As I’m sitting here at DCA (& waiting on my flight home) this is the one prevailing thought that I seem to be leaving from the CIL conference with. It’s not that I heard this theme echoed throughout the conference – to the contrary, the theme of change & engagement was much more prevalent -- but rather this was the theme that seemed to be an under tone of many of the conservations I had with participants and colleagues.
The idea that libraries need to abandon this notion of sustainability was made clear to me by one astute and very inquisitive dutch librarian who attended the pre-conference (and follow-up talk) that Michael Porter and I gave. “I think I understand what you’re saying, but how can it be sustained?” she asked in many different ways to me through out the conference, and she wasn’t the only one.
There were others who attended our talk on the use of 2.0 tools in marketing who asked ‘sustainability questions’ too, but just in different ways. “How do you convince management that 2.0 is the right direction that we need to going in the long run?” “Is it wise to promote the use of Flickr in libraries for long term image storage? What happens if Flickr disappears?” “How do get staff to keep up library blogs when no one is commenting?” The answer is simply “You don’t.” Stop focusing on the long-term issues and solutions. Change your thinking and shift the emphasis to trying things out as short-term ideas that have no longevity.
The notion that every idea we plan to test out must be designed for long-term commitment, so that we can sustain it for-eveeeeeeeer, easily paralyzes and keeps us from moving forward. How about replacing our thinking with piloting ideas as simply short campaigns?
Campaigns are ideal because they typically have start and stop dates, measurable outcomes and most importantly the effort is do them is concentrated into a short time frames. With this approach it’s not only easier to test out the use of web 2.0 technologies, it’s also easier to keep test out relevance because campaigns are naturally timely to address the here-and-the-now. So what do campaigns look like? And how do they test the use of social technologies in libraries. Well, here’s a short list of a few that demonstrate this in action:
- Hennepin County PL – Harry Potter images (Relevance: the release of JK Rowlings last HP book. Social technology used: Flickr)
- Allen County PL – A day in the life of AC (Relevance: A single day event. Technology: Flickr)
- PLCMC National Library Week Foto Fun (Relevance: National Library Week. Social Technology: Image generators)
- New Jersey’s Libraries – 3 Reasons Why (Relevance: State Library Campaign Technology: YouTube)
With each of these small campaigns a new community engagement idea was successfully tested. Whether it attracted and only a handful of customers or engaged an entire community, the short duration of the campaign allowed each library to just test out the viability and functionality of the idea. And in that alone, it was a success!
Yes, in my mind sustainability is really a notion that we just need to abandon. For it keeps us from piloting and building upon smaller campaigns and successes that ensure that libraries remain current, fresh and culturally relevant to our communities.
PS: Thanks M for asking the question so well and so directly. You've really got me thinking. :)