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?
Seth Godin’s post on the future of the library gives us a useful insight into perceptions about libraries, whether we think he is right or wrong in what he says. Sarah Glassmeyer has done a good job of unpacking it all on her blog.
And Kathy Dempsey’s comments (part of Seth’s posting) are right on the mark and worth reproducing here:
I’ve been in the library field for more than 20 years, and I think Seth’s proposal is off-base: “train people to take intellectual initiative.”
Libraries already have plenty of people willing & able to train others in how to do better searches, to be more information-literate, and how to use technology to its best advantage. One of the problems I see is that the public (be they students, community members, business people, etc.) do not want or value the help of librarians, who are still stereotyped as old-fashioned and not useful in the information age. Librarians have all this key knowledge but nobody wants to hear it from them. It’s not cool or smart to ask a librarian for help (especially if you’re a Digital Native). This could be at the core of our downfall. What I therefore see as a more important step is for librarians to fight and update their stereotype. People need to realize and understand their value. We need to get out of our own boxes and show leaders how smart and useful we are. Unfortunately, most lib employees aren’t good at this, and there are few out there who can teach them how to do it. This isn’t part of the library school curriculum. And once you’re in an day-to-day library job, you don’t have the permission, time, or money to find and take workshops that will teach this still. Many, too, don’t even want to put themselves out there. The old “people who need us will come to us w/o outreach” mentality is a threat to our survival. To sum up: the library field already has great trainers and thought leaders. But they don’t reach outside their own field, and on the rare occassions that they do, too few people find them worth listening to.
So here we are again. Our challenge is to communicate the value we can offer, whether it’s through providing collective access to resources, or being intellectual leaders. The thing is, this challenge has been around for a few years now. My dream is that by the end of this decade (in fact way earlier than that!) librarians have this sorted – we have upskilled our profession about how we can use all aspects of the marketing discipline to enhance what we do, and we are experts at communicating our own value and that of all the resources we provide.