Value Proposition Design For Librarians (a quick overview)

July 15, 2015, 7:25 pm

Of course I have to dip back into the business literature one more time.

I really like the value proposition design tool. Stephen Abrams blogged about it a few months ago and it’s something we’ve been working on here at Virginia Tech. Slowly. It’s a low priority. But the value to me is less about the output (a nice fancy report) and more about the process of having these conversations and thinking differently (more broadly) about how libraries can engage more fully.

Here is the 5-minute version. Please see Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want for full version.

My advice. Make this about individuals, not broad categories (ie: all undergrad students or all faculty.) Talk with a few assistant professors working on tenure. What’s different and what’s the same between them? How are their experiences and expectations different?

Next talk with a few faculty members who recently earned tenure. What’s their perspective? What’s next on their career aspirations? What was difficult for them during the process? Obviously you can define your communities however you want—but focus on something intentional.

value1The first step is to consider the “jobs to be done.” What’s required to get tenure? What’s in the official guidelines and what are the unspoken expectations? What else are they trying to achieve? And so forth.

It’s interesting to do this internally with your team—try to anticipate user needs. And then go out and actually interview (with some ethnography too) your population to see how much your assumptions align.

I’ve found this works best when you have already developed a relationship. For example, one faculty member told me about how he wants to build a national reputation but he’s shy. He is more comfortable online and wants to build a strong digital presence. And while he is effective at lecturing, he wants to be more conversant with active learning pedagogies. And lastly, he wants to feel more confident giving talks at conferences where he feels nervous in front of his peers.

It takes a lot of trust and candor to open up like that. You’re unlikely to get that from a stranger. But here is the richness of unmet professional development needs.

Once you outline some major “jobs” or tasks, goals, needs, activities, outputs, aspirations, etc then you go one by one and explore the pains and gains for each. What’s holding them back? What’s moving them forward?

This tool enables a more holistic view of the campus experience. For example, I’ve found that many students (regardless of year, major, or other characteristics) often feel dissatisfied with advising. While not always the case, I’ve heard many accounts about how advising feels too clinical. Could libraries help? Could we host advisors in our café and create some more conversational encounters?

value2Ok, so you work though those concepts and you end up with something like this for each person. I know this is blurry– I’m showing it for demonstrative purposes.


value3Now the next step is where things gets very interesting and potentially transformational. You take your three categories (jobs, pains, gains) – and you have the person prioritize each of them. Tough! But it helps you to see what people believe is important or less significant.

Imagine having this data for twenty assistant professors—how similar would their lists be to each other? How are their priorities different?

value4Finally you look at the library. You scope out everything that you’re doing. You take your total service inventory and match it up with what people are trying to achieve. How do you help relieve “pain” and how do you help create “gains?”



You end up with something like this.





That’s the gist. I’ve found tool helpful for identifying local challenges and differences between academic departments/colleges. As well different perspectives and expectations. It encourages us to appreciate the individuality of the people within our communities.

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