Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2011: The Year Of The Library

In 2010, budget cuts and closings were the stark realities that many libraries faced. If that was not enough to depress a career librarian, the endless mantra from the public, from Jay Leno to your Average Joe, on how insignificant libraries are in today’s society wasn’t cheery to hear either., a website which chronicles libraries that have closed or are facing permanent closings, paints a dismal picture of what libraries are facing across America. It’s not a pretty picture. Having said that, it seems that it is time to change the picture and start looking forward to protect and preserve libraries in the future. To borrow a line from the 80’s rock group Styx I declare that libraries are “Not Dead Yet”. Looking forward to 2011, here are ten ways to make this year the Year of the Library.

1. The Silence Clause Does not Apply Anymore

For too long libraries have been the silent partners in communities, schools, universities and businesses. It seems that everyone knows where the library is but no one realizes its contribution. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why the public just assumes that closing a library would bring no harm. Libraries bring value in ways that are not tangible. We can’t feel the success of a student, but know in the long term, a well educated student serves his/her community well. Likewise in business libraries, resources help strengthen business plans which can lead to economic prosperity not only for the company but the for the local economy. Again, the contribution is not seen until the plans have come to positive fruition. No longer should libraries act the part of the silent partner. Let everyone know where the library is, when the library is open, what the library can do for them, why and how the library exists.

2. The Declaration of Independence For Public Libraries

Many librarians will argue with this point, but it is still worth exploring and discussing. Libraries must find new avenues to be funded. In too many cases, local and state governments have pulled the rug out from under the libraries by either cutting the library’s budget or eliminating them all together. With partnerships like that, who needs enemies? It is time to investigate a balance of private and public funding. Privatized libraries are not necessarily bad, if done correctly. The library should always belong to the people, however, using business ideals of profits instead of non-profit government, libraries may stand a chance to survive during any economic conditions. If libraries survive, so will librarians.

3. Would you like a T-shirt with that?

“If you can’t afford a billboard, a body will do just fine.” That strange quote came from a friend whose business was just getting off the ground and he was looking for cheap way to advertise. Get people to wear a pin, t-shirt, or a bag to carry around promoting libraries. Of course this costs money so do what poor libraries have done for years: beg businesses for sponsorships. Many businesses, even in tough economies, would be willing to donate to a worthy “public” cause because it shows they are giving back to the community. It’s a win win situation. What would really cause a librarian to get chills running up and down her spine would be for library t-shirts to hit the mainstream and everywhere you look, someone is wearing a “sign” that says “Libraries Rock!” A pipe dream? Maybe, but if Fonzie (aka Henry Winkler, to all the younger librarians out there) could get people excited about library cards, there’s a possibility that library t-shirts are not such a bad idea. People just need to be sold on the idea.

4. Web 2.0 claim it, use it, and own it. Lead the pack to Web 3.0

The rise of social media has proven that marketing is everything when it comes to getting noticed in today’s world. Libraries who are not on Facebook or Twitter are not only missing out on cheap marketing, but also proving critics of library’s point that libraries are archaic. If librarians are seen as leaders in using the effective tools of the Internet, it will be that much easier to move forward and pave the way for the changes coming with with Web 3.0. Why not have a virtual story time, where baby and mom can interact with classmates when they can’t be there in person due to a cold? Why not sponsor a book talk with the author of the latest YA novel through Skypes? The possibilities are endless. If this is to be the year of the library, this is a great way to make headlines and catch people’s attention.

5. Friends in Low Places? Nope Not Here!

It never hurts to have friends in high places. When the opportunity arises, invite political leaders, on the local, state and national level, to your library. Remind them that libraries are bi-partisan, provide equal opportunity to access to information and promotes a society that is informed and engaged. Benjamin Franklin obviously understood this when he helped open the first public library in Philadelphia. Granted, at that time it was fee based, but the concept of anyone who wanted to learn more about a given subject was granted the opportunity to do so at the library. It’s a very democratic idea, and one that should be reminded to government officials on a regular basis.

6. Make the Front Page Or At Least On the Second Page

Newspapers are still a good source for local news and information. Contact the newspaper’s to remind them of the wonderful programs available at the library. If editors claim they don’t have enough staff to cover the “library”. Offer to write a weekly column for the newspaper that chronicles all the activities at the library. Don’t forget to add what is going on in other libraries besides your own. Working collaboratively is an effecient use of time and resources. The outcome of this may be that there will be someone who begins to think, “Wow, I didn’t know the library did that!”.

7. The Perks of Having A Library Card

How many stores do you go into now that have a “card” which entitles discounts, freebies, and other perks just for buying their products? Granted a library card can’t offer “discounts” on checking out books or using the computers. However, why not ask business owners to reward their customers for having a library card? For example, an ice cream shop could offer a child size ice cream cone to children getting their first library card.

8. Go Where the Action Is

One of the positives of Web 2.0, is that people don’t view the world by boundaries. No longer are we enclosed by four walls and a door. The world is at our fingertips but it is also for us to define in ways that works for us. Going to the bookstore use to be just about books. Now, there is a cafe inside to invite people to talk, have coffee and read their latest purchase. Bookstores on occasion will go out to community events in an effort to lure customers to buy thier books and latter coming to visit their stores. The suggestion is not to become like bookstores, but rather to take the show on the road. Go to the shopping malls, the coffee houses or even the local park. What do you do once you are there? It can be as simple as dropping off business cards that have the library’s name, email and phone number or reading a story to children at the local McDonald’s. (This is not a far fetched idea. I’ve done that and it worked pretty well.) Once the positive association is made in the “world”, people will remember and come to visit the library.

9. A “Fair” To Remember

If the library has the room, remind non profits and schools that you have community space that they can use. For example, a local senior center or home for the aged will promote the art work of their seniors Local businesses and employment agencies can hold job fairs at the library. Partner with these organization and hold the art fair at the library in order to get more viewers for the art. Science Fair projects are great to way to partner with the local school districts to promote the best and the brightest ideas from the students. Besides, where did the information for the projects come from? The library. Why not use this opportunity to remind patrons of the value of this timeless institute.

10. Most Valuable Resource -- Children

Most Marketing experts will tell you that puppy dogs, kittens, and children are wonderful for ad campaigns because of the cuteness factor. It’s a kin to daring someone to say “No” to such an adorable face knowing full well it is a difficult thing to do. With that in mind, if this is to be the year of the Library, make it all about the children. Let them speak for you when you need ot convey why the library is wonderful and needed. Bookmark Art contests are popular among many libraries in an effort to promote reading and libraries. Social media has made it easy for even teens to create, share and post videos. Why not invite them to create a video that shows what the library means to them. Its the perfect opportunity to teach children the importance of speaking up for a worthwhile cause.

The bottom line is that libraries need to be open for so many reasons. If every Librarian, library advocate or patron would use just one of these reasons as a starting point for conversation, our nation's libraries will be on the road to better days. With passionate determination, speaking up when needed and using creative ideas to draw support for the libraries big things can happen. Let's make it happen. Let's make this year, the year of the library.
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