Value of Libraries

There was one concept that really stuck out to me during Part 1 of the presentation yesterday: Are libraries valued in their community? It’s heartbreaking to hear that politicians, community members, taxpayers, etc. are more than content to quickly cut funding in the library’s budget in order to avoid a tax increase. It seems to me that we are doing something wrong.

I attended a webinar (Transforming Our Image: No Explanation Needed by Valerie J. Gross, President & CEO, Howard County Library, Md.) in October that talked about positioning Libraries as “Education Centers,” since politicians are less likely to say that they would not support education. Some ways of reframing the library in terms of language include:

Reference Librarians are now Information Professionals

Programs offered are now Classes or Courses

The Program Guide is now a Curriculum Guide, or Course Catalog

Storytime is now Early Literacy Classes

Even the mission statement mentions the word “education” in it

There were many other langague changes mentioned in the presetation, as well as tangible examples. For instance, the Howard County Library (HCL) began to use this type of language to describe their library as a major component of education, which has resulted in nearly tripled library visits (1M to 2.6M), the more than doubling of materials borrowed (3M to 7.2M), research assistance interactions exceeding 1.3M annually, and yearly attendance at classes and events totaling 186,000—in a county with 275,000 residents.

Seems pretty powerful.

Thoughts, ideas, suggestions? How could we use Social Media to enhance this new “library lexicon” that Valerie Gross is proposing.

One idea I had was to use Social Media as patron testimonies. If you can get your patrons to say how much they value the library (especially if you can get them to show examples that posit Libraries as an education center) on your Social Media forums, then you have real, live examples to use when proving your worth.

Maybe Libraries need to use their Social Media spaces not only as a way to share information but also a way to gather patron responses?

Hmm…I could think about this for a while!

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  1. It’s interesting to think about all the changes happening within library language – is it purely semantics, or does it reflect a deeper change within our service ideals? I think the change in lexicon (i.e. “ask us” desk instead of “reference” desk) represents the library meeting the users on their terms, and social media is where users are comfortable. I like the idea of using testimonials – I know of a retail store use a video kiosk where customers can record their reactions, then the store will post the videos online and respond to any queries/complaints.

  2. I think that there’s danger in renaming things, due to the fact that it might change people’s expectations of the library’s services. Yes, storytimes increase early literacy, but we’ve been discussing in early literacy class how that’s a pleasant side effect to what we’re really doing: fostering a love of stories and books (and the library!) in small children. We are showing them that the library is a good place to be. When you start calling it “Early Literacy Class”, people might start expecting measurable results. And then they’re going to expect us to start measuring them, if we want the money. And testing and the library do not belong together. (I’m working on a post about how we need a noun like literacy but for “fostering a love of books and stories.)

    • Great point–I hadn’t thought of how renaming might actually back libraries into a corner if we cannot produce measurable results. When you find that noun, let me know!

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