As information professionals in a web 2.0 landscape, it is important for us to understand the possibilities that this new networked society has for communication and participation. Transparency offers the chance for us to start a truthful dialogue with our users and bring them into the conversation.
As Chris Anderson says in his blog, In Praise of Radical Transparency, “As the tools of production and distribution are democratized, institutions lose power and individuals gain it. As the Web becomes the greatest word-of-mouth amplifier in history, consumers learn to trust peers more and companies less. And as the same trends play out within the firm, businesses are shifting from command and control to “out of control” (Anderson, 2006, para. 1). This is the fundamental idea in the shift from secrecy to transparency within companies and institutions. No longer will the traditional top-down hierarchy be the way that users consume information. Instead, companies and institutions need to open up their practices to their customers, resulting in a less hidden and more open conversation with the people they serve.
Aaron Schmidt’s article, Earning Trust The User Experience, really spoke to me as I am a huge advocate of transparency in corporate practice. This week’s module brings this practice from the corporate world into the library world. Transparency builds trust, and in the library world, according to Schmidt, trust breeds loyalty, and loyal library users are more likely to take advantage of the library (Schmidt, 2013, para. 2).
I completely agree with Schmidt’s statement and have recently made a personal decision to move a service I use to a more transparent company.
Cutting the cord: moving to a more transparent internet provider (a case study on transparency)
About four years ago I made the choice to cut the cord on my traditional cable package. I was sick of paying for an overpriced cable and internet package with a company that was all about the bottom line. Instead, I chose to make the move to a smaller internet provider called Teksavvy who provided a more affordable internet package but who also communicated openly with their customers effectively through blogs, company forums, and even online third party internet forums not owned by the internet provider themselves.
Teksavvy looks for customer feedback through their forums and social media sites, allowing users to comment, question, and criticize openly without censorship. On dslreports.com, users often ask questions about various products and services to which they frequently get responses from Teksavvy employees within 20 minutes.
Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who writes and maintains a blog that focuses on digital law in Canada and around the world, recently wrote a blog post titled, Telecom Transparency Reporting Fails to Satisfy. In this post, Geist writes that “Canadians have become increasingly troubled by reports revealing that telecom and Internet companies receive millions of requests for subscriber data from a wide range of government departments. In light of public concern, some Internet and telecom companies have begun to issue regular transparency reports that feature aggregate data on the number of requests they receive and the disclosures they make” (Geist, 2015, para. 2).
While some companies, like Teksavvy, have started producing transparency reports (found here) which shed light on government requests for information, some companies do not. As Geist states, “[the reports] also paint an incomplete picture since companies have offered up inconsistent data and some of the largest, including Bell, have thus far refused to come clean on past requests and disclosure” (Geist, 2015, para. 3).
While this is not a library specific example, it embodies Schmidt’s article about building trust and loyalty toward a company or organization. I have been a loyal customer with Teksavvy for four years, because their open and transparent mission statement makes me trust the company more than one that operates in a closed hierarchy.
From Teksavvy’s website:
“We believe doing what’s right is the best business strategy of all. It is simple, effective and transparent. It doesn’t require phony rules. Or marketing tricks. Or contracts to lock customers in. Each member of our team can make quick and effective decisions to do what’s right for our customers. That’s how we have built TekSavvy and will continue to do so” (Teksavvy- Who we are, n.d.).
So how can we apply this to libraries?
In a web 2.0 environment it makes sense to turn a traditional organization into a transparent one. In many ways libraries can be looked at as a company, however, our bottom line is not profit, but instead, customer satisfaction.
By creating a more transparent library we look to build trust between the organization and our users. By utilizing web 2.0 technology we can open our libraries to be more communicative with our users. According to Schmidt, “Letting librarians’ personalities show makes it easier for individuals to relate to—and therefore trust—the library” (Schmidt, 2013, para. 6).
In my opinion, the shift toward transparency is primarily about building trust. Trust is a powerful agent to build loyalty for the library. Our patrons, customers, and users are very intelligent and will spot insincerity very quickly. As Schmidt argues, “if a library isn’t honest with its members, it is unlikely that a trusting relationship will form. Making it known why your organization makes the decisions it does and being forthright when it makes mistakes are effective ways to humanize your library. Engaging patrons with participatory design methods and involving them in the planning process take this idea further. The more deliberate the transparency, the better the result” (Schmidt, 2013, para. 12).
Similar to my experience switching to a more transparent internet provider, libraries have much to gain from building more transparent communication with our users. Through transparency and web 2.0 technology, libraries can build more lasting connections and open channels of communication with our users. Trust and loyalty will create a user that is more likely to take advantage of all the library can offer.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a video produced this week. I may do a quick one later this week and insert it into the post at a later time.
Anderson, C. (2006). In praise of radical transparency. Retrieved from http://www.longtail.com/the_long_tail/2006/11/in_praise_of_ra.html
Fitzgerald, S. (August 10, 2015). Cutting the cord: 5 things you should know. Retrieved from http://www.torontosun.com/2015/08/10/cutting-the-cord-5-things-you-should-know
Geist, M. (2015). Telecom Transparency Reporting Fails to Satisfy. Retrieved from http://www.michaelgeist.ca/2015/07/telecom-transparency-reporting-fails-to-satisfy/
Schmidt, A. (2013). Earning trust. The User Experience. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/11/opinion/aaron-schmidt/earning-trust-the-user-experience/
Teksavvy. (June 4, 2014) Transparency report. Retrieved from http://teksavvy.com/Media/Default/Citizen%20Lab/TekSavvy%20to%20Citizenlab%20-%202014-06-04.pdf
Teksavvy. (n.d.) Who we are. Retrieved from http://teksavvy.com/en/why-teksavvy/company/who-we-are
15 thoughts on “The Transformation to Transparency”
@ryantucci, your cord-cutting experience reminds me very much of my decision to sign up with a local ISP Sonic to cover my Internet and phone connectivity. It’s not as fast as the cable or satellite companies, but they are earnestly transparent about their policies — from take down notices to service outages and upgrades.
@sairuh Thank you for your comment! I think this speaks volumes to Aaron Schmidt’s article. The offer of transparency really does have the benefit of building trust with users and builds a brand loyalty.
It would take a lot to get me to go back to one of the less transparent companies here.
Ryan, thank you for a great post!
This line resonated with me, “Trust and loyalty will create a user that is more likely to take advantage of all the library can offer.”
This is such a good point! It takes trust to another level. If we want the users to use our services, they have to trust us! It also makes me think of gate count in another way. Maybe our gate count is low because the customers don’t trust us any more. Hmmmm…
Thank you for your very thoughtful, well written, post!
Hi @krislib, thank you for your comment.
We are actually in the process of hiring a new Associate University Librarian (AUL) at my institution and this came up at one of the presentations.
The candidate said that libraries NEED to be a trusted space on campus. If they don’t trust us we are in trouble. For that reason she meets with students to discuss library services, spaces, etc. She values that group of students to make sure that we are addressing that populations need.
Thank you for the comment!
I was hoping to get this into my blog post but there was just too much to cover.
I’m not sure if people are aware of this, but libraries are sometimes subject to nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) when entering into agreements with vendors. These NDAs often limit university libraries from creating informed collection development decisions for online resources. Often times the price one library pays will be completely different from that of another.
This article talks about it in greater depth:
Moore, K., & Duggan, L. (2011). Transparency and publisher pricing models. The Serials Librarian, 60(1-4), 98-108. doi:10.1080/0361526X.2011.556446
Many libraries are also addressing this in their about us pages on their websites. Here are a few examples:
Cornell University Library:
University of Alberta Library:
York University Library:
@ryantucci Innovative Interfaces won’t allow us to disclose our yearly service/maintenance fees.
The ISP example is a good one. I wonder though if being transparent for the little guy is a necessity? Why we all can’t stand working with the Comcast’s of the world is pretty obvious– it is out there on surveys, blog posts, Twitter, etc. To me, transparency seems like standard operating procedure to disrupt a market. How much of this is a business decision?
@k2theiely I agree.
I think in the case of the ISP, that many people are conditioned to think that cost is a reflection of service. People don’t see Teksavvy advertisements on television because they don’t advertise on television (my assumption is due to cost). Here is the kicker, Teksavvy rents the lines from the bigger ISPs so the infrastructure is the same.
In my experience, people who switch to Teksavvy from the bigger ISPs are typically more tech savvy (no pun intended). They care about privacy, transparency, etc. They also know the value of what they are paying for when it comes to internet packages and the fine print in those agreements. So I agree with your statement “I wonder though if being transparent for the little guy is a necessity?”. Transparency should be the standard moving forward, all companies should do it.
I think in libraries we had a similar problem. When it comes to Open Access, the idea that free information is somehow less authoritative and is not as good as paid content is a huge issue and one that is starting to shift as more and more libraries promote and educate users about open access, author rights and publisher terms and agreements.
Thank you for your comments Daniel!
@ryantucci Open access isn’t as big an issue at community colleges, but it is still very important. Thanks for making that connection. @sairuh mentioned Sonic above, which is available is my area. They rent access through AT&T. I guess we could have an entirely different discussion about economic open access with respect to fiber optic cables, wireless networks, etc. Interesting stuff.
@k2theiely very interesting!
““We believe doing what’s right is the best business strategy of all. ” I would like to see every company adopt that statement! Libraries too. Thanks for sharing the university links too. I am always pleased to see examples of an academic library’s transparency. Sometimes the examples are elusive.
@michael thank you for your comment Prof. Stephens. Although academic libraries are where I want to focus my research throughout my MLIS, I think that we are one of the slower to adopt change (from my experience). I don’t mean to say all academic libraries but many of the ones I have seen.
I think that where academic libraries sometimes fall short, is our ability to engage with our users in meaningful and memorable ways (faculty, students, and the community as a whole). Transparency allows us to operate on a more ‘human’ level and that we care about the services we provide to our users. Like you said, examples of transparency in academic libraries are sometimes elusive. I think we can do much better in academic libraries, we just need innovation and a willingness to tackle breaking the traditional academic library stereotypes.
@ryantucci I think some academic libraries are pushing forward in some unique and interesting ways while others are mired in issues with too much emphasis on tradition and outdated views of, ahem, faculty.
@ryantucci @michael re: the others, yes and yes.
Ryan @ryantucci, thank you for your thoughtful post. The article from Aaron Schmidt also resonated with me. Trust is a powerful agent and so important as a means to providing great service. Thanks also for letting us know about Teksavvy. We still have a bundle package from Comcast, and we have had many issues with them. It is good to hear about alternatives that others have been happy with.
I think it is strategic for libraries to help lead the charge in transparency. It makes so much sense. We all need to help promote this in our workplace.
@christiechristophersen Thank you for your comments! I would guess one of the hardest things for libraries to ‘deal with’ when going transparent is the criticism some of the decisions the library makes. I think once we accept that there will be criticisms we can work toward improving on services that we can do better, and continue offering services our users approve of.