Weathering Turbulent Times

“These are the times that test men’s souls,” wrote British-born author and philosopher Thomas Paine back in the days of the American Revolution. His words ring true today as they did more than 200 years ago but in a different context.

Today, we can draw parallels from Paine’s writings to the tough economic times that we’ve faced during the past year. In the information industry, belts were tightened, budgets were cut, and tough decisions were (and are still being) made. But are the bad times over, and what will the next year hold?

Paine signed off many of his inspirational essays with the pseudonym “Common Sense.” So we’ll be including some “common sense” from the industry notables for each day of the blog; the commentary has been excerpted from the front-page article in the December issue of Information Today, which is also available at www.infotoday.com.

Anthea Stratigos
Co-Founder and CEO
Outsell, Inc.
During the past year, industry leaders and teams learned where we were strong and where we were weak in people, processes, content solutions, leverage—everywhere. There is only good in that, despite how difficult or painful it is. We were forced to look through the eye of the needle and live our theme: No Guts, No Glory. Reward comes to those who focus, take risks, make changes, make a difference, and live their truth.

As we head into 2010, we continue to enter the age of experience, and the publishers and providers that pick the right markets and continue to offer a better experience at an equal or better value will be those who find the money and grow, thrive, and profit. It’s about execution on all levels.

These are the same traits for the companies that grew in 2009, and they do exist: offerings in mobile, social, and global workflow; qualified leads; a service-oriented and warm and friendly team; CEOs who answer their own phones; sales teams that are professional, knowledgeable, and easy to do business with; content delivered into new environments such as Facebook; and interactive learning. Those will be the differentiators.

As our industry matures from the effect of circa-2000 technologies, delivering value, shedding what no longer works, offering better service, and competing on scale and cost all matter. Technology is now evolving to offer better experiences, not just better analytics or better delivery, but interactive, 3D, portable, visual, auditory, and sensory experiences. It is now a market-share game, and it is about finding new budget pockets. At the end of the day, it’s survival of the fittest, and we will continue to see that play out in 2010.

Carl Grant
President
Ex Libris North America
“Fragile” is the only suitable word to describe the current situation, and “likely to recur” seems a disturbing but more probable description of the future we face.

The end result is, I believe, a sea change event for libraries and information professionals. It’s one that was probably needed for quite some time. It’s unfortunate that it had to be realized via such painful measures. I hope the following has been learned as a result:

The need for focused goals—Ask 10 librarians or information professionals what they think their “value-add” is to information, and you’ll get 10 distinct answers. This must change, since we can’t be all things to all people. We must build toward some common professional goals that are well-defined and universally understood.

The need for funding at the highest levels to support achieving focused goals—As long as information professionals are tied to local (or department) funding, local needs will always override a higher focus, and that’s part of what got us in the mess we’re in right now. Again, we need to have some inspirational, focused, broadly understood goals and speak with one voice in order to assure their achievement.

The need to rethink our profession—Maurice Line, former director general of The British Library, said it best when he said, “Unless we can see our future in a far broader context, we may not have a future. Our territory is being lost while we think we are defending it, because we are defending the form and not the substance, and the substance is changing.” He’s right.

Let’s map out how this new vision contributes value to the people we serve. Only then will we be able to truly recover from what has happened and survive what may recur while being stronger than in the past.

One Response to “Weathering Turbulent Times”

  1. Andrew Spong November 30, 2009 at 4:19 am #

    A plea to common sense is the recourse of the ideologue favouring a reconfiguration of the status quo for their own benefit. A call to acknowledge commonly shared problems more often than not prefigures deep-seated concerns as to the ongoing relevance of the entity offering the opinion in question.

    Publishing is a shattered mirror.

    Any individual piece will continue to show the viewer a familiar self-image, but it is no longer possible to see a bigger picture. Prophets, seers and soothsayers may find an eager audience for their prognostications as to why this will not be the case, but in the meantime, in the here-and-now communities are going about their business discovering collaborators, connecting with them, creating with them, sharing with their networks, and refashioning those elements of the industry that they participate in and care passionately about.

    Everyone is a publishers now, and for many it’s not just a job.

    The only question that remains for publishers to answer is: are you faking, or are you for real?

    If the former, the communities you have been serving will have discovered this to be the case long before you do as a consequence of your absence from or lacking or willingness to participate in social media.

    If the latter: step up. Show, don’t tell, those that are still prepared to engage with you’re still relevant, and why they should still care about you.

    Listen.
    Learn.
    Engage.
    Share.
    Repeat.