the echo-chamber

Everyone should read this article! Then maybe write their own...

Librarianship was yesterday featured in the Guardian's Beyond the Job Series. The article was entitled Beyond books: what it takes to be a 21st century librarian and was written by Emma Cragg and Katie Birkwood. Screen grab of the Guardian article on libraries

I am so happy about this article! For loads of reasons.

First of all, this is a brilliant piece. Here is a quote - I originally highlighted three paragraphs I really liked in order to copy and paste them, but realised that would basically be quoting half the article... Here is one bit I liked, but I liked all of it, and you should go read the whole thing.

"Books are only one aspect of what libraries and librarians are about. Librarianship is a people profession; a librarian's job is to connect people with the information they are seeking, whatever format that may take. At their heart, all library jobs have a central purpose: to help people access and use information, for education, for work, or for pleasure. In all library roles customer service and communication skills are important. If anyone ever thought they'd become a librarian because they liked books or reading, they would be sorely disappointed if they did not also like people too."

The article says all the things you'd want it to say, as a library professional, and all the things you'd need it to say, as someone curious about entering the field and needing to know the reality of it.

Second of all, it is in the Guardian. It will be read by thousands and thousands of people, all of whom will be educated about what librarianship consists of even if they don't go on to try and become one. It is a proper bonafide Echo Chamber escape. I believe the genesis of the idea came from this post on Emma's blog, and the comments that followed.

Thirdly, it mentions the Library Routes Project. Laura and I wanted to break this resource (which, if you're unfamiliar with it, documents librarians' roots into the profession and their routes through it) out of the echo chamber but have been unable to do so, really. I actually contacted the Guardian to propose an article about it, but didn't get a response. Emma and Katie have found just the right medium in which to mention it, and they got in lots of references to Bobbi Newman's Library Day in the Life Project too (you can see my video contribution to that project, here). Perfection! Since the article was published around 24hrs ago, the Library Routes wiki has been viewed hundreds of extra times - finally by some non-librarians, I hope.

Fourthly it mentions me! And this slide-deck:

I sought to get this slide-deck seen outside the echo chamber as much as possible, and although that certainly happened this will really add to it - in fact Emma commented that they were going to try and link to it from a Guardian article way back then, now it has finally come to fruition. It's really kind of Katie and Emma to include a link to this, so thank you to them. As a Guardian reader since literally aged 12 (yes, I know...) and someone who literally loves the paper and the institution, being mentioned by a Guardian article is definitely (literally) pretty fabulous!

So the question is, can any of us repeat this success elsewhere? Emma and Katie are presumably forbidden from reproducing their work in other publications, but there is nothing to stop the rest of us finding avenues for writing a guide to librarianship and getting it published in neutral, non-library places. Are you up for the challenge?

- thewikiman

Echolib / LISNPN / Advocacy: New Year's Round Up

A quick catch-up post for all the stuff I've not mentioned in previous posts but which has happened in the last couple of months.

The Echo Chamber

Lots of echolib stuff has been happening recently. The article I wrote a while ago for Library & Information Update has finished its embargo and so now can be made available - I've been displaying it on the Echo Chamber Netvibes page, but you can also download it in PDF format, here.

Continuing the Stealth Advocising theme from a few weeks back, I created a video version of my If you want to work in libraries... slide-deck. It has some funky hip-hoppy latin music in it that I wrote when I was about 17! Woof. Here it is - as ever, in the interests of spreading the messages far and wide, feel free to use this however you like, embed it wherever, etc etc.

The Slideshare version of this has now been viewed more than ten thousand times, so surely LOADS of those people must be outside the echo chamber, right..?

I also wrote an article for PostLib, the journal for retired librarians! I was really pleased to be asked to do this, I like to see the divide between senior and new professionals being bridged whereever possible. The resultant article is now available: Statistics, the Media and the Library Legacy (PDF) - and owes a big debt to Ian Clark [Thoughts of a Wannabe Librarian] who read it over for me and gave me his approval to use some of his ideas! It mentions the echo chamber in passing - but really the main thrust of it is to note that, if you take combined footfall and internet usage stats, public library use in the UK is actually UP over the last couple of years (quite considerably), contrary to popular reports.

Laura and I will present a new version of the Echo Chamber presentation in Cambridge in a couple of days, to an audience of 200 or so people - the biggest we've spoken to yet, so we're really excited about that.


There's also a couple of articles I wrote about LISNPN, the New Professionals Network, available elsewhere. They're both on CILIP platforms but both are freely available to all - Moving forward together opens Library  Information Gazette in digital form, and The LIS New Professionals Network takes you to CILIP's Information & Advice blog.

Look out for a BIG competition on LISNPN later this month, with a library-related-prize worth literally hundreds of pounds and well worth winning.

Library Routes Project

Remember Library Routes? It's still going! And there's plenty of great entries that have come in in recent months - there's now over 150 contributions from Information Professionals about how they got into librarianship, and their path through the profession. Check it out if you haven't already, or if you've not done so for a while. The project homepage has more than 25,000 views now, so maybe some of those will be from people outside the Echo Chamber too.

Gazette Profile

I was really pleased that Debby Raven featured me in the last but one edition of Gazette, following up on the Essential Careers Advice for New Professionals post. You can read the interview, again via the Digital Gazette magazine platform, here. Incidentally the permanent, to-be-added-to, and containing the wisdom of the people who've commented on the original, version of the Essential Careers Advice post is here on its own page of the blog - check it out and tell if there's anything that needs adding to it. What do you know now that you wish you'd known earlier?

All of these articles are available together on the Papers & Presentations page of my website.

And finally...

I created a hectoring advocacy poster a few weeks back - it's deliberately harsh and provocative, but I do think there is an underlying truth to it.

Poster that says there's no such thing as abstaining from library advocacy


- thewikiman

I'm writing a book on marketing libraries and I'd like your input

Image of a notepad I've been approached by Facet Publishing to write a book on marketing modern libraries. It's intimidating (the previous Facet book on libraries was written by Terry Kendrick, who is a marketing legend and a member of the Marketing Guild and all that stuff) but a really exciting thing to be a part of. The idea is for it to cover all aspects of the nuts and bolts of marketing libraries - the grass roots - and to cover a wide spectrum of sectors, too.

Although the echo chamber theme will pop up here and there, this isn't a book about marketing the profession (or the industry) - it's about marketing your specific library. So, I would absolutely love to hear what you think you'd like to see in such a book. Each chapter will be on a different theme, and they'll all feature a case-study. I'm yet to finalise the proposal with Facet, so if you can give me your ideas quick I'll try and make sure they're addressed!

Stuff I'm currently intending to cover includes:

  • Grass roots essentials
  • Going to where your users are / user studies
  • Marketing with social media + web2
  • Marketing on no budget
  • Marketing to internal stakeholders
  • Language, style + materials
  • Special collections, Archives and Library Branding
  • Understanding the media and using them to market your library
  • Rebranding, reinvention, and the Unlibrary concept
  • Quick wins (a brief overview of a bunch of other people's success stories)


What else would you like to see in there? Would you want more than one chapter on web stuff as it is so important these days? Do you think there should be a chapter about advocacy because without it we won't have any libraries left to market, or will the kind of people who'll buy this book not have time for all that? Do you know of a library with a story that would fit any of those themes as a case study?

I would absolutely love it if you can leave me some comments, or email me your thoughts if you'd rather it be private, and tweet a link to this post to encourage others to do the same (or share it on Facebook). I want to make the most relevant and useful tool possible. Thank you! :)

- thewikiman

P.S There will be a separate marketing blog and twitter account coming soon, once we've made the final decision on the name of the book. It'll cover all the stuff the book will cover, and also report on any other great marketing schemes happening out there in libraryland.

The famous comedian, the library, and the thoroughly modern echo chamber success story!

It's not all bad news and problems in the world of the echo chamber, sometimes things work out really well. One such success story had escaped my notice until today (apologies if you already know about this and it's old hat). Frank Skinner is a comedian and broadcaster. He wrote an article for the Times entitled Sorry, the demise of the library is well overdue. I am militantly anti-the-Murdoch-empire, and the article is behind the Times paywall, so I don't want to encourage anyone to give any funds to the evil cabal (who knows, they may well find their way into Fox News's coffers) - so why not read this response to the article, in the Guardian, instead? Anyhow, the response in the library community was typified by Phil Bradley's piece - sniffy of Skinner's worth as a cultural commentator and dismissive of his views. I can understand that. My personal reaction was different, however - I really like Frank Skinner,and I listen to his Absolute Radio show (in podcast form) every week. Moreover, I know from having read both his books that he is a: extremely intelligent (I think people assume his qualifications are honourary ones bestowed on a famous person - but no, he did an MA in English Literature, he used to be a teacher, and his is very articulate) and b: a really, really good writer.

Like Seth Godin's before him, Frank's piece was worrying for two reasons - firstly the factual inaccuracies (he said books probably carry diseases - this is a column to order in the Times, remember..) and secondly the fact that his views were probably representative of many (libraries have no role in the modern world). It's not enough just to say he's wrong (which, regardless of my personal appreciation for him, I can see that he was) - we have to address the fact that he speaks for a lot of people.

I tried to do something about it, as an advocate of the #echolib approach to responding to attacks on libraries (ie don't just talk to other librarians about how awful it is). My efforts were, admittedly, pretty lame, but I tried. I emailed Frank via the radio show and explained that his views of libraries were one-dimensional and out-of-touch with reality. I provided an analogy with people's views of him - because he did laddish comedy in the 90s and wrote Three Lions, many people think he is a lad with only blokey, basic humour to offer. He can do that, but he's got a lot more to him than many give him credit for. That, I said, is like libraries - we're known for books, and we DO do books, but we also do a lot more than the causal observer would realise. With that parallel in mind, I said in the email, perhaps you could visit a library this week, see what they're really like, and talk about it on air?

Anyhow, no doubt the show's producers weeded out the email long before it ever reached Frank Skinner, as it's hardly primte-time Saturday morning entertainment fare to read out on air. Elsewhere in the library world, someone did something a lot better - someone wrote Frank a letter. There's some details here - a Westminster resident called Don Mackenzie wrote to Frank, explained why he thought Frank's views on libraries were misinformed, and then invited him to Church Street Library to see for himself. And Frank accepted! This isn't even a librarian taking action, it's a library-user - library champions really are worth their weight in gold.

a pic of Frank Skinner in a library

The best bit of this story is what happens next. Frank Skinner wrote another piece about libraries for the Times, this time entitled: Why I’m on a new page with local libraries – it was my ideas that were dog-eared, not the places themselves. #WIN! In the piece, Skinner describes his fears about accepting the invitation because he was worried he'd be proved wrong, and then his eagerness to actually BE proved wrong when he reached the library. He goes on to basically be converted to the cause. Here's a quote:

The library had loads of computers. The general feel of the place was a cross between a clean, efficient secondary school and a cybercafé. No one was whispering. With the staff’s encouragement, I actually joined the library, and proceeded to choose a book. I wanted Tony Blair’s memoirs but that had already been stolen so I opted to reread Nineteen Eighty-Four. At last, George Orwell fans can reclaim the Big Brother franchise.

The smiling lady on the front desk pointed towards a machine on the wall. I put my newly issued card in a slot, scanned the book and got a slip showing the return date, which doubled as a perfect bookmark. I’m already seeing that date as a target. I work better with a deadline. Incidentally, I can return the book to any library in the borough and, you guessed it, renew it online.

I'd urge you to read the whole thing - and you can, because he's put the whole thing on his website. Yes that's right, it's not exclusively behind the Times paywall. The original piece was, mind you, but the retraction was not. How cool is that? Not only has this achieved the key echo chamber escape (that eluded us with Godin, Newsnight, KPMG et al) of the same audience reading the good stuff about libraries which originally read the bad stuff, but a BIGGER audience has read the good stuff because Skinner thought it important enough to put in the News section of his own web-page. Not only that, but I think a converted library skeptic is actually better news for the profession, overall, than if he'd never written the original article!

I really can't tell you how happy this whole thing has made me. :) Skinner has justified my faith in him, libraries have enjoyed a positive media narrative because of the whole incident, and many of our strategies for escaping the echo chamber have been shown to work wonderfully well!

w000000000t! That's all I can say. This also relates to the point that I keep harping on about whenever I'm given a platform - all we need to do is ensure that people can make an informed decision as to whether or not to use their libary. Not everyone needs libraries, that's fine. As long as people know what we do and can make up their own mind. Frank Skinner's opinion was based on a lack of understanding of modern libraries - when he obtained that understanding, his opinion changed. We need to do this, again and again, with everyone.

The Echo Chamber problem IS one we can all solve!

- thewikiman

Echo Chamber Presentation: Director's Cut (Slides Edition)

Laura and I did a version of our Echo Chamber presentation at an event in Newcastle a couple of weeks back. We had a shorter time than usual to do it in, so we took the opportunity to make a slide-deck rather than using the Prezi; it isn't as long, and as far as I'm concerned the more potential this presentation has for dissemination, the better. If we make it available in more ways, that's good - particularly in as embedable a medium as a Slideshare presentation; feel free to take this and put it wherever you like (it's on an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs licence). Laura has also uploaded this to her Slideshare account, and it's featured on Slideshare's Homepage! Woot.

We had a great time in Newcastle - thanks to Biddy Casseldon and her team for putting us on! Unlike at the other events we've presented at, the vast majority of the audience weren't familiar with who we were or what we were going to talk about, via Twitter or blogs, beforehand. We were escaping from our own echo chamber to a certain extent, and starting with a clean slate, having to win over a fresh audience as to the importance of what we were talking about. It was really gratifying to see people nodding emphatically - you really got the sense that people were having exactly the same "oh we really DO do that stuff, and it really DOES matter, and we really CAN try and fix it!" type revelations we had when we first started discussing the echolib thing 12 months ago. We were preaching to the unconverted, and I think we converted a lot of them. :)