Monday, November 13, 2006

Booknote: Creating the Customer Driven Library

Title: Creating the Customer-Driven Library: Building on the Bookstore Model
Author: Jeanette Woodward
Publication Information: Chicago: ALA, 2005
ISBN: 0-8389-0888-8
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Library Science, Library marketing and public relations

While this book had a few insights that I appreciated, it is still another one of those "we are not good enough unless we become like a bookstore" arguments. Throughout the book, and throughout certain sectors of the blogosphere where the librarians hang out, we are constantly reminded that bookstores have a bottom line and are there to make money, while we hear that libraries have a higher purpose. Unfortunately, the money often does not follow to pursue that higher purpose, and at times it seems like the author does not truly want to acknowledge this. Sure, libraries can and need to improve, but sometimes you still need the money to get the new furniture, the coat of paint, and other resources. While some of her suggestions are excellent, some of them do require money, and at the end of the day, it is a matter of the community deciding it's time to put their money where their mouths are. So, I got mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it has some great ideas for public relations and better promoting the library. On the other hand, if I want to be a clerk, I can go get a job at the local Barnes and Noble.

As I often do in reading, I marked a few passages for further thought.
  • "I think as a profession, we may actually take pride in a down-at-the-heel-look" (17). No, sometimes a lack of funds is exactly that: a lack of funds. I sure as hell would like new desk and an ergonomically adequate chair for each of our librarians and staff instead of the old salvage desks we have now. I sure as hell ain't proud of the grungy look we portray, but I know things won't improve without a serious money infusion from the powers that be. I think the case is closer to we may be ashamed of the grunge look, but we don't have the resources. Excusing those who should be funding their libraries under the martyr rubric or the "we take pride in being poor and still making it work" is not right.
  • "Would library users prefer to view a bibliographic record that looked more like an Amazon web page than a library OPAC screen? Of course they would" (76). To which I say, "duh." I could write a whole series of blog posts on everything that is wrong with our OPAC, but I have to work for a living. I could go on about how the LOC subject hot links can be misleading when you get an index list instead of actual results. And don't even get me started on how searches using "and" as the boolean operator get changed to "or" without indication when the "and" operation fails to yield results, which further misleads the patrons, not to mention making my work harder because there is no good way to rationalize that annoyance.
  • "Librarians rarely have a clear marketing plan. Instead, they do a little of this and a little of that. For example, they start a newsletter and then abandon it when staffing gets tight or some other project takes center stage. They produce a brochure with little attention to design principles and fail to notice when becomes outdated" (132). In our case, this is very true. We should have marketing plan, and it should be a concerted and systematic effort, not something that one or two people squeeze in along with their other duties. It sure as hell should not be something to drop in the name of balancing things to do.
  • More on marketing; this is in the context of pointing out that bookstores have budgets and departments devoted to this, but libraries still have options: "Yet desktop publishing has made it possible for any library to produce newsletters, brochures, and other publications that come quite close to rivaling the bookstores" (144). Here's the catch, from the same paragraph: "Good design costs no more than bad, but no matter how talented the staff, they cannot produce quality materials if they must borrow bits of time from their regular duties" (144). I think that speaks for itself, but Woodward reinforces it: "Time must be blocked out when staff can concentrate on a project and get it done. Marketing is not an extra; it is a necessity" (144).
  • A useful chapter is the one on "Generating Publicity for the Library." The author explains how to gradually go from print media to on-the-air media. There is information on things from crafting a press release to writing a column in your local newspaper to appearing on television.
Overall, I still recommend the book. I agree with the author that we can learn a lot from bookstores. I am always a believer in knowing your competition. It does not mean I want to become my competition. While mostly geared to public libraries, the book does have things to say to academic libraries as well.

No comments: