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).
Other 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.)