Guest blogger Scott Hargrove, Director of IT and Support Services at the Fraser Valley (BC) Regional Library reflects on the future of the institution and of the profession.
Do we move forward or sink?
Thirty years ago, libraries were the dominant player in the information industry, with limited competition including the media, professional analytical firms and institutions of higher learning. For the average citizen, the library was the first and only choice to meet information needs. To say that the growth of the Internet and the knowledge economy has changed the situation is a drastic understatement.
For the first time, libraries face strong competition in traditional core service areas – including lifelong learning, community programming, and access to both content and information, to name a few.
It could be argued that the competition is doing a better job, at a lower cost. Given the environment of fiscal restraint in which we currently live, is it any wonder that our funders, communities and our profession itself are looking at the relevance of library services with a sharply critical eye?
Gartner Inc. justifiably bills themselves as “the world's leading information technology research and advisory company”. They are quoted in the media almost every day for their analytical expertise in tracking and predicting the vagaries of the technology marketplace, and the relative dominance of the companies who are at the leading edge of the knowledge economy.
Gartner Magic Quadrants
One of the many tools they employ is the Gartner Magic Quadrants model.
In a nutshell, the model is a simple square representing the axes of a line chart:
An industry player is rated on both the completeness of the vision and the ability to execute the business.
The intersection of these two qualities indicates in which of four categories the business falls:
- Niche Player: An organization that can be relied upon to serve a small market segment, or which is unfocused and unable to present strong competition
- Challenger: An organization with a solid track record and dominant position within a market, but without a clear understanding of current market direction and focus
- Visionary: An organization with a clear understanding of where their market is going, but which have not demonstrated the ability to execute that vision
- Leader: An organization which has a clear vision of where their market is going, and a clear, proven capability to execute that vision
Gartner Inc. uses an exhaustive array of data, including market analysis, historical economic success and potential for future profitability to determine where a given player sits within their industry.
Their analysis drives investments, corporate direction and the market itself. Many of their evaluation indicators are not available in the library industry, itself an indication of our difficulty in properly assessing the value of our services.
The libraries of 30 years ago were unquestionably in the Leader Quadrant of the information industry. Now, most library leaders would likely place the library profession in the Challenger Quadrant, or perhaps in the Niche Player Quadrant.
Our vision and strategies moving forward are unclear, and while our ability to execute our business is historically excellent, we are not currently as fiscally efficient as many of our competitors at providing our core services.
From Leader to Challenger – to Leader?
Google’s “good enough” approach appears to have won over many of our customers in information services, and Parks and Recreation departments are able to offer story time programming at significantly less cost than libraries.
Meanwhile, we cling to practices and values which have become obsolete, such as the reference interview and customer privacy, while our customers increasingly choose competitors that provide a better value proposition for the services they want.
As an optimist, I would place us in the Challenger Quadrant, and I believe I can justify our inclusion in that quadrant, but I regularly wonder – will the profession move forward to become a Leader once again, or will we continue to sink into the Niche Player Quadrant?
What do we need to do to become a Leader once again?
How must our value proposition change?