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Monday, November 24, 2008

20 Things... That Didn't Matter Much

Sigh... another great PR opportunity lost for libraries.

Have you seen this 4-part series on called "Top 20 things librarians in public libraries wish patrons knew or did"?

When I saw the title, I thought, "Wow! A chance for librarians to tell tons of people, in a public forum, all the great things they don't realize about libraries! What a great opportunity!"

The author, who apparently works in a library, said she surveyed other librarians she knew to come up with a list of 20 things, which she then published as a four-part series. Too bad that only a couple of those 20 things were actually useful.

(BTW, using the orange "next" button is the easiest way to see all four parts of the series in order; they are not all linked to each other.)

I was very displeased, to say the least, and I left a snarky comment at the end of the fourth part. Probably shouldn't have, but did...

What would you have said if someone gave you this chance to tell the public about libraries? You should always have a statement in your head to use at a moment's notice if a reporter (or anyone) asks, "What should I know about today's libraries?" Share yours here!!


Anonymous said...

Wow. You were displeased with the way another writer humanized the library and librarians, so you smack that writer down on their own site and repeat it here.

So librarians shouldn't make public contact unless they do it your way?

I'm guessing very few readers would have called those articles "whiney"--it took another librarian to offer that support.

Jeff Scott said...

I wrote a post similar to that article. I called it top ten ways to hack your library. It's in the same vein as things I wish you knew about us.

distortiongirl said...

From my perspective as a public library patron, this was a missed opportunity. Not that the points in the article aren't true, but there was a bigger opportunity to share what librarians can do than reported. (In all fairness, perhaps the questions weren't posed to elicit that kind of response -- who knows?) It's so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day workings of our jobs that we miss marketing opportunities when they present themselves. I would have loved to read about how librarians can help me to exchange information with others in ways I hadn't considered (e.g., storytelling). Public libraries have great programs meant to build a vibrant and inspiring information community, even though I, as a patron, may not see these programs as anything more than fun and interesting. So, I wish the article had pointed out the special skills librarians use to help me be more productive and inspired by the information resources they make available to me.

~Kathy Dempsey said...

Thanks to all of you for your opinions & comments!

Anon: This is nowhere near a smack-down. It's a lament about losing a good opportunity that libs need badly and get rarely. One of my main problems is that so many of the 20 things could apply to anyone in public service -- bankers, retail clerks, waiters, etc. "Wait patiently in line" and "don't sneeze in my face" don't tell readers anything useful about libraries in particular.

Jeff: Your list is similar, but to me, a bit better than "20 things" b/c of what it was supposed to be -- tips on maximizing lib usage. In that sense, tibits like "ask reference libs" and "did you know about ILL?" make sense.

Distortiongirl: Thanks for weighing in w/ a patron POV. It's nice to hear from anyone who wants to know more about libs! and thanks for saying the article could've pointed out special skills that libs have that can help you be more productive, informed, etc.

That's really what I was getting at. Libs have soooo much to offer that sooo many people don't know about. When given a public forum, it's a shame to spend that time/space reminding people to mind their manners. Libs need all the positive exposure they can get, and I try to train them to make the most of those opportunities.

That said, nobody has yet answered my original question from the end of the post: If someone from the media asked you what people should know about libraries, what would you tell them?? (If you don't have a prepared soundbite, you should!!)

Anonymous said...

It's all valid I think - we certainly experience all those things and it is good to share and relate.

Sure there are missed opportunities - but that really wasn't the point of the article.

Maybe you're having a bad day....

dewey_decimal said...

I think the columnist DOES deserve a smackdown (a harder one than Kathy administered) for her patronizing tone. Don't sneeze in my face? Don't swear? Don't yell at your kids across the room? The majority of polite people don't do these things; unfortunately there's a large minority who do, but these are the people who are most likely to be contemptuous when you ask them to change their behavior. That's part of the "joy" of working with the public. If you can't stand it, get a job in a special or academic library; otherwise, content yourself with bitching about your patrons in the lunch room, and not in the newspaper. I'm sure waitresses, emergency department personnel, and Wal-Mart cashiers all have similar or worse stories of boorish behaviour, and they don't get that kind of forum to publish them in.

And I agree with Kathy, that this was a golden marketing opportunity wasted. How about mentioning the library's databases, career resources, free legal resources, etc.? Oh, and how about also pointing out that the person helping you in a small branch is often not a librarian, and if you don't get the answer you need on a Wednesday night at your mini-branch, then here are the steps you can take to get more expert assistance?

What really bugged me is that what librarians seem to want people to know is mostly all about how those people can make librarians' lives easier.

Nancy Dowd said...

Loving this discussion! In response to Kathi's question- I want people to know about several things. I want them to know about John and how my library transformed his life by helping him get his GED and how we are looking forward to seeing him graduate from community college this spring and about Sue the small business owner who landed a loan in these incredibly tough economic times because of a workshop and online resources we hooked her up with. I want them to know about the 13 teens who couldn't fit in with a group in their high school but formed a teen group at the library that just produced a program to help middle school kids adapt to high school. I want to humanize libraries and librarians by putting the humans we are helping front and center in the story of our library so that the public can "feel the love" and will know/remember that the library is an essential part of the infrastructure of every community. Every library has those stories and more, tell them! They are the stories we need to be writing- give me four days with those kind of columns and I'll take that any day.

cwood said...

Libraries and librarians are at their best when they are initiating empowering interaction.

Establishing a climate of mutual respect moves user (and staff) behavior to a higher plane.

Nancy Dowd said...

Well said!