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. 


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