20 Everyday Ways To Escape The Library Echo Chamber

Libraries and information professionals are stuck in a bit of an echo chamber. We spend way too much time talking to one another, and not nearly enough time talking to the potential users. Potential users who have no idea really what a (future ready) library does, but who would probably come and visit if they did. (Future Ready 365)

Usually suggestions for escaping the echo chamber include writing or contributing to discussions about libraries in non-library spheres or marketing libraries at non-library events. All of these are necessary. But not all of us in libraryland are able to do this (due to permission or resource limitations).

This list contains 20 everyday ways to escape the library echo chamber that any library staff member can do. Each suggestion encourages you to take the first step towards escaping  – to be curious about what is happening outside libraries.

  1. Next time you pick up a takeout coffee, observe the experience and compare it to your library’s service.
  2. Read the book reviews in the local paper. What value could your library add to those reviews?
  3. Note the language your favourite restaurant uses to describe their menu offerings and compare it to the language your library uses to describe its services, databases or collections.
  4. Watch a TED Talks video on a topic you know nothing about. What did you learn? How could you apply this to library presentations?
  5. Next time you’re at the supermarket observe how they use signage to provide direction and information. Also compare the self-check to that in libraries.
  6. Take a walk in the park. What do you notice? How does it make you feel? How does it differ to your library?
  7. Next time you visit a retail store, check how they place their security gates. Could you do anything differently with your library security gates?
  8. Ask the next person you encounter, what is the best book they’ve read, and why they enjoyed it. Then read it yourself.
  9. Invite someone outside your immediate circle of friends/peers to coffee.
  10. Read a magazine that you haven’t read before.
  11. While waiting for your next flight, ask the people around you what they think of libraries.
  12. Try something new for the first time – food, craft, author or activity.
  13. Ask someone outside your immediate circle of influence for their thoughts on your current project.
  14. When writing your next report, consider how you could make it more visually appealing. Try it (even though you may not actually submit it).
  15. Ask the weirdest person you know what they’re currently working on. Consider how this could be applied to your work.
  16. Note the similarities and differences between your job and that of  a hairdresser, doctor, software developer and celebrity speaker.
  17. Keep a journal of your experiences as a customer and rate them on a scale of 1 (awful) to 10 (amazing).
  18. Ask the next person you meet when they last visited the library and why.
  19. Ask your best customer what they would change about the library.
  20. Make the above suggestions a team activity. Share what you’ve learnt from with your team.

A version of this article appeared in Library Life: Te Rau Ora, 29 February 2012.

Other articles that may interest you:

  I attended the course “The Cheat’s Guide to Project Management” run by Sally and have found it very helpful in effectively planning for projects I am reponsible for. Sally’s teaching manner is very approachable and interactive while still imparting information in a concise manner. I would happily attend another course run by her.” Fiona Gleeson, Systems Librarian, New Zealand Law Society.


  1. mace says:

    Such great ideas all of them!! I love the #13, it’s really relevant for me now in this stage of our project. I will do it!

    Here’s my suggestion, for people who mostly do project-work and backoffice work. At least once a month, have a whole day doing “remote work” outside of your office, and do it on the public side, among patrons of your own library. So move your backoffice to the public side every once in a while and feel how it is. This method keepin me sane.

    1. Sally says:

      Working among patrons in the library is definitely something we should all do more often. Thanks for the suggestion mace. 🙂

  2. mj says:

    Fabulous ideas Sally, thanks for sharing – it could be a useful exercise to get a small group of peers to do this (preferably from different work places), and compare answers. With some brainstorming, we could come up with some great ideas to implement in our local work places. Small changes add up to big changes.

    1. Sally says:

      That’s a great idea! Perhaps a brown bag lunch session?

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