It has been a couple of weeks since I returned from America (I can’t believe it’s been and gone already, wah!) and I am now starting to slowly get my head around all of the things I learnt and have taken away from the people I met and conversations I had. It’s so easy especially to walk out of a great conference feeling inspired and equipped to change the world and make groundbreaking progress in your own organisation, and it is even easier to get deflated quickly and spectacularly when those ideas don’t stick or immediately pan out.
I’m not going to let that happen to me. I did learn a lot of really great things. I saw examples of some really great, inspiring and interesting work. But coincidentally probably one of the most important things I have learnt is that not everything works for everyone. Some of the really clever examples and ideas I learnt about were only clever and great because they matched the client and their needs. Some of the snazzy design hacks I saw only looked so sexy because they were being used on a website that had half as much content as the Library does, or on an iPad app that has only one objective, to sell stuff, or a mobile site that has only one majority use case.
It’s easy to get carried away and ultimately not actually achieve anything from the things you learn about. That doesn’t interest me. I wanted to decide on a small number of tangible, actionable and practical objectives that have spawned from the inspiration I’ve gotten in the last few weeks, as well as from my last six months of research. I want to be able to complete the sentence “From my Travelling Fellowship, and from the subsequent research I conducted before and after, I was able to achieve/implement at the Library….”.
As a result, I have come up with a preliminary action plan for objectives I would like to achieve in the short to medium term future. I put particular emphasis on the word preliminary. These ideas need to be fleshed out and more importantly they need to be approved. But I’m finding it really helpful to document my thought processes during this period, and I’ve probably gone back to read my old posts more than any others have read them in total. So, despite the infancy of these ideas I am writing them down anyway because it helps me to clarify them, as well as develop them.
What I’m finding interesting is that in this preliminary plan there basically aren’t any ideas in there that I didn’t already have or hadn’t already considered in part. But before now it was just a bunch of junk in my head or concepts we as a team had thrown around but without any clear direction or method of application. The best thing I have gained from this Fellowship is clarity. Suddenly all the pieces that were already in my peripheral vision have linked together to form a larger, clearer network. I suddenly see the pathways between each piece and better yet I see an order of steps for the first time, as well as a place to start (thank-frigging-god).
I’m sure my below hand-drawn scribble still looks like a jumble to you, but truly I look at this and see a beacon, a lighthouse guiding me after months of fumbling around in the dark and being unsure of what was going to come out of hours upon hours of reading and Googling and blog-scouring and head-scratching and note-jotting and bookmarking. Here it is. The very first edition of the GrandMasterPlan.
Let me try and talk you through this.
The Library has a website. It has lots and lots of content. There’s lots of really useful content but there is also a lot of, dare I say it, useless junk. Or just stuff that isn’t appropriate because it isn’t being found or read or cared about. We collectively do a lot of “just in case publishing” and I want it to stop. In order to achieve this I would like to implement the following; taxonomy/information architecture; content strategy; content audit.
Intelligent taxonomy will solve so many issues for us. It will guide my GrandMasterPlan and in fact other parts of the Plan (content strategy for example) are absolutely hinged on the execution of a considered and sensible information architecture. One practically cannot exist without the other. So, taxonomy first. Not only will this help clarify mucho contento, but will also help us identify the hidden content that is iffy, ugly, or useless.
Once content has been sorted into a clearer hierarchy, it will then be much easier to audit. This has been a huge stumbling block for me because all research around implementing a content strategy ultimately leads back to a content audit. However it wasn’t that long ago that we asked staff to audit their content when we first migrated to Drupal from our old site. No one wants to do one audit, let alone two. I was really struggling to come up with an idea for approaching a second audit without getting staked, stoned or worse, ignored. But then during one of my many conversations while I was away I had my watershed moment. Content objectives. Formal objectives. For content! Sheer brilliance.
I think we all can agree that our digital content serves a purpose. It’s supposed to do something. But those somethings could be infinite if we let them. So I want to work with staff across the whole Library to define what our content objectives are. There may be three, there may be ten. I’m not sure yet. But the point is, by outlining a clear set of objectives, then the job of auditing content is going to be SO much easier. Does this piece of content align to our objectives? Yes? Great! Sort of? How can we make it better? No, not really? Off with its head! It makes perfect sense. If we can collectively agree on what those objectives should be, then we are effectively agreeing as a whole on what kind of content we want, and more importantly what kind of content we don’t want or need in our digital platforms.
In order to outline objectives we probably need to know exactly who uses our website/s and digital platforms, and we definitely need to know what they use them for. A bunch of work has already been around user personas for the Library’s digital stuff, so I intend on replicating these and just making any updates necessary. Outlining exactly who uses our online services is imperative to knowing for sure if our content objectives are actually relevant and effective.
This brings me to the next big achievable on my list. Who are we? What is our identity as a cultural institution, what is our voice? Again, a lot of work has already been done around this and the Library already has a strong brand essence in theory. Now I want to look at how to apply this essence to our online presences. The Library already has a set of Identity Guidelines for print, now we need one for our websites, online platforms, digital interfaces. We need Online Identity Guidelines. Not only will this help our designers, it will help our content authors and moreover, it will help our content itself. By defining who we are, what we look like and how we sound, we will be better equipped to know how our content supports and mirrors that identity.
I saw a number of presentations at #aeasea around identity and personality and someone asked something that made me think; where is the human presence on your website? Yes we have information, yes we serve a purpose, but where is the human touch, the personality that says “Hello, yes we are your National Library, we are people too and we can help you with your research, your questions, your curiosities. No, your question isn’t silly, let us lead you to the information you seek!”. I would love to see the Library, in its language and its interaction with the public, find the comfy space between being expert and being human.
Content strategy is about so much more than the content you already have. It is about planning your future content, and creating a strategy that ensures a consistent level of good quality, manageable content into the future. A huge part of that means education for authors and content contributors. Regardless of what direction my GrandMasterPlan ends up taking, I absolutely endeavour to be better at supporting and teaching our workforce. It’s unfair for me to criticise the quality of content that we currently have on the NLA website when we as yet have made no real push to adequately equip staff with the knowledge and support to create “good” content. I want to start doing some workshops with staff so that we can talk about the philosophy of what good content means, how good information architecture and taxonomy works and mostly, how good content can help us do our jobs better and more efficiently. I want to teach staff how to write for the web, how to edit for the web. I want as many staff as interested to be involved in our web publishing workflows. Our staff are our content experts, and it is my job to make them better equipped to translate that expertise to different online audiences.
Ultimately what would make this job easier is a content management system (CMS) that does exactly what we want. It’s too soon to tell yet whether or not this is within scope for the near future, but I would really like to explore the option of modifying Drupal to do what we want better. We’re already seeing some of this with the great work Brendon has been doing with our new content types – they are cleaner, more reusable and more adaptive to multiple platforms. I really hope this will have a flow on effect to all our publishing interfaces and workflows in Drupal.
The third and somewhat more complex achievable I have added to the GrandMasterPlan is about social media. The reason this is more complex is that Web Publishing are technically not the business owners of the Library’s social media presence and instead this objective is more focused on making recommendations to other teams of staff around the Library rather than activities that I myself would complete. Web Publishing are for sure an active stakeholder in our social media presence but ultimately we do not look after the Library’s day to day social activity and therefore are not the most appropriate to make operational decisions. However, during my research and trip I took the opportunity to look at many organisational cases of social media activity and management. Not only does it interest me but it is helpful to understand how other organisations operate in a still fairly new, often unrealised area of business and social capital. Also I think that our good content principles absolutely need to be reflected in our social media activities, and I happily and excitedly acknowledge how most, if not all the other ideas I have already discussed here relate back in some way to social. That is the beauty of my GrandMasterPlan! It all ties together. The plan is not linear, there aren’t chronological steps that need to be taken in order to achieve enlightenment. I can work on these things out of order, all at once, change can be iterative. These ideas and objectives are pieces of a bigger picture that overlap and interlock and complement each other.
I also think we are at a great crossroads right now where the Library has some new and fresh and incredibly experienced faces on board who I hope may just be the perfect be vehicles for some iterative social change. I really hope that we’re going to see a lot of great things in the coming months.
So there you have it. This is the beginnings of what I feel and hope is going to be great progress for the Library and also for me professionally and personally. I am excited, and I also feel like I need a nap. Stay tuned!