My Mum lives in Gisborne. She doesn’t use the library and won’t write a letter to the editor about the library user-charges in Gisborne because she doesn’t know what she’d say.
I asked Mum why she doesn’t use the library: “I don’t need to.” I asked Mum what would encourage her to use the library: “If they had events or things that may interest me I might go.” Now I know the library has lots of things that may interest Mum, but she doesn’t. Or if she does, she’s hasn’t been persuaded to give it a try.
It’s not okay that we (librarians AND community citizens) remain silent because we think someone else will step forward and express our outrage at what is happening in Gisborne.
It’s not okay that we remain silent because everyone should know that libraries are a vital part of a literate society.
It’s not okay that we remain silent because we don’t have the time, energy or resources to fight this battle again.
So, what to do?
Well, for starters I’ve written a letter to the editor in response to the article in the Gisborne Herald. Have you? Why not? And secondly, with a medium-term view, I think libraries (collectively, not individually) need to do things differently when it comes to marketing, communication, public relations and engaging the community.
We need to be memorable. We need to be worth talking about. We need to be visible.
I’ve got lots (and lots) of ideas on how this could be achieved, but here’s my top 3 suggestions:
- Wineries organise bus tours as a means of educating anyone who’s interested about their products and the processes involved. Visitors get a behind-the-scenes tour, tastings, and an opportunity to talk with like-minded people. LIANZA regional committees could do something similar (even working in partnership with wineries and delis), perhaps with a different themed selection of libraries each tour. We could have a “bring a friend for free” promotion to encourage readers to bring non-readers.
- A day aimed especially at the public attached to the annual LIANZA conference. This builds on the idea I raised in a previous article about the business of libraries. How many non-library users know about APNK, EPIC, AnyQuestions, PapersPast, Interloan, institutional repositories etc. The list is endless of what we could share and I’m sure would attract a lot of interested people, including the media. The format of the day could be based on TedTalks or Pecha Kucha to encourage variety and conversation in short concentrated bursts. We could even put the videos online and reach a wider audience.
- A reversal of the second suggestion. A day where the public share their thoughts on libraries, and librarians listen. What if we could get a line-up of library users and non-users to tell us what they like and dislike, or how we could better meet their needs?I did a little experiment on Linkedin where I asked:
How could libraries (and librarians) reinvent their brand?
We’re reinventing ourselves all the time to remain relevant and libraries are too. I’m interested in your thoughts on how libraries could improve their brand. ie what business do you think libraries should be in? And the responses were enlightening in their predictability - libraries don’t need a brand, how can you brand a public service, a place to sit and read for an hour or two, and becoming multimedia labs. Imagine if we could crowdsource these problems and potentially create solutions that are beyond our expectations?
Imagine if every taxi-driver, waiter and hairdresser was talking about libraries like in this video below.
Can’t imagine this would ever happen? I can. But, it will never happen if we aren’t willing to try. I’m prepared to give at least one of these suggestions a go and if anyone would like to try it in their library or region, I’d be more than happy to help make it work.
Let’s stop spending so much time talking to ourselves about how great we are, and start sharing it with our community.
A version of this article appeared in Library Life: Te Rau Ora, 10 August 2011.