Whenever libraries are under attack, there is always a huge cry for librarians to speak up. As a marketer, I want to concentrate on the ways to have our voices have the greatest impact for change. So I tend to look harder at the foundation we need to build, the messages we need to create, and the angels we need to get to sing for us. But these things need to be done before we are dangling from a rope with the last string ready to break.
I’d like start by talking about what is it that we are sharing with the public about libraries. My mantra lately has been asking people to find out what matters to people and giving it to them. But it goes deeper.
My community may get a 30-cent property tax increase at the same time the state is talking about increasing my costs for medical insurance. Without spending a dime, my budget could be cut significantly. My friends and neighbors are experiencing their own economic disaster scenarios. If there is one thing we all have in common, it is that our budgets are tighter than ever.
In ordinary times, if someone wanted me to support the library because it made the neighborhood nicer or because it was helping a lot of people get free books or movies, I would. No questions asked.
But today you’d need to convince me that the sacrifice of having to pay taxes to support my library is worth it to my family if you want my support.
You’d better convince me that the library is going to play some kind of role in helping my town stay afloat. [It would be really nice if my library was playing a role in helping my elected officials save money too.]
And you’d better convince me that it is helping preserve a lifestyle that I am afraid is slipping away from the community I call home. [That might be a community that wants its children to have art and music classes; or concerts and community events; or whatever other things your town will need to cut.]
You’d better convince me that having a library can make me feel like a “do gooder” and that the programs you are sponsoring are helping individuals overcome obstacles that could easily happened to me. A parent who helped her child overcome bullying, a child who changed her ways from trouble maker to 'A' student, a person who landed a job, an elderly parent who learned to live fully after the loss of a spouse …
You see, in tough economic times, when the media is hawking fear and distrust as standard commodities, Americans aren’t just afraid of losing, they are afraid of becoming losers. And we all need to feel like we are on the winning side again.
It’s not the number of people who walk through your doors; it’s the individuals whose lives you are changing. It’s not the number of books or videos you are lending; it’s the lives that are impacted by reading or watching them.
In an ideal world our job would be to help our libraries discover what matters to the people in our communities; help the library develop programs, products and services that fill a gap; package and brand those products; create a marketing plan to launch and publicize them; collect the stories of the lives that are impacted; then share those stories with our communities.
In an ideal world…
Of course we all know what the real world looks like for a marketer in the library field. Help a library develop new products? From what I hear, most of library marketing people don’t even hear about a program until someone needs to publicize it!
If we are going to get our community to believe in our value, every single person who works for the library will need to look at the library from a community point of view. Who needs help? Where are the gaps? How can the library help to plug those gaps?
How can we help job seekers, parents, and elected officials? How can we replace programs that have been cut in schools or in the community? What groups are in need of a partner with space to host and publicize programs? The list goes on and on.
And we ALL need to collect the stories of the individuals and group we have helped. Always connect the dots - what was the problem and how did your library help solve it.
We need to tell the right stories to the right people. You are looking for people who hear your story to have an “Aha!” moment, not a “So what?” moment.
Remember to never share a number without a face. Statistics are great, they tell a story about usage but a person’s story makes sense of those facts.
Ask your supporters to toot your horn. Ask. Not everyone will do it, but some will. Ask them to speak to their experience. If they learned how to build a resume online and in turn got a job, have them say that. Simple. Ask them to connect the dots – they had a problem and this is how the library helped.
Even though this isn’t an ideal world, we can play a role in helping our libraries to do what they need to do. Maybe a good start is to share this post with them. -Nancy