Creating winning library programs and services: Part II

In an earlier post, we began to talk about how to apply some principles of Product Management to librarianship. As part of that, we brought up the concept of Minimum Viable Product, or in our case “Program” (more specifically, “Library Program”).

In this post we’ll take one step back and talk about creating a testable hypothesis and how to translate that into a Minimum Viable Program (MVP). Just a note going forward, we’ll limit our examples to library programs for digital services, but I imagine that these principles should be general enough to apply to all types of library programs and services.

Brains float away…

Creating a testable hypothesis for your library programs is crucial. By focusing your program goals on a value proposition for a specific audience, it helps to avoid wasting time and money to create things in which few people, if any, will find value.


An Example Hypothesis for a Library Program

Last time we posed a hypothetical scenario: Ourtown Library wants to create a digitization effort as part of their community’s bicentennial. In order to test whether or not people’s brains will walk away like Homer’s after 5 seconds of interacting with our collection, we first need to create a testable hypothesis. A slightly modified-for-librarians version of Jonathan Berger’s formula goes as follows:

“We believe that [COMMUNITY MEMBER(S)] need to be able to [ACCOMPLISH GOAL]. We believe we can help them by providing a [PROGRAM/SERVICE] at the library. We’ll know we’re right if [CHANGE IN METRIC].”

In our scenario, this might translate to:

“We believe that students, teachers, and municipal agency workers have a hard time accessing the library archives when they need historical information about Ourtown (e.g. land/property disputes, sprawl, industry, environment etc.). This is either because they do not know the archives exist or because it is too difficult for them to visit the archives in person.

We think we can help them by providing easier access via a searchable database of scanned images and pdfs for our archival materials.

We’ll know we’re right if the number of digital collections website visits and content requests to the searchable database are greater than the current visits and requests for access to our physical archive.”

Notice that creating the hypothesis forced us to become much more specific and focus on the exact problem we’re solving.

At first, we just had a general feeling that a) we want to get our archives digitized and b) that the digitization would be well-timed and well-received if situated alongside the bicentennial. But once we framed our idea for the program in terms of a hypothesis, we were able to think much more clearly.

First we specified which community members we are serving with this program and second, we defined the specific value proposition this program will create for those community members. Now when we build an MVP, it will hopefully be much more closely aligned to with our users’ needs (just like “Mapple” aligns the “MyPod” with Lisa’s needs).


More to come

Now that we have a template for creating a hypothesis and we can understand how that hypothesis helps us nail down exactly what value our program is intended to create, we can move ahead with creating an MVP. In our next post, we’ll discuss some methods for how to build the MVP from our hypothesis.

Are you thinking about introducing a new program at your library? What’s your hypothesis?

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