Portrait of a Librarian

22 06 2007

I love the web comic strip xkcd. Sometimes I have to get my engineer partner to explain a strip, but even as he explains it (thus lessening the humor for himself…jokes are never fun to explain) I’ll chuckle at the witticism.

Today, xkcd had a strip about librarians.

Comic strip from xkcd.com entitled

The strip is not necessarily derogatory, but it also isn’t flattering, and is pretty rife with some old stereotypes about librarians. If the strip had shown the boyfriend snapping a laptop in half, with the same reaction by the librarian, the strip would have been far more nuanced in its understanding of modern librarians. It would have been claimed by librarians and stuck on everything from tshirts to coffee mugs. As with other comics that chose to stereotype librarians, I expect at least a mini-backlash from this strip if the librarian community catches wind of it (and of course they would, because our fellow tech-geeks, the information architects and usability folks love xkcd).

Although my own feathers are a bit ruffled at this representation of librarians (which is wrong on so many levels) at the same time I wonder if we should really waste any time trying to correct the image of librarians in the public perception. Is it really necessary for people to see us as anything more than be-spectacled, be-bunned, shushing book lovers? If the only thing that matters is that more people start using the resources of libraries (not just our books, dear, our databases, our co-browsing services, our DVD and CD collections, our video-gaming tournaments), then perhaps we shouldn’t waste our energy trying to change the image.

Images/stereotypes are viral. There’s very little we can do to change the way the public views us. Badgering publishers or authors into printing retractions for their portrayal of librarians is defensive and not particularly productive or flattering, as it goes a long way towards perpetuating the myth that we’re a bunch of control-freak biddies running around in packs trying to maintain order. The only way to change the perception of librarians (and I’d guess that the Shh! variety of librarian stereotype will be around for a long time because of movies, cartoons and books) is to get people to come into the library. See that we have more than books. See that many of us don’t care how you treat our books as long as you use them. See that we can help you tame the torrent of information that’s available on the web and find real and useful sources of information for you. That many libraries have “quiet floors” instead of the whole library being off-limits for chatter. That we even encourage noisiness with some of our programming. Get people in the door and their perception of us might change.

As for pursuing perpetuate-ers of old myths? Well, we’re not going to start taking those books and movies off our shelves that do the same thing, are we? Free speech, free access to information, and all that jazz. Be active in your pursuit of changing the image of libraries (and consequently, librarians)…not re-active.

Pro bono marketing

21 06 2007

When I read about pro bono marketing in Robin Hood Marketing, I became very excited. I knew lawyers did pro bono work, and the idea that a professional marketing firm would offer its services free of charge to nonprofits thrilled me. I started wondering if any libraries were making use of pro bono marketing…

Skip forward to today. Seth Godin’s blog (again!)… and his short post on pro bono marketing. Now skip on over to the link he provides for the Taproot Foundation, which:

Unlike traditional foundations that make cash grants …makes grants of high-quality professional services, called Service Grants. Our Service Grants are designed to build your fundraising, marketing, information technology or talent management (HR) capacity.

What a wonderful idea… service grants instead of funding grants. Is anyone out there making use of this resource or others like it? How about pitching pro bono work (for a variety of things, not just marketing) to professionals in your community?

Update: It looks like the Taproot Foundation’s criteria for eligibility would exclude most libraries, and also restrict the availability to certain areas. But even without the assistance of an organization like Taproot, pro bono services are still worthwhile and a possibly a valuable resource.

Little effort, big return

20 06 2007

Library marketing doesn’t have to be about spending thousands of dollars on traditional advertisements. An effective campaign can be accomplished with even the most meager of budgets.  What really counts in marketing is results – meeting whatever your goal is for that marketing effort. And if that can be accomplished on a shoestring, then all the better.

Sometimes, I think, it’s easy to get lost pondering the great big X – the marketing campaign (handled by professionals of course) of our dreams, with print, media, and internet ads that would encourage users to make use of library resources.  A campaign doesn’t have to be a finished product before you begin implementing it. It doesn’t even need to include any “traditional” marketing. All you need to know is who your users are, and what the library can do for them.

Ha-ha…not so easy, right?  Well, maybe I’m being a little simplistic, but here’s one thing that I bet all your users have in common – they like to be appreciated. From that, we can also infer that they like to feel special, that they like to be catered to, to feel that their needs are being addressed.  So how do you take that vague idea and turn it into something concrete your library can do?  You do what Susan B. Ardis of the UT Engineering Library does.  Her patrons are engineers and scientists. They like to feel special…that they’re being appreciated…same as your patrons, right? So here’s how Susan caters to their needs, while simultaneously promoting the library from both a usage and future-fundraising front:

  • Buying books written by your patrons - Every time a UT Engineering or Science professor or a UT PhD publishes a book, Susan buys a copy of it. She then sends a congratulatory note to the engineer/scientist thanking them for all their hard work and telling them what an asset the book will be to the collection. The thing is, Susan was going to buy the book anyway! But she doesn’t miss out on the opportunity to compliment her patrons, nor does she miss out on the chance to remind them about the library and all it can do to help those in the field.   And since engineers “show their appreciation with their pocketbooks” this has been a very successful funding-seeking tool for the libraries.   She even puts a bookplate in each book saying that the title was purchased in honor of John Doe, PhD.
  • Buying books in a professor’s name - Every year, Susan sends out letters to each engineering and science faculty member reminding them that the library has allocated $5,000 to each of them to recommend books that should be added to the collection.  Where did she get this extra money? She doesn’t have it of course! Any book that a professor recommends was probably slated to be purchased anyway, and the funds will come out of the usual acquisitions budget.  But by generously offering so much funding, and sincerely asking for user-input for the collection, Susan again reaches out to her patrons to remind them of how important they are, and what the library can do for them.
  • A Sidewalk Billboard – For about $100, Susan purchased a commercial-quality water-weighted and water-proof sidewalk sign. The sign has a printed insert with library information, including recent reference questions asked of the librarians. This is really clever, because Susan only puts the question…not the answer. Engineers and scientists are problem-solvers. They don’t like to see a question without an answer… so they’re intrigued by these questions (some of them quite bizarre) and will now connect “the library” with finding the answer to that problem.

These ideas are very specific to the type of library Susan Ardis runs, and the materials she gathers and the individuals she serves. So how can you take these ideas and turn them into something magic (and practically free!) for your own library? How about…

  • Buy books, music, magazines, movies, and software produced by people in your community…and then tell them about it! Don’t miss out on that opportunity to connect.
  • Contact experts in your community and “give them a budget” for recommended additions to the library’s holdings in their area of expertise.
  • Offer a similar “budget” to every member of your community. The fact is, most people won’t take you up on it (they haven’t at Susan’s library). But you’ll still be asking people for their input and possibly getting some valuable data about user needs.  From the user end, a $50 or $100 budget per patron for recommending new acquisitions sounds like the library is essentially giving them money to buy books/music/movies.  Pretty slick, huh?

What about you? What little things has your library done that have reaped big rewards?

Customizing the User Experience

17 06 2007

Newspapers have been struggling to redefine themselves as successful business ventures in the electronic age. Most of them fail miserably…the content is ugly, difficult to read, not scannable, just poor quality. This morning, Duct Tape Marketing pointed me to a newspaper that’s doing something rather remarkable: The New York Times. Their new TimesReader service looks really sharp (see the demo) and like something I might actually (gasp!) pay money for. The content is more accessible than a webpage and builds off the layout that’s been popular with newspapers for ages…but now it’s all connected and hyperlinked, no flipping a dozen oversized pages trying to find the continuation of that story you read on the cover, beautiful images…and there’s no inky-fingers when you’re done reading it. I’m pretty impressed.

It feels very different from Google News, because the articles that are linked to from the main page are displayed in column format with a lovely font and embedded images. And you can save articles you read, sync your copy with the latest stories and read them all offline. I love this kind of creativity. NYT has utilized all the lovely things about physical newspapers (columns, easy to scan, embedded images) but made them available to those who’d like to enjoy them digitally. This gets me thinking…what “old skool” library elements could we recapture and bring into a digital format?  I know I’m still nostalgic for the library of my imagination, with the tile floors, gleaming carved dark wood, green barrister lamps on every table and leather, rolling clerk’s chairs for those at the tables.

Many libraries already offer online reference…but maybe we should pay more attention to the delivery method. The content available in the TimesReader is all available online, but it’s so much prettier and inviting in the Reader format than in the traditional webpage layout. Not every library visitor wants to use the library for the same thing, so perhaps libraries would benefit from creating different portals (with totally customized style and feel for each) depending on which section of library resources a patron was there for? This would help patrons visualize themselves in the library. Researchers might appreciate a dignified and scholarly styled webpage with dark, sophisticated elements…. tweens might prefer an interface based on graphic novels… and teens with a pop culture feel.  Genealogists might feel more comfortable with a history themed background… and do it yourselfers with a handyman layout.  On and on…crafters with a crafty layout (a great way to get some of those elusive college-age and under 30 demographics), gardeners with a plant based theme, craftsmen and artists with artistic themes…

This would take time and consideration (and resources)…but it would help patrons visualize themselves as participants in the library.  It would be much easier than renovating the library and could easily be implemented with CSS and just a little time taken to collect the resources of each major demographic into one convenient place. I don’t have much experience with this, but I know it’s possible.  Any thoughts on this?

Robin Hood Marketing – first impressions

16 06 2007

I’m only on page 11 of Robin Hood Marketing, but I must say I’m impressed! Although I have read more inspirational writing before, the author, Katya Anderson Andreson, has done a brilliant job outlining her thoughts. Each chapter addresses a different marketing issue, and put together they form the steps of a strategy to marketing success. Each chapter begins with a summary of key points, and then an example scenario, and then an in depth look at the issue. She even tells those who haven’t much time which chapters and pages will be most helpful to them depending on their particular concerns.

I’m sure I’ll be posting more about this as I progress through the book – I’d love to use these steps to help form a marketing campaign for a certain beloved organization.

Prosumer? Where do libraries fit in?

16 06 2007

TechCrunch embedded a video by Davide Casaleggio about the rise of the “prosumer” – the producer and consumer that participates in Web 2.0 – and it’s incredibly fascinating. He gives a brief history of things which have already happened (copyright struggles, decline of traditional advertising because of TiVo, etc) and then goes on to talk about the future (as if it were history already and he was giving us a lesson).

Go watch the video.

Now tell me…where do libraries fit in?

@ Your Library needs a makeover

16 06 2007

I’ve spoken before in the comments of some of your blogs about my feelings towards the @ Your Library campaign at ALA. I’ve grown increasingly frustrated by the outdated campaign, and when Karin at Musings of an LIS Student told me that several of the links on the @YL page were broken, I decided enough is enough. I was going to compile my own set of tools, including a site index to the @YL page so people could find things. I started out by asking people to contribute any tools or resources they found that I’d overlooked.

But as I started compiling the short list of my own favorite free marketing tools, I became bogged down and overwhelmed. I wanted the help of some of my fellow marketing librarians…especially since some of them have actual real-world experience using/creating marketing materials, whereas my knowledge is purely theoretical and from a student standpoint. I needed more help!

ALA is absolutely the correct place to collect, organize, and distribute marketing information and tools to libraries across the country. But there’s nowhere to talk about changes to the site/campaign or share tools that we find that aren’t created by ALA. Then I heard about Aaron Dobbs’ Improve ALA wiki (via David Lee King’s blog) and said “aha!” Let’s talk about how to change the @YL campaign on the wiki! So I added marketing to the list of “things to change” :

Create a new set of marketing tools — and make them easier to navigate

The @ Your Library Campaign has a lot of information that’s really useful on planning and strategizing, but it’s difficult to navigate (like much of the rest of the ALA site). The actual marketing tools themselves though need an overhaul and some major additions. How to use Web 2.0 to get feedback during the planning stages of developing a campaign… and get feedback after the campaign is started. Let’s get some TV spots with real interest, flair and creativity. Having a celebrity or two standing there pimping libraries isn’t going to cut it anymore. The library photos from the contest are great, but why stop there? Let’s have an ongoing submission process and compile a huge set of stock photography that ALA members can use for their own community advertising needs. And lets have some tools on how to use Web 2.0 in general to advocate for more community involvement and participation.

So…how best to start compiling ways to change the @YL campaign? Do I start my own wiki for Library Marketing (something ALA really should do) or do I tack it on to this project? Advice and opinions are needed!

Update: In the meantime, I’ve put my site index of the @YL page up here at LibraryNation. I’ll move this over to the wiki where ever it finally ends up. 

Libraries and Customer Service

14 06 2007

I’ve had two posts rolling around in draft form for a while now, and I’ve decided to roll them up and spit them out, even though I’m afraid this is going to be one of those dreadfully rambling posts.

Let’s take a moment to evaluate the need for customer service in a library. In order to succeed, a library must provide good…no, excellent customer service. This isn’t a piddly little concern or an issue of “some people are just better at CS than others.” I’d argue that good customer service skills are a requirement of any librarian.

Libraries offer wonderful services and tools and so many other things, but if our customer service is slumping, then we lose. And we potentially lose big time because every lost patron is one more anti-advocate out there, perpetuating the myth that “libraries aren’t for me” who could potentially reach thousands of people (exponentially speaking).

So what does good customer service mean, anyway? For one thing, it means paying attention to how we treat our patrons (each and every one). See, for example, Library Crunch’s Practitioners of Panic and the Culture of Fear. We don’t want to treat our patrons like criminals, and we don’t want our library staff, volunteers, or librarians to treat them as such. We want them to know how much we treasure them. Every single patron who walks through the door is a success! They’ve shown up! They’re giving us a chance to do great things for them…and we should treat them accordingly. Thanks, Michael, for putting this so succinctly:

we cannot look at every customer as an enemy, as a potential criminal, because, as soon as we do this, we are no better than the shop owner who followers every customer around, distrusting their every move. We still trust those people who come into our buildings. We are prepared and trained to deal with problems, yes, but we see our users as good, as worthy of our trust and effort. If we give in to the paranoia, to this culture of fear, then we lose.

We should be especially watchful of distrusting our patrons since the services we offer are free for public use. You hear that? F-R-E-E. Sure, some people may decide to not play nice, and sometimes we have to step in and be the Sharing Police* to benefit the many instead of the few, but generally speaking people are good, and we should be “Work[ing] for the 99% not the 1%” (from the Fifth Law’s Libraries without Fear). Patrons know that our services are offered for free,so why would they want to steal our books when they can just check them out for longer? Why don’t we change our policies to make it easier for patrons to enjoy our services? I know Library Revolution has talked about this a lot, but it deserves another plug.

Know what’s really interesting about this “free” stuff we’ve got at the library? That there isn’t more hype about it! In Seth Godin’s post, Three Humps and a Stick on Pricing,” he says

Free stuff spreads. You don’t make any money from the thing you’re giving away, but you do get attention, which is worth as much, or more in many cases. Charge even a penny, though, and the drop off is huge.

So if people aren’t beating down our doors to take advantage of all our cool free stuff (why do I pay for a subscription to Consumer Reports online? Why Why??!), there’s something seriously wrong with our marketing efforts. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s something else. Maybe it’s our customer service skills that are slumping. If we encouraged our employees and librarians to treat patrons like friends, (see Marketing Prof’s Daily Fix, What’s Your Marketing Mindset ) we might have a better response. If they want to renew something over the phone or the internet when they have a late fine, let them. Hey, here’s a wild idea, let patrons pay their fines over the internet! Do them a favor, make an exception. If there’s a problem with a patron, it’s better PR to empower your employees to waive the fine “just this once.” Develop some bonds and some relationships. It’s not just an impersonal interaction.

Empowering those at your workplace to do things that will improve the patron experience is step 1. Step 2 is hiring people (or re-wiring those you already have) who don’t see working at the library as “just a job” but rather an opportunity to make a difference in their community. As Seth Godin says in It’s Always Like This, make sure employees know that “[their] job is to make things better.”And I’m not just talking about librarians or even para-professionals here. I’m talking front line staff and volunteers. How do we do this? By never posting a job ad that looks like this:

Position Description: Works at circulation and reference desks performing a variety of tasks such as checking-out and checking in items, registering customers with library cards and answering basic reference questions.

Example of Work Performed
– Shelves library materials.
– Performs a variety of responsible and specialized clerical work.
– Helps customers with basic computer skills, trouble shoots computer.
– Works online databases and online catalog.
– Makes recommendations to improvements in circulation and reference policies and procedures.
– Handles money on a regular basis.

Minimum Qualification: High School diploma or equivalent, plus (1) one year of full-time experience in a customer service related job.

Special Requirements:
– WORK HOURS: Monday through Thursday and Saturdays or as needed.
– Library and customer service experience.
– Ability to alphabetize and place book in number order.
– Possession of a valid driver’s license with a driving record that meets current City auto liability insurance requirements.
– Must pass a drug-screening test and criminal history background check.

Although the words “customer service” do happen to appear, they refer to it as a job type, not as a requirement of the position. In fact, no where in this job description is there any mention of treating patrons like anything other than cattle. As a potential employee reading this ad, I feel rather like cattle myself. This is a not for profit organization. I see nothing about service, or helping the community, or anything that indicates that this job is any different from, say, a checkout girl at a grocery store. Actually, I think the grocery store would probably be more focused on customer service than the employers in this ad appear to be. (Edit: Want to see a great example of a nonprofit job ad? Check out this one)

We need to revamp our public image, sure…but we also need to re-think the way we market ourselves to potential employees. In Marketing to Employees: Hearing a McCalling, MP’s Daily Fix shows how big companies are trying to attract long-term employees through marketing channels (rather than Human Resources). This is exactly what we need in libraries. Although Ted Mininni doesn’t mention it, I suspect that corporations are also doing some significant PR work to the public through this campaign. How so? Ah, here we come full circle – through advocacy of course! If your employees are dedicated to the success of your organization, then they’ll do a better job of serving your patrons every day. They’ll be advocates for you out on the street, talking to their own friends and family. And the people they treat well (because they can see how important they are to the big picture of corporate success!) will in turn become advocates of the organization.

What happens if we don’t do this? If we don’t make sure that every person in our organization knows how to treat a customer right, even if it means we might lose the $5 in fines (instead of losing the patron altogether)? Just look to CompUSA (see Marketing Prof’s Is Great Marketing the New Public Relations? or Church of the Customer The New Customer Complaint Meme). Or instead, just look at the people who aren’t coming to libraries. Look at the floundering financial support we get because of it. How are you going to sell yourself to your next employee?

*Thank you, Susan B. Ardis, for using this term during a library tour, Spring 2007.

Let Marketing 101 Commence

13 06 2007

All(most all) of my marketing-related ILL’s came in. This isn’t a complete list (we’re talking 101 here), but over the next month, I’ll be buried nose-down in:

  • Creating the Customer Driven Library: Building on the Bookstore Model
  • Strategic Marketing in Library and Information Science
  • Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing corporate savvy to sell just causes
  • Citizen Marketers: When people are the message
  • Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive while others die

I’ll be a good blogger in a while and provide hotlinks for all those, but I’ve got to run to class now.

A Librarian’s Guide to the Web?

13 06 2007

(via TechCrunch) Mahalo is another tailored-result search engine (like ChaCha which I’ve mentioned on this blog before). Today I read that Mahalo is looking for Part Time Guides(PTG) to help build tailored result pages (part of their “Greenhouse” project).

PTG’s are paid $10-15 if Mahalo buys their tailored result page and, in addition to creating a customized results page, Guides can flag links with various Mahalo icons for “Guide’s Choice,” “What is” (items that may be new to the searcher) or even “Warning” flags for sites that might be malicious.

Initially, I jumped on this as a great opportunity for librarians to help web-searchers find excellent results, but I’m not certain that $10-15 is appropriate compensation. Guides are credited with the creation of pages, but perhaps this would be a better project for a library system to undertake. The system could select pages their community might have an interest in, and then turn the pages over to their librarians to create the content. I’m very interested in Mahalo’s wiki-fied approach to web searching.

What do you think? Good idea or bad?

Update: I just read Jason Griffey’s take on Mahalo… and learned for the first time about the Librarian’s Internet Index. I will never cease to be amazed at the number of things I have yet to learn. Hey, anyone know about a Guide to Libraries and the Internet or a Guide to Library Marketing/Library 2.0 that I could pick up somewhere?


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