Showcase: The Anatomy Of Libraries

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


    1. Sara says:

      I think the question isn’t whtheer there will be librarians but, as the video rightly explores, in what capacities librarians of the future will operate. The comments in the video summarize it pretty well. Although advances in technology will obviate some of the librarian’s responsibility for finding information for people, we still don’t have the technology to replace other valuable services. Computers are very good at finding information but not as good at classifying information according to human relationships (although Google can get eerily close at times). Librarians will always be around to classify information and, more importantly, work with programmers to design new information systems and technology.

  1. My sister says:

    Glum Issues staff and crappy cafes within libraries…two reasons they make poor destnations. Peopl want more than just gd bks and resorces.
    I hav a luv hate relatnshp w wgtn city lib! If i were a taxi drivr i wouldnt recmend it.

  2. lisa oldham says:

    This is a great post. There is a lot to stimulate our thinking here.
    Related to point 2- In my observation there are a couple of points to consider.
    I have often heard library people (from various sectors) say: “we’ve shown them EPIC plenty of times – but they still don’t use it” and there is an implied defeat.
    Well – that is our job! – and we need to keep showing them until they do use it.
    We do book displays, book groups, etc all the time – we don’t see it as a do it once and be done exercise.
    Secondly – when we show Epic we need to tailor it to the individual. EPIC as a complete package is not that interesting to the average member of the community or school. For people to really engage – they need to experience a tangible benefit related to their own information or leisure needs/ interests. So – I can read 7000 magazine articles on line, and…? What would be exciting, is to find that articles on my area of interest (professional/hobby) eg: organic pest control for sunflower farmers – came straight into my email whenever they are published because of an alert I’ve got set up. We need to ensure that our audience gets excited about what EPIC ( or any other resource) can do for them at an individual level and teach them how to maximise that benefit. If not they are unlikely to make use of it.

    Looking forward to seeing the conversation about the marketing of libraries and their services develops here.

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