NFAIS 2007: Measuring Change

Today I got to hear Bette Brunelle of Outsell Inc. at the NFAIS 2007 Annual Conference in Philadelphia. Her topic was “Measuring Change: How Disruption Affects to Information Community” – nifty title.

Bette provided us with a bunch of statistics from the Outsell database, but before that, she made a very important point. She mentioned that many of us talk to our current customers to see what they think about our organizations – and to get ideas for change. This is the wrong approach! We should be talking to tomorrow’s customers. This model doesn’t apply quite as much to academic or public libraries – which I’ll come back to later – but most certainly to corporate and other special libraries. For our web redesign project at Jenkins I’ve asked to interview law and library students to see what they want to see on the website – I want to hear from the future librarians and lawyers so that I can design a site that’s going to meet their needs when they graduate.

Before I go into some stats, the disclaimer – in the Outsell database the average user age is 38 and the users are predominately American.

Information Seeking

When asked where users when seeking information for their jobs in both 2001 and 2006 the number one answer (79% in 2001 and 57% in 2006) was the Internet, followed by the office intranet (5% in 2001 and 19% in 2006). The library came in at 3% in 2001 and 4% in 2006 – but we’re not surprised since we’ve seen results like this in many other studies. What’s interesting is that when asked how many times these methods resulted in satisfactory answers there was a 31% error rate across all markets (internet, intranet, library) – but when people failed to find info on their intranets they just assumed it was because they didn’t search quite right – people apparently are very enthusiastic about their intranets – more so than the internet (yet they’re still looking at the internet first for information).

When they fail the users were asked where they go next. 64% will go to an in-house colleague, 18% will go to an out-of-house colleague, and 7% will go to their public library. Sounds about right to me – I work in a library and I still ask my peers for information first.

Email is still king

When asked how people prefer to get their information, 76% still say they want it to come via email. 45% want it to be on their office intranet, 45% want to look to blogs for information (55% of these are under 30 and 43% over 30), 20% choose RSS (23% are under 30, 20% over 30), and 21% get it via podcasts (27% under 30 and 19% over 30).

Remember all of these questions are in reference to work related information seeking/receiving behaviors. Would these numbers change if we were talking about personal information seeking? I know it would for me.

Corporate Libraries

When corporate libraries were asked what technologies they have recently implemented (or plan to in the near future), 40% have said RSS (Great!!), 28% say e-learning, 15% for web conferencing, 9% for blogs (which I find interesting – I would have expected a higher number here), and 7% said e-books.

Here’s where it gets disturbing – Bette points out that because corporate libraries are usually dealing with an older population than a public or academic library, it’s not where you’re going to find the most forward thinking people. When librarians were asked how they went about their daily duties they all gave very traditional methods for doing their jobs.

At this point the slide on the screen was of the New Yorker cartoon where the man is talking to his cat, saying, “Never, ever, think outside the box”.

She has my attention now (not that she didn’t before – but she’s touching on my area of the library world) – and now she’s warning the audience to be careful of who you’re talking to when you’re going to libraries for information. Is this what you expect to hear at an information conference?? It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting – but I totally see where she’s coming from.

The innovators

That said, if you’re looking for innovation and passion in libraries (she says) go to your public library. This is where you’re going to find the most passionate staff because they’re already dealing with the next generation of library users and they’ve been forced to keep up with the times. She showed us a few public and academic library sites where innovation was very obvious (tagging, MySpace, Virtual worlds) – and urged us to find out what our future information seekers are going to expect from us.


This was a great talk … and I’m going back to my library to push that little bit more to instate changes that are going to benefit both our current and our future users – because if we don’t start now we’re going to be way behind the curve!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *