Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Surprise Idea!

There is nothing like a big, old-fashioned creative idea to “save the day” — or save a business. And a Canadian library has come up with one. It is so logical that you think to yourself, “Why didn’t I — or at least some brilliant American librarian — come up with that?” And I trust you can hold for a few seconds until I tell you what it is.

As the headline on one article in the U.S. noted: “Shhh! That’s the Sound of Libraries Closing.” Obviously, that is not the big, creative idea! But it does appear to be a trend in the U.S.: libraries either closing or navigating massive budget cuts. Just at a time when people out of work need libraries for retooling, learning how to put resumes together and capitalizing, in many cases, on free internet use, budget cutbacks and scaled-back hours are seen as the only option.

One Canadian library — the Surrey City Centre library in British Columbia came up with a value-added idea to invigorate service: tap people for knowledge as well as books. It has gathered a group of volunteer experts on a variety of subjects and has created a system to put people in touch with knowledge seekers in those areas. Whether you want to practice your Spanish or compare notes on an illness, the library will put you in touch with the right person. Once in touch, you meet in the library itself, keeping the “business” all under one roof!

That’s an idea that could also reinvigorate the business model of libraries (or increase the passion or size of the customer base) without incurring huge costs. Libraries could also start a fee service for the “knowledge experts” side of the business — which could help stimulate revenues, even more radically changing the model. While libraries have always been known for knowledge through books, the skilled people side of the equation is a natural fit. Why read a book on African Violets, when you can talk to an expert on them?

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