Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Evolution of "Geek" In The Library

Back in the day, about thirty or so years ago, a college student spending a Saturday night at the library would have been labeled a geek. Translation of that label would mean that the student was too smart to know that they should have life like the other students who are at an afterglow party of a football game. Spending the Saturday night at the library did not fit the "normal" student's weekend plans. It's sort of ironic that the I "geek" the library theme would become popular years later. It seems that the library marketers thought it was time for everyone to "embrace' their inner geek. Is this the best marketing approach to take? At first, the answer from this blog was no. However, after viewing how some library communities took this theme and made it their own, there can be a positive outcome. When a library community embraces an ad campaign such as the "I Geek" it takes on a life of its own. How can this simple phrase include the community? By asking patrons what they "geek" and displaying their response for the community to view. The concept is simple: Who doesn't love to talk about themselves and their hobbies? Virtually everyone that comes into the library has a reason for coming but now with the "I Geek" theme they have a reason to share what they know, what they love and why the love it. Wouldn't it be wonderful if several patrons responded with "I geek mysteries" and from that they decide they would love to form a mystery book discussion group at the library. It's a librarian's dream come true to have a program started without that much sweat and pain! It's almost as simple as just add water and watch the program grow. Professional marketers will tell you the success or failure of a campaign depends on all around support from the employees, to the consumers (for the library, that's the patrons) to the executives of the organization. Libraries who found success with the campaign had the same things in common, support for the library administrators who encouraged employees to display their "geek" with geek t-shirts and jeans day, support from staff who were creative with programs that revolved around the theme and an enthusiastic patron base who not only shared what they geeked but spread the word to others in the community about the great programming at the library. Without this chain reaction, the campaign may not have caught on. If that were the case, library administrators would have to evaluate why it did not catch on in their community. Perhaps, this is just an idea in draft mode, the next campaign from ALA should be "My Library Rocks " and have patron fill in the blank as to why their library is so awesome. It is something worth looking into especially during this economic down turn when library usage is up. Libraries rock for so many reasons from providing computer usage to story times for the young ones and information for the upcoming election season. Yes, I geek was a good marketing tool but it's time to tweak it to evolve into another campaign. Frankly, "My Library Rocks" has a nice ring to it. Don't you agree?

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Human Connection At The Library

It isn't a radical thought to believe that libraries are the places that can be described as "connectors". Every library has one similar goal in common, connecting people to information. Many librarians will say that libraries "brand" in terms of marketing is books. That's may be true, however going into the digital age where computers are becoming increasingly important tools to everyday life, how does our brand, "books", help us or hurt us? How will libraries respond to the digital age to remain relevant, reliable and resourceful assets to the community? One of the main concerns that should be in the forefront of the library profession is the role that the digital world plays in human interaction. Take for example, how teens interact today with their friends. It is not uncommon to walk into the teen area of a library and catch them texting to their friends. Where are there friends? Are they at home? At school? Nope. Their friends that they are sharing a text with is likely next to them or down the next isle. Sadly the art of a good spoken conversation may be lost. The blame can not be placed only on the teens, adults are just as guilty. How often has it been said that it is "easier to email someone than call them"? For everything that technology affords us to do in the way of freely choosing how to communicate or accomplish our tasks, there is a growing sense of isolation. The computers have created a world where humans can "artificially" connect but in reality they are only connected the tools they use. Namely gadgets that "connect" the community to the internet 24/7. In many cases, the role of the library may be to be fill that gap and bring a "human" side to the computer age. It's a natural role for librarians to play. How often have libraries been the bridge that brings information and people together. Too many to count. There are many examples to site, but one very important one to begin with are the story time programs that have become a staple of library programs. In story times, librarians introduce reading not only as a means to learn but also to enjoy the written word. These programs also serve to help parents become proactive in helping their child learn. Parents who take their children to story times are most likely read to their children too. Can the digital age remove story time programs from libraries? Everything is possible with YouTube and Skype. However, that would be forgetting that the main ingredient of a good story time is human contact. The interaction between children and librarian can not be replaced by a digital world. One other glaring example is reference services that are provided by librarians. This is the one service that is often overlooked and seen as irrelevant to many patrons. Who needs a reference librarian when finding out the capital of Florida? Even before the internet, basic library skills taught students to look it up in an encyclopedia or atlas. With the advent of the information age, almost every home has access to basic information through Google or Wikipedia. When it comes to bigger research questions that require analytical skills to review information, the skills of a reference librarian is not only helpful but time savers. There have been numerous books where authors in their notes to readers will often give credit and praise to the librarian who helped them with research for their books. Again, the library puts a human touch on finding information in a fast past digital world. The constant challenge for librarians in the next few years is to preserve the human connection in this fast changing world. If we loose the human connection the process of learning, sharing and communication will at the very least slow down at he very worst halted. At the risk of sounding a bit "touchy feely", perhaps its time to promote "hugging" a librarian. If the bridge between informatton and people should collapse, then every community will suffer. This is precisely the reason why every community should have a library or at the very least access to one. This is how libraries will stay relevant, reliable and resourceful, it all starts with one human being helping another.

Monday, September 24, 2012

What if .....?

It is one of those days when a veteran librarian sits back and ponders on the question of What if....? The mind begins to go in various different directions with no particular goal of discovering a new idea or saving the world. With any luck inspiration might strike by just posing the question of What if.... ? What if libraries were gathering spaces for people to meet and talk about whatever interests them. this seems like a natural progression since libraries are often the place to find, search and explore new ideas. However, it is the reverent silence of learning that made libraries the original home school support system. So is silence really golden? Have libraries given up on the silence because that would mean giving up new technology? Should children be seen in libraries but not heard? Disturbing indeed if silence would creep back into the library. It would seem to the younger generation that the library is a graveyard. What if libraries could partner with businesses and the community to share what would be good for the community and how the libraries can play an instrumental role in helping communities grow. That growth won't be evident in the first couple of years of partnerships but realistically it can show fruition years down the line. One more important fact is that these businesses can become allies when funding for the library shrinks. What if it were a perfect world and every resident visited their local library at least once a week. Some communities are lucky to have the core dedicated patrons but sometimes that is not enough. Libraries need to strive on a daily basis to help non-library users to find their reason to come into the library. Of course, the pitfall may be that the library will lose it's "brand" when trying to be all things to all people. That is a trap to avoid when being open to the possibilities of new programs. What if hardcover books cease paper publication within five years? Will libraries be prepared to assist the community to accept the change to digital or will they lag behind Would it be so bad that few books would be shelved or damaged due to weather or overuse? Are librarians resistant to change? If the answer is yes, the community in which they serve will suffer. Not only that, the library itself will suffer due to fewer patrons finding use of it. The doors will be closed for good. If the answer is no, the other questions are irrelevant. The landscape for learning and growing will be rich and inviting. What if when the digital age is in full swing, libraries would be the leaders in directing the next step of technology and struggling to keep up with the latest and greatest. This is a difficult one to think through since many librarians are not technology geeks but have become so due to the many gadgets that retrieve and gather information. Will there be a mobile library in the digital era that will allow users to download information anywhere, anytime and anyhow? Of course this is already happening but consider what could come next? A TIVO like app on your phone that will automatically download the newest books from authors that you have previously read and liked. If it's not already here, and instincts say that it is, it will be soon. The world seems to be changing faster then ever. It's the old adage that comes to mind that says if you can't stand the heat stay out of the kitchen. Fortunately, there are many librarians on the forefront of the "heat" who are willing to test the boundaries of where libraries can and should go, while the rest of us watch with awe at the new services that could be provided for our patrons. One thing libraries should never lose is the human touch. Libraries have that unique ability to change lives in subtle yet remarkable ways. Perhaps this is where the inspiration of the What if... has lead. How do librarians keep the human touch in their work when technology can potentially take the place of interacting with humans? Something to ponder for next time.