York public library

taking a hit for the (library) team

NB: have renamed this blog post; it used to be called why we can't help mixing our messages A picture of an old library, on a 'Modern Libs' magazine

Woodsiegirl and I referred to the excellent M Word library marketing blog a lot in our Echo Chamber presentation - if you've got any interest in the marketing / advocacy side of libraries at all, it's an essential subscribe. One of the things we quoted was a recent post on mixing your messages - one example being with regards to (arguably out-dated) policies:

"Come in and spend the afternoon here, but don't bring anything to eat or drink!" "We're all about new technology, but turn off those cell phones!" "Please use our resources, but if you owe more than $2.00 in fines, you can't borrow anything."

Kathy Dempsey (who wrote the piece) makes the point that all these policies are there for a reason, but we must continually reasses that reasoning and make sure it's still valid. My own view, and I made this point in the Echolib presentation, is that it might be worth taking a hit for the greater good. Which is to say, if we relax our rules, and downgrade the sanctity of the book, then the losses this will cause in terms of alienating some users and allowing a minority to basically take the mickey out of us, may be worthwhile for the gains in terms of repositioning the library as a more welcoming, modern and inclusive facility.

My own local library in York has just reopened after refurbishment, as an 'Explore' Library Learning Centre' - cue predictable hurrumphing about the name. I'm fine with it, of course - rebranding is part of what needs to happen to libraries, and while no one wants to alienate core users, if there is a net gain in patronage then that's a good thing in what are change-or-die times for the public library sector. Anyway, I decided I needed to use my local library more as this blog often talks about library advocacy, so I went along to check it out - it's actually really ace! There's no specific entrance or exit, which is really nice (don't ask me how they stop people stealing books) - you just walk into the building and are met with several doors in a semi-circle, all leading straight to books and other resources. All books are RFID'd so the self-service machines seem like magic to those not familiar with that technology ("You don't have to scan anything, it just knows what you've put in it!") and there is, of course, a very nicely appointed new cafe. My top tip for local library usage: have the Amazon app on your phone, so you can check your wishlist when you're in there. No more 'my mind has gone blank - what do I want to read again?' moments. :)

To get to my point about mixing messages - I was marvelling at all this, and remembering one of the presentations from NPC2010, and thinking to myself, not for the first time: I have pretty much none of the required skills to work here. I've got a good job, in a library, yet never in a million years could I get even an interview at York public library, because the skills-set, the neccessary experience, and the day-to-day activities are so different from mine. I said this to my wife, and she said 'yes but you don't do normal librarian stuff do you?' I know what she meant (that I work in the digital arena more than anything) but really there IS no normal librarian stuff - there IS no role which constitutes an 'average' for a library worker. So it's no wonder we can't help mixing our messages, because our messages are just so diverse. How can we get across what we do to those outside our echo-chamber if we don't even have much in common with our own peers? It's tough to consolidate all of our activities into a single marketable nugget - although, as I've suggested before (.PDF), the two threads which seem to run through 90% of jobs whose salary is paid by the library are the use of IT, and problem solving.

When people think of 'a librarian' they think of front-of-house staff, either on the counter or the enquiries desk. I wonder what percentage of staff in the industry actually do that stuff?

- thewikiman