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Webinar: Interview with Stephen Abram
A recorded webinar with Stephen Abram on trends in public perception of the library. Stephen recommends a focus on eLearning and library education.
Originally presented September 2015
Stephen Abram is a librarian and an advocate for libraries. He is a big picture thinker and a longtime observer and analyst in the library space. Professionally, he has served as president of the Canada Library Association and the Special Library Association, held executive level positions in publishing and technology companies, and is currently the Executive Director of the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries and a Principal at Lighthouse Consulting Inc.
His blog http://stephenslighthouse.com/ is one of the most widely read library blogs in the world.
Notes on the recording:
Because of some technical glitches in the recording, the first few minutes of the interview were lost and the sound quality leaves a bit to be desired. We apologize for that. Luckily, we're able to offer a full transcript of the recorded portion below and the video also gives you the option to turn on subtitles.
Before the recording began, Jared had made some introductions and asked Stephen about the work of the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries (FOPL). Stephen was describing their advocacy work and their findings on the return on investment for public funds spent on libraries. They found an ROI...
- But you can't get a job in any of those communities anymore without a knowledge economy degree. You can't chop down a tree without being able to use the computer an laser beams to slice the tree, let alone get into a mine, or do the chemical type thing, or have an environmental attitude about it. So, if we're gonna build a knowledge economy, then public libraries is a vital link for every resident in every community to ensure their success. We're also a country of immigrants, so public libraries are the state where new Canadians find their home in Canada in our pluralistic, multi-cultural society. And so, we need to do that regardless of location or background. So, I think building communications strategies around-- Hell, we all know there are more libraries than McDonalds, McDonalds seem to be ubiquitous, so that one's getting a little tired. What we do now, is say every community in Ontario has a library. Every community in Ontario does not have a post office anymore. Every community in Ontario does not have a bank branch anymore. Every community in Ontario doesn't have Tim Hortons, our version of Starbucks, or a Starbucks anymore. The only infrastructure that is in every community in Ontario is the public library. And a non-partisan, unbiased, open to all, unfettered access to information so that everybody gets equitable access, and can lift themselves up, and have access to anything they want. So, the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries, FOPL, has been building more and more research, and in the last few months, we've gotten a crescendo of research delivered from what we thought we needed, so now we're about to start some interesting stuff, so we need to start doing new measurements. In the last two years, we decided on measurements not specific. So, libraries are affixed to the circulation number. Well, as you know in the US, from the PEW data that's coming out--
- in the governing of computers, circulation has plateaued or is declining.
- And because of the restrictions on ebook lending, and the ridiculous price we have to pay for eBooks to be able to circulate only one copy of them at a time, is limiting our ability to even move into that space. So that's not a number that's working for us, and when we know that about 48%-50% of people have used their library card in the last two years, we know that about 75% of people have used the library. Online or at an event or in a program. And that's interesting. There's nothing else that... We are the biggest cultural institution in Ontario. More people go to the library than attend professional sports, and I've mentioned the Pan Am Games that were just in Toronto. As a matter of fact, 174-times more people, opened the door of the library than went to the Pan Am Games They got a million people, we got about 174 million people a year enter our library door. And about another 250 million in digitally.
- It's interesting to look at that the biggest branch at nearly every library is their digital branch. And that's not our limit.
- And how do we make the digital branch do everything we do in person? You know, we can't put our hands on the shoulder of a stressed-out person in front of us, we can't hug that kid who's coming to story time, but we can get a pretty good waged worker to deliver a story time or to train them on how to use their eBook reader, or to get that question answered that's gonna make a difference in their life.
Jared- Well, and I think what's happening-- Go ahead.
Stephen- Oh, I was just gonna say-- So, we've downloaded all the data, this has never been done before in Canada, although it has been done with the IMLS data and NCES data in the US, and I've just published a report, ranking every library in the province, on the 10 major measurements that we did. Circulation per capita, circulation per card holder, expenditures per capita, number of programs per capita and per card holder. And we ran through measurements like that, so that we start to have the measurements. And then we did a full-scale public opinion polls, using Market Probe Canada, which is a retailed consultancy that-- And I chose a retail consultancy rather than some of the other ones we did on our project on the RFT, because they were political. Well, political consultancies only survey people who are citizens.
- Which is not the whole market of libraries.
- A lot of people can't even become a citizen for six, seven years, and we need to cover them. So I needed to know the over-sample on new Canadians, we over-sampled on first-nation people, we over-sampled on branch column, and then we did a valid sampling based on demographic on age and income and gender.
- So we have some really, really good data that they love us, they really love us, but there are some lessons to be learned in here, and they're almost the same lessons that PEW just published this week.
Jared- And that's where I wanted to make a point. That even though the research you're doing is specifically in Ontario, I think the recent PEW study validates that the trends hold true across North America. And that's where I think there's real value for our audience today, in understanding those trends, and understanding what's indicated by those trends.
Stephen- Well it's interesting. There are-- When librarians get into our little circle around the fire and hold hands and to think what's wrong, this is what the data is telling us. We are failing with men. We do not have as many men targeting our doors. Our cardholders, we have men in our cardholders, but they don't use it at the same level. We've known for years that we're really, really, really, good on core-marketers, women and children. And that's fine, but when 50% of your cohorts of audience, thinks that the library is potentially better for their spouse, the women they know, the kids... That tips data. It also tips the political will of them. The other piece of it is 18-40 year olds and high schoolers, PEW data, and our data in Ontario, shows a drop in high schoolers, use and connection to the public library, which we never thought we'd see. Especially if you're board of the classroom model where you research first and then write, instead of learn first, and then write about what you've learned. Libraries should become more important than that, but I'm worried that public libraries don't really know core trends in the new curriculum, don't really know enough about the common core. And haven't-- Well, we all thought the public librarians saying, "Well, if the teacher would have called with that "essay assignment, I could have been prepared." On average, counting the number of schools, Catholic, private, home-schoolers, and public schools in the base and around any branch libraries, there are about-- There are thousands of students in thousands of classes in dozens of schools. So there are, on average, 5,000 to 6,000 assignments a month So when I say-- Well, maybe it's easier to just email those 5,000 to 6,000 assignments a month than to do it in the library. It's not a scale-able solution.
- When you actually think about it, if you want to connect to high-schoolers, you should understand their curriculum from the other way, and what their goals of that curriculum are, and I don't think enough libraries have stepped-up to that plate. And then in the 18-40 year olds, their the disruptive generation that are on mobile devices that have been Google-ified and sometimes believe-- And you know, realistically all of us search with Google, and 90% of the time it gives us a decent answer. But Google's really bad at "how and why" questions. It's bad at medical questions because of search engine optimization. It's bad at drug questions. It's bad at, "How do I start a business?" When you do that you're gonna get a bunch of stuff online with people saying, "Here, pay me and I'll show you how."
- Instead of, you can go to your library. So, what the PEW and Ontario data show, is that there has been a significant softening in the last five years, of the value proposition in the minds of high-schoolers, and 18-40 year olds.
- There is a hugely strong position if you're over 50.
- So we're resting on our laurels, a lull with the over-50, and we're not dealing with the 18-40 year olds who are receiving us in a different way.
- So, if-- Well, if you want to prioritize this, we don't go asking what the 50+ people want. Just because genealogy clubs work really well for your retirees, it's a wonderful thing that libraries do.
- Don't start a teen genealogy club, unless they have a specific goal, like part of their religion, it's not going to be their favorite thing to do.
Jared- So what are their favorite things? How does the library connect?
Stephen- This is what we found, and let me just pull it up.
- I've got the study in front of me. And we found that there was a 50-60% higher rating in 18-34 year olds vs 55+'s, for the new services that people want. So what you'll do, is get a bunch of people over 55 saying, "Well, I would never use that." And a bunch of people in the majority of people under 40 saying, "Yeah, I get really excited by that." So, people who want to try out the newest tech devices, such as 3D printers or laser cutters, that was the #1 priority of 18+ people. Library kiosks throughout the community to download eBooks or to download movies, and to check out hard-cover books. That was their #2 priority. Anything outside of the box. So things like library bars, from Jason Griffey. Or Deacon, "Let's put 10,000 books on a commuter "train station, and it can serve as its own internet hub "in a place where the isn't internet." Personalized, online recommendation of what books I want. Where, as we shy away from it because of privacy and confidentiality concerns, this group says, "Yeah, I want to know that stuff." So they're are the needs for library things and that sort of stuff, but unless you're going to do something like video commons, or library things for library, you know, we don't have recommendations, or you think you can go talk to every single person in your community and ask for a recommendation that a reader advises. That is so 1965. It's still important. I'm not saying that when you do it inter-personally, it's just not a scaleable solution.
- So how do you build that kind of recommendation activity? The majority of people 18-40 say they want a cellphone app. So, do you have a cellphone app? And most of your vendors have them. When are we going to get the integrated ones? But you look at cool things like Booksie or Gale Access My Library app, there's things you can cobble together to get you a little of the way there. And then they say things like, "Well I want to communicate by social media, "not by email." "I look at my email once a week, "unless I'm on my business account, "and I want to be on the Twitter feed, "and I want that Twitter feed to be integrated "with all the events happening in my community." Then the want more on eBook readers, and instruction on using the devices. Actually, the over-55, the two things that they wanted more than the 18-40 year olds, they want instructions on how to use their hand-held reading devices. Which we all know is probably the #1 question in most public libraries right now. Or they want classes on how to download eBooks from the various services. And the 18-40 year olds are going, "Why would you need a class to do that?"
- Of course it's because the library download sucks. And unless we've installed some of the newer systems, we've got 15 sets of success, which is a great point in failure. Whereas if you're using something that can bring it down to 2 or 3 steps, then it's better. And then And then the last thing that they wanted was digital media lab. Where you can create your own video, have a green wall, edit video that you wouldn't have really had the editing at home. And the silly thing, is most libraries already have this. They have a wall that we can paint green for $20, and they already have Macintosh computers that come pre-loaded with digital editing software. And everybody already has their Android or Apple phones that already has a video camera in it that is easy to use. So, we're ready to see those things, and we have significant demand that Wal-Mart would love to see for some of their products, and the data tells us they're ready for it. Unfortunately, we listen to the people we're seeing in our branches, and, of course, the people we're seeing in our branches do not bear a demographic relationship to our digital users. Our digital users are significantly different. Significantly better educated, significantly better computer-aware, significantly different on gender and age, they're younger, and they're more likely to be continuing education and trying to move their career along, which is the-- "I'm out of University now, how do we move forward?" "I need to take a course." So libraries can position themselves hugely that way.
- And we need to get there. So when people say that they're, just to wrap it up, when they say that the key is more valuable to someone else,
- it's because we're not communicating as effectively on what will connect to them as a person.
- So they can say, "Well, I think you picked a good book, "so my wife is in the book club, "or my kids are doing their homework," or they want some recreational reading with young kids, yeah we can do that. But I'm too busy to read because I'm working full-time and probably doing extra stuff on top of that. What difference does it make to me? And then you say, "Well, we connected to your kids." But then we see these interfaces bring more dads than kids in than we've ever seen in the library. And more new Canadians who are more likely to be well-educated in the software in the computer manufacturing field, To the changing dynamic of our demographic.
Jared- That's fascinating. So, as I look at what library services, libraries generally are gravitating to, they tend to be things that focus on people who are at the low-end of the economic scale. And from what you're saying, it seems like you're arguing there's a danger if libraries are perceived as primarily a resource for the poor. Would you agree with that?
Stephen- Uhh... I'm just trying to find what I wrote down. I wrote a bit of a note on that. I think the answer is yes and no, whether we're that to the poor or not. It's good to be for the working class. That's the largest class in the US and Canada. We know from the data of the last 20 years that there has been a massive shrinking of the middle class. And the top 10%-20% of income are a very, very, small population. We know from the OCLC research, that people who don't have a library card are more supportive of libraries than people who do. Which is counter-intuitive, but that study has been done a couple of times in a couple of different countries,
Stephen- It's worrisome.
- However, working class is the one class that's actually growing. It's younger, and outside of seniors where it is growing, people above 64 it shrinks. And the Gen-X-ers start hitting their senior years, we'll start seeing a shrinking senior population. But we don't want to be perceived as a cultural welfare system for the poor. What we need to be perceived as, is this is something that lifts people up to economic and social engagement for a successful society. So, when you're going to have eight jobs over your career, whether you're working or middle class, you better be in a continuous leaning mode.
- Education today, formal education today varies in extensive infrastructure. Libraries are... And the cost per user is less than a buck.
- And the cost for you. So we're looking at some real interesting opportunities to use public libraries as a lever to compete world-wide. Make the US competitive against China. To make Canada competitive against the US. There are just things that you have to say on that answer-wheel or you're not going to be there. I don't care if people perceive it-- What I care about, is do they perceive it as useful to me?
- What I care about is decision makers and funders. They can prevent the government, federal government understanding and reality with the world-wide worry is. Whether everyone in the public understands that we're not.
Jared- Yeah, okay. So, we come to kind of a core question there, then. Among librarians, do you feel that there's general agreement about what the core mission of the library is? Or do you see this as a subject about which there are a wide variety of opinions?
Stephen- There's a wide variety of opinions. It's a matrix. So there's people all over the map. There are librarians who... We meet them at conferences and they say, "I didn't sign up for this." And this eBook thing, or this web thing, or this digital printing thing, this communicably thing, or this customerization survey, or "I help all the customers who are older readers." You just kind of scratch the surface and you can find things to resistance. If you're effective, you expect to find in a critical thinking, highly-educated population, which librarians are. Some of the process it differently than others. And if they process it as the difference between, as they adapt to and understand change. Some of them will be less inclined. I remember one librarian who cancelled every single program at the library and said, "We're just gonna about borrowing books, "because that's all libraries are about." With that in mind, I just looked at here and said, "Yeah, "I think you need to leave." Just pathetic. Because if you don't understand circulating books can be done out of a warehouse with McDonalds-level staff and training, then you don't understand what libraries are about. So, when we look at what we're about, we need to look at what's our role in society, what difference do we make? And there are significant number of librarians have to adopt and early in the stage, the early majority, which means we're moving very quickly along the path that librarians have economic and social value. That we're designing the measurements that tell us new things, we have users telling us stories about the difference we made in their lives. that we're letting them borrowing the book that used to tell more stories about the value and the impact we have than librarians do. So, we can collect more of a majority to move along more people in our field to be aware of how we're going to maintain funding. There are a number of places that can do things cheaper than us, if you just aggregate them. But the aggregation of the broadening of library services. Parks and Recreation Department can deliver story-time to children cheaper than we do. But ours is integrated with supporting moms, child health, delivering higher-- We know that if to tend to children, we've done focal research on readiness. We know that if you attend story-time at the public library, you have a grade-letter difference in your performance at school by grade 10. So, we know that the things we do make a difference, and we have measurable facts that show that. We know that if we partner with the school library there's a 5-point difference in standardized testing scores. So, when we look at the power of the public library, the power doesn't come from books. Power comes from relationships based on communication. And actually aligning a professional staff, not the staff that keeps the doors running, and the washroom washing and everything, the stuff that has to be done. But the professional staff aligned with delivering values in a community and social and economic context. And that's what we see in the polls that we're doing, and that's what we see in the data we're collecting. And it shows in the studies that IMLS is supporting, Some of the research and R&D peak funding that IMLS has been empowering for years.
Jared- Yeah, well, so... I feel like-- From the perspective of our company, Niche Academy, we really feel like the core mission of the library revolves around education, providing opportunities for ongoing education, that fill the gaps in the formal education system, supporting that formal education system. That's where libraries, in aggregate, make the most difference in individual lives as you're describing. And I want to just pose that question to you. Is that core mission something that we're growing into, or is it something that's been there all the while, and there are just some changes in the way that education is delivered, that make it a little harder for us to find?
Stephen- Yeah, well what it is... There is that uh... The movement, umm... If we go to Pittsburgh... I thinks it's the University of Pittsburgh, at the center of their campus, it's called The Cathedral of Learning. It was built maybe a century or more ago.
- And when I walked past that, I said to myself, "When did we stop calling it learning, "and called it education?" And now we're back to calling it learning again. My definition of education, is something you do to somebody, and something you tell somebody, you stage on stage craft. And learning is something you do for yourself that empowers you to succeed, and it doesn't really always have to help, but specifically that's not the end of it. You look at kids reading gaming magazines. There's nothing at the end of it, other than when they're in their game they're learning some pretty typical skills to the current world. So, when we support learning instead of education, and reframe the issue, and libraries have always supported learning. It's just that what's happened over the last 20 years with the internet and other technological productions or inventions, or changes, it's puts a giant magnifying glass on top of everything. So all of a sudden... Take the metaphorical book. You've got people borrowing our books and that they read them. Now when we look at people borrowing or buying eBooks, we can not only tell whether they read them, we can tell what page they read to before they gave up. So, Amazon tracks every page we read, they keep track of all the notes you make on those pages, if you highlighting or put notes on them, and it loads it up to a master database where we can all look at what you did. So, all of a sudden there's this giant magnifying glass on top of reading. So we know that the most unfinished book of the last two years, were 50 Shades of Grey. We might have bought it for interest, but once you got a little ways into it you're going, "Oh my god this is boring!" And moved onto the next test. So now we can actually start to look at, and the studies we've been doing on eLearning, on adaptive learning, on video learning, on phone calls like this, podcast, webcast... It is as good as an awesome, very awesome, effort and classroom-based learning. Because you can put many minds, and hit on many learning styles. What the library does well, is it customizes things on an individual basis for the learning-style, age, demographic, where that person is.
- When a kid in grade-6 comes in and says, "I want to know about divorce." You're pretty sure he or she is doing something on the family studies spectrum, and has to write a paper on divorce. When a 32-year-old woman comes in and says "I want to know something about divorce." You're pretty sure she's not writing a family studies paper for grade-6.
- So you have to be clarifying questions, and you adapt to the learning that you're going to do. Do you need to find a lawyer, do you need a self-help guide? There's all this really cool stuff that we can all learn from. So, when we get to the learning state, right now we can actually be the hub that actually supports learning. So, when Genesis likes this new book, and they're usually rap and eBook rappers. So, as we pull out all the stops, we need to find new pots of money. So, most of us are funded municipally, or we're funded, in Canada, municipally in culture. If we start to become an organ of education and learning, for higher-ed, for high school-ed, and we look at this to scale and bases career out of high school, where libraries are the high school for so many kids without people in their communities. All of a sudden our value and impact rises immeasurably.
- And it's quality stuff. It's selected by your library, and it's free. But it's free in the language of the library. It's low cost buying the Star Trek Enterprise level, but the exciting part is it's unfettered.
- We use the word free, in the concept, and the definition that we unfetter information. We don't put charters and barriers in front of it. We give access, we make access equitably. If you don't have a computer, come in and use the library computer. We do everything in our power to unfetter access information. If you don't know how to use it, we'll do it for you or help you with it.
- Whether, no matter what it is. And we're pretty awesome at that kind of stuff. So, learning is the core part of what libraries do. Now, the challenge is, we've always been about learning. We do shoulder-to-shoulder training, we do classroom training, we do all that stuff. The need is far bigger than our ability to deliver interpersonally. So, learning management systems, and the tools provided by licensed content, whether is Lynda.com, or Niche Academy, or whatever, it creates a new product portfolio, purist portfolio, for libraries, that put new challenges on our marketing and our service proposition to tell people about. When you go on to Gale's, "How to write a grant." or "How to write an essay" courses, or you go onto Lynda's "How to use Windows," or you go onto Niche Academy, "How to download "a book on Overdrive." Those are all things that make us scalable. Not just in the library, but to every digital desktop, device, that anybody could have. And you do it what the appropriate level is. Does this thing need to be three minutes, 10 minutes, or if it's a 13-hour course. There isn't a right answer. The answer is, what does the research tell us? And how do we get the experts get, and how do we scale this on the biggest level? Starting with English, and then moving to Spanish in the US, and French in Canada. Whatever matters, let's make sure we touch on as many points as possible, and let's evolve.
Jared- So, the next question I wanted to ask, then, is about connecting with this group of people that potentially are not going to be physically in the library. The survey indicated that library users who visit the library in person, are generally more likely also, to use the library's online services. So, how does a library prioritize their efforts, how do they go about starting efforts to reach new, online users that are not currently visiting the library in person?
Stephen- So, in Ontario, we have a number. We can do this with your state level or your system level, or your national level data in the US as well. There were 174 million visits to libraries last year in Ontario.
- There were a million visits to the Pan Am Games. So 174-times the amount of visits to libraries.
- There were, if I count the digital visits, this is the most conservative number, and not everybody was able to fill it out. But it's very, very conservatively. Probably half in my estimate. We were getting 250 million digital sessions on our visits to our digital services. Whether it was borrowing a book or going to the website. That's pretty incredible. So, when you're looking at those digital users, what is-- Right now, everybody put a piece of paper in front of you and name your branch manager, your branch head for your largest branch, and is it digital or is it physical? Some of our physical branches are incredible, like my main branch is the main branch of Toronto Public Libraries. It's not unusual for it to hold an event that has 25,000 people at it in one day. It gets crowded there, but it's a very busy branch.
- Tonight, they're having Salman Rushdie there, so I would like to be going, and it's sold out possibly. They sold out for Lena Dunham a couple of months ago. Anyway, the in-person users, what we know, is the people borrow books are about 48% of users who actually do something physical to borrow something in the library and the extent of a couple years. But another 25% use the library without borrowing anything. So, they're harder to track. They're using the program, they're using the wifi, they're using a bunch of stuff.
- So, we need to understand what is the difference between our digital user and our physical user. Physical user is more likely to be female, while the digital users there are more men. The digital user is younger, on average. The digital user is less likely to have a library card. The digital user is more likely to buy books than borrow books. There a whole bunch of demographic differences, but if you're believing in managing your future clients, or your library, on surveys that you only did in-branch, or on observations that you made on people coming in the branch, and conversations you had in the branch, you're missing the largest cohort of your users and understanding them.
- That's a big challenge. So until-- Again, when we see people in the branch they're more likely to have trouble using a computer. That's the nature of why people are coming in to get your help.
- The people who are coming in digitally are far less likely to have trouble using their computers.
- So when we make decisions, "Well, my community wouldn't know how to use "one of those eLearning objects." Frankly, they're living in a fairyland. Yes, there are people in your community who would have trouble with that, but no, many of them have the ability to use these services fairly straightforwardly.
- The vast majority of companies now, teach their employees online, after-hours. And make it a requirement of work, so they're used to it because they had to learn it for work. And the schools are into hybrid-education. So as we build a hybrid service model, and this will be the norm for the length of everyone's whole career.
- We will have print books, and eBooks. We will have physical media, and electronic media. And we will have digital users, and hybrid users, and print-only users. We need to understand what the major cohorts are in our community, and make sure that we're engaging them in the most effective way possible, so that if they want to be engaged with Vine and Periscope, and YouTube and Twitter, and Pinterest, then we need to, an Tumblr and Instagram, we need to know which one of those works best with which group. So if I'm going out to high school kids, I'm working with Instagram and Tumblr. If I'm going after my mom and women, I'm using Pinterest. If I'm going after the majority of my 18-40 year olds, I'm getting into Twitter. And how they use it and how they adapt to it. And I'm not following the stuff that "Everybody's not in Facebook." To poor, late Yogi Berra, "Nobody goes there anymore because it's too crowded." Which is one of his great quotes. "Nobody goes to that restaurant anymore "because it's too crowded." That's what Facebook is, everybody's there. They just use it differently than you do.
Jared- Yeah, okay. So, those are great recommendations for how to reach that audience that may not necessarily be coming into the library. A couple more questions that I want to pose, and then you need to get onto your meeting. You've talked a lot about making key programs scalable. To kind of summarize some of that information that you've described, can you give a couple examples of how you might scale a program that really meets the needs of a local community?
Stephen- There are a couple good examples. My usual metaphor is, "The industrial revolution was about moving from "hand-knitted sweaters to manufacturing sweaters. "And that allowed us to cloth the world." Libraries are still hand-knitting most of their programs. Custom-making each thing, or repeating something and getting a little more comfortable with it. Edmonton Public Library now invests in programming that can be delivered in every branch. I could go to a small team, or an individual, so that they're able to scale-up the program, the most important program and get them better, rather than having somebody do it for the first or second time, rarely, and never get really, really excellent at it. And so, if you decide you're going to send announcements, build the program, and have scaffolded event that are delivered to all the branches. And that's how they handle it. And so they've built this amazing infrastructure, so there's thousands of programs a month at Toronto Public Library. We're scaled-up, so that people move around, and they have people who are really great at certain things. They have marquee events like Comic-Con, or Salman Rushdie or Lena Dunham, or whatever famous author is traveling around.
- But, they've got their main programs delivering on their core value systems. And then they tie them to the event. So if you're in privacy week-- In fact, my wife and I went down and watched a panel of a bunch of Canadian spies, telling how the spy network works. Which was fascinating. So, the other thing is how do you make something affordable and scalable, but more portable when it's scaled? So, mobile nexus bases, and putting kids together. So, Colorado Library Consortium made, I think it was two dozen library kits. They just rotate to local libraries in the rural part of Colorado. So now all of a sudden, they're able to have stuff and the kit arrives with instructions and programs, and all anyone has to be to get it, is the promise to put a new story and program in it, saying this is something new I did with my kit. And so they're building an infrastructure for scalable, mobile, network. And then the biggest opportunity, like in higher-ed, where they already got learning management systems, but in Ontario, a few years back I was involved in the facilitation of all the libraries in Ontario. And we built a learning management-- We bought a learning management system for the entire province. So we now have Learn HQ. A few months ago we launched all the library and board of directors training modules, and I'm building more training modules now for all of our trustees. And ultimately we'll expand this to be able to accomodate a learning architecture for delivering learning management modules to every library system in Ontario. And so, things like group licensing resources that are learning resources, that are beyond books. We've gotten good at commercial licensing of content, databases, magazines, books. Now we need to get good at licensing eLearning objects and training exercises to get to that scalability where we can have thousands of people involved in it. I know when we built Gale Courses, it's called Gale Courses now, but it was called Significo earlier. It started in Atlanta. For the first year it was going 400% a month growth with John Szabo, before he moved to LA and is doing great things there. These are the abilities with 700 courses, with 700 page emailable instructions to deliver programming on a scale that we never thought of. And the way we used to have 150 periodical subscriptions in a library branch, and now we have millions or articles in the databases in the same sized branch. So that's what scalability is about, but it's also about teaching people to learn, and promoting it differently, to make the library, make the market of our cardholders and our communities and our funders, understand that we can offer scalable solutions. The library is the only place that has location, computers, professional service, and trained staff, a professional staff, and a service ethic, and long hours. The only place in the community that has that, and we are the most scalable solution for government to deliver, whether it's eGovernment, or it's education and learning, or recreation and cultural welfare.
Jared- The library is the delivery mechanism.
Stephen- Perfect, and not all the footprints that need to be there. What we need to get is the money and support from our government to make sure that we're able to deliver on the services from the infrastructure that our government, at all levels, have put in place.
Jared- Yeah. And I think as libraries more carefully, position themselves as learning providers, it's going to be easier to make that argument to the funding entities. Whether it's the city or a providence or state.
Stephen- Right, and we also extend their investments in community colleges, high schools, and universities. in their state and in their country.
Jared- Yeah, and it is a very non-partisan, and broadly appealing argument to make.
Stephen- Yeah, you see all those people in small towns, largely the stay-at-home spouse, largely, in our culture, women, who want to continue their education but between a part-time job or staying home with the kids, they can't afford the babysitter or the time to go. If you look at the online colleges, University of Phoenix, one of the larger online colleges, 70% of their registrations at one point were single moms. Who needs more support than that single mom getting her education so she can, as the sole provider and income earner, make sure her kids are successful and stay off government support, and work towards their dreams and what they want to do with their lives and how they want to raise their children?
- That's a big, big impact that we can do in a small town where no one can drive to a place where the University or college is.
Jared- And it can be a very adaptive solution to the specific needs and priorities of that local community.
Stephen- Totally flexible, to work for-- It might not work for others. Some of us have a learning cell that requires us to interact with people in person. Obviously most eLearning objects you're going to interact with other people too.
Jared- Well, and it's not mutually exclusive. Yeah, because you still have the opportunity for a blended learning environment, where the library staff can still provide some of that needed human element in conjunction with...
Stephen- What we're doing is move it to a scalable basis on online learning and integrate it with your homework and project resources with real collections of databases and create the opportunity to free up staff time to do more high-impact stuff or higher-impact stuff. And if they're tied up working with one-on-one, or in small groups, or something that could more effectively be done online or in a group online than a classroom, then you're not scaling up and making the impact of your employee at the height that you want it to be. Now I'm not saying get rid of half of your staff and get rid of in-person staff, but I am saying that scalability requires us to step up to the plate to make sure we have something to offer when we're not there in the person's home showing them how to download an eBook.
Jared- Right. Let me wrap up, since we're getting really close to the end here, for time. Just asking one question that's of particular interest to me You've looked a bit, at what Niche Academy does, and in the context of the priorities and the strategic moves that you're recommending, and that seem to flow from the study that you've done, how do you see Niche Academy fitting in to that big picture?
Stephen- I think Niche Academy is a really, really neat idea that has the potential to be transformational. When I talked to my group of CEO's on my board, or members with my organization lobby group, what their number one problem... I don't have enough staff. What's my number one thing that my staff are doing or our number one issue is, teaching people how to use the resources we got. Using the database, downloading an eBook, using a tablet or an iPhone. Those are the top five questions in every library. And you sit there and say, "Well, "when you look at that, how do you automate it?" And they say, "Oh, well we have done some of that." "We've got a list that you follow the instructions on." Or "We've got this--" And I'm goin, "Well do you sit down with a 60 year old "or the 12 year old, or the 30 year old "and show them how to do it?" Well, what happens is, well how do you make it scalable? You just sit someone down with a tablet, or give them a card with a link on it and say "Watch this video." It would go a long way, and here's how you stop and start the screen so you can learn along with it. Here's how you use our thing and you get things done. The following instructions is not the same as seeing a screen pass of what the screen looks like. So until we start to collaboratively or jointly scale up these solutions so that we're not all hand-knitting every sweater in every library, in every customer interaction, we're not going to be able to free up our time to get to where we want to be. And I suppose the industrial revolution and the information business, seems to be a challenge for us to free up the time for high-value, high-impact work, so that we can do more high-value, high-impact work, and not do the-- You know, we do it in a hybrid fashion. That's what Niche Academy does, so when you're gonna think, "How do I use OverDrive or how do I use Bibliocommons, or how do I work with this tool."
Jared- We want to reap the benefits of what these new tools give us and allow more effective use of that human resource, that human capital. Where you can make that personal connection, and make a real difference in someone's life, because the routine and the drudgery, the repetitiveness of your instruction has been automated.
Stephen- We don't tend to have the team that can be assembled in a vendor that has the video skills, the training and learning skills, the customer service skills, the video and audio management, and timing and research support that is required. We do really decent work, and when we do it, it takes up a long time, but then it doesn't scale up, or it doesn't get updated when something happens or changes.
- And then it becomes a burden to work with, rather than contracting it out.
Jared- And that is the burden that we want to lift.
Stephen- We can deal with the online training that your company can deliver to everybody's home.
Jared- I appreciate your insight, Stephen, I know you've got a meeting that you need to go to.
Stephen- I gotta go meet the minister of
Jared- Good luck to you, man. We are so appreciative of the time that you've taken. We will make this recording available. Really quickly, if there are any questions that you would like to have, those of you who are in the audience in the group here. If you'd like to send any questions to us, put them in the chat and we will pass them along to Stephen, and hopefully we will be able to respond to them.
Stephen- My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Jared- Thank you. Well, Stephen, you've been generous with your time and you've been fascinating to listen to. You are an articulate and gifted advocate for libraries. We are lucky to have you.
Stephen- Great, thank you very much, it's a pleasure.
Jared- Thank you, we'll talk soon.
Stephen- I hope what I said was helpful, and if you have any questions, I'm happy to answer them through Jeremy or Sarah, and enjoy the rest of your week.
Jared- Great, thanks Stephen, we'll see ya.