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?

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4 responses

4 08 2007
T Scott

Don’t market “the library.” Market librarians.

4 08 2007
Jeff

It’s very true. If you have a marketing campaign, it should focus on the fantastic things the library does. People like to bet on a winner, not help out someone in bad straits.

You can probably focus on something that is more high tech. I always though of doing a library video on youtube in relation to the Machines are Us(ing) Us (libraries are us(ing) us), but never got around to it. Most of the library videos are really lame. I think it needs to be purposely corny or professional.

You can always write some video equipment and a consultant into your grant. Good luck!

5 08 2007
librarynation

@T Scott – I really had to take a night’s sleep to think about your idea… but the more I do, the more brilliant it seems. I was originally thinking of taking it in a grassroots-individual marketing/advocacy way…but you’ve given me a whole new slant to that. I’ll show people who work at libraries how to market themselves! Library Marketing means working within a bureaucracy with little funds and lots of restrictions to get things done. Librarian and Library-Worker advocacy means individuals each taking up the torch to shine a light on the service they provide. I really really love it! Thank you!

5 08 2007
librarynation

@Jeff – Exactly… I’ve seen a few YouTube videos, but they’re really just YouTube in format only, not in spirit. None of the quirkyness and humor that typically accompanies a popular YT video. I’ll definitely keep this in mind when I implement my individual advocacy site.

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