5/12/11

My Conversation with SLA President Cindy Romaine on Her Future Ready 365 Project

I got a chance to have a telephone conversation with SLA President, Cindy Romaine, this week to discuss her brainchild of the Future Ready 365 blog. Romaine’s idea was that the association would run a blog for one year with the theme of “Future Ready” and would compile 365 blog posts from members and though leaders on different perspectives of what you need to do today in order to be Future Ready for the challenges that are coming over the horizon. Romaine’s enthusiasm for the project is quite contagious and has received a lot of attention from both within SLA and beyond. However, Romaine’s first comment shows that something like this cannot be taken without serious consideration of the amount of time and effort it takes to make it successful.
“It’s a lot of work!! I’ve got a fantastic team that takes it further, faster, and they have great ideas. But, it’s still a freakin’ lot of work!!” Romaine mentioned that there are days that the person who does a lot of the work is up until midnight getting everything prepared for the next day. Fortunately, it sounds like she has put together a team that is passionate about the project and committed to making it a success. Romaine commented that there are a number of things that are being learned as the project goes on. “One is the fantastic content. Two was the actions that took place behind the scenes and how we tried to connect and how effective different techniques were.”
I asked her what her goals are for such an ambitious project. She mentioned a number of goals, such as “you like to think that you’re getting traction, and you like to think you’re making a difference, and that people are exposed to ideas that they wouldn’t be otherwise, and you like to think you’re doing something for the association.”
So, how is she accomplishing any of those goals? “Everything that I hear, is positive,” Romaine told me. Not that they haven’t received criticism from time to time on specific topics, but she said that most responses about the Future Ready 365 blog has been positive and the reaction from the association, and those not even in the association has been overwhelmingly positive.
Are people paying attention to FR365? According to Romaine, they sure are. “We have great traffic. More than a million hits through the first three months of the year. Just in March, we had over 37,000 unique visits. Those are good numbers.” Although no benchmarks were set for the project, it is clear that the amount of traffic exceeds the number of SLA Members, so it seems the message is getting out beyond the confines of the Association members. In looking over the stats, Romaine says she immediately thinks, “Really?? Who are these people?? Can we send them a membership note??”
In attracting people to write for the blog, Romaine take a couple approaches. “We try to send the email blasts to reach out, but what really works is the one-on-one requests. When I go and talk to chapters, I requests posts from them or I go shake hands and talk to people.” The process is constant, and the push for getting people to post is an ongoing process and she stressed that “there has to be buzz about that!” So, the “tweets” go out everyday, and there are updates on listservs letting people know about new content that is important to their profession. She stressed that you have to drive interest in these types of project just like you would with any marketing process.
Whether it is long-time members of the organization, freshly minted Deans of University libraries, or the CEO’s of library/info pro recruiting services, Romaine tries to diversify the types of writers that post on FR365 by “trying to get a mix of all our members and then maybe a few people that are opinion leaders.” There are a number of “Themes” that get pushed out, usually a theme for the week, and this has helped motivate everyone behind the scenes to find the right people for those themes. This week’s theme on employment has focused on getting CEO’s from library recruiting services to discuss what students need to do to prepare for an environment where they seem to be thrown to the wolves. Last week FR365’s theme was on the Future Ready Toolkit. “We were thinking that we could do a whole week on Competitive Intelligence,” Romaine told me. “I’d like to talk about legal and do a whole week with that. Or, maybe it’s something that’s going on in New York, or one thing I was thinking of was ‘Past Presidents’ because these people have a certain perspective.” Romaine said that the “themes” approach works very well because the writers understand that their contribution fits within a certain group which she labeled a “scalable niche.”
Of course, it’s not all about the writers… it’s really about the audience and how they are reacting to the content. There are a number of people that comment consistently, and those comments seem to be driving additional conversations beyond what’s in the initial post. It also helps SLA candidates with getting a feel for how the association is reacting to certain issues. One area that Romaine said she would actually like to see more interaction is that of the vendors. She thinks that the vendors should really step up and answer the question of “How are you making your clients Future Ready?” The elephant in the room on this discussion is that vendors need to be honest and let librarians know that if they are not doing that, they will step over you and deal with those in your organization that will. So far, no vendor seems to be ready to tackle that issue.
I asked if the FR365 would end on post number 365 or if the project will continue after Romaine steps down as SLA President. “That’s what I’m thinking. The real wonderful part will be putting some visualization together to see how the words connect to each other.” Romaine envisions that all of the information that is collected from these posts can be leveraged in a Web 3.0 way in which the words can connect to each other and help identify the trends that appear. “That way we can kind of see the ‘Hot Spots’ in the conversation.” We discussed how she could do this, and Romaine thought that something like IBM’s ManyEyes product would be a great way to visualize how the conversations are connected. Just for fun, I tested this out on the 3 Geeks’ post for 2011 and found it to be a very interesting approach to seeing what words seem to be constantly connecting to each other in our posts. (See below)
I think that Cindy Romaine has really shown that member organizations can take on new approaches to how they serve their members. She mentioned that she has seen situations where holding on to the “old model” can bring down an operation (be it a small library department or a giant organization.) Her favorite quote at the moment is from Jeff De Cagna, who she quotes as saying that member associations “will need to embrace a genuinely different point of view on the nature of value creation in a more digital, more social, and more interconnected world.” It looks like Cindy Romaine has taken this suggestion to heart with her Future Ready 365 project. I’m sure she’s still looking for contributors, so feel free to submit your posts to futureready365@sla.org.

Visualization of 3 Geeks' 2011 Posts (so far...) Many Eyes

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