This My Turn Column appears in the 2009 February ILA Reporter:
I am a loud librarian. I am on a personal mission to destroy the stereotype of librarians as quiet, meek, and mild. I tell
everyone I am a librarian. I am not afraid of giving presentations in front of groups and basically, I enjoy talking. To me, it’s all about communication. Pretty much every misunderstanding and most problems I’ve encountered in life, both personal and professional, could have been remedied with better communication.
In college I majored in public relations. When I saw an ad for public relations coordinator at my local library, I knew it was the perfect job for me. I love books. I love talking about books. What else could be better? I got the job. Since then I have spent six years promoting the library and its services.
Last year I was involved in the hiring of a new marketing manager, and the question was raised about whether the candidates should have library experience. It’s an interesting question for me, since when I first worked in libraries I had no experience, except as a user; however, when it became clear libraries were the right place for me I went and
earned an MLS. I was adamant about hiring a person with a strong marketing/communications background, and not necessarily a library background. My first reason for this was that this library needed someone with fresh eyes, who could take the existing marketing plan to a new level. And my second reason was that a good marketing/public relations person researches the industry they’re working in as their first step. In a way, getting someone from outside the library community to come to work at the library is a form of outreach.
In my first job as a library public relations person, I spent a lot of time outside the library, and in the beginning my director was resistant to this as it conflicted with time I was scheduled on a public service desk. It took a while, but she soon saw I was more effective out in the community — at every expo or reading night, at committee meetings, or
speaking to groups — than I was sitting at the library. The library had more presence in the community, program attendance was up, and more business groups used our meeting rooms. I was out in the public communicating with anyone who would listen about what the library could offer.
My definition of outreach is what I’ve just described — get out of the building and reach out to your community. When was the last time you attended a conference or workshop that wasn’t geared towards librarians? Are you a member of your local Kiwanis, Rotary, or other service organization? Do you read business publications and not just library journals? This too is outreach, getting out of the library world and seeing what’s going on. Many of the ideas other industries are trying apply to the library as well.
I highly recommend Fast Company magazine and believe every library should subscribe. On its Web site, Fast Company describes the magazine as this: “charting the evolution of business through a unique focus on
the most creative individuals sparking change in the marketplace. By uncovering best and “next” practices, the magazine helps a new breed of leader work smarter and more effectively. Fast Company empowers innovators to challenge convention and create the future of business.” Doesn’t that sound a lot like what we want libraries to be?
Each year I am inspired by the LSTA grant list as I see what types of outreach and partnerships other libraries are fostering in their community. Outreach is more than home delivery programs, bookmobiles, and school liaisons. Is there a problem in your community? What can the library do to help solve the problem? The answer to this question
results in some wonderful LSTA grant projects.
When you’re doing great things, don’t forget to communicate about them. How many times are you asked, “how’s it going?” or “what’s new?” and you respond, “not much” or “same old, same old”? There should always be something to say about the library, whether it’s your new LSTA grant project, or when story time is starting, or another program
the library is hosting, or what project the library is working on.
And when you communicate be sure to communicate with everyone, from the pages to the trustees. My library started a staff blog earlier this year and it’s a great tool for us to keep each other informed of what’s going on in various departments, what programs are coming up, and even staff birthdays for the month. Additionally, all blog posts are
delivered via e-mail daily so no staff member has an excuse about not seeing something. In each board packet, trustees are given a monthly calendar, along with a separate program description list so they are also in the loop about what’s happening at the library. Neither of these are radical ideas, but they help keep everyone informed.
I encourage everyone to become a loud librarian. Talk about what’s happening at your library when you get a chance. Attend meetings and conferences outside of libraryland. Read various publications and see if you can apply any of the ideas to your own library.
Get out of the building and reach out to your community.
Then communicate, loudly, about it.
Alissa Williams is the Assistant Director at the Pekin Public Library and the current chair of the ILA Marketing Committee.
View the entire 2009 February ILA Reporter.