Saturday, June 21, 2008


In my efforts to do outreach to the local business community, it has become apparent that a significant number of the obstacles to overcome lie within the library itself. Here is a running list, in no particular order, of the things you might want to have hammered out before embarking on an outreach campaign:
  • Solidify with your manager the process for attending local business functions. What paperwork is needed? If there is a cost, how do you get reimbursed? Who gets the paperwork? What forms do you need to file? If it will be an ongoing, recurring event does that change the process? What is the easiest, least time consuming process for all involved? If the reference desk schedule needs to change, how far in advance do you need to alert your manager and/or coworkers? Who do you report your successes to? When? How?
  • If you are out in the community, that is the perfect time to sign people up for library cards as they don't have to carve time out of their day to come into a branch to register for a card. To make this fly you may need to talk with the head of the circulation department (or whoever is in charge of issuing cards) and figure out what information is needed. The agreement that we settled on here at Spokane Public was to jot the card number down on the card application and issue the card on the spot. When I get back to the library I hand over the applications to the good folks in the circulation dept. where they enter the data and make the card active. The safety valve is that these cards are valid for Internet use only (to give remote access to our databases) until we see positive ID in person at one of our branches. This is to make sure that I don't unwittingly issue a full-access card to someone who has thousands and thousands of dollars in fines on another card. It seems to work pretty well...
  • If you are doing a presentation and need library equipment like a laptop and/or projector, make sure that you have the equipment reserved. There's nothing worse than getting ready for a big show only to find that the hardware you need has been shipped off to another branch... not that that has ever happened to me.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

2.0 or f2f?

In the world of marketing public libraries, or any library for that matter, here is the question that I keep coming back to: What is more efficient, social media/2.0 stuff or face to face interactions?

My bias is towards f2f, for the following reasons. One of the biggest -- THE biggest? -- assets that libraries have over the general online world is giving people the ability to pick up a phone (or, horrors, their feet) and contact a real, live human being who gives a damn about their question. Being out in the community in person helps hammer this home. I view a lot of the library 2.0 mania as an online extension of the same model that got us into the bind we are in: staying comfortably within the four walls of our buildings and not having those messy interactions with real, live people.

But wait, you say, isn't the point of 2.0 interactions that we are interacting with those we don't normally reach? Yes, but I come back to the original question: is the online or the personal, physical presence more effective? For a quick, unscientific case study I have had a library blog for about six months without a single interaction of significance. Does the blog stink? Maybe... the format is surely lousy. But in contrast, in the same span of time I've done a number of personal presentations and have had dozens of people sign up for library cards, answered scores of questions and developed a nice cadre of library cheerleaders who hadn't used the library in years. And these cheerleaders are local. That is another beef that I have with the 2.0 stuff: a lot of the strategies seem to be for much larger libraries. It's great to have blog subscribers in the Dakotas but that doesn't do much for me when it comes time to vote on bond measures and such.

I realize this doesn't have to be an either/or situation of 2.0 vs. f2f, indeed I flog the blog whenever I do a presentation, but from my meager experience the personal touch is just that: a personal touch and connection that can't be replicated online. Except here on this blog, dear reader. You are the world to me.

Thoughts? Other experiences?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Trust, Public Libraries

I really should round up some research on this (or the great library blog reading community could contribute ideas, if you have them) but my gut tells me that the business community trusts the library. Not just to do research and return reasonable results to their questions, but also in sharing information with us.

Case in point: Just yesterday I was doing some research for a local banker who wanted to know what the competition was offering in terms of "analysis" or "analyzed" business banking accounts. She only wanted the information from four other institutions so I told her I would call around on her behalf. When I called up the competing banks and told them that I was doing research for a patron and needed to know the fee structure for their analyzed accounts, they were more than willing to help out. I think that if I had called and said something like "Hi. I'm calling from a competitor of yours and I need you to take some time out of your day to do some work for me...", the reception would have been far less congenial.

As a marketing perk, of the four banks that I called, two of the bankers said "So the library does this type of research for patrons? Huh." I replied in the affirmative and encouraged them to contact me with any research they might have on their plates. This equates to powerful, relevant, and immediate exposure that beats any 30 minute presentation on what the library could do for them...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Falling, Forward

As I've been wrestling with the problem of getting the local business community thinking of and turning to their public library, the most basic advice to share with myself is the following: fall forward.

Falling hurts. It hurts the ego. It hurts the knees. It hurts the ribs. It just plain hurts. But here's the deal: it hurts far less to fall forward than it does to fall backwards. No matter how awkward it feels to attend business networking events (think high school prom, sans date), just being there is enough to move things in the right direction. Remember this: people think libraries are cool, even though they have no idea what it is we actually do.  Armed with this supercool persona that strangers are immediately willing to grant you, put yourself into acting mode when you are doing outreach. You don't have to be yourself. So go say "Howdy. What brings you here?" and eventually you will introduce yourself to the right person and things will open up from there.

But back to the falling thing. Even though this is changing pretty quickly, it seems that we librarians are pretty comfortable squatting on our heels within the confines of our four walls and waiting for the world to come to us. That approach may have hacked it back in the olden days when libraries held the monopoly on in-depth and authoritative information but here's the thing: when you're on your heels and you get bumped (say, by Google or Amazon or Netflix or iTunes or...), you're going to fall backwards. Flat on our backs is not where we want to be. Generally speaking, of course.

So the entire point here is that it doesn't really matter what we are doing in terms of outreach and marketing, the thing that matters is whether we are doing it at all. Waiting for our public to come to us seems to lead inevitably to death by a thousand (budget) cuts.

How to Date a Business Librarian

So here's the deal. Among a number of other hats that I wear, I am the Business Reference Librarian at the Spokane Public Library. Confession: I have never owned a business, run a business, been interested in owning or running or working at a for-profit business. How's that for a resume booster?

I've been in the library world, in one capacity or another, since 1996. My passion is spreading the gospel of the public library, which in turn depends on a healthy business community to provide my paycheck. So it turns out that my greedy self-interest coupled with my passion and appreciation for the public library can (at least partially) overcome my previous lack of interest in the business world.

As I've been doing this Business Reference gig since 2006, I've been collecting "notes to self" about missteps, gaffs, and the occasional success of making the library "sticky" (in the Made to Stick sense of the word). This bloggy thing is meant more as a place to store these reminders than anything else, but in this 2.0-ey world I'm hoping that others may feel moved to contribute and comment on the ability of a single librarian working in a mid-sized, woefully underfunded public library to connect with the local business community and make them see--and support--the brilliant idea that is the pubic library. Whew. Oh, and when I say "single" I am using that word in the solitary sense; I am happily married and not trolling for a date here. I do hope you aren't overly disappointed...