7 Challenges for Librarians from SXSW 2015

EveryLibrary went to South by Southwest 2015 to talk with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs about libraries. What we found is that there is a significant (though not unexpected) disconnect between what we say inside the industry about our work, role, and impact and the perception of libraries among the tech sector. If we want to bridge this gap in understanding we have to start with our own vocabulary and positioning. 

#7 Libraries are "big data" companies masquerading as public anchor institutions.

Libraries are "big data" companies masquerading as public anchor institutions. We need to bring our best IT people and enterprise-level vendors out to conferences like SXSW to tell the story of what multi-institutional resource sharing really means. We are better at it than we think. And networked libraries, systems, co-ops, vendors have a lot to teach big data companies from our experiences. Showing up to conferences like SXSW as a peer will go a long way to shaping a new image of library work.

#6 Business reference and support for entrepreneurs is as common in libraries as storytime, but no one knows about it.*

When you want to say "we have amazing databases for local businesses", instead try saying we "provide actionable intelligence" around "business analytics", "supply chain effectiveness", and "market characteristics".  We need to use their terms to fit their needs.

#5 We need to go to them. They will never come to us.

Tech entrepreneurs think that they are the smartest person in the room. And they may actually be. But they will not follow a traditional path to the library. They are curious and are always looking for efficiencies. We need to contact them, either through their networks, incubators, or accelerators, and provide onsite librarian "office hours" in their space. We need to jump over the reference desk because they won't approach it. And if we don't support the generators of the 2.0 economy, we will be forgotten in their success.

#4 Venture capitalists lose more money on failed startups because of poor market exposure and bad intelligence than from broken code.

Your local startup community needs access to users. Libraries are the original showroom.* How can you make the library a testing ground, a beta site for the next generation of business development in your community? Go ahead and contact your nearest incubator or accelerator and offer to convene a focus group or beta test panel for their companies at the library. Your role is as a connector and a recommender.

#3 Librarians are ridiculously early adopters; emerging tech companies need feedback early in their development cycles.

EveryLibrary is considering opening up a side business that will match certified librarian beta testers with tech companies in need of high quality, professional feedback quickly. Unfortunately, we don't think anyone will hire us because the perception of librarians by the tech community is so out of date. We need to start showing up and contributing to tech conferences, in user groups, and on product forums - as librarians. Maybe starting our posts or presentations with "as a librarian, I think..." could be a good place to begin.

#2 We are about to get hammered by wearables.

Whether you loved or dreaded the post-holiday rush of people coming in with e-readers looking for tech support, you should anticipate this Dec 26th kicking off your Season of the Wearables. Keep an eye on the consumer press to see which ones you're more likely to have come through your door. Take notes on the brands. And then email the companies to tell them how many people you helped with their products. Keep reading for more on what to do next with that email....

#1 Because librarians are the most trusted recommenders in society, we should get paid for it. Or at least funded.

What we have done for books and media we will be doing for apps, wearables, networked devices, and emerging technologies. But we need to do it better than we did with publishers. Libraries are, fundamentally, a marketing channel. We drive sales and awareness every day based on our power to recommend. People buy because they first got exposure to the item at the library. We need to start building visibility with companies developing the things we accidentally sell for them. And we need to get funded for that fact. This channel needs to stay open.

*We want to acknowledge Oli Sanidas at Arapahoe County Library for coining the "Library as Showroom/Beta Site" term, and Lisa Waithe Bunker at Pima County for the "Business Reference/Story Time" analogy. To connect with more librarians who care about these topics, join us on the Business Librarians groups on Facebook.