Good works

25 08 2007

It’s been a whirlwind summer for me…who said anything about a break?  Over the past two weeks, I launched a new website for my student organization, created an FAQ for new students, am in negotiations with iSchool IT services to create a wiki for our school, launched an online store to sell our Evolving Librarian shirt to librarians at large, went to a meeting for an IMLS grant whose goal is to recruit more diversity into the librarian profession (I’m the student liaison…the person our recruits will go to when they want to see a friendly student face), solicited feedback and advice from iSchoolers on tips for getting in to the program (for that IMLS grant), and spent an entire day at new student orientation + happy hour , telling people what our student council was about, what projects we’re working on, and dispensing general advice about their first weeks in the program. On top of all that, we’re gearing up for Fall in my library, and that means we’re processing hundreds of items for regular and electronic reserves, and showing new professors the ropes. I’ve also got an interview next Thursday for a volunteer reference intern position at the downtown branch of the Austin Public Library.  The most exciting news is that Jenny Levine has put Karin and me in touch with some folks at ALA to try and get a marketing wiki/social network going … I’m very excited about this project!

Now that orientation is over, the two sites are launched, the FAQ is done and the iSchool wiki is moving forward, I feel such a sense of accomplishment, but also feel as if a burden has been lifted since those were occupying every spare moment of time I had. I’ll be back here more regularly now, especially once my classes start in the fall and I find new inspiration from my colleagues and friends.  Thanks for hanging in there with me!


Nonprofits are your friends

8 08 2007

Technically, libraries aren’t nonprofits…we’re usually government agencies, but we have a lot in common with nonprofits, too.  I haven’t spent much time looking into the advocacy offerings of the nonprofit folks because I’ve had my hands full just trying to catch up with the librarians!

But for my grant, I needed to evaluate the tools that were already out there, and I couldn’t find much in the way of Web 2.0 for library advocacy (which is good, since that’s what I’m trying to get a grant for!*) so I plugged “nonprofit” in my search box and lo and behold, I hit the motherlode! I shouldn’t be too surprised… nonprofits traditionally have even less funding than libraries, so they’ve been quicker to adopt new ways of garnering public support.

Here are a few of my favorites from the bunch…

  • Nonprofit Technology Network – their Web 2.0 category has some great stuff!
  • Net ^2 (squared) , remixing the  web for social change
  • Roots.lab, helping nonprofits leverage the social web… they have a great rundown of what the social web can do for nonprofits here

More details about the revised grant forthcoming… I just finished the draft for my class this evening.

* Please let me know if you’ve found anything out there that deals with social networking/social media for libraries in any kind of detail. I couldn’t find anything, but maybe one of you has run across something?

Lessons in Marketing

5 08 2007

Today I was reminded of how small the library online community is, and how important it is to plan for the unexpected.

My friend, Lea, and fellow co-director of the Student Association of the School of Information at UT, took some photos of a new shirt designed by a recent graduate of our program. The design is called Evolution of a Librarian:

Informationus Primatus, represented by a gorilla with a pair of reading glasses; Informationus Scriptor, represented by a medieval scholar scribbling away with a quill; Informationus Shushimus, represented by a female librarian with a bun, busily shushing patrons; and the final evolution: Informationus Professionus, represented by a young female librarian in jeans and an Antelope/information? tee (see below), carrying a laptop, a book, and listening to an ipod.

She posted the photos on her flickr page so I could grab them easily to put up on our our blog. SASI has been printing shirts for as long as anyone can remember as a way to get funding from the Graduate School Assembly (GSA) and the Student Senate, that we can turn around and sell at a small profit in order to support student activities and community-building. I had intended to get the photos up sometime this weekend (or maybe next) and then send an email out to our school’s listserv to let students know they were available and when/where they could buy them.

But this morning when I woke up and checked my RSS reader, I found that Library Stuff had linked to her photo of our newest shirt design. We had always dreamed of coming up with cool shirts that we could sell to the library/information science community at large to support our school activities, and here was opportunity staring us in the face, and I didn’t even have a site set up yet! Worse, when I tried to log on to the iSchool servers, I couldn’t gain access. I couldn’t get on to the servers until a half hour ago (finally got the support site up here at SASI Swag). But even without that, we didn’t have any way of accepting payment. We hadn’t set up a paypal account and had only ever taken cash and checks in the past. We didn’t even know what to charge for shipping.

This entire experience was a great learning process for me. Technology failed us, and we failed to plan for a big enough response to our idea. This was a small glitch, something easily fixed, but we were franticly emailing and im-ing eachother and the iSchool technology folks trying to get our site back up, and figure out what to do in the meantime.

I wonder how much worse it would be for the library who fails to make arrangements for the unanticipated… I hope I’ve learned my lesson on this front.

Too much info, wrong emphasis

3 08 2007

Part of my grant application requires that I do research to make sure I’m not repeating a project that’s already out there.  I started creating a table of all the results I found from a “library advocacy” (sans quotes) search in Google, and arranging the sites by state or region (if applicable).  As soon as I did the search, I knew I was in trouble.  3.8 million results. Tacking on the word “marketing” brought it down to 1.8 million. Clicking through, I saw a lot of the same information repeated again and again…  Best practices, talking to the press, talking to politicians, facts and figures about why libraries matter. About all the poor and disadvantaged people who depend on their services. Offerings usually follow the format of step 1, 2, 3.  And when searching journal indexes, I find even more suggestions. There are advocacy offerings for nearly every state, every major city, and from most of our organizations.  I had no idea the OCLC had a site called WebJunction, and that this site contained information on advocacy and marketing. There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there.

So why are we still talking about marketing? If it’s all out there in black and white, A, B, C… why aren’t people beating down our doors to give us money?  Why are we missing the 13-30-somethings from our libraries?

If most of these sites say the same thing, can my site really say anything different? Does a database of stock-photography and templates really make it more useful? I really don’t know the answer to that question. I’m afraid the answer is “no.”   I do know that there are people in every state who understand how important advocacy is. They try to get the word out, each in their own way, with a toolbox, a step by step guide, or a marketing campaign. Funders like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation give us money to create campaigns and train staff in advocacy… $7.7 million to the Public Library Association for training, and another $1.2 million to the OCLC to develop a nationwide advocacy network (and maybe a marketing campaign, too if there’s any money left over).

But apart from the good advice, which is all sound and traditional (and repetitive), the campaigns I’ve seen are boring and have dated graphics. But more than that…they’re depressing. I just watched a commercial (not naming names) that didn’t make me want to visit a library, it made me want to cry! Story after story of disadvantaged, downtrodden people with hard lives… People don’t want to hear about that! They don’t want to hear about hard work. They want to hear about success. They want to see themselves as successful, not as failures.  If they see the library as “that place where failures go” then they’re less likely to go there. On the funding side of the coin, politicians like to see people fulfilling the American dream (bootstraps, the works) but they’re human too. They don’t need to be shown images of people struggling, because this only reminds them of how dismally they (as politicians) have failed in other areas. They need to see people succeeding as much as your patrons.

We have some funny stuff out there…. but much of it revolves around inside jokes, like the March of the Librarians video.  That’s funny to me as a librarian, but I don’t know it would make a patron want to visit the library. Or make a funder give us more money.

Being positive is key. Knowing when to pull out the doom and gloom (stories of the downtrodden) is just as important as putting a positive spin on those benefiting from our services.

So what should I really be peddling with my project?  A real positive uplifting marketing campaign? A social-network for librarians to help them share their uplifting stories and marketing materials?  The grants I’m going after aren’t of the multi-million dollar variety, so would it be a waste? Can we have grassroots marketing from an inexpensive set of tools? Can I be the one to do it?  What makes me better than the OCLC with their million dollar grant and their professional marketing agency? I feel very Pollyanna-ish about this whole thing… the Glad Game and all that. But isn’t that what we need more of in this world? Or maybe I’m wrong?

Getting out into the community

3 08 2007

I’ve had two ideas burning a hole in my pocket for a few days now and I want to bounce them off y’all for a little feedback.

Libraries and Community Events

In every community, there are ongoing annual or semi-annual events. These may be science fairs, cook-offs, bratwurst fetsivals, city-wide garage sales, sporting events… the list goes on and on. What if libraries got in on that existing community spirit? Instead of trying to come up with new events hosted by the library, why not capitalize on events already taking place? Take the library to the people! Got a city-wide garage sale coming up? Gather up a nice selection of reference books on antiques, plus a few novels and non-fiction books in the same vein, toss them in the bookmobile, and have a librarian and a volunteer or two set up a tent… a specialized mobile library. If it’s a bratwurst festival, don’t forget to include a few polka CDs, and books on related subjects like German heritage. Take some books on gardening, natural pest control, seasonal cooking, and sustainability down to your local farmer’s market. There will probably be far too many existing community events for you to be able to afford the expense of going to all of them, but why not go to a few? Figure out which events are best represented in your collection and plan a trip to those (and on a related note, figure out why you don’t have books on the other events your community has an interest in). I admit to not knowing the logistics of something like this. I imagine you’d have to arrange the following:

  • A tent and tables for the event
  • Flyers promoting the event beforehand
  • Booth fees for registering for the event (might be waived)
  • Librarian’s time for selecting appropriate materials and researching events
  • Clerk, page, and volunteer time pulling, loading, unloading, reloading, and reshelving the books for the event.
  • How to sign people up for library cards remotely (someone might actually want to check something out!)
  • What to do if ill-weather or insects foils the event
  • Arranging the tables so there’s only one entrance/exit (so you can be watchful for anyone with sticky fingers… gosh it bugs me to even have to mention that!)
  • Anything else?

I don’t think this idea is just for Public libraries, either… Academic libraries have a need for public exposure, and specialized collections might bring in more courtesy borrowers. Like the Fine Arts Library where I work… it would be great to do some community building with the artist, musician, dance, and theatre folks in Austin (“Live Music Capital of the World”). We’ve got great resources for them to use, and maybe they’ll remember us when they’re finding a home for their artistic collections, or with monetary donations following financial success.

Libraries and Community Nonprofits

Maybe more of this goes on than I know about, but it seems like libraries could be doing more to reach out to local nonprofits (heck, even for-profits) in the community to figure out what the needs of the populations they serve are, and helping cater directly to those individuals. We have a little refugee shelter in my city for people primarily from Mexico and South America… why not send a librarian to them to help them meet their goals as an organization? I know they’re hurting for money, so books on grantwriting or seeking funding would be helpful… the people staying there have information needs too…why not get them signed up for library cards? Or have a storytime in Spanish or English for the children at the shelter? By helping these nonprofits meet the needs of their own segments of the community, you are better serving the community as a whole.

So…what do you think? Are there any glaring omissions that would make these ideas impossible to carry out? Can we do things like this? I’m asking because as a not-quite-yet-Librarian, I’ve never really worked on this side of a library before. Is this possible? I hope so…