Saturday, March 24, 2012

It's All About Relationships

The purpose of social media is to begin a conversation. Very simple. Very straightforward. Most librarians believe that Twitter, Facebook and blogging are all about getting a message out to their patrons. While it is true that these tools are effective means of marketing programs and the library. Marketing and sales expert will remind social media users that to sell something to a customer, you must first get to know your customer. In the library's case, before using Social Media to blast out the last information about Summer Reading Program, first build a relationship with your patrons to find out what matters most to them.

Twitter is a wonderful tool to use when blasting out reminders about library programs. It is using time wisely and inexpensive. (Actually, any program that is free is worth looking into to see how effective it will be for the library.) However, it is very important to keep in mind who uses Twitter. Most teens don't use it for communicating, they are much more in tuned with Facebook. On the other hand, most adults love Twitter because it is a great tool to get information quickly. Twitter can also be helpful when looking for ideas for programming, book talks and mileage support. By simply following other libraries, a savvy librarian could get a wealth of information on library programs for adults and children. It's the new "message" board for professionals.

Creating a Facebook page for the library is quick, easy and a no brainer. With a few key strokes, patrons can be updated regularly about library programs. It can not be emphasized enough about the importance of keeping the page current. Patrons will flock to become friends of the library but they will leave just as quickly if there is nothing new about their local library. If that perception becomes the "reality" for the library, then all the social media tools in the world can not save that type of library. One of the best outcomes of social media, is that it reminds everyone to say, do or think about something, even if its just a joke. Libraries are slowly getting the hint that to be noticed, it's very important to be "talking" about the library at every moment.

Blogging is another tool that invites others to have a conversation about topics of interest. For librarians, most of the blogging is centered around book reviews. Which is a wonderful service to provide. Its the next step in Reader's advisory. However, as this blog often tries to achieve, there is a balance to helping patrons and helping each other. Finding topics that can and will appeal to both library patrons and professionals can be tricky. Yet, it is often a humbling experience when a librarian steps back and sees the library from the patron's view point. Thus blogigng not only enriches the community, it enriches the blogger as well when feedback is provided to help guide future blogs. At least that is the theory of producing a blog.

One form of social media is not better than the other. Each provides a different way of building the relationship with the patrons. What works great in one community might not work well in another. To begin with Social media in libraries, why not begin using all of them. The message has plenty of avenues to reach the intended audience. The next step in social media, is using YouTube, in creative ways to put a "spotlight" on the library. Although social media has been around for a while, there are still libraries who are not "sold" on the this new media. Hopefully, that is not your local library. If it is, perhaps it is time to get in the game and see how programs attendance grows because of social media. For the old pros in social media, watch for ideas next time for using YouTube. The possibilities are exciting. Just think of all the new friends waiting to find out what else is new at the library.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Public Relations Magic in March: : St. Patty's Day, March Madness, Women's History and Reading

March is a wonderful time of year. Everyone is waiting anxiously for spring to arrive. The first signs of "green" come on St. Patty's day, everyone either wears green, drinks and eats green things and look for little leprechauns. On the other hand, there are die hard sports fans who track college basketball for March Madness. Don't forget Women's history month to add to the Spring festivities. In the midst of all this celebrating, libraries have tons of programs which celebrate reading. This may make one librarian wondering what could possibly come in April to top all these reasons to celebrate. Oh, Yeah National Library Week. (Ideas on that will be shared at another time.) Suffice it to say, as scattered as all these topics seem to be, they do have something in common. Besides the fact that they are all in March, these celebrations are the perfect time for libraries to promote themselves to local officials and state legislators. Curious on how to get a jump start on advocating for libraries before April? Read on.

All politicians claim to be "Irish" on St. Patrick's Day. Even President O'bama claimed Irish decent when traveling through Ireland. Why not? It's a wonderful heritage, there is good food, good dancing and lots of fun wearing the green. Plus, they are always talking about the Luck of the Irish. Ah, libraries could use a wee bit luck. To tap into our own little bit of luck, librarians could distribute postcards to their patrons, that are ready to be mailed to the local officials, asking the patrons to support the library by simply signing the postcard which will be sent to the Representatives. The cards could say, "The library is our city's LUCKY charm. Please support our library" It's a great little reminder that the library adds value to every community.

March Madness provides a wonderful opportunity to bring sports into the library. Most sports fans figure libraries don't have anything for a sports fans. Not true. Books about team history, statistics and biographies about famous players are just a few items up for grab. Years ago, an energetic school librarian set out to prove that bringing in basketball fun into the school library would not only benefit the students but also the library as well. On the library doors, a sign was posted "March Madness in Progress. Enter if you DARE" Once the students took the "dare" they were directed to the reference desk where the librarian had a huge basketball bracket on display for all to see her picks. If the students, school board member or faculty cared to fill out a bracket, they had to first write on the bracket sheet why they were "mad" about the library. Then they could post their brackets. The amount of traffic through the library was amazing due to the number of students who wanted to see whose brackets came closest to being spot on. As for the librarian, well the "mad about the Library" comments helped demonstrate the important functions that the school library performed for the students. Plus, her bracket picks were pretty off the mark which made for interesting remarks from students. One student offered to help the librarian to find out more about statistics so next year she could make better choices in her picks.

Women's history month proves to be a great way to remind female legislators and officials about the impact that women have had on history. In their own way, these leaders have made an impact on their own community. For libraries who are facing budget cuts and concerns, there is a way to invite these leaders into the library to "celebrate" Women's history month. One inventive (and could be profitable also) way is to have a women Tea party. Inviting key women leaders to come to the Tea to support the library is great PR for the officials as well as the library.

Of course promoting reading is always a good thing for libraries. After all, when thinking about libraries the first thing to come to most minds are books. t is the trademark of libraries. However, it doesn't hurt to do something different to add spice to PR and advocacy. Library events like those mentioned above will lend itself to patrons coming in to check out books to read throughout the month of March. More importantly, it will get elected officials to open their eyes and minds aobut what libraries do and what they offer the community.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What Makes A Great Library Part 2

A sign of greatness for any person, business or institution is it's longevity. In the case of a person, it is their legacy. Libraries have been among the institutions that pass the test of longevity. It is a sad moment when that important fact seems to elude those who continue to argue that libraries should be a "relic" of the past. Librarians must ask themselves one question. If the local library were "great", would any community challenge the importance the library? Perhaps they would, but making their case would be made harder.

It may sound corny, but the first "mark" of a great library is a strong clear vision for the future. Library directors who fail to look beyond five to ten years in serving their communities are doomed to either ho-hum libraries or a closed libraries. The times in which we live is so incredibly rich with opportunities to expand and grow. Libraries are fortunate enough to be on the front line of using technology to share and distribute information. This is an exciting and the library with a strong vision to creatively adapt to the emerging technologies is one that will "survive".

Libraries that shape their programs around their communities' need for life-long education are in a better position to gather support then those that cite lack of time, tools and money as an obstacle. Excuses like these feed the fuel that libraries can not adapt. If they can not adapt, then its usefulness is overshadowed by the demand for the community to grow. What community wants to be left behind in the digital age? Unique programs which feature new technology is a good place to start connecting patrons with technology. However, there is still a place for traditional programs, but adding an updated version. One example would be storytimes, must be examined to see if there are other viable options to offer these programs. Video on web page? Using Skype? In other words, taking a traditional program and making it new again. Which is not as hard as it seems.

Leaders who have vision and think outside the box, tend to be proactive in the community. This means they don't wait for the Mayor or other city officials to come to them. On the local level, they go to city hall meetings, luncheons and parades. On the state level, they go to Legislative Days and meet with Representatives. This accomplishes two goals that every library should be able to achieve. One, the library, (or library director) defines who they are, what they do and what makes them great. Secondly, it keeps the library in the "spotlight" of the community.

What makes a great library? Not technology and gadgets by itself. Not even the building or the people who use it everyday. What makes a great library? Leadership, vision, and action. There is just one more idea to explore, bringing all these elements together and making it work for libraries. That a discussion for another time.

Monday, March 12, 2012

What Makes A Great Library, Part I

In a recent article about Books on Demand coming to the Brooklyn Public Library, the CEO and President of BPL, Linda Johnson, made a startling statement. "What makes a great library is still up in the air." The statement seems innocent enough, yet there is an underlining theme that has rippled through the library world for far too long. Simply, librarians still can not define the institution and the work they do in a concise manner that rings of value and necessity. The idea that a CEO of a large public library can not define what makes a great library is, to say the least, disheartening. The translation of that is answer is "I have no clue." Sorry, but that is unacceptable coming from a CEO/President of any industry, let alone a library. Librarians and library advocates should demand in their leaders that they not only know the "greatness" of our libraries but are proactive in keeping libraries thriving though the next century and beyond. The time really is now to make the case for libraries. If this is not done, then libraries deserve to become like a balloon with an air leak. It will drift with no direction into obscurity.

Historically, libraries have always known their function in society. It was a place where the community shared books, ideas and information. When the concept of a public library was first conceived there were no doubts as to what was the vision for the institution. However, time has a way of eroding away memories and ideas. Libraries are not "safe" from this cruel fact. The Internet was the first "tool" to plant the seed of doubt for library users and librarians. Doubt that there was a need for a public library. Doubt that anyone would want to visit a library on a Saturday afternoon just for leisure. Doubt that the institution would survive the technological wave. With all these doubts, librarians went on the defensive and have been waiting for the ball to be punted back to them ever since. In a nutshell, libraries have lost their identity, their soul. The question remains, what makes a great library?

Time is also known to be a healer of wounds. Admittedly, many may say that libraries are on life support at the moment, but it doesn't have to be that way in the future. Quite frankly, its all about having vision, courage and fortitude to withstand the changes and moving forward. In any industry success is based upon having a vision, motivating others to follow that vision and achieving goals one step at a time. Librarians have been trained to think more like "public" employees who have one set way of accomplishing a goal. Step one fill out tons of paperwork for one computer. Step two cut through tons of red tape. Three gather support in city hall and from patrons. Four start the process over again because the budget was cut two weeks before step one's paperwork got to the right desk. Sound familiar? Librarians either have to break from local government control or beat the system that local government creates. Perhaps Its a combination of break and beat that will save libraries. Yet, the question remains what makes a great library?

The qualities of a good library are easily detectable. Good material circulation numbers, programs that are pretty well attended and predictable, and finally a staff that is qualified to do their duties. That is the minimum of what any community would demand of their library. A great library on the other hand, has the qualities of the good library plus the "extras" that can't be measured. It is what will give some libraries the edge in surviving and leading the way into the future. What is this extra that every library needs to be great? That question can be explored in the next entry.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Celebrating Women's History Month With Classic Women Authors

Lining the bookshelves of public libraries are several wonderful titles written by women. March is dedicated to celebrating the accomplishment of great women in history which includes a long list of heroines far and near. In literature there are many writers who have inspired their generation and generation of readers that followed. Their words are timeless and their characters are as real as our best friends. Many of the classic writers wrote during an era when women were not considered equal to men. Yet, in their books, the women writers wrote about strong, independent women. Contrast this to today's authors where some create women who are anything but strong or independent. This seems odd since women today enjoy more freedoms then their counterparts two hundred years ago. See if there is any agreement to the three authors listed below.

Jane Austen is the best example of a woman author who challenges cultural wisdom and introduces wonderful female characters who are bright, witty and memorable. Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice comes to the forefront of the long list of character. Austen is very careful to let everyone in on the cultural joke and in the end wins not only Mr. Darby's heart but the reader's as well.

Agatha Christie remarkable work changed the formula for rich crime stories that lure readers into reading one more page to find out "who done it". The unforgettable Miss Marple received attention not only for her ability to solve crimes but also from the stand point that she is not the typical detective. Old maids celebrated everywhere that there was finally a character that broke the mold for old maids. For once they were not meek, weepy and alone. Instead, Miss Marple demonstrates characteristics of an endearing, strong and inquisitive person. Who needs a husband when their is crimes to solve in the tiny village of St. Mary Meade.

One of he first example of Science fiction comes from a woman who dreamed about a scientist who created a monster. Mary Shelley's work Frankenstein opens readers to the world of science and the search for the meaning of life. Victor, the scientist who is the sorrowful creator, reveals to his friend Henry how he was able to recreate life and the consequences of his action. Shelley's tome delves into Victor's remorse for greedily looking for the power of life and at he same time explores the "humanity" of the monster who was crafted in a lab only to be shunned by his creator. This is unique point of view taps into the reader's sense of wonder for science and life.

Obviously these are only a few great women authors who changed literature for the better. Throughout the month of March there will be plenty of opportunities to explore others who not only introduced a new genre as Shelley did but also how they have added to the creative landscape of children and Young Adult literature. As the old saying goes, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Library Programs Ideas to Invite Patrons into Dr. Seuss' World.

In the wonderful and whimsical world of Dr. Seuss there are many characters to love. From the mischievous Cat in the Hat to the grouchy Grinch to lovable Thidwick. Without a doubt, Dr. Seuss' creative genius has enriched children's literature for the better. His legacy in kiddie lit is making reading fun, easy and rhythmical for young readers. The fact that his tales have stood the test of time, seventy-five years to be exact, is an amazing accomplishment. Not many authors, especially in children's literature reach that level of durability. It would not be a stretch to say that there will never be another children's author/illustrator who can capture the magic of Dr. Seuss.

It's hard to image what children's literature would be like without Seuss' books gracing the bookshelves. The idea of putting together a story that contained two hundred twenty-five new reader vocabulary was pure inspiration. The Cat in the Hat introduced himself to young readers and has stolen their hearts forever. For struggling young readers this is a gift that lasts a lifetime. Rhyming words stories provide the opportunity to learn simple words without becoming boring or tedious. It is quite the opposite. That is to say, it's unique and engages the reader with every page.

Dr. Seuss' birthday (March 2) is the perfect time to plan a Seussical program at the library. This isn't just kid stuff. Nope. Programs can range from Cat In the Hat Look alike contests. Invite patrons of all ages to take pictures of their pets dressed as the CAT in the Hat. This is an opportunity for all pet lovers to show off their four-legged family member's artistic side. The library can also sponsor a cooking class for the entire family which features green eggs and ham. Not Surprisingly, children will not only want to learn the recipes but will also want to try the tasty treats. Not forgetting that there are teens who still love and have fond memories, activities that involve memorizing, puzzles and mayhem will certainly get them into the action. One idea is to challenge teens to put together a floor puzzle of a Dr. Seuss title as fast as they can. The pieces are twenty-four in all and very big. Putting it together should be easy, right? Teens are always looking for the catch, as well as they should with sneaky librarians. Hide the pieces are the library and have teens find them. Once they have all twenty four pieces they can put the puzzle together. It's a fun time for all and is a homage to the mischievous Cat.

In all honesty, a library that does not recognize this wonderful author's work in some fashion, is missing out on an wonderful opportunity to lure patrons into the library. The creativity of Dr. Seuss should provide a gold mine of ideas when it comes to celebrating books, reading and of course, libraries.