While students were in love with EasyBib when we first introduced it in 2001, we also had some no-so-happy opponents. As a service that saved time by automating the process of creating citations and bibliographies, many librarians and English teachers initially weren’t thrilled. They believed we were indirectly taking away the learning process of creating citations, and were apprehensive of the idea of software generating accurate citations.
I remember, as part of guerilla marketing tactics, cold emailing a librarian about EasyBib. She responded, coldly, that she would never consider using a product like ours with her students, and that it encouraged student laziness.
We did, though, have a few educational proponents. My high school librarian told all her students to use EasyBib. She saw what we as students saw: that it saved considerable time and frustration with bibliographies, it encouraged students to cite, thereby helping them avoid plagiarism, and it allowed students to focus on creating a great essay.
Times have changed
Today, as EasyBib has grown to over 40 million yearly users over the last 13 years, we’ve witnessed librarians shift their opinion about our service. Most librarians now see it as a tool that empowers their students to research and write better. We rarely hear that EasyBib undermines how students learn to format citations. In fact, our institutional product is used in over 1,600 schools and libraries!
Interestingly, during this period that we’ve seen the perception of our product change, we’ve also seen the role of librarians and libraries change. Checking out books can be automated, and cataloging has gone from card catalogs to digital ones (OPACs). Resources normally found in a library are seemingly making physical libraries obsolete. Books, movies, music, encyclopedias–all of this is available online for free, or at a very low cost. There has also been a misperception that Google has obviated the need for a reference librarian, which is hardly the case.
Therefore, when school budgets started to face deep cuts in 2008, librarian positions were often targeted, despite the fact that many studies show how they positively impact test scores and student success.
A big surprise
To our amazement, even though many of our library customers were being hit, some thrived! These were the early adopters of our institutional product. They loved technology and understanding how it can improve student learning outcomes. They proactively sought new technologies for the classroom, and teachers depended on them to learn about new educational websites and apps. In doing so, they became an important part of the school ecosystem.
Kyle Pace from Lee’s Summit, MO sums it up well. “In education we need to stop seeing technology as a challenge and start seeing it as an opportunity not only for us to be better teachers, but also an opportunity to enrich our students’ lives in ways never before possible.”
Many influential educators have also echoed this. “Technology will never replace educators, but educators who effectively integrate it will eventually replace those who don’t,” explains Eric Sheninger, Senior Fellow with the International Center for Leadership in Education and former principal at New Milford High School (NJ). “The ultimate goal of technology is to support learning, while also providing uniform spaces where educators can engage in conversations to improve professional practice. We can no longer look at it as an add on or just another thing we have to do, but a natural complement to the work that is already being done.”
This was the attitude of many of our librarian customers, and they were flourishing. They reinvented what it meant to be a librarian. They became tech-brarians.
Having seen this transformation over the years, what amazes me is that librarians aren’t so different from startups and the concept of pivoting.
A startup pivots when their initial business model does not work as hoped, and they either start from scratch or leverage their existing resources to try something new. A famous pivot is Groupon. They started as ThePoint.com, which activated contributions to a group cause once it reached a tipping point. They didn’t receive great traction on ThePoint, so the Groupon team focused this concept on daily deals. Now they are a multibillion dollar business.
We’ve even pivoted our own products. Our newest product, GetCourse, was originally intended as the easiest way to create online courses. We’ve pivoted it to a product that provides deep analytics on whether people go through and understand your presentations.
Many librarians weren’t very different. Their perceived value in their traditional role was changing, so many turned to technology to offer new and more value within their schools.
What does this mean for you?
The transformations around pivoting are not limited to startups. As we’ve seen, many of our librarian customers have pivoted their roles with great success. Some have even become technology district coordinators.
No matter what you do, look for opportunities to make a difference outside your immediate role. You might even find that you’ve carved out a new position that your company now needs. In my experience, those who exemplify this tend to be the rockstars!