Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality?

27 Jun
Picture of a lovely robot

Flickr CC image by Tinkerbots

I think we can all accept that people have become very important in librarianship. It is the people who make the difference between the library and the internet, the people who add the value which makes libraries more than a warehouse full of books, it is the people who teach and educate and train users, it is the people whose visions inform the new directions libraries are taking.

At SLA2011, a lot of people said “There are loads of presentations, across loads of chapters and divisions – but it’s the people who that you really want to focus on. The value lies with the individuals.” The tweets emerging from ALA11 seemed to indicate the same things – @JustinLibrarian saying “What I learned at #ala11: sure, exhibits and panels are great, but the true power of the organization is in people” for example.

I think that while we can accept this as true, it doesn’t seem to have penetrated the deeper professional psyche as to what libraries are, and what they are for. When there are grants or external funding, they seldom get spent on people. When there are marketing campaigns, they rarely feature the people. (Library marketing books often talk about The Four Ps of marketing. Guess what – none of them are People.) When there are cuts, it’s often the people who go first.  It’s still the resources which are king in libraryland, and I’m not sure this will work as well in future.

At his spotlight session during SLA2011, Stephen Abram said the key thing about all the new tech changing the way we all work is not the technology itself, but about representing our role (as information professionals) within that technology. Which is to say, we’re the people who can make it work for our patrons and customers. We need to remind people more explicitly that the value lies with us – each particular ‘us’ that works at each specific library. Stephen later pointed out to me that automated process are increasingly common, so eventually we could keep libraries open but get rid of almost all staff – but they will find it a lot harder to do that to us if we can successfully  emphasise more clearly the role of the individuals. We know that our value lies in our expertise, but does our approach to marketing, funding, finances etc really reflect that? We’re still promoting books and databases most of the time.

So if we position ourselves as experts in new trends and technologies per se (rather than just, for example, a guru in a certain area such as micro-blogging) then when the technology goes mainstream, people will know to come to us for help and further information. It’s not about saying “Hey the library is an expert in FourSquare!” – it’s about saying “The librarians know about new trends and technologies, come to us and we’ll guide you through it!” and then when FourSquare (or any other geolocational social media app, or anything else) goes mainstream, our patrons and customers already have as in mind as potential experts. Like so much of what I write about on here, it’s about positioning ourselves successfully within the wider global narrative.

A more personality driven approach to promoting librarians, as opposed to just libraries, is needed.

- thewikiman

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  • Guy L. Gonzalez June 27, 2011 at 3:03 PM

    "Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality?" @theREALwikiman (Librarians aren't interchangeable widgets.)

  • Helen Pullen (@HelenPullen) June 27, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    Excellant post, a message worth passing on! @theREALwikiman Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality?

  • Helen Pullen June 27, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    What a great piece! I wish there were more people out there that thought the same way. I work in a medical library and would like to introduce social media clinics to our training programme. It’s taken me a while and a few empty training sessions to realise that we can not force the training sessions on people that we believe they should attend. Rather, that we create workshops based on what people want! I realise I should have had this lightbulb moment alot sooner!!!

  • thewikiman June 27, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    Thanks Helen!

    I think it’s a really hard balance though – we do have to try and anticipate what people might need, not just give them what they want – so I don’t think you should chastise yourself too much… :)

  • FraEnrico June 27, 2011 at 6:51 PM

    For this post, I love you. You say everything that I think, that I also write on my own blog. I subscribe to every single word with a huge amount of passion, expecially in these days when I’m fighting to get my job back. And if I do, that is a principle I will spread out as much as I can. For now, thank you for your words.

  • thewikiman June 27, 2011 at 7:23 PM

    FraEnrico – thank you for such a lovely comment. I’m very glad that we agree so strongly on this! Good luck in your fight.

  • Joy June 27, 2011 at 9:42 PM

    Really agree with the last point. Libraries can be so busy focussing on the resources they offer in the here and now in order to prove their (usually financial) worth that they don’t always even see the underlying skills that need promoting. Once something becomes a case of ‘this is what we provide’ rather than ‘this is why we provide it’ the bigger picture’s been lost

    I’m intrigued to know if you just mean librarians though. Do other library staff fit in somewhere or do you have an all-encompassing librarian definition?

  • thewikiman June 27, 2011 at 9:52 PM

    You mean am I only talking about people who’ve qualified? Certainly not – I just mean people who work in libraries.

    I think WE can be what we provide too!

  • Joy June 27, 2011 at 10:09 PM

    That’s what I was trying (and failing!) to say. We don’t promote ourselves because we’re so busy promoting the whatever-it-is we’re using our skills for at the moment. Once we’ve started doing that we replace the whatever-it-is with the next-whatever without remembering that *we* are the thing to promote.
    Not sure that’s any clearer, but anyway, I was agreeing! :)

  • Andy Woodworth June 28, 2011 at 1:50 AM

    [must read] Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality? (via @therealwikiman) #ala11

  • thewikiman June 28, 2011 at 5:41 AM

    Haha, excellent, so we agree! :)

  • Ned Potter June 28, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    From yesterday's blogging frenzy: Libraries are about people – so where's the personality?

  • learningdutch June 28, 2011 at 3:22 PM

    Great post!
    I’m just working my way through, hopefully this will help more of us to become confident in promoting ourselves and learn more about technology, so that librarians can be the people you go to for all stuff tech!

  • thewikiman June 28, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    Hey learningdutch, yes absolutely. CPD23 is a brilliant thing, and if I wasn’t bogged down in marketing-book-hell I’d be doing the programme too. Go CPD23!

  • Marlies de Vet (@BiebLies) June 28, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    +1 RT @Tenaanval: Hier ga ik eens serieus over nadenken: "Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality?"

  • Shannon June 28, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    Do you think there is a big difference in the way US vs UK libraries market themselves (I’m thinking more about public libraries)? It seems to me from where I lived in the US, and when I was following more of the trends of where libraries were headed, that the US is far more progressive and takes a lot more risks in saying ‘hey, the library is more than books and databases’.

    I’ve lost touch with this over the years so the last time I really looked was probably 6-7 years ago so I don’t know if the UK public libraries have moved forward. I just recall being at an Internet Librarian Int’l conference many years ago and hearing a lot of UK public library folks scoff at some of the ideas that had been implemented in US libraries (e.g. using Web 2.0 tools to engage with people, setting up blogs, video game nights, etc. – stuff that adds value to the library and community). I have just often felt that in the US you can try something out and be responsive quickly, while here once you’ve got your project proposal and had it signed off, then you can do something, but by then it’s usually too late.

  • thewikiman June 28, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    Hi Shannon – yes I do think there is UK / US difference. I think the in the US more risks are taken, and that generally they seem a lot further on the cycle of understanding how important marketing is to libraries, and how to do it. But I also think that we have in common the fact that there is more discussion and brilliant ideas and sharing of best practice than there is actual implemented marketing strategy!

    I think the whole responsiveness issue is so key – you need to build chaos into structure in order to enable change and dynamic response. (Wow, I sound like a management consultant – someone shoot me.) I think there are progressive thinkers and retrogressive thinkers on both sides of the Atlantic – I can’t speak for the US but here in the UK it does often feel like it can take a long time to get sufficient agreement to make anything actually HAPPEN… Flatter hierachies For The Win, eh?

    I think the whole culture of an organisation can be set by one or two individuals so if someone progressive is in charge, risks can be taken and progress made. As I’ve said before, the key thing is that when People Like Us actually get senior positions, we act on all the idealism we can afford to have now while we have less responsibility! :)

  • the.effing.librarian June 28, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    it seems like this has been the message all along… we always have the library nerds who buy the technology and get momentarily excited about it and forget that the library is about people and not things. but then when their fervor subsides, we get back to working on how the technology benefits the people, the mission, etc. libraries are often guilty of not promoting their librarians above their collections and gadgets, but librarians are also guilty of not promoting themselves. …frankly, the library would just be a looted empty brick and mortar shell or a mess of unusable data without librarians… cheers

  • Joanne Emanuele June 29, 2011 at 2:12 AM

    Thank you for all your truly relevant comments. I love my job as a high school librarian and its all about the people I teach, both students and teachers.

  • thewikiman June 29, 2011 at 1:07 PM

    Thanks Joanne.

    Effing, yep we sure do struggle with promoting ourselves, but I think the new generation is getting better (just by talking about the need to do it, via social media etc).

  • Anna-Stina Takala June 29, 2011 at 2:06 PM

    Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality? #bibliotekarier #bibliotek

  • Auntie Daniel June 29, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    Technology is a tool – it’s important we use that tool but not become intimately associated with that tool (i,e. become the robot on your blog) Saying that, there’s enough people out there using social media that we will never have the same “ownership” over it that we did with OPACs in the 80s
    p.s. am also participating in seapeadee23 – not sure if the personal branding is a little too pink tho!

  • ALA_TechSource June 29, 2011 at 3:20 PM

    Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality?

  • Cheryl Riendeau June 29, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality?

  • DataCurate June 30, 2011 at 12:04 AM

    Amen! – RT – @ALA_TechSource – Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality?

  • mlharper (@mlharper) June 30, 2011 at 4:01 AM

    #in "@DataCurate: Amen! – RT – @ALA_TechSource – Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality?"

  • JonasT (@JonasTana) June 30, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    "A more personality driven approach to promoting librarians, as opposed to just libraries, is needed."

  • CTState Library June 30, 2011 at 1:15 PM

    RT: @ALA_TechSource: #Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality?

  • ALA_TechSource June 30, 2011 at 9:00 PM

    Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality?

  • Ivonne L. G. June 30, 2011 at 9:00 PM

    Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality?

  • Erin Engle (@erinengle) June 30, 2011 at 10:05 PM

    srsly good point RT @ALA_TechSource Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality?

  • Ann Markström July 2, 2011 at 6:55 AM

    Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality? #bibliotekarier #bibliotek

  • ALA_TechSource July 2, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality?

  • Donovan Pete July 2, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    Libraries are about people – so where’s the personality?

  • Miguel Galán (@juanmiguelgalan) July 2, 2011 at 8:37 PM

    "A more personality driven approach 2 promoting librarians, as opposed 2 just libraries, is needed" via @ALA_TechSource

  • Alex Zealand July 2, 2011 at 8:43 PM

    Since I returned from ALA we’ve been talking about exactly this, and how to highlight how amazing our staff is. We’ve concluded that even the label ‘Librarian’ doesn’t go far enough in promoting what we are and do, because most people don’t really know what a librarian is or does. So we’ve started to create a series of very short videos about the staff, and our expertise as Information Professionals. I’ll link to the first one when it’s done.

  • thewikiman July 3, 2011 at 9:13 AM

    Yes! Fantastic, sounds like exactly what we need to be doing. Really come back and link to them, and let me know if they’re successful – we can add them to the ‘successful escapes’ part of the echo chamber presentation. :)

  • Alex Zealand July 18, 2011 at 8:51 PM

    Here’s the first draft. Keep in mind when watching that I really mean DRAFT – we need to re-shoot it with the librarian in short takes, all over the library, showing the books, demo-ing the tech, etc.
    And we’re not sure the “library ninja” part works in this context (also, it you google library ninja you get Arlington Texas’ public library, so that’s just confusing), so that will probably be cut from the final version.
    Also keep in mind that this would be the first in a series, with staff from all over the library talking about their expertise.

    So here it is – feedback welcome:

  • thewikiman July 19, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    Cheers Alex! Will take a look when I get home…

  • Alex Zealand July 20, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    Here’s the second draft… All the filming issues still need to be addressed – this changes some of the framing, and was re-edited in a better video production program.

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