Glass half fullOrangeBoy provided the Wadsworth Public Library, located in Medina County, Ohio, analytics about its customers and community to pass a crucial operating levy. This time, armed with optimism, dedicated volunteers, and good data, it worked. Here’s how they did it.

The library is anchored between the Akron and Cleveland metropolitan areas and it serves a community of approximately 25,000. The community had seen steady declines in state library funding since 2001, but it reached a critical point from 2008 through 2010, after sharp cuts to library funding due to the recession. This resulted in immediate budget reductions of $500,000 for the library (nearly 20 percent of its overall budget), and cumulative losses of $2 million over the previous 10 years. These cuts reduced operating hours, staff and programs.

The library went to the voters in March 2012 and attempted to pass a 1.25 mill levy. Despite a valiant effort from community volunteers and the library, the levy did not pass.

A ‘half-empty’ mind-set could have overcome the library and they might have just given up, cutting library services even further. But they didn’t. They decided to re-group and try a different approach. This time, they adjusted the desired levy to 1 mill, formed another dedicated volunteer committee, and hired OrangeBoy to understand the market dynamics at play.

OrangeBoy helped the library with a comprehensive market analysis. Our study identified where their cardholders lived and displayed geographic trends visually with GIS maps, in addition to identifying other demographic characteristics of their customers and the overall market. We also incorporated voter registration information to add deeper insights about voting patterns in their community.

After presenting our research, the library decided to play to its strength and focus its levy efforts on known supporters. They believed they would have a better chance at passing the levy if they could encourage loyal users to get to the polls. Their strategy worked, and the levy passed with 55 percent of the vote, a nine point swing from the election just eight months earlier.

Our role in this effort is extremely rewarding, but it is their ‘half full’ optimism that inspires me. When I have a day that didn’t go as planned or am greeted with disappointing news, I remember the Wadsworth Public Library and look at that glass a whole new way.

Here’s to an optimistic and rewarding new year.

Leave us your comments or questions below.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2013

Just the Facts…

By: Andy Minister

As we were driving from LAX into the city last week for the Library Journal Director’s Summit, my colleague Clark quoted the opening line from a famous TV show – Dragnet. After the Summit concluded, I imagined how the opening voiceover would sound at the conference…

“This is the city. Los Angeles, California. I work here. I carry a badge. My name’s Friday – I’m a cop. My partner is Frank Smith. It was November 29th. It was raining in Los Angeles. We were working the day watch out of the Library Security Division. A steady stream of disruptions had been finding its way into the city’s library system. We’d gotten a lead on some of the sources of those disruptions – We had to check it out.”

Joe Friday was no-nonsense, straightforward, diligent and paid attention to detail. Those characteristics led to solving crimes. But Friday was also a man set in his ways about how police work was done.

The Director’s Summit’s theme was Disruptions and Opportunities: Libraries Welcome Change. Many libraries find change difficult. The summit showed that libraries are getting out of their comfort zone and realizing a new way of thinking is necessary.

The positive energy from all the directors at the summit was truly exciting to see, and change is certainly coming. Like Friday, today’s libraries are diligent and pay attention to detail. Many have already begun to find opportunities in the pile of disruptions they face in order to make their library more effective and efficient.

“Just the facts, ma’am.” This is thought to be the most recognizable catchphrase from the show. But I learned while writing this, the actual phrase is “all we know are the facts, ma’am.” Think about the difference of these two phrases. In the former, Friday is asking for the facts, in the latter, he is telling her the facts are all that matter.

In our work at OrangeBoy, we have been evangelizing this approach for years, touting the benefits of customer segmentation and data-driven approaches to allocate resources, retain customers and build library support. We believe the facts are what matter, and we truly enjoy working with libraries to uncover those facts. When the facts are all that matter, libraries are able to make decisions that are not only easy to defend, but bring opportunities that result in outcomes that benefit the community.

It was refreshing listening to the thought leaders that participated in the Summit. All of the presentations were excellent and educational, but a few in particular stood out.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is true. The names have (not) been changed to protect the innocent.”

Corrine Hill and Nate Hill (no relation) put on a show outlining a whole new way of thinking about how a library operates and serves its community. When Corrine’s vision becomes reality, the future Chattanooga Public Library will look more like an Apple Store than a Barnes and Noble. Nate has literally turned the library into a virtual playground. He has taken the fourth floor and turned it into a laboratory of library experiments. When those experiments are successful and validated, they find a way to implement them throughout the library…when they aren’t successful, they throw them out and move onto the next. I for one cannot wait to pay a visit to Chattanooga, a.k.a., Gig City because of the city’s commitment to high-speed Internet for all residents.

Admittedly, I may have some bias since he is from my fair city and a client, but Patrick Losinski, CEO of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, shared how he views his effectiveness having served for 11 years in that role. He discussed ways for long-tenured directors to stay focused, keep enthusiasm high, and determine when it is time to make changes. One of his success stories in Columbus is inviting local CEO’s to his office for lunch. He claims that he has eaten more turkey sandwiches than anyone in the city, but the relationships he has made, and the advice he has received in those lunches, has enhanced Patrick’s skills as a leader, and in turn made the library more successful.

It was a pleasure meeting so many directors and hearing about their challenges, but more so hearing their ideas and opportunities to meet those challenges.

As I left That City. Los Angeles, California. All we knew were the facts. Not all the facts are positive. But they do provide opportunities to grow. Growth is positive. And that’s a fact, Jack (uh-oh, I think that’s a line from one of my other favorite movies – Stripes.)

Leave us your comments or questions below.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2012

My Vision of the Library of the Future

By: Clark Swanson

I see it in my mind’s eye, just as clear as day, a library—not the library you know, but something altogether different.

It appears there aren’t books on shelves—only those you’ll find on your mobile device available for download 24/7, providing access to information all hours and days of the week.

Precious real estate turns into technology featured spaces with Librarians that have specialized skills in copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Mostly, you will see technologists—not those that could tell you about the inner workings of a personal computer, but those that concern themselves with CAD systems (computer-aided design).

This library includes three odd-looking spaces, a cross between a meeting room and a sound stage. From here, customers hold live video conferences with collaborators from around the world. In addition, these spaces will allow customers to produce audio and video productions. You will also see a number of smaller meeting spaces, each complete with cameras and audio.

You’ll see computer screens, but they’re devoted to CAD systems and software that translate CAD-based designs to 3D printers, the library’s centerpiece, not social networking. These printers, which literally create three-dimensional objects using ink-jet printing technology, allow people who could never before make or manufacture anything enter the global economy.

My library of the future serves as the cradle of a revolution that allows individuals with virtually no formal education to become titans of industry.

Sound impossible? It’s not. It could happen tomorrow. The technology exists today. But more to the point, this is the path Andrew Carnegie lived and embodied in the libraries he built.

A bit of savvy and the right tools can get you a long way in this world. While libraries can do little about the former, they can the latter. At least my library does.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2012

Reminiscing about the Summer

By: Clark Swanson

My seersucker suit makes its final outing of the season today. That means only one thing–summer’s end.

Sad as it may be, what a summer it was! Our small band of consultants crisscrossed the nation, from New York to Albuquerque, Oregon to Maryland, and most points in between. We endured our reasonable share of early morning flights, sometimes awaking at 3:30 AM to catch the 6:00 AM flight to the next stop. We can tell you from personal experience, Southwest Airlines had another banner travel season, with every flight packed from stem to stern.

Good times.

Summer’s close gives me pause to think about some of the wonderful things I have heard and seen during the season. Let me rattle off a few:

  1. A very unscientific poll shows Southwest flight attendants overwhelmingly prefer printed books to eBooks. This owes to three factors. First, they can read their printed book throughout the whole flight. The FAA requires them to turn-off all e-readers for the first and last 10,000 feet. Second, have you ever seen an electrical outlet on a 737? Finally, they cannot trade eBooks with their fellow crewmembers. (Yes, even pilots like a good read.)
  2. Upstate New York is one of the nation’s biggest hidden treasures. Beautiful, comfortable, it possesses a growing technology sector. Even with all this, the clerk at the Hilton Garden Inn urged me to wrap-up my work there before the end of October, if possible. (There is a reason those fire hydrants have five-foot reflective markers attached to them.)
  3. Great clients make great consultants. Our clients continue to amaze me. They possess a strong desire to make their businesses the best in class. That alone makes all the miles and early flights worthwhile. It is truly inspiring to spend time with them. Thank you.
  4. For those who think libraries are a dying breed, come spend a week with me. This summer, we witnessed traffic levels in these institutions that would surely baffle ardent critics. Yes, libraries must continue to evolve, and they will continue to, but there is a lot left in these venerable institutions.
  5. The retrofit of Southwest’s fleet of 737s is very nice, but I sure do miss those big, thickly padded seats.
  6. Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) is my favorite airport. And, the BWI Hilton my favorite hotel. Both know their business well.
  7. If you ever stay at the BWI Hilton, make sure you cross the street and visit the National Electronics Museum. Those people at Northrop Grumman are incredible.
  8. I saw one of the best historical programs ever (and my wife Sandy can tell you that I have seen many) at a library. It was one of the most improbable things I ever expected—an audience of nearly 400 people simply transfixed for two hours, watching history in the form of an interview between the Library Director and an actor playing William Clarke Quantrill.  If you ever get a chance to see one of these programs at the Kansas City Public Library, I highly recommend it. It is that good.
  9. We have witnessed organizations transform themselves and their services by analyzing data that is readily available to them. Our clients have found that the hard work of discerning micro-trends is far more beneficial than using macro-level pronouncements, which further signifies that the real answers are in the data you already have.
  10. Finally, I simply marvel at how a group of strangers can become fast friends by simply sharing an experience. A recent two-hour delay at midnight in one of the country’s busiest airports proved to be an amazing experience. Simply exchanging one’s life stories can really make a difficult experience a wonderful one. Thanks, guys.

As I close, I see a flock of geese heading South and a little Southwest 737 making its approach to CMH. Ah, the two constants in life— the change of seasons and the Boeing 737, both equally are amazing in their own way.

It was a great summer folks.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2012

Libraries as the Conduit for Renewal

By: Clark Swanson

Over the past four weeks, I have visited nearly 100 libraries throughout the United States to conduct observational studies for clients. I describe the last set as being similar to the 737’s in the Southwest Airlines fleet—they take a pounding every day.

The 6:00 AM flight this morning gave me a few minutes to think about this a bit further. My thoughts were placed in context by something Thomas Friedman wrote in his most recent column in The New York Times:

America today is poised for a great renewal. Our newfound natural gas bounty can give us long-term access to cheap, cleaner energy and, combined with advances in robotics and software, is already bringing blue-collar manufacturing back to America. Web-enabled cellphones and tablets are creating vast new possibilities to bring high-quality, low-cost education to every community college and public school so people can afford to acquire the skills to learn 21st-century jobs. Cloud computing is giving anyone with a creative spark cheap, powerful tools to start a company with very little money. And dramatically low interest rates mean we can borrow to build new infrastructure — and make money.

It occurred to me that all of these people I observed over the past four weeks were using their libraries as the conduit for their renewal. Whether it was learning English, studying for a test, or using broadband to access cloud services, the library was a tool they employed to leverage their American Dream, regardless of its form.

We sometimes get caught up in all of the data, trying to figure out what is circulating, who is circulating it, if circulation is up or down, and so on to make decisions, that we forget the premise of why people use libraries. It is important then, I think, to focus intently on this context. It seems to me that the use of a library is a technology in its classic sense – a tool that enables one to generate value more efficiently.

The more I see, the better I begin to understand Andrew Carnegie’s dream of free libraries for the American public. They are more than a community resource—they serve to bring people closer to living their American Dream much like Carnegie himself.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2012

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The Revival of Rabbit Ears

By: Clark Swanson

I vaguely recall a pair of rabbit ears sitting atop my grandmother’s TV in rural Missouri. She would twist and turn them to improve the reception on her Curtis Mathes color TV. To me, it never really seemed to work terribly well, but for her eyes, the picture quality improved immediately.

Monday morning’s account in the Wall Street Journal came as somewhat of a shock to me – the sales of rabbit ears trending upward. So much that Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Costco have started stocking rabbit ears in their stores. In addition, the unlikely driver of this trend, although not unlikely once you think about it, the web. More precisely, services like Hulu and Netflix. One manufacturer noted, “Every time that Hulu and Netflix enhance their services, our phones light up.”

Consumers have discovered they can jettison their cable and satellite TV by streaming programming from the web and accessing local channels – you guessed it – with rabbit ears. The Wall Street Journal article estimated consumers could save about $96 each month with this practice.

OrangeBoy has seen a similar trend among library users across the country. Among those who read six books or less annually, retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble are often identified in surveys as the preferred choice for reading materials. The library’s competitiveness increases as the number of books read increases. Once a cardholder starts reading ten or more books annually, the library becomes almost the exclusive provider. The same appears to hold true for digital downloads.

These trends tell the same lesson, I believe. Customers know how to count their pennies, and when it makes sense, they switch. Libraries can draw several lessons from this:

  1. Know your sweet spot. Understand those who read more than ten books per year.
  2. Feed the habit. The more you read, the higher your consumption of materials. Reading represents a learned behavior, or habit. With increased availability of materials through holds and downloads, the habit grows.
  3. Never assume your customers know precisely what they want. Understand the communication channels preferred by your customers, and actively court them through digital and social media to highlight new authors and introduce them to new services.

Grandmother never exactly knew the best position for her rabbit ears. It changed daily. The twisting and turning was part of her evening ritual. Many evenings it was to no avail. The signal just disappeared, and when it did, she turned-off the set and reached for a book. Grandmother read considerably more than ten books a year, as it turns out.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2012