Engaging Users, Libraries, Participatory Culture

Getting feedback right

Before the module on hyperlinked communities, I really felt the library I work for does a pretty decent job at engaging our users and soliciting their feedback and then turning it into valuable services. Then I read Aaron Schmidt’s (2016) Asking the Right Questions article…

Before I discuss Schmidt’s article, let me give you some history on our library’s satisfaction survey

You asked, we listened

When I started working in the Kennedy Library in January of 2011, the Student Library Advisory Council (SLAC) was already established and had just started administering a library satisfaction survey to the student body. Throughout the years the questions have remained mostly the same (for trend analysis purposes), with additions or subtractions based on library priorities for the year (i.e. new services added, space renovations, etc.).  Each year, the management team would receive a report about the survey and review recommendations for changes in services and programs.  We made a lot of changes based on this feedback. And we told the students over and over again “You asked, we listened”.  But did we really?

Maybe they mean soup?

We were and are still leaning heavily on survey respondents to dream up the ideas for us when they don’t really know what it is we do. Our previous prompt of “What kind of food would you like to see in the library?”  typically provided responses like “better” or “warm” or “not coffee and pastries” and left us and our campus dining folks guessing every year.

– Maybe they mean soup?  Let’s offer soup…

So this year I served as a management team liaison to SLAC and rather than the survey being developed by the students, we actually used them as the advisory body the group is intended as and asked them how to ask the questions. While we didn’t change the trend questions, we did take an entirely different approach to the food options question. Rather than leaving it open ended, we provided categories the SLAC group developed and we received excellent feedback:

Survey results from the Kennedy Library Dining Question

(Robert E. Kennedy Library, 2017)

Survey results from the Kennedy Library Dining Question

(Robert E. Kennedy Library, 2017)

In my opinion, the answers to these questions were the most valuable from the survey. The comments were more detailed as well:

I would like to see less expensive and fresher food options. I am never willing to buy the plastic packaged wraps and snack packs at Julians even though that is really the only fresh food option because it is too expensive. There should be healthy snacks such as apples, bananas, granola bars, salads, etc at a reasonable price.

Would be nice if there were bagel breakfast sandwiches or breakfast burritos. Would be nice if there were more heavy filling meals. Would be extra nice if prices were affordable.

I would love to see more healthy snack options, particularly energy bars and fruit strips. – Anonymous student feedback (Kennedy Library, 2017)

We sent the feedback to Campus Dining and we are hoping for some food option improvement this year.  But we can’t pat ourselves on the back just yet.

How may we help you?  Let us start with asking you better questions!

Reading Aaron Schmidt’s (2016) op-ed piece, I realized we’re still really guilty of expecting our users to dream up new ways for us to do things. I laughed when I read Schmidt’s (2016) example of how strange this looks to users from their perspective if say the IRS was asking me “Create a way to improve filing your taxes” (Rethinking Our Approach section, para 2). I certainly have no idea how to improve it and as Schmidt (2016) proposes, it’s because I don’t know how the IRS works, I don’t know all the services they provide and how interconnected their services may be, nor do I understand what resources constraints they have.  It’s very logical, but why haven’t we thought of this before?  Most of our users only interact with us on a very few of our services.  Asking how to improve the whole place is quite an undertaking! We can’t ask library users how to improve the library point blank, and as Schmidt (2017) and also Pewrainangi (2014) suggest, we need to learn about our users daily lives, what is important to them, hobbies and interests, etc.

Surveys aside, our library also has a “suggestion box” at our front desk.  The quality of feedback from this box is also pretty much useless to us, and is almost a way we placate our users by allowing to feel that we care.  Most likely that’s why we mostly get “it’s hot in here, get some A/C” or “the toilet paper is poor quality”.  Stephens (2017) discusses a library in his locality that is taking this feedback to the next level and in turn receiving quality feedback that administrators can and want to respond to.  Feedback is posted on a bulletin board with the responses to the questions from library administrators directly below it.  A feedback mechanism and an FAQ all in one!

My mind has been thinking about how to make this happen in our library since listening to that lecture and I have a feeling it will require some technology and maybe even offer a senior project opportunity to one of our amazing tech students.  Stay tuned!

So while I still feel our library does a good job at soliciting feedback, I now have some useful tools in my kit to suggest going forward!


Pewrainangi, S. (2014). A beautiful obsession. WEVE, 1, 7-10. Retrieved from https://issuu.com/heroesmingle/docs/weve_may_2014

Robert E. Kennedy Library (2017). [Library Satisfaction Survey Results]. Unpublished raw data.

Schmidt, A. (2017, May 4). Asking the Right Questions. Library Journal, 141(8). Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2016/05/opinion/aaron-schmidt/asking-the-right-questions-the-user-experience/

Stephens, M. (2017). The Hyperlinked library: exploring the model. [Panopto lecture]. Retrieved from https://sjsu-ischool.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=2d0f28cc-2337-4aaf-ae88-4f133c509f67


Book Reviews, Engaging Users, Libraries

The Long Tail

Have you ever considered whether you are a Long Tail consumer?  Are you right now scratching your head and picturing this?

Long tailed lizard

No, not this long tail

Well I will be honest.  Before reading Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service by Casey and Savastinuk (2007), the picture above is what came to my mind.  Casey and Savastinuk (2007) described how this Long Tail idea could be applied to libraries:

The idea of the Long Tail is based on one primary reality that is true for any physical library building: Shelf space is limited. As a result, we can only keep what is most in demand by our users. By only keeping what is most desired, we are choosing not to house less popular titles that appeal to a broader spectrum of readers. The untapped masses desire more esoteric titles, but, when looked at in whole, the demand for these titles is greater than the demand for hit titles. (Casey and Savastinuk, 2007, p. 16)

Casey and Savastinuk (2007) go on to dedicate a significant portion of Chapter 5: Participatory Services and the Long Tail to services libraries provide attempting to reach this so called Long Tail.  But I felt something was missing around the Long Tail in libraries because an entire chapter only discussing interlibrary loan, and library blogs with comments enabled did not seem to be a new way of thinking in my mind. With multiple references to Chris Anderson’s (2006) The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More I had to know more about the Long Tail.

So what is this Long Tail you speak of?

In short, the Long Tail is a shortened up name for a statistical long tail distribution – for Anderson (2006), the shape that follows the initial high demand of “hit” products and describes the small volume of individual niche items that are sold, but the small demand of those niche items that continues when people are able to obtain the items.  The Long Tail starts to show up in our searching and shopping habits now that we’re online and the options can be limitless when we’re not attached to shelving space.  It looks like this:

Anderson (2006) helped the reader comprehend the Long Tail by providing several examples.  The one that most clearly defined the Long Tail theory to me was that of Rhapsody.  Please keep in mind we are talking about the Internet in the mid-2000’s!  Rhapsody was an online music marketplace (picture iTunes) that provided people with the ability to purchase the “hits” but also had a substantial back catalogue of old hits, B-sides, and non-mainstream music genres.  Anderson’s (2006) research of the data found that while the “hits” provided about 75% of their revenue, 25% was coming from the purchases in the Long Tail.  While Anderson’s (2006) work primarily focused on the online shopping world (he also discusses Amazon, Netflix, and Google frequently), as I discussed above with Casey and Savastinuk’s (2007) Library 2.0 work, this distribution model can be applied to a number of services within the library to benefit both us and the users.

Playing with the Long Tail

We’ve already discussed interlibrary loan and library blogs as a having the ability to engage with the Long Tail, but there are several other opportunities for libraries to explore the Long Tail concept, as more and more of our services are online, do not require much if any valuable shelf space, and most importantly can be found without formal structures that physical book stacks rely on:

“… the Web obviously isn’t predicated on individuals. It’s a web. It’s about the connections. And on the World Wide Web, the connections are hyperlinks. It’s not just documents that get hyperlinked in the new world of the Web. People do. Organizations do. The Web, in the form of a corporate intranet, puts everyone in touch with every piece of information and with everyone else inside the organization and beyond.” (Weinberger, 2001, Hyperlinks section, para. 9)


Several library online systems are including the ability to search beyond what our own library subscribes to.  Exploring digital interlibrary loan document delivery systems (such as RapidILL) can mitigate the impact to users on research down time.  Providing our users with the most complete picture of the information available on any given subject is fundamentally what we’re about.  Access to information for all.  If we don’t have the budget to buy everything, with a reallocation of funds to document delivery, we can still provide it and make it available.

Peer 2 Peer

Academic and public libraries are providing more and more spaces for collaboration and learning.  By providing the “hits” for our users in our instruction and training, but then providing the opportunity for peers to learn from their peers on more niche topics, libraries can engage with the Long Tail.  Logistically, libraries cannot provide every type of instruction our users may need.  The idea of Repair Cafes is an exact example of this type of Peer 2 Peer learning that libraries are facilitating, but leaning on the niche to provide.  Repair Cafes provide users the opportunity to learn how to fix broken items in their home from other library users and community resources (Cantrell, 2017).  By engaging resources outside of the library, libraries can provide services to more users in the Long Tail.

LibGuides and Library “Pedias”

LibGuides are most often used by academic libraries to provide subject matter guidance and they are usually created by the library on the “hit” topics.  But if we want to engage our Long Tail user needs, exploring how less popular topics, but ones that have relevance to a niche group of users performing very specific research on a hard to understand topic, could be really interesting to explore opening up for creation and modification by our community.  This idea comes from the success of Wikipedia and is briefly discussed in Anderson’s (2006) work.  While there are the “hit” Wikipedia pages, there are also niche Wikipedia pages (like the Long Tail’s for example).  The niche ones are just as important for one person needing that information to start some research as the big “hit” ones are for the masses (just for fun, check out the always changing weekly Top 25 Wikipedia pages!).  Libraries exploring creating library-pedias can provide access to information with very little overhead and zero shelf space.

Institutional Repositories

The idea of an institutional repository engaging the Long Tail came to me after I attended a presentation by Dr. Pamela Bleisch this week.  Bleisch (2017) discussed how the low barrier to our student research via our open access digital scholarship DigitalCommons@CalPoly platform is providing people all over the world with research that directly impacts them.  Specifically, Bleisch (2017) referenced a senior project about a bicycle powered maize grinder that has already had 33 downloads and counting since being published on August 10, 2017.  This research is directly helping people in Malawi with food insecurity and is certainly a Long Tail candidate, with access made possible through a system that provides the “hits” and the niche needs.  The activity showing the breadth of scholarship downloaded demonstrates how our library is engaging with the Long Tail:

DigitalCommons@CalPoly Digital Readership Map

Good old Search

One way the California State University Library 23 campus system is serving the Long Tail is through the recent implementation of the ExLibris Primo search function they’ve branded OneSearch.  The OneSearch function searches the collections of all 23 campuses to produce results of all physical resources available to users all over the system (Walker, 2017).  Users can initiate an interlibrary loan request for materials at another campus using CSU+ (Walker, 2017).  This provides access to many more resources than a user may have available to them at their campus.  Library consortias are just one way we can begin expanding into the Long Tail, but another could be through providing users with the WorldCat search.  This search expands their Long Tail beyond their own library and to the entire world of participating libraries.

The future of the Long Tail in libraries

The ideas above are just a start to what libraries can begin exploring to provide more information to their Long Tail users.  As Anderson (2006) proposes

“Every one of us – no matter how mainstream we might think we are – actually goes super-niche in some part of our lives” (p. 184).

Libraries should explore the niches to determine how best to serve all users in non-mainstream ways.

There is a whole world of information out there and libraries exploring the Long Tail opportunities are on the right path for their users.


Anderson, C. (2006). The long tail: Why the future of business is selling less of more. New York, NY: Hyperion.

Bleisch, P. (2017, September 14). Future of Institutional Repositories: Service, Content, Research Support. [Presentation]. Robert E. Kennedy Library, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CA

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Information Today, Inc..

Cantrell, M. (2017, September 1). Libraries and the art of everything maintenance: Hosting repair events reduces waste, brings in new patrons. American Libraries48, 12-14. Retrieved from https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2017/09/01/libraries-everything-maintenance-repair-cafe/

Walker, D. (2017, June 13). OneSearch: The new CSU library discovery system. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://libraries.calstate.edu/onesearch-the-new-csu-library-discovery-system/

Weinberger, D. (2001). The hyperlinked organization. The cluetrain manifesto. Retrieved from http://www.cluetrain.com/book/hyperorg.html


The rearview mirror effect

Look how far we’ve come

Image of rearview mirror on 1970's model truck, reflecting the desert and skyImage Source

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Buckland’s (1992) Redesigning library services: A manefesto for the pure entertainment around seeing how well the author predicted the use of digital files, as well as thought out how efficient technology could make library resources for our users.  What was interesting to me were how many ideas Buckland (1992) had around digital files that we still have not implemented using current technologies.  Sure we have PDF files that are searchable thanks in part to OCR, but jumping back and forth between the library catalogue and files still isn’t nearly as seamless as it could be.  Certainly not as he describes it in the Electronic Library section:

“In an on-line world the user could move to the table of contents by depressing a key, then on to examine a chapter. Next the user might want to look for specific terms or names in the index, on-line, then move to specific patches of text, again on-line. Since the text is on-line one could expect a concordance providing access to all of the text. The user might abandon that text, follow up a reference (from inside the text or from a citation index) to another text, go back to the catalog records to look for another book, or scan the subject headings with a view to reformulating the search. There would be a continual changing, “zooming in” and out between a broad view and focus on details. It is not that the familiar data elements of the catalog record will have disappeared or that the identifying and locating functions are any less important, but rather that the catalog will effectively have disappeared as a recognizably separate, physical entity. Instead, the catalog data would be part of a much broader set of data elements and the catalog function would have become one feature in a suite of related functions in on-line library use” (Buckland, 1992, p. 40).

Buckland (1992) also foresaw the significant investment that library vendors (publishers and software) would have in the future technology.  Often using the phrase “in practice” or “in theory” when describing sharing of electronic documents or databases could be done by multiple users at the same time.  It is mostly in theory because in my experience, vendors aren’t super eager to share without some type of monetary exchange!

And look what we’re still doing

Overall, reading Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service by Casey and Savastinuk (2007) provided a dose of inspiration I certainly needed of what is possible in a library to remain relevant to users and also engage staff in the mission. Change is constant, but it is very hard to accept constant change.  Stability is greatly needed in our library right now after a long period of staffing changes, retirements, and vacancies.  I have already shared the idea of the Three Branches of Change model in Chapter 4 – A Framework for Change with my fellow management team members and started to discuss what components we could potentially implement in our library.  We’re reviewing committees in our library right now, and finding that many exist without charges, membership definitions, and chairs that have any type of formal authority.  Without these structures in place, how could we expect committees to implement change that is relevant to the mission?  Exploring the idea of an investigative team is extremely interesting to us, and one we will most likely modify and employ in the next year.  If we don’t change, we will keep experiencing the same challenges.

One final takeaway from Casey and Savastinuk’s (2007) work was regarding technology.  I felt that Chapter 6, Incorporating Technology, was definitely a place in time chapter, which really, any one who writes about implementing technology will face since it evolves so quickly.  However, a takeaway for me when I removed the software names and suggestions was a extremely significant advance in sharing technology since 2007, which I believe we can use as a takeaway.  That takeaway is what technology are we investing our resources (financial and people) in that will be obsolete or free in the near future.  The example of Sharepoint (pg. 77) led me to this takeaway.  How expensive was Microsoft’s Sharepoint, and how long was it in use in many institutions?  Are there software that we are investing in now, that in 10 years will be replaced by a more user friendly and price friendly option?  Shouldn’t we be evaluating the assumed lifespan of a product before we invest financial and people resources heavily?  It may be that we don’t know and our only option is to heavily invest, but it should be part of the investigative process, and this chapter was a great reminder of that!


Buckland, M. K., Gorman, M., & Gorman, M. (1992). Redesigning library services: A manifesto. Chicago, IL: American Library Association. Retrieved from http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/sunsite/Redesigning%20Library%20Services_%20A%20Manifesto%20(HTML).pdf

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Information Today, Inc..


A little about me

Hi all!  I’m Cheryl and I’m very excited to be finally taking this course!  I am a person who rewards herself, so this class is a reward for finishing all my required courses in the program.  Next semester I will do my e-portfolio and graduate after three long years!  It feels just like yesterday that I was starting this program and watching a video of Michael in INFO 200 (I had a different professor, but Michael was a guest lecturer a few times). Ever since that first semester I have wanted to take another class with him and here I finally am!  I’m also an intern for Michael with two other fabulous ladies, doing WordPress help, so this semester is a dream come true!

 A little more about who I amPhoto of Cheryl May in the Kennedy Library Atrium

I work at an academic library (Kennedy Library at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) on the central coast of California.  My background is in HR and finance and so I came to the Kennedy Library as the assistant to the dean overseeing the entire admin office operations in 2011.  Since that time my role has significantly expanded and I am currently the director of access, operations, and administrative services for the library.  I still oversee all the HR and financial functions, but I also oversee the building operations (we’re 5 floors and open 7am-12am, plus our first floor is 24 hours), as well as the circulation department (aka access services).  I’ve only met one other person who has this unique set of responsibilities, so I chalk it up to the uniqueness of our library and it’s needs, plus what I bring to the position.

Why I’m in this program

Like I said above, I started this program three years ago and I’ve been doing it part-time while working full-time in a management role, as well as raising two kids (now 17 and 19).  The decision to start this program came from me finally realizing I knew what I wanted to get my master’s degree in.  My bachelor’s is in psychology and I could just never find a degree program in this field that seemed to be in alignment with what I was doing and where I was going career-wise.  I explored degree programs at Cal Poly, but this is a polytechnic university focused heavily in the sciences, engineering, and agricultural areas.  The business school programs were geared towards MBA’s and Public Policy, and that didn’t seem to fit either.  I actually don’t remember how I stumbled upon the iSchool program; it may have actually been in my work and researching professional development opportunities for our staff.  But I knew it when I saw it that I had found my degree program.  The leadership and management pathway has been synchronistically in alignment with everything I am responsible for doing, and it has made me a better employee and leader.  I have used reports in this program to help inform others of our programs and strategic plans, and I have used readings in the course material to share with my other leadership team members to keep us all thinking about how we are leading the library.  I’m actually a little sad in that regard to my experience coming to an end because I will need to find ways in my personal life to keep learning.

Looking ahead

I don’t know what is in store for me in the future, but I know that having my MLIS will certainly open doors that couldn’t be opened before.  I’m excited for the content in this course because I KNOW it will be information I will put to use in my position.  Sometimes it’s not immediate, and sometimes it is, but it will happen!