Seth Godin’s recent comments on libraries and librarians has prompted a number of interesting responses. Bobbi Newman has done another great job of unpacking Seth’s ideas and providing really well-considered responses. One other one that resonated with me is PC Sweeney’s post saying that basically Seth has got it right:
The problem is that the real root of this article, and the aspects these good folks are arguing against, are problems of perception. Of course, we all know that the library isn’t just a “warehouse of books” and we know some folks use our databases, and we all know that kids shouldn’t use Wikipedia. But unfortunately Seth’s statements are exactly what a HUGE percentage of the population believes. This is our fault. This is the brand that generations of librarians have been reinforcing for years. In fact, some of my favorite library marketing has been about the book brand of libraries. Seth is merely calling us out for not doing our jobs to ensure that we are adequately re-branding libraries.
Again, I couldn’t agree more. I tried to have a bash at this myself in my post about the demise of Library week. LIANZA responded to me (thank you!) but, again, what they are offering are materials to promote libraries. This is not quite what I was on about. I was on about a collective conversation that would seek answers to some fundamental questions such as those raised by marketers like Brian Meredith:
What business are we in?
What are we selling (or in our case what services are we providing)?
Who are we providing these to?
Why would anyone want them?
Once we have a handle on these things we are in a much better position to think about 1) how we should market brand Library and 2) achieve our goals by identifying and/or creating needs and/or wants for our chosen target audiences and fulfilling them cost effectively.
One of the comments to PC Sweeney’s post was that “this BS is decades old”.
So can we get on with talking about what business we really are in and how we might do better at rebranding and broadening perceptions of what we are all about?
The recent news that LIANZA’s Library Week is no more is regrettable I think. Without the funding it previously had, LIANZA saw no choice but to cut Library Week and instead provide a pool of resources available for all libraries in New Zealand. I’m sure that may libraries will do great things with these – however I still think Library Week had a lot of undeveloped potential. And one potential it had was for the development and delivery of a strong consistent message of what libraries are all about now to the New Zealand market. This potential can still be realised – I hope there is motivation to do it!
I am talking about moving beyond ideas about “Ask a librarian” or promoting different images of librarians (and there is nothing wrong with that!) but getting to the guts of what we need to promote. Is it libraries as a place? Libraries as a gateway to electronic information (that the have-nots cannot afford on their own?) So what are the key images/messages we want to promote? I’m talking about big picture messages, that all types of libraries could embrace. I think there is enormous potential for us to have that collective conversation, make some decisions and get on and do it. Library week would have been a great vehicle to deliver those messages.
It seems libraries are inextricably entwined with the book. The recent OCLC report, Perceptions of Libraries 2010: context and community seems to indicate this is strengthening in the U.S. In 2005 69% of respondents associated libraries with books and this was up to 75% in 2010 (1). With ever-increasing publicity about ebooks where does that leave the library in the minds of our customers? We’ve all seen plenty of things written about the demise of the library – do we have a collective response to this?
I don’t think any of us think the Brand Library is wedded to the physical book, but we need to start strengthening our promotional messages about what customers needs we really are meeting – so we can effectively demonstrate our value to our communities. And I think our best bet is to do that collectively.
(1) http://www.oclc.org/reports/2010perceptions/2010perceptions_all_singlepage.pdf p. 38