Thursday, May 19, 2011

What do libraries do? Transforming our Image.

Recently I attended a PLA webinar featuring Valerie J. Gross titled Transforming Our Image.  She discussed that image is key in the perceived value of an object.  Her example was bottled water.  Generic bottled water cost approximately $2.00 for a six pack.  However, Evain bottled water which has a nice graphic and is natural spring water from the French Alps sells for about $6.00.  In addition, their current add implies that drinking it will keep you forever young.  Ohhh...ahhh....

This implies to me that libraries are currently generic bottled water, and that we need to find a way to transform ourselves into Evian.

Valerie does this by stating what is it that libraries do.  "We deliver equal opportunity education to everyone in our county."  Ohhh...ahhhh...  I am impressed.  I want to go there.  In addition, all this wonderful education is at no cost. 

She bases the redefinition of public libraries on three pillars. 
1. Self-directed education.  This is where books and electronic resources come in.
2. Research Assistance and Instruction or the artist formally known as reference desk and librarians.
3. Instructive & enlightening experiences or in common library parlance - programs.

This philosophy transforms librarians into research specialists, programmers into instructors or teachers, and programs into classes.  I am starting to feel a bit like a bottle of Evian water.  Oh la la.  Maybe I should get a French beret.  All this without doing anything different than what we are currently doing except using different verbage to describe it. 

Her main point during the webinar was to use this language to educate the public, politicians in particular, as to what it is the library actually does.  This education is achieved by using this language everytime we write or speak about the library.  For example, when sending a thank you to your local politician for attending the xyz event you can use the following: "Thank you for tremendous support of public education for all" instead of "Thank you for your tremendous support of our library."  Which will get that "Ohh" response?

I realize that this essentially all boils down to marketing, but there is a reason that marketing is a big business.  Good marketing can change people's perceptions.  Case in point is the aforementioned bottled water.  Why do we even need to buy bottled water when several studies have shown that it is not much, if any, better than tap?  Despite the studies, bottled water is big business.  News stories show that libraries are not faring quite as well.  If you doubt me, ask the L.A. school librarians.

What Valerie barely touched on was the effect that this language would have on the library staff.  I have heard from many librarians who are frustrated.  They don't know why they bothered to obtain a masters degree, they don't know what they are going to do when ebooks replace print, and I have even heard a librarian tell a possible recruit not to bother going to library school because there wouldn't be libraries much longer.  Say it isn't so!  It is hard for these librarians to justify their positions to the public when they can hardly justify it to themself.  It is the 'warehouse mentality' that libraries are simply warehouses for books.  When/if print books disappear (this is a debate for another post), what will librarians do?

By stating that libraries provide an education for all, this redefines the purpose of libraries.  It gives staff a sense of purpose and helps boost morale.  Which would you rather be called?  Circulation clerk or customer service specialists?  How many library users understand circulation clerk and circulation desk?

I am torn about renaming librarians to research specialists.  When Valerie first mentioned the term, I thought "Ohhhh..I am special."  However, there is some nostalgia for being called a librarian, and we shouldn't change just for the sake of change.  Still, she has a point when she states no one will ask a research specialist if she sits around and reads books all day.  I also bet that no one has a mental image of said research specialist with a bun, horned-rimmed glasses, and a tweed skirt shushing everyone.

Let's go back to the thought of reinvergerating the staff.  As Valerie was discussing changing the term programs to classes and programmers to instructors or teachers, I was mentalling running through how we could support this image with our 'classes'.  What classes can we offer to educate the public?  I was getting excited.  I had just had a customer in a few days before looking for a reading class for her soon to be pre-k granddaughter.  She had a flyer from a local university for one that cost almost $300 that would teach her child and attending adult the basics of reading.  My response was all we have is the summer reading program.  Thinking back I just cringe.  No, we don't just have the summer reading program, we have a series of summer reading classes for children through teens designed to introduce them to literature, music, and culture.  All for no charge!  How great is that!

If I look at the first pillar of providing the opportunity of self-education, ebooks are just another tool that I, the research specialist, can help our customer navigate.  If all print books disappear (excuse while I pause a moment to learn to breath again) that is ok because libraries are more than just warehouses.  They are places, and we provide equal opportunity education for all.  Don't have a computer?  No problem, we do, and we will even teach you to use it.  Why?  Because we provide equal opportunity education for all.  See how it becomes a mantra? 

This creates an effective mission statement that staff, customers, and yes, even politians will quote.  An effective mission statement will drive the organization, give the staff purpose, and lend itself to design of 'classes'.

16 comments:

  1. Have you read David Lankes "Atlas for New Librarianship?" He speaks about participatory librarianship and what the mission of libraries needs to be: "The MISSION of LIBRARIANS is to IMPROVE SOCIETY through FACILITATING KNOWLEDGE CREATION in their COMMUNITIES." Simple. Brilliant. We have got to be about education. We cannot just be a place with a lot of cool stuff to borrow. Who cares? Why should the working public that buys their own cool stuff pay to support those that do not work (not that I am in favor of this argument, but it is one I have heard repeatedly).

    We MUST make it our business to find out what the needs of our communities are and respond to those needs in a way that leads to improvement within our community because of knowledge creation. Baby, this is Evian with a Christian Dior beret studded in full carat diamonds!

    Marketing is important, but it needs to reach everyone and it needs to be genuine. People (aside from those that already frequent the library) need to know about our programs! I have witnessed way too much preaching to the choir. I also have witnessed way too many "fluff" programs that are not relevant and meaningful. We have to start going door-to-door. First, to find out what the people need and then to tell them what we are offering to meet those needs. Then we must toot-toot-toot-toot to let everyone know what we are doing. And our toots will be a genuine call that signals authentic value to the community and for democracy and to America itself... TOOT! TOOT!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for your post, I look for such article along time,today i find it finally.this postgive me lots of advise it is very useful for me .i will pay more attention to you ,i hope you can go on posting more such post, i will support you all the time.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Training Tampa,

    Thank you for your kind words! I do need to do some more posting. Maybe this will inspire me to do some more!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don`t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting.

      Delete
  4. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also. Its really very nice and fantastic post thanks for sharing this with us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wanted to thank you for this great read. you are a great member of seo service and internet marketing. thanks a lot.

      Delete
    2. I enjoy your weblog and will sign up to your feed so I will not miss anything. Fantastic content.

      Delete
  5. Hi, many, many thanks for taking the time to share. It was useful for my team. Thanks for all of your hard work! I enjoy your weblog and will sign up to your feed so I will not miss anything.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The post is actually the freshest topic on this registry related issue. I will right away grab your rss feed to stay abreast of any updates.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am happy to find this post very useful for me, as it contains lot of information. I always prefer to read the quality content and this thing I found in you post. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you for the tips. Proper care will save money in long term. Generally I don’t learn article on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very compelled me to take a look at and do so.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you everyone for your kind words! They have inspired to try and post more often!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Cheap New Era snapbacks on sale with stylish and beauty. really feel the comfort. Now, choose a fashion cap for yourself or your friends to join teams. New Era Wholesale online in fashion-caps.com! All New Era Caps sale with high quality and low price, Free Shipping Worldwide!
    http://www.fashion-caps.com/

    ReplyDelete
  11. I must appreciate your post which is helping us in such a great manner.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This is an awesome post. I really really like this post. Cheers! BOCA raton Financial advisor

    ReplyDelete