Thursday, March 29, 2007

valuing ourselves and being valued as speakers

I read Dorothea's post about reimbursement for speaking at conferences this morning. She points out the disparity between her experience with the TXLA and Michelle's experience.

I cannot even begin to count up how much I've personally spent to speak or otherwise participate in events at conferences. I taught a workshop for AAM once and encountered a similar experience to Michelle's -- I was asked to pay to register when I was teaching a workshop they'd make money from. I was on the MCN Board and MCN is an affiliate organization, so MCN gave me one of their exhibitor comps so I wouldn't have to pay to teach my workshop.

But, the year that I was president of the Museum Computer Network board, I had to attend six or seven conferences to give presentations or represent MCN at meetings or lead board meetings. It was MCN's policy never to reimburse anyone. I had a limited travel budget at MPOW, which paid for two of my six or seven trips. It never occurred to me to say no.

I've given talks at dozens of conferences. Every so often I get comped registration. On very rare occasions I get a night or two reimbursed at a hotel. I've never been offered a speaker's fee for a conference. This doesn't include the occasional gig where I've been comped and paid to teach one or two-day workshops outside of conference venues.

A couple of months ago I gave a talk at Open Repositories 07 that was very well received, and some folks approached me afterwards and suggested that I come to their institution to give the same talk. My colleague Grace Agnew sat me down at lunch and gave me a semi-stern talking to that I undervalued myself as a speaker. Always ask for something. Part or all of your travel. Comped registration. Speaker's fees. You may not get it, but you might get something when you expected nothing. If you get offered nothing and you weren't already planning to attend with institutional support, decline.

Yes, we might miss some professional opportunities. I'm going to put this in harsh terms -- conferences and organizations often take advantage of us. We want to give back to our community, but that doesn't mean that we should pay to give back to our community.

Do you still want to be my agent, Grace? ;-)

Monday, March 26, 2007

online service design and barking cats

Sunday I was at the Green Valley Book Fair, where remaindered books go for another chance to reach customers. The Long Tail applied!

For some reason this time we found ourselves lingering in the business and management section, where there were large numbers of self-help leadership and marketing books, like "Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun" or "The Martha Rules: 10 Essentials for Achieving Success as You Start, Grow, or Manage a Business," by Martha Stewart, or "The Mars Pathfinder Approach to 'Faster-Better-Cheaper.'"

Some of the titles caught my eye because they included some simple concepts that we rarely make time to consider: "The Transparent Leader: How to Build a Great Company Through Straight Talk, Openness and Accountability." "The Courageous Messenger: How To Successfully Speak Up At Work." "It's Not the Big That Eat the Small...It's the Fast That Eat the Slow: How to Use Speed as a Competitive Tool in Business."

But one title really caught my eye: "Waiting for Your Cat to Bark? Persuading Customers When They Ignore Marketing." The title is partly rhetorical -- the book is about new modes of marketing online services in an increasingly marketing-resistant world. It's also about processes through which we can potentially identify user needs and demographics and the persona building process. The cats barking metaphor comes from expecting users to respond like Pavlov's dogs, where they're really inscrutable and self-motivated cats. I'm not sure that I'm fully on board with persona development as I've seen it implemented, but I'm not reviewing the book one way or the other (especially since I haven't read it): it's purely the title that seemed aptly descriptive of a phenomenon to me.

We launch online services and wonder why our users don't use them the way we expected. We tend to populate interfaces with jargon-y terminology and then expect our users will learn the vocabulary to use the services. We on occasion provide functionality that we would use in our work and expect our users to need exactly the same and nothing different. We have been known to complain that it's our users who are broken, not our interfaces.

We're waiting for our users to bark.

Instead, we need ask our users more about what they want and need. We may not always be able to deliver, due to resource or technology limitations. But asking improves our credibility, and provides us with insights that we didn't have before we asked. Our Library is looking at designating a "user requirements" team whose responsibility is to ask questions, hold focus groups, and interact with a re-invigorated usability team. It looks like we're learning to meow.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Rachel threw out a meme challenge on five non-Library blogs that we read:

Boing Boing: Where else is there a single feed that provides updates on books, intellectual property law and privacy, science, technology, and popular culture?

Cinematical: All the news you could possibly ever want about films -- whether planned or in production -- plus great reviews.

if:book: From the Institute for the Future of the Book, a New York-based think tank dedicated to discourse on reading, publishing, and the media.

Manolo's Shoe Blog: While not a frilly girl by nature, I cannot deny my inborn admiration for all sorts of shoes, especially when paired with extremely clever writing.

Slashfood: Named as an homage to Slashdot, a group blog about food trends, products, and restaurants.

Monday, March 19, 2007

the traditional and the digital

Every day when I fire up my FeedReader, I now expectantly look for new posts from Peter Brantley's blog shimenawa II.

In a recent posting, Peter outlines some thought on D2D and libraries, with which I strongly agree.

In the past, we've had many discussions at my institution about the divide between the "traditional" and the digital. We still talk about our "digital library" as if it's a separate entity. I have often advocated that we stop using this terminology because it's all THE Library. The "traditional" work of acquisitions and cataloging are huge parts of our online services, populating our catalog and OpenURL Resolver, and generating metadata for our digital objects. Our public services staff select and work with physical collections and online services and content. Our interlibrary services staff deal with electronic document delivery and digitization for reserves as well as book retrieval and physical ILL.

I know it's human nature to express ourselves in structuralist binary oppositions. To extend the Lévi-Strauss metaphor, we need to move forward in our analysis of the thesis and the antithesis into the resolution that is the synthesis. We need to reunite our perspectives on the traditional and the digital into one Library. We are not and cannot be dual organizations any more -- let's stop thinking about ourselves that way.

catching up

I just realized that I haven't posted in entry in close to a month. I haven't disappeared from the face of the earth; rather, I've been nose-to-the-grindstone on some projects.

The Virginia Heritage Project went through an overhaul of some of its underlying functionality.

The text delivery in our Repository hasn't failed in quite some time.

Some milestone legacy text sets were migrated into the Repository collections.

We're planning logistics for our Google Book Search project activities.

Now I can re-surface and join the world again. I can catch up on what happened at code4lib 2007, and at the Users and Uses of Bibliographic Data Meeting, finish my contributions to the glossary that I'm supposed to be working on for the Fedora wiki, and think about what the future holds for us as customers with SirsiDynix's announcement of "Rome."