As technology continues to change, so do the roles librarians play. We are no different than any other profession in that respect. If you think about it, we are, like “The Desk Set” staff, expendable – at least in the minds of those who manage companies, firms, and other types of libraries. We are also very similar to:
- News reporters and newspaper staff,
- Magazine writers and staff
- Publishing managers and staff,
- Bookstore managers and staff,
- Video store managers and staff, and
- Record store managers and staff,
in that we are part of the information chain that has kept our customers, clients, patrons, users – those we serve - educated, informed, and entertained. Additionally, each of us as groups of employees and/or individuals need to stay relevant in this economy as well as the governmental and business climates. We are all struggling or have failed to determine our place in the online world.
Let’s think about strategies for a moment. The economy has hurt many of us in that the organizations we are a part of may not have or had their own strategies to survive or the strategies they were using didn’t work. Borders provides us with a good example. Amazon does seem to own the market but there are bookstores that have either aligned themselves with Amazon or set up their own online presence (i.e., Barnes & Noble). These strategies have worked for some but others have failed or given up in moving online.
Borders has more to do with cash flow and other economic pressures than about technology. In their case, the strategy of moving online didn’t work. Whether they got to the party to late, tried to run their business online in the same way they ran their former business, stretched themselves too thin, or just ran out of money, they failed to stay relevant to their customers during the economic downturn. They can blame technology, but if we were to look closer at the situation, we would find technology to be more of an excuse than the facts they don’t want to face.
Many of the organizations where we work (or worked for), that have survived this economy, have done so in a couple of ways – using the strategy of being conservative throughout their existence, or cutting costs during tough times to please those they serve, whether it be shareholders, the public or other constituencies. This is a strategy that requires a willingness to set aside what’s good for the organization in the long run, for more immediate rewards now and where little thought is given to the future - by the organization or the constituency served..
The economy and the need to survive in what will soon be an online world, have created a perfect storm and that perfect storm requires new strategies for us to stay relevant.
Building a strategy or set of strategies requires us to do an environmental scan (what are the issues our organizations are facing in the industry or segment they (we) are part of) and the analysis needed to understand the impact those issues have on our own internal function. Along with looking at the pressures we are facing from the outside, we need to do the research and analysis of what our users need by asking them for input – what are their needs to survive or stay relevant. Without doing that groundwork, we don’t have the information we need to form a strategy and the strategies we create may fail.
Part II will focus on the strategies we can use to evolve instead of just survive.