Shine like a Star, Star

Over my vacation week, I caught this post "The Librarian IS the Rockstar” over on David Lee King’s blog. It’s a great post about the library looking to showcase the talents of its employees, the people who work their magic and make the programs and services possible for their community. Libraries have talented staff members who (too often) remain in the shadows, unnoticed by the public and unacknowledged by the library. So why not elevate them to where people can see and appreciate the skills, knowledge, and talent they bring to the library?

Like all of David’s work, it’s an excellent post. But it was the comments that put my teeth on edge (and this comment in particular).

rockstarOther people refuted the commenter in their replies, but I think this kind of comment (and the thinking behind it) is a real problem in the library world these days. Why not indulge in a reasonable amount of self promotion? Why not highlight the talents of staff for the general public? Why not make one of the attractions to coming to the library a staff member?

There seems to be a recognition gap between showcasing the collection and the staff. Of course the collection should be highlighted for its unique holdings and, yes, there are a wide variety of services that a staff member can assist with. But as technology improvements continue their rapid ascent, people will be looking for what these innovations cannot grant them: person to person contact. (Everyone has heard the lament, “I don’t want to talk to a machine! Why can’t I get a person on the phone at [X]?”, right?) This is the sort of connection that people are looking for and one that the library can provide. Why not take that advantage and use it to greater effect by highlighting a staff member through publicity (either the library’s website, library print publicity, or local media)? Give people a person, not a place, to think about when they think about the library.

I’m not indifferent to the privacy desires of staff or the potential ‘stalker’ type of issues that can arise from people having their information. There is a fine balance between the two and I certainly wouldn’t want to put someone out there who was not comfortable with the exposure. But for those who don’t mind the exposure, the promotion pays in branding dividends. If you can put a human face to the library (and not a picture of a building, as is commonly done on Twitter and Facebook), then patrons can make the better connection to a person than simply identifying the place. In thinking beyond the immediate, when it comes to advocating for the library, it’s an easier emotional connection to say “Miss Jessica at the library needs you to write to your representatives” than “The library needs you to write to your representatives". Patrons will be doing it for the people at the library, not simply the library itself. It’s that kind of identification that the library really needs; that personal connection that emphasizes that we are a people business. 

Given the choice, I’d rather subscribe to the rock star sentiment than to the alternative Tyler Durden-esque mindset that seems to rear its head anytime the notion of breaking out and tooting one’s own horn in librarianship becomes a topic of conversation. Promotion is not akin to narcissism, especially when dealing with communities that simply have no idea what we do as an institution.

(This feels like it should segway into a conversation about the “celebrity librarians”, another topic that I feel is overdue for another round of discussion. I don’t understand the full fledged resistance to the application of the term, nor to having someone stand out enough that the general public would be aware of their existence. To me, it is folly to frown upon the idea when librarianship is in a struggle for recognition. We cannot hang on to this strange notion of professional egalitarianism while bemoaning our lack of visibility in the greater public realm. To have someone who can capture the attention of the media and general public on library issues is someone who can work to turn thoughts and opinions regarding libraries. That’s something that we could use right about now.)

21 thoughts on “Shine like a Star, Star

  1. This is an excellent post! I definitely don’t understand comments like that, but they seem fairly prevalent. One thing we keep talking about in my classes is the need to humanize library services by putting faces instead of logos. If we try to compete with things like Google, using the same methods, we’re always going to lose. We need to concentrate on the value add- the librarians themselves!!

    • Putting a name rather than the library is the next step. I can’t remember where I was reading it, but it was a post or article talking about the difference between presenting oneself as the library and presenting oneself as X from the library. The subtle yet key difference is that it relates it back to a person.

  2. There’s this pernicious idea that seems to cling to service industries in general (certainly it cropped up in my prior teaching career) that service professionals should be motivated solely by The Desire To Serve. That providing good service should, in and of itself, provide all the motivation one needs to be happy in a job; that, thereby, agitating for better pay or working conditions or anything like that means that you’re not truly devoted, not the Right Kind Of Person.

    I’m a human service provider; I’m not a doormat. I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive to be driven to serve, and also be driven to satisfy other motivations — yes, including ambition.

    This comment you cite treads on that territory, for me.

    • I think what bugs me the most is that there isn’t a good reason *not* to do it. If there was, I wouldn’t be at such a loss for why there is such a resistance. There is a certain acceptance of the status quo compared with a lament for better visibility that represents a complete dissonance within the field.

  3. This is a great discussion to be continuing. We cannot overlook our profession’s greatest asset – the people! People make the difference between a good library visit and the last library visit. Now, more than ever, we need to be able to communicate what we can provide and how we can contribute to our patrons lives.

    At my library, we are doing a campaign right now to do just this – focus on the library staff and highlight their individual strengths. It has been a great way to connect with patrons, both in service at the reference desk and in our programming. Here is one element of our campaign, our new staff business M cards. http://twitpic.com/2vha4l

    • Wow, I love those business cards! Pictures plus expertise make them truly memorable! And it puts the job in a fun and helpful light, not simply a “we are serious people and this is serious business” sort of light. Love it!

    • I love your business cards too! I shared with the rest of my department. My husband and I used Moo cards to send out our new address when we got married, so I know they’re inexpensive and look great. What a great idea.

  4. Awesome post, Andy! Thanks for the kind words, too.

    Yep – I obviously don’t get it – never have. Some librarians seem almost afraid to promote themselves rather than their stuff – it’s like walking on hallowed ground or something.

    I think I’m gonna write a post that starts tackling some of that – why not just write a post on how blatant self promotion can be a good thing for libraries?

    Should be fun, anyway!

    • Indeed. It’s something that I’ve heard lately from politicians: they want you to tell them what you want. They aren’t mindreaders; they can’t poll everything to death; and they aren’t going to act on everything, but they have to know about it *first*.

      Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It shows that you know the limits of what you are doing and that you require additional assistance to get where you are going (and you’re not afraid to ask for it).

  5. I agree with the concept of highlighting the people, the human, in libraries (as I mentioned in my comment on David’s post).

    For me a similar analogy would be Nordstrom’s. I love to shop there because of the great service I get from their employees. Of course, the reason I step through their door or visit their website is because of their “collection” (I need something). They don’t always have what I need – and yes they do have their own form of ILL – order from another store that has the item in stock and shipping is free. But I remain a loyal customer and a brand advocate because of the people. There are countless places that offer the same products, but only one that offers me the people that I adore.

    As an aside, I am curious what you mean by, “We cannot hang on to this strange notion of professional egalitarianism while bemoaning our lack of visibility in the greater public realm.” What is “professional egalitarianism”?

    • Professional egalitarianism, in my opinion, is that idea that all librarians are essentially equals in capability. That there is no one who rises above the rest of the profession because we are all professional equivalents. In other words, there are no ‘true’ rock stars for we are all essentially the same.

      It’s a notion that I think is bullshit in the highest degree. It’s not to be confused with giving credit where credit is due; if a program or service or collection is the product of a joint effort, it is not false modesty for the person with the highest visibility to point out the help that it took to get something to work. It’s the idea that any sort of promotion or self promotion is bad because it elevates someone out of the pack, makes them a bit different, and therefore is undesirable.

      Does that clear it up?

      • Yes, thank you. I thought that was what you meant, but then I started thinking about the “profession”, as in the are we professionals debate or the “profession” as in the hierarchy that exists between types of libraries.

    • I have to disagree here. I love, adore, Nordstrom — I’ve posted about how much I love them several times — and the service is a part of that, but for me, it is about the collection. I can’t get what I find there (cute shoes in my size) at any other bricks-and-mortar store. Even if they were jerks I’d go there sometimes (although I’d do more online shoe-shopping than I do now). The customer service is what changes that from “I go there because I have no choice” to “I go there because I walk out giddy”.

      (Which is, I think, still an important lesson for libraries, in an era where people have tremendous choices for where to get their information.)

      To me, though, the collection and the customer service are facets of the same thing: they both show a company that has thought sincerely about what patrons might need and how to get it to them. Thoughtful collection development is a face of customer service.

      • Andromeda, I completely agree that “Thoughtful collection development is a face of customer service.” I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. The service that the library provides relies on the work of every employee, not just those people or activities that are viewed as traditionally customer facing. It takes a village…

        Although we may have slightly different shopping strategies/perspectives, I am happy to meet another librarian Nordstrom fan!

  6. Pingback: If the library was Nordstrom… » Beyond Sliced Bread

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  9. Great post. I often feel downtrodden and not valued when I have bad interactions with customers. When librarians are empowered to give good customer service, to feel truly like rock stars, those bad interactions become so much less important. Yes, the customer is important, but how can I give good customer service if I never feel good about what I do?

  10. Pingback: Shine Like a Star, Star (Update) « Agnostic, Maybe

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