‘Person of the year’ is ‘the protester’

You may remember that Time Magazine named Mark Zuckerberg as its 2010 ‘person of the year’ (and the readers of Time Magazine nominated Julian Assange in their own poll).

This year, in a break with tradition, Time Magazine has named not one individual but a group of people who have called for – and brought about – change throughout the world.  Time Magazine’s ‘person’ of the year in for 2011 is ‘The Protestor’.

From the Arab spring to the Occupy movement, 2011 has seen a ‘contagion of protest’.  The protest movement has provided three of the OUP’s words of the year, chosen for their resonance for 2011.

Protest has been transformational in 2011 and seems set to continue in 2012.

Bring your own…. device

The blurring of work and personal life and the increasing ownership of mobile devices mean that more people are choosing to use their own devices in the workplace.

Whereas once it was the organisation that provided the technology infrastructure to its workers, it is now the users who are making these decisions based on their own preferences.

This trend (Bring Your Own Device or BYOD) brings challenges for organisations when it comes to managing access and security but it is important as employees and customers are increasingly expecting instant access to whatever they need, through any channel and via any device.

Writing on eChannel Line, Leyland Brown of Hewlett Packard says that companies need to shift their focus away from devices to the actual content.  If they get it right, organisations will find that they can improve the productivity and performance of the workforce by ensuring that they have instant access to the appropriate information delivered in the format of their choice via their own devices.  Sounds like a job for the information professionals!

Everyone is talking but is anyone listening? Using social media to promote info services

There’s no doubt that, in some quarters at least, social media are replacing more traditional methods of communication. Earlier this week it was widely reported that French IT services giant Atos which employs 80,000 people is planning to ban the use of internal emails in favour of communication via other channels such as social networks, instant messaging and microblogging. 

A panel in the European Librarians Theatre at this year’s Online Information show, organised under the auspices of SLA, debated how to use social media tools to promote library services. The international panel featured Jo Alcock from Birmingham City University, Dennie Heye from Shell Information Technology International in the Netherlands, and Katrin Weller from Heinrich-Heine University in Germany.  

Jo had carried out an informal survey to find out how librarians in the UK were putting social media to work, and found a trend towards consolidating accounts and tools in order to streamline the wide variety of tools and services on offer.

The panellists agreed that were a number of obstacles that could impede the implementation of social media tools. Jo noted that senior management could be cautious, particularly given the experimental nature of some social media initiatives. Implementation can be time consuming, and this problem is exacerbated when staff don’t see the importance of the project. And in some settings, access to social media is banned altogether.

Katrin echoed the focus on experimentation and trial and error – a willingness to try things out and learn as you go is key to success in social media. There isn’t a manual!

From Dennie’s point of view, making the business case to senior management was all important. At Shell, they have introduced enterprise social network Yammer to enable communication between people working in different teams and offices. By focusing on its use as an IT support tool,  they were able to make a strong business case by showing that using Yammer freed up time for IT support staff.

Jo pointed out that librarians will need to exercise professional judgement in choosing the right tool for the job – for example public libraries will want to communicate with their patrons in specific ways which will be very different to the approach taken by a corporate information service; and there will be a difference between internal and external communications.

The panellists agreed that flexibility and personality were both key to the successful implementation of a social media strategy. Jo pointed out that you need to be able to adapt to changing expectations. Dennie recommended being yourself – an authentic, ‘human’ voice is much more effective than a personality-free corporate voice. For those wanting to take the plunge, Katrin suggested that you start by asking yourself ‘what will success look like’ so that further down the line you have something to measure against. This will also provide a touchstone to use when faced with choosing between the enormous range of social media tools out there.

Word(s) of the year

As the year draws to a close, the dictionaries teams at Oxford University Press announce what they consider to be the words or phrases of the year.

In 2011, the teams have announced that their global word of the year is the phrase ‘squeezed middle’.  Referring to the section of society affected by a range of economic factors, including inflation and pay freezes, the phrase has resonance in both the US and the UK.

The US shortlist of ten words or phrases provides a fascinating snapshot of world events and technological trends for 2011.  Joining the words ‘crowdfunding’, ‘gamification’ and ‘clicktivism’ are ‘Arab Spring’, ‘the 99 percent’ and ‘Occupy’.  Also included is ‘bunga bunga’ – a noun associated with parties hosted by Italian PM Berlusconi.

Meanwhile, over in Germany the ‘youth word of the year’ has just been announced.  ‘Swag’ is used by German youth to describe a cool, charismatic persona.  The choice of the word is somewhat controversial because it has clear roots to an English word ‘swagger’.

Other words shortlisted in Germany included the verb ‘Googeln’.  Which needs no translation.

The Amazings – a social knowledge transfer venture

Having been inspired by Rachel Botsman‘s keynote presentation at Online Information conference I was delighted to learn about a new social venture that seems to pick up on so many of her key themes.  The Amazings is designed to help people at retirement age share, and capitalise on, their experiences.

It’s an example of the ‘micro-enterprise’ which Botsman believes will mark out a new social and economic revolution every bit as influential as the industrial revolution of old.  Not only does this enterprise encourage knowledge and skills transfer but it places a real value on the expertise and experiences of older members of society and encourages social interactions between generations.

The Amazings has been receiving a great deal of positive press, as both parties to the experience gain real benefits.


Students and academic texts

Now that students (and their families!) are expecting to pay more for higher education, how have their attitudes to the delivery, format and cost of learning resources changed?  As part of a one day conference organised by the Publishers Association, a panel of students shared their thoughts, experiences and wish-lists.    They had interesting things to say to academic publishers, university programme directors, librarians and lecturers.

Key messages from the student panel

  • Too much information – students are often overwhelmed by the amount of information, across a variety of formats, that they are attempting to manage.  Although access to information is important, the critical skills to analyse and filter are greatly in demand
  • There is an overwhelming need for information analysis skills
  • Not all students want e-everything.  Several panel members expressed their love of the hard copy text book.  However, another called reading anything in print format ‘a chore’.  Most students recognised that a mixture of formats is necessary or even desirable
  • Overseas students sometimes need help in transferring to the UK model of education (especially if they come from an educational culture where they learn by rote).  Teaching tools for overseas students would be greatly appreciated.
  • Students would love, shorter chapters, chapter summaries, key learning points, revision aids etc.

Challenges and opportunities for academic librarians

The library is a trusted partner for many of the students. They rely on librarians to help them develop their information skills, to help with information quality assurance and to guide them to useful resources beyond the reading lists.  When it comes to recommended reading, students are often asking students in the years above them for their honest opinions on reading list resources.  At the same time, only one student reported that she was ever asked for her opinion on learning materials.  Several students reported that they would be uncomfortable with criticising material/text books written by their own lecturers.  Institutional librarians could perhaps help facilitate quality control and student feedback of learning materials and recommended reading.

Because of the cost of their education, students expect their learning resources to be made available by their institutions/ libraries – and think most of them should be free.  They should also be available in any format they can.  Libraries and publishers still have some way to go to ensure that e-textbooks are available to meet this demand.


The panel of students, from the LSE and the University of Greenwich, formed part of the Publisher’s Association one day conference ‘Students at the Heart of the system’ held in London on 21 November 2011

McKinsey’s social technology survey

McKinsey Quarterly has just published its fifth annual survey on the ways in which organisations are using social tools and technologies.  There were over 4,200 executive level respondents to the global survey representing a wide range of business sectors and organisational size.

The report suggests that social tools (social networking; blogs; video sharing; RSS feeds; wikis; podcasts; microblogging) have now reached a critical mass.  72% of respondents reported that at least one social technology had been deployed in their organisations.  Although the rates of adoption vary between sectors, 62% of respondents in the lowest performing sector (energy) reported that they were deploying at least one social technology tool.

A small group of respondents reported high levels of benefit, whether they were using the tools for internal communication or for external communication with stakeholders.  For some organisations, the use of social technologies in customer and partner outreach was so sophisticated that the boundaries of the organisation itself were becoming blurred.  McKinsey calls these ‘extended enterprises’.  However, the survey also suggests that it is hard for organisations to ‘move upwards’ on levels of adoption and it is quite easy to ‘slide backwards’.

The tools are being used to support a range of business processes, including scanning the external environment; project management; finding new ideas and allocating resources.  When it comes to the predicting the ways in which the tools could be used in the future, the respondents thought that, with fewer constraints on social technologies, boundaries between employees, vendors, customers and other stakeholders would blur.  Other predicted changes included the flattening of organisational hierarchies, improved financial transparency and an increase in self organised teams.

McKinsey concludes that organisations need to be prepared for further technological disruption and be prepared to create change rather than being led by it.

Making better decisions – in search of the seven ‘x’ factors

What are the best models for good decision making processes at the top levels of business and government?  A research report aims to provide practical guidance on how both business and government can increase their chances of making better business decisions.

The report is a result of a collaborative project between Ashridge Business School’s Public Leadership Centre and the Whitehall Industry Group.  The researchers interviewed about 60 senior level decision makers in both sectors to explore key decision making processes. They also conducted extensive literature reviews.  The final report, overseen by a high-powered editorial panel, includes some interesting mini-case studies and identifies the critical success (or ‘x’) factors for successful decision making.

These seven ‘x’ factors are:

  • clarity of objectives and goals combined with a well articulated communication strategy
  • early interaction and good communication with trusted stakeholders
  • relentless focus on priority issues
  • good team working with the right mix of expertise, experience and trust
  • providing opportunities for exploration of risks and frank challenge
  • clear, practical implementation with accountability
  • effective evaluation and review

Terminal 5 at Heathrow

One of the case studies included in the report looks decisions made that led to the well publicised problems that befell the 2008 opening of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5.  The opening experienced a combination of ‘decision-making traps’ including over optimism about IT; a reduction in staff training time and insufficiently expressed dissent.

A further case study looks at changes made in the training of junior hospital doctors (again ‘over optimism’ emerges as a key factor).

The report is fascinating reading and is free to download here.

Word of mouth really matters

When it comes to ‘mission critical marketing’, there are a number of tools and techniques that libraries can use to retain and gain customers.  Beatrice Pulliam and Jenifer Bond wrote about strategic marketing for us last month and shared their experiences and ideas for ‘spreading the word’ at ILI2011.

Meanwhile, some interesting research was released this week by Keller Fay – a consultancy and research company that focuses on the power of ‘word of mouth’ marketing.

They have been conducting tracking studies in the UK and have just announced some of their latest findings at a conference in London, along with a list of the ‘most talked about brands’.

The study suggests that ‘the average UK adult’ talks about brands 78 times per week, and that 94% of these ‘mentions’ happen in face-to-face situations.

Positive word of mouth is extremely powerful.  Recipients attribute credibility to personal recommendations.  According to Keller Fay, organisations and marketers must learn what actually triggers the conversations (advertising/social media campaigns for example).

Happy consumers of your products and services really are a wonderful asset!

Libraries – it’s all about reading, not books

Reading has the power to connect people and to transform lives.  The UK charity the Reading Agency exists to help people feel confident and inspired about reading.  Speaking at Axiell’s Rethinking Libraries event, Miranda McKeaney (the Reading Agency’s Chief Executive) spoke about some of the Agency’s successes and challenges and shared some transferable ideas and lessons learned.


It is vital that you have a crystal clear and significant sense of purpose.   You must identify and be able to articulate exactly what it is that makes you/your service unique.  Do you have a ‘noble sense of purpose’?  Why do you exist?  With public libraries, a shared articulation can be difficult and it is important not to cling to the past.  Libraries exist to support reading, not books.


It is important to create a big picture – to think about the future and to begin to shape the future you want.  Part if this is identifying what trends are active and working to best thrive in the future  these trends are pointing to.

Some UK trends to pay attention to

  • The number of bookshops in the UK has halved in the past six years
  • Opportunities in combining ‘live’ experiences with digital
  • Offering live and social experiences
  • Digital book sales and loans
  • Take a lead in social issues  – e.g. articulate the social costs of low literacy levels; demonstrate the links between reading and good health


It is critical to ensure that partnerships are balanced.  You must give your partners and supporters what they need – without compromising your own mission.  For example, when the Reading Agency began to develop partnerships with publishers, the outcome would be beneficial to both parties.  Public libraries gained access to the type of author events that were previously only available in bookstores.  Publishers were gaining access to new audiences and markets.

Finally, tough times should create a spirit of innovation.  We should not be afraid to dream or experiment.