Monday, June 05, 2006

Co-creation in libraryland revisited

As promised, I'm revisiting the idea of co-creation in libraries and how best to make it work for us and for patrons. I've been thinking about it quite often, but so far have generated a collection of ideas, rather than a coherent philosophy, but at least it's a start. I would agree with one marketer's statement that services make tricky candidates for co-creation because many services exist because customers don't want to take on the task of performing those services themselves. I believe the same is true of many library services. I doubt that most patrons care to be involved in many of the less-glamorous aspects of making books and articles publicly accessible. However, some patrons may be highly motivated to have a say in services that directly impact their ability to be successful in tasks worthwhile to them. Those tasks may range from locating and organizing important information, learning research skills, writing great papers, networking with people, becoming a better public speaker, planning a business, etc. So, perhaps patrons wouldn't be motivated to co-create library services in general, but they might be highly interested in having a say in those services that demonstrate a direct benefit to them. In this case, the ability to segment library patrons by job becomes increasingly important so that librarians can outline just what those benefits are.

As an example of how co-creation could work, let's say a library finds a large number of budding entrepreneurs in the community who need help getting their businesses off the ground (a.k.a. the job they need to get done). The librarians meet with some of these patrons and find that they need a host of resources and training in how to write business plans, give presentations, and use Microsoft Office products (needs assessment). The librarians and patrons work together to package a service offering tailored just for entrepreneurs (it could take the form of a Web-based resource, a weekend workshop, or something else). Both the librarians and patrons gather information resources including books, articles and local experts, and both develop content and promote the service. The resulting service package represents the collective expertise and collaboration of both parties who worked together through every stage of development. Of course, gaining this kind of buy-in from patrons is far from easy, but if one can identify a few committed and influential entrepreneurs who are convinced that the project has concrete benefit for themselves and their peers, such high-level co-creation has a chance of success.

I don't see co-creation as turning over our work to others, but as expanding our idea of what it means to be information specialists by considering a very important information resource - our own patrons. At the same time, patrons will learn first-hand that librarians have something valuable to offer that is directly applicable to their own goals and needs. It's important to recognize that as with any service, the quality of library services is ultimately dependent upon both the librarian and patron working together (you can't conduct a reference interview, for example, without patron input after all), and so co-creation is a logical extension of the collaborative nature of marketing services.

I'm curious to know if you see high-level co-creation taking place in libraries and how you see co-creation working (or not working) in a library context.

Update: The folks over at Modern Marketing are working on a Co-Creation Rules manifesto. You can see the draft, in wiki form, which looks quite excellent so far. Perhaps this could be a model we adapt for library services?

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