Digitization from Good to Great

After reading Jim Collins’ Good to Great, the first question that came to mind was, “Libraries don’t measure success by their stock performance so how can this apply to my situation?”. There is clearly value in the concepts of picking the right people, thinking deeply and clearly about your situation, and applying core understanding with rigor and consistency but the underlying metric of  success in economic terms is problematic.  Fortunately, he produced a supplemental piece called Good to Great and the Social Sectors to address this problem by tweaking the measurements of greatness so they can more directly apply to non-profits such as libraries in higher education.

Particularly useful is the clarification of output measures unique to the social sector and how to assess these outcomes through fulfillment of mission either in qualitative or quantitative terms.  On page 5, Collins says,

The confusion between inputs and outputs stems from one of the primary differences between business and the social sectors. In business, money is both an input (a resource for achieving greatness) and an output (a measure of greatness). In the social sectors, money is only an output, and not a measure of greatness.

Since money is not valuable as an output metric something else must take its place. He uses the Cleveland Orchestra as an example of what to focus on when assessing things that are hard to measure.  The three foci mentioned on page 6 concern finding evidence of superior performance, distinctive impact, and lasting endurance.

How could a digital library collect this type of evidence?  Using metrics from the Web is one way but that is still too close to a traditional input.  Getting testimonials from members of the university, other schools copying the digital library program, wider use in the classroom, and good brand reputation are several ways of determining outcomes of valued use and mission fulfillment.

One action to take from reading this book is to develop a “Hedgehog Concept” by deeply examining and defining your three circles from page 19:

1. What you are deeply passionate about –

organization’s core values and mission

2. What you can be best in the world at

unique contributions

3. What drives your resource engine (as opposed to economic in business)

3 parts – time, money and brand

Digitization efforts have a vast potential and the temptation is to try and pursue all of them.  However, success and greatness take disciplined planning and action.  Current examples at the CONTENTdm Upper Midwest User Group meeting demonstrated that this is true.  Those who are presenting successful programs had a good core focus and collected things that were unique to their institutions.  One factor that remains to be determined is the longevity of those programs as most have been around less than 5 years.

This book is very helpful for anyone who is planning a digital library program or wants to improve one that already exists. It helps to refocus effort and to take a step back to see if that effort is producing excellent results.