Murder by the Numbers

support_your_local_library

The graphic to the right was passed around the online library world during the recent National Library Week. My reaction to the infographic was a bit different than others; specifically, I was a bit perturbed. While it is pleasant to look at and certainly has good design to it, it’s the data represented that made me wonder why anyone would think that this was a ‘good’ library support graphic.

I’ll explain it in sections.

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First, take a look at the list of most popular topics. Then, take a look at program topics at your local public library. Or you can do what I did and take a very non-scientific randomly chosen look at the programs being offered in the public libraries of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Denver. With cooking as the #1 most popular topic, only Los Angeles had anything with cooking in it consisting of three programs with two of aimed at younger audiences. I personally only know of one other library that has done cooking programs and that’s the Princeton Public Library. For a topic that two-thirds of the public say they are interested in, we are missing the programming boat on this one.

Health or medicine is a hit-or-miss affair as well, depending on the topics covered. There were at least a handful of programs ranging from finding health information online to children and mental health to (I’m not kidding) ancient secrets to looking & feeling younger. For my own library, we’ve had flu shot clinics and occasional programs for health and well being but the attendance for that is sporadic. As to politics and current events, I can’t find any events whatsoever. (Given how charged the political atmosphere is and the proclivity of librarians to think that it is a professional obligation to be politically neutral, I’m not really too shocked on this one.)

The four major public libraries turn the corner when it comes to business and careers. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a job resume class or business plan assistance. Finally, a topic we can say that we are addressing even if it only covers one-third of those people polled. The same can’t be said for travel/vacation and self-help/psychology programs which simply drop off the chart. (Not that we should consider dabbling in the self-help area given our basic difficulties helping ourselves to take action on a number of topics.)

Back to the question at hand: are public libraries actually in touch with the topics of interest? Our programming doesn’t reflect the interests as collected by the survey. While I will concede that a cooking program could require equipment not generally found in libraries, I would counter and say that either the equipment can be brought in or consider reaching out to the community and finding a kitchen (restaurant, culinary college program, or otherwise) that could host a cooking program. It’s just a matter of some ingenuity to start matching our programming to the topics that patrons are most interested in.

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Second, this section of the graph leaves me a bit perplexed. Is it a cut of 56% from the 2009 number? Or is it a 56% total cut from a year not shown (presumably when funding was at a high point)? If I was to read this literally from left to right, it’s a 40% cut of the 2008 allocation followed by a 56.4% cut of the 2009 allocation followed by 62% cut of 2010’s. (Translated: If 2008 was $100 million, then 2009’s cut would leave $60 million, 2008’s cut would leave $26.16 million, and 2011’s cut would leave $9.9 million or 1/10th of what allocated in 2008. This cannot be.)

Also, where are the actual dollar numbers? While percentages are nice, numbers give a better sense of context to the cut. Otherwise, this looks like a USA Today bar chart graphic.

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*sigh* And now we arrive at the 30 Helens Agree* section of the graphic.

Third, to me this graphic section represents a disconnect between statements and action. I am guessing I could get the same high agreement numbers with phrases like “Birthdays should be fun” and “As an adult, I should be allowed to eat Oreos for breakfast”. Everyone might agree to these statements, but I don’t see these numbers translating into political support. Hence, there is a disconnect between these saccharine sweet statements (“I love puppies!”) and getting these so-called library supporters to call their school board, administration, or town or state officials.

Considering the high amount of agreement, you would imagine that some budget decision makers fall into that overwhelming majority (whether they are superintendents, deans, or politicians). The advocacy job should be easy in theory, but across the country librarians and their supporters are getting pounded at the decision making level. While some have been able to rally support for ballot questions for public libraries, that’s not a slam dunk either as the agreement percentages might suggest. I can’t think of any school libraries that have been saved due to the belief that “school library programs are an essential part of the educational experience because they provide resources to students and teachers”. Although, you could nuance it and say that the statement references school library programs and not school librarians. (If someone has evidence to contradict this last point, please share. I’d rather like to be proven wrong on this one and that school librarians have been saved because of this or a similar belief.)

Considering how abstract the context of the statements are (so, how much tax money would it take?), it’s hard not to agree with them. It goes to prove that people like libraries in theory, they just aren’t thrilled when they get the bill. To me that represents a dangerous area for touting those agreement percentages for it lulls library advocates into a false sense of security when it comes to drumming up actual financial support for the library. People will agree to a statement like that but it doesn’t mean they’ll actually carry out the steps required to support it.

And, I have to wonder aloud, who are these people who disagree with these statements? Are they the ones who were just honest enough to say “No, I disagree” by actually thinking about what would be required? Are these the same one out of six dentists who say that you don’t need to brush after every meal? They can’t all be old cranks whose idea of government spending is “anything so long as it is on me”. Who are these people? They walk among us!

 

So, there we have it: our program offerings do not match those topics which are the most interest to our patrons, the numbers just tell us that we are down from where we were before, and that flowery pro-library statements are nice for people to agree to. I can’t hold the infographic creator Archives.com entirely responsible for this since the data is coming from our own sources (Library Journal, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and ALA). But rather than simply passing a feel good pretty graphic, a little consideration should be given to the contents. It might have more than what it appears to say.

 

* 30 Helens Agree was a recurring sketch by the comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall. Here’s a clip that will get 30 librarians to agree.

The Right Stuff

On the drive to work today, I was thinking about the last couple of blog posts and listening to the radio. The overall point that has been pressed is what the current older generation of librarians have done for the field: the expansion of the total number of libraries, the creation of the modern online catalog, modern shared sources and databases, and other advances in information access and sharing systems. Even with all that, I really can’t get past the haphazard funding models. How could there be so much heavy lifting in one area and inconsistency in another?

During that drive, it hit me: libraries are a lot like NASA

Over the years, NASA has built rockets for taking all sort of payloads into space. They’ve created a re-usable space craft that has served in hundreds of missions. They have constructed a pair of space stations (first Skylab, now the International Space Station). The scientific experiments that are carried out during the missions or on the space stations provided key scientific data that cannot be replicated on Earth. They have put men on the moon, probes and rovers onto other planets, and spacecraft that have exited our solar system for parts unknown. The Hubble Space telescope has returned images from the edges of the expanding universe, a glimpse of the primitive moments of the universe after the Big Bang. It has shown us the wonders of the universe.

But when it comes to funding… well, it’s a mixed bag. It even has its own Wikipedia entry to chart the relative flatness or decline of funding since the 1960’s. But for such a respectable institution that brings scientific advances and greater understandings of Earthly problem through experiments in space, how is it that the funding remains relatively flat? Don’t people see the value and merit of what they do?

And so it is with libraries. I’m preaching to the choir on this one, so I will spare the rehashing of library value. But for all the things that NASA and libraries do on behalf of society, for whatever reason it becomes a hard sell. Overall, both have the same likeability factor. People say that they are provide useful items to society. But when it comes to the funding, there is a disconnect. The talk becomes that the cost is too high, the area of effect is haphazard, and that people simply don’t see the need anymore. And for all the advances and technologies that have been built by NASA engineers, for all the information networks and growth that librarians have built over the years, it can far too easily get set aside when the value is not articulated to those who control the budgets. That’s a serious problem.

Despite my sloppy handling on the Sunday Speculation post, I did receive one answer to the underlying question as to what happened to the political and financial relationships between libraries and their communities. Stephen Abrams wrote:

The simplest answer is that those people and the people/politicians they built the relationship with retired or were voted out of office. These relationships need to be continuously cultivated, evolved and sustained, and worked on through the political process and through association work. As can be noted ad nauseum, many next gen librarians (certainly not all) have abandoned library associations (I have seen the demographic and renewal membership numbers) and, according to research surveys, distrust the political process and vote/participate at very low rates on top of GenX being a small generational cohort. So we’re in a Catch 22. How do we engage the next generation of advocates in library issues?

It’s a good question. I don’t recall anything in the graduate coursework about building and maintaining relationships with funding bodies. Should the MLS programs start addressing this issue through coursework? Within my own state, I’ve seen advocacy sessions offered during the state conference and a single day conference. Should this be something that state associations are doing on a year round basis? There are certainly people within the field who have had tremendous success building these relationships. Should they be tapped as mentors, role models, and consultants for libraries looking to improve their standing?

I’d be interested in seeing how this issue was handled historically and what the profession will do about it at the future. What do you think is the best approach? Should this be something in the core classes at MLS programs? Or is it really something you learn on the job with mentors, conferences, and workshops?

***

On a related note, I am finding the discrepancy between the number of replies from the Sunday Speculation and the Mea Culpa post rather interesting. I would have thought the idea of competencies and metrics for evaluating members of the profession would have gotten a stronger response. With the number of complaints about the younger generation of librarians that went with some of the replies for the Sunday post, I would have surmised that people had a specific idea of what they wanted a librarian to be able to do in terms of job skills and abilities. For all the insults that were hurled in my direction in regards to being a young librarian, there is a notable silence when it comes to actual expectations. In building this new gilded age of libraries, what are the skills, abilities, and knowledges that young librarians should know and/or look to master?

“Libraries’ missions have not changed”

From the December 26 Library Link of the Day:

"Libraries’ missions have not changed," Henderson says. "Our mission has always been to get people the information they need in a timely manner, to make sure it’s credible and what they want. The only thing that’s changed is the number of devices they might be able to get it on or the forms they might get it in."

This excellent piece in the Charlestown City Paper gives a wonderfully frank view of libraries and the challenges they are facing. In particular, how there is a natural blending of technology as an augment to the current resources. That is something that I don’t think is emphasized as much as it should be. With the new generations of technology, it means more tools in the library toolbox, not as a complete replacement for the library as an institution. And furthermore, that this new technology allows for the expansion of library services and materials in ways that were only dreamed of ten years ago. Overall, it’s an excellent article and a must read for advocates out there.

Andy’s Library Shirt Giveaway Contest!

A month or so ago, I had an idea for a t-shirt design that I thought ALA could like and use. I contacted my friend Jenny Levine and told her what I had in mind. After talking with ALA Designs and bouncing it back and forth, I’m pleased to say that they will be turning my design idea into a t-shirt! Behold!

ALA-EndangeredREV

The design won’t be available at the ALA store until December 20th, but the good folks at ALA have been nice enough to offer me some t-shirts to give away to my blog readers. So, here’s the deal: between now and 11:59pm on December 20th, you can submit an entry via the link below for a chance at one of five t-shirts. The link only asks for your email. On December 21st, I will choose five numbers via random number generator and contact those people by email as to what size and where they want it sent. Limit one entry per person, US residents only. (Sorry, my UK buds.)

Andy’s Library Shirt Giveaway Contest Entry

[A link because free WordPress hates iframes]

Big thanks to Rachel Johnson and Diane Buck at ALA Graphics for their patience with the design emails and offering t-shirts for a giveaway. You can “like” the ALA graphics Facebook page if you want to get the latest news on new and upcoming ALA products. (While you are there, you can also “like” my author Facebook page.)

Good luck!

[Note: the design itself does not have a black border to it. I just turned on the border on the picture embedding because the background is white as well. Click on it for the full non-black border effect.]

The Case for the Great Good Place, Ctd.

From Walk You Home:

One of the most important parts of library advocacy at the moment seems to be setting the record straight; explaining to people where they’ve got the wrong impression of libraries (be that because they’ve had a bad and unrepresentative experience and/or because they haven’t used a library in many years).

[…]

It’s been suggested that we should just ignore the naysayers and leave them to their ignorance. This is not an option! It’s really tiring to argue against all the misconceptions and misunderstandings of public libraries, but we have to. And it’s worth it.

In Lauren’s post, she goes through the comment sections of different online articles that talk about library funding. It’s a task I do not envy in the slightest, but her post is an excellent listing of typical comments with some excellent rebuttals. I just really like the fact that she took the time to find the comments and research answers to them.

As I said before in the LIS Syllabus post, advocacy is the new norm. It’s up to the profession to push back on comments that are misguided or wrong. We’d never let someone leave the library knowing that they had the wrong information, so why let public commenters have their words go unanswered?

This is not to say that you should fight all the internet trolls you see, but be on the active lookout for where you can make a mark in an online discussion forum. This will not result in a spontaneous conversion of the masses, but if it can change one person, then that’s one person more than we had before.

(H/t: Patrick Sweeney)

School Libraries: Endangered Species?

From the Not So Distant Future:

It seems like a no-brainer. For students’ reading skills to improve, they need to read. They need to have lots of access to books and technology. They need to feel comfortable around books, talk about books, and associate books with positive interactions. They need the support of librarians who can match them up with the right books, bring guest authors into the school, create book clubs, help them access electronic books, guide them to online book discussions, help them get past the digital divide by providing Internet access and information literacy training, and connect their teachers with the latest tools.

And we know this works — study after study has shown that schools with well-stocked, well-staffed libraries have higher achievement test scores. And yet, perplexingly, across the nation, librarian positions are being cut; elementary libraries have no librarian, librarians are spread among multiple schools, and libraries are being closed due to lack of staff, or opened only a few hours a day, manned by the occasional teacher.

I know that school libraries in New Jersey got clobbered by the budget cuts last year. You can read one librarian-teacher’s account of going from the library back to the classroom due to cuts over at Library Garden. It’s this really horrendous paradox in which we demand better academic achievement from students and then can’t seem to find our collective wallet when the bill comes in. I realize that money is not the solution to some of the education woes in this country, but when you have a bunch of evidence that indicates that a library is a relatively cheap and easy way of knocking up reading scores a notch, it really is a no-brainer.

For related reading, The Unquiet Librarian takes on the lack of mention of school libraries and school librarians in a Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy white paper, “Digital and Media Literacy:  A Plan of Action”. They appear to be re-inventing the wheel with a recommendation to create Digital and Media Literacy Youth Corps rather than support existing school libraries and librarians that are already in place and on the (relatively) same mission.

What will it take to bring school libraries back from the brink of budget extinction?

(Late addendum: Chicago’s Lack of School Libraries Sparks Dispute. [h/t: Resource Shelf])

Alternative Advocacy Ideas for Library Funding Skeptics

Last week, I found an article in the New York Times entitled “In Kansas, Climate Skeptics Embrace Cleaner Energy” that got me thinking in regards to library advocacy. Specifically, this passage:

Over dinner, Wes Jackson, the president of the Land Institute, which promotes environmentally sustainable agriculture, complained to Ms. Jackson, his daughter-in-law, that even though many local farmers would suffer from climate change, few believed that it was happening or were willing to take steps to avoid it.

Why did the conversation have to be about climate change? Ms. Jackson countered. If the goal was to persuade people to reduce their use of fossil fuels, why not identify issues that motivated them instead of getting stuck on something that did not?

(Emphasis mine.)

There are some very familiar refrains that library advocacy invokes in a public awareness campaign in the last year: books and reading, computer access, education programming, assistance for the unemployed and underemployed, and lending aid in the time of the recession. But, as I would commonly see in comments on library funding news stories, what librarians find as a compelling reason does not resonate with everyone. Consider some of these comments left on various library budget stories.

If the "public" supports libraries, the "public" can pay for them with their own "private" dollars. I AM the public, and I do NOT support the libraries, and I do NOT want my income confiscated to pay for them. They are completely anachronistic and need to be privatized. If they can stand on their own they will. If they cannot, they should not.

Think of it: [Every] town spending millions of dollars on buildings, computers, and infrastructure, and then staffing them, and then continuously buying books, DVDs, and CD’s so that one group of citizens can have free entertainment. OUTRAGEOUS.

We have to stop worshipping the needy. The needy need to get off their butts, get jobs, and properly buy their books, DVDs, CDs with their own money. (NJ.com)

Or:

Libraries are like unions. They are obsolete. Nobody uses them anymore. It is a huge drain on our economy and is no longer economically viable right now. Maybe in the future when we have funding we can reopen them. But, probably not, because nobody really uses them. I still don’t even know what they are for. (NJ.com)

Or:

Tired of all the whining and hearing it’s such a small amount. All of these so called "small amounts" are starting to add up. VOTE NO! User fees. If you use the service, YOU pay for it! As a homeowner, I’m tired of financing [everything] for everyone. (Columbus Dispatch)

Or:

Libraries will be like museums, to store old books. Hasn’t anyone ever heard of e-books?? Kindle?? Nook? iPad??
What about music CD’s and movie DVD’s loaned out by libraries you say?? These will go the way of the VHS move. Music is already downloaded off of the internet, movies are streamed through the internet.
Let’s put this 100-year dinosaur to rest !! NO ON MEASURE Q !! (The Herald, Monterey County)

While I have chosen some of the more extreme examples of opposition to library funding, I think they act well to demonstrate that the usual sort of reasoning for library support will not always be compelling. In reflecting on these comments in the new light of the New York Times article, I think there are other ways of enticing people to support the library without relying on the usual issues identified. I think there are a couple of other rationales that may appeal to people who are unmoved by our usual rhetoric. I’ll attempt to outline a few different approaches in this post.

Photo by ladybugbkt/FlickrAs much as the quote “There’s this American flag, apple pie thing about libraries” from Frank Pezzanite at LSSI shot around the library blogosphere, he really is onto something in that remark. There is a patriotic aspect to the library. In an “On My Mind” piece for American Libraries, Andy Spackman wrote about the influence of the Founding Fathers in planting the seeds for what would eventually emerge as public or free libraries.

Enlightenment-inspired Founding Fathers believed an informed citizenry was necessary for the preservation of liberty and the function of democracy. James Madison argued “a popular government, without popular information … is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy.” Jefferson placed the “diffusion of information” among the “essential principles of our Government.” He said, “I have often thought that nothing would do more extensive good at small expense than the establishment of a small circulating library in every county.”

While some might not be fans of Jefferson, there is enough influence by the other Founding Fathers in general to make a patriotic case for the inclusion of libraries in local and state budgets. That, in addition to providing for a well informed citizenry, the library also provides people with opportunities that they would not otherwise receive. Lending the material for self improvement is not the same as charity. For a country that has touted itself as the "Land of Opportunity”, it would be contrary to this idea to not offer current and future Americans the tools for them to succeed. It’s the story of the American Dream told time and time again of someone from humble means rising up into a successful life. The library fits into that role because it does not dictate what people should do or become, but allows for the endless possibilities of human destiny.

It’s a lofty argument and an appeal to a different sort of populism. But for all the citing of the Founding Father, the outpouring of patriotism themes and memes, and talk of the American Dream, the argument that libraries fit right in there could be compelling.

Photo by M. Angel Herrero/FlickrAnother path to consider is much more wallet based: property values. That is, that having a library is a selling point for someone’s property. While the current owner may not be interested in the current library, that does not mean that future residents (or neighbors) will not. In listing the proximity to points of interest on a real estate description sheet, the library could be another selling point for a potential buyer to consider.

There have been numerous studies and papers regarding the relationship between education and crime. These reinforce the educational importance of the library in the lives of the community as well as provides a positive benefit as a component in the overall reduction of crime in the area. With better education, in general crimes rates go down, wages go up, and (subsequently) property values increase. What is being paid to maintain the library is a pittance compared to the salary and benefits of law enforcement officers.

While I think this kind of argument has its high and low spots (depending on the listener), I think it can key in on financial arguments that avoid the “I don’t use it so I don’t the financially support it” mantra that gets tossed around.

Photo by Trostle/FlickrA third consideration for presenting something that might motivate people to support libraries is more religious based. In reading about Stephen Colbert’s testimony to Congress regarding immigration issues, he broke character to make this point.

Colbert said he cares about people "with the least power." He quoted the Bible, as he often does: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers … these seem like the least of our brothers."

[It’s a reference to the Matthew 25:40. You can read Matthew 25:31-46 for the full context. –A]

The philosophy of caring for others plays a significant role in the major world religions. There are many allegories and statements within religious texts and dogmas that express the spiritual goodness when a person acts to support another. While the Bible does draw a difference between compelled and uncompelled acts of charity (as would someone who might be listening to this approach might do), I believe there are enough other passages that outline the (for lack of a better term) holiness of providing for those who are in need. In matching it to a reason to support the library, it is a matter of pointing out that there is no charitable organization within the United States that does exactly what the public library does. While it is a government based entity, it does provide tangible aid at a local level. I am aware that this might be a bit of a stretch, but there is only so much you can do without steering it directly into a charity situation and all of the connotations that go with that.

I’m pretty certain that not everyone who reads this would be comfortable with this approach. Religion can make an issue more contentious than it needs to be and can potentially backfire badly as an alternative approach. While I’m certainly not the most religious person (yes, the blog title has layers of meaning), I can appreciate the sentiments being expressed within the passage in regards to taking care of those who are less fortunate than ourselves. This post is about finding other things that motivate people to provide support for the library and I feel that an argument based in religion (especially in religious tenets that address duties to others) is a potentially valuable argument for those who feel comfortable making it. 

 

These are but a few ideas that could motivate people to support the library when the standard benefit presentations do not work. It does us very little good to repeat the same talking points in the face of funding opposition; instead, it is the time to turn their arguments into advantages. This isn’t about making up anything to answer their concerns and objections; this is about looking to other less obvious benefits that can be presented that address those concerns.

This is the time to think outside of the advocacy box. In the face of opposition coming from new directions, some of the rote arguments will not work. Librarians can and should look to demonstrate their value in other ways that will spark the motivation for support that we are looking to gain.

Shine Like a Star, Star (Update)

Picture by jpstanley/Flickr [cc]

The story so far:

At the end of last week, Roy Tennant posted on his Library Journal blog an entry about “How to Become (and Stay) Famous”. He’s got some great advice for those getting notice (or looking to get notice) within the field and what it entails. He makes reference to an older post “How to Be ‘Famous’” by Karen Schneider that works as a good companion piece. The focus of her piece revolves around what this type of ‘fame’ means for the individual. In reading both articles together, it gives a good balance to the library ‘fame game’ in offering equal parts of how to get there, how to stay there, and what to expect when you’re there.

The one item I’d like to highlight from these entries comes from Roy’s post.

Make connections. No one becomes famous alone. Well, almost no one. Becoming famous can be a long, winding road that includes fellow travelers. Lend them a hand when you can and they will do the same. Some of these connections will grow into trusted life-long friends.

For the long strange trip that the Ben & Jerry’s group has been, the sheer volume of people that I have met along the way has been staggering. It has allowed me to indulge in my overriding curiosities about other people in the profession. I love taking whatever recognition that has been afforded me and being able to quiz my peers as to what they do, how they feel about librarianship, and what they are working on or towards. Though I might be biased, I find what motivates, what drives, and where the spark of passion for the professions exists to be rather fascinating. For all that people endure from their patrons, the governing bodies, their coworkers, and various ups and downs, I love the twinkle that people get in their eyes when they are talking about their Element (to borrow the phrase from Sir Ken Robinson).

So, fair and learned readers, what is your passion in the librarian field? What gets the twinkle in your eye?

Customer Service is NOT Advocacy

As tempting as it would be to make the entire body of the post only two words (“see title”) or just the graphic, I reckon there would be a call for further explanation as to what I meant by the title. And here is what I mean: excellent customer service is not advocacy for the library. I’m writing this post because I believe that there is a certain level of complacency and a false comfort in the idea that by simply providing good customer service people will take action on behalf of the library.

This is simply not so. 

The terms “advocacy” and “customer service” are not synonyms nor share the same definition nor are interchangeable. Libraries will not remain open because the staff in the library were nice or friendly to their patrons. No decision maker will be swayed by such proclamations of good care by staff. What is required is the ability of the patron to demonstrate the value of the library to them. Customer service is just the fancy frame that encompasses the importance that the library holds in the life of the patron.

While providing good customer service will certainly assist in making people more receptive to being asked to take action (which is what advocacy is), by itself it is not advocacy for the library. It’s dangerous for the future of the library to confuse these two actions; customer service does not lead to effective patron action. In providing the patron with an excellent customer experience, that creates the opportunity to let them know how they can help the library maintain its funding, keep staff members and hours, and (in some cases) keep their doors open. Customer service is important as an avenue for the advocacy that is required to illustrate the value of the public service institution.

In case people need a reminder, I made a graph. Enjoy and use liberally.

cs-advocacy

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.)