Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Humility is Overrated

In talks I've had and articles I've read recently, I've noticed an odd characteristic in librarians. They seem to have developed an embarrassment, almost a shame, about using marketing strategies to promote their services. For example, Jessamyn West posted on her blog Librarian.net an entry titled "I believe there are times when self-promotion is helpful". Why the timidity? I believe the time when self-promotion is helpful is ALL the time. I'm not paid by the people of Kankakee to be humble. I'm paid to talk about how great our library is to everyone, everywhere, in every media. Some have called the "Library 2.0" catch phrase empty and useless. Maybe it is empty and useless, like "fly the friendly skies", "have it your way" or "just do it". But these empty phrases sold millions of airline tickets, hamburgers and sneakers respectively. We librarians like to associate ourselves with the academia that places itself above the unclean world of advertising. However, college professors are not competing with MTV, PS3 and YouTube for the attention of their audience. As Michael Porter pointed out in BiblioTech episode #2 (self-promotion intended) a catchphrase is simply shiny wrapping paper, without exciting content you have nothing. He's right. However, I think he'd agree, if you have great content and don't push it out to the public using smart publicity strategies, your services will go the way of beta video recorders, a great product that got its brains bashed in by the brasher competition.

Stephen Bertrand
Assistant Director


Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's cloudy with a chance of timidity ;-)

Great blog entry, Steve!

January 02, 2007 5:41 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I agree that librarians need to be bold in marketing their libraries, and I'd even say that library directors need to be extra-bold and allocate money in the budget to hire marketing/advertising pros - people who can actually do what needs to be done. I'm not sure the problem is one of an ivory-tower attitude so much as librarians (in general) having different abilities than what successful and sustained marketing efforts require.

Developing slogans is something that marketing pros could probably help librarians with. I'm not sure the famous slogans you mentioned qualify as "empty" catchphrases, since they do (did) convey messages: flying United is a pleasant experience, Burger King will custom-make a sandwich with the toppings you want, Nike products help you accomplish your athletic goals.

In contrast, "Library 2.0" is meaningless to someone who isn't familiar with the discussions that librarians have been having about the concept. It doesn't implicitly answer the patron's question: How does this benefit me? Exhibit A: You put an explanation on your library website! Using library jargon - especially a term with a wiggly meaning and far-from-universal acceptance within the profession - isn't terribly practical for marketing the library to the public.


January 06, 2007 11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Steve makes some very valid points in his blog. There are great things going on at all public libraries. Can you imagine Blockbuster or Barnes and Noble loaning out their products for free? They would be shouting that from the rooftops. We do it everyday and think it is no big deal. (Okay, it's paid for with tax dollars but still. It is pretty amazing when you think about it.)

I agree that "2.0" is vauge, but I wouldn't say that it is empty or meaningless. I think that when most people hear or see, "2.0" they think "new" and or "improved." I've seen it on software, movies, toys, etc... there is even a "Star Trek 2.0" on cable. It seems like "2.0" is a pretty common and widely understood term.

January 08, 2007 2:18 PM  

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