Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Department Store Analogy

Stephen Abrams, of Stephen's Lighthouse, had this post about department stores. He asks, if like the department stores of old, libraries may be trying to be too much for too many people. I thought it was an interesting analogy. This probably dates me, but I actually do remember department stores that had just about everything in them, before they became mostly fashion places. Actually, one of my childhood memories was going to Penney's (before it became J.C. Penney's) to eat at the diner inside the store. Part of the reason that memory is so vivid for me is that they used to serve a corned beef and cabbage plate that my father enjoyed quite a bit. You walked through the department store, went up the escalator, and the diner was off to one side. It has long been closed (the diner, not the Penney's. The Penney's is still there). Are there any true department stores left? I don't really think so, at least I can't recall any. They seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur.

So, a question to ask is are libraries headed that way? I don't think so, but I think we should take the time to think what it is we are trying to do. What is our brand? Sometimes I think it is librarians, certain librarians, who have a serious confidence problem. At any rate, we should be asking these and other questions now and then. I am thinking, for public libraries at least, the brand is somewhere in the notion of a community space and books. Sure, you can have the computers and the access, but it's the space where the brand is. For academia, the library should be a campus space, but the brand should be that we are the information and resources center. We should "own" when it comes to helping students with their research as well as providing them with space and resources to succeed. Just some barebones ideas. Oh, and we should also be confident in what we do.

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