What’s In Your Window?

Passing through Wicker Park the other day, I spotted a pair of large window clings, displayed prominently on the main windows of an independent shop. One window bears a large Facebook logo, the store’s Facebook URL printed beneath. A similar Twitter cling, seen here, invites passersby to follow the shop on Twitter.

Now, maybe I don’t get out as much as I used to, but I simply haven’t seen these window clings anywhere else. Particularly, I haven’t seen them in my travels to libraries in the greater Chicagoland area. And at an estimated two feet in width, they’re fairly hard to miss. I may have spotted a small Foursquare or Yelp decal somewhere, but I really couldn’t say for sure. And while Twitter and Foursquare are still gaining momentum among popular social media sites, Facebook is, well, Facebook. Now that I’ve seen these, I can’t imagine not having my library’s Facebook URL displayed on at least one high-traffic window.

It occurs to me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Signs are a staple form of promotion. Man’s benchmark for alerting the world of his existence, seemingly since the ancients developed means of written communication, has been to simply put up a sign.

Has your community been slow to acknowledge your library’s presence on social media outlets? Where Twitter and Foursquare are concerned, it’s quite possible that patrons simply aren’t yet using those applications. Now, say my library serves a community of 40,000. My Facebook page shows 27 friends and one of them is my mother. In this scenario, it’s a safe bet that my patrons don’t know the library is there. So, how can I let library users and passersby know where they can find the library on social networks? Apparently, I can put it in the window. Big and blue, bearing our URL, for all to read from the sidewalk or from their seat on the bus.

Let’s Make a List: Foursquare in Libraries

Back in June, I read a piece about how the Brooklyn Museum is using Foursquare to make connections among visitors to the facility. I wondered whether other institutions, particularly libraries, have done something similar–designated an entire web page to Foursquare activities.

So I tweeted a Google doc and asked how libraries are using Foursquare. The limited response suggests that either no one is reading my tweets, or not many libraries in my network are using Foursquare (or both). In any case, here are the replies I received:

  • My first introduction to Foursquare was through a webinar sponsored by the Connecting to Collections Initiative given by Nancie Ravenel of the Shelburne Museum in VT and blogger Colleen Dilenschneider.  Shelburne uses Foursquare, but to my knowledge, it is not incentivized.
  • Surprise giveaways: Via Twitter/Facebook, first five people to check in get an ebook
  • We give away a flash drive or other small techie prize to the first 10 people to check in.
  • Our public library gives prizes to people who check in on certain days or at events. We’ve gotten more people to show up for certain programs this way–giving away ebooks, signed book copies or other autographed materials to people who check in at author events or other programs.

  • You can give out things with library logo/slogan (shirts, iPad/iPod covers?, totes, pens/pencils, mousepads, mugs, calendars, etc.)

If these replies and the several tweets I received are any indication, awarding users with schwag appears to be the prominent use of Foursquare in libraries.

Care to add to the list? Have you found more creative ways to use Foursquare in the library or other institution? How successful have your programs proven? How have they failed? Please share.

Facebook and Branding

Bubble Room is a blog written by Alison Circle, a marketing professional under the employ of both the Columbus Metropolitan Library and Library Journal. In yesterday’s post, Alison briefly points to several reasons library systems should commit to a single Facebook page, rather than create individualized pages for each of the system’s branches. Her reasons plead for consistency.

How will it be possible that each branch page reflects the overall library brand? You’ll have different messages, different voice, different strategic focus. This is confusing to customers.

When we talk about using social media in libraries, it’s important to remember who are the benefactors. Putting aside the inadvertently condescending nature of the passage above, I find myself wishing Alison had written a much more thorough evaluation. The original question is an interesting one and deserves examination. However, the post addresses Facebook’s value solely to the library’s brand and does so only cursorily. It fails to explore the utility of localized Facebook pages in two ways: their value to the brand and their value to the user.

I’m willing to entertain an argument for the boilerplate philosophy of the brand. That methodology is part of what makes the corporate world go round. It’s what allows Anheuser-Busch to continue to tell us their product is the best product for everyone. Yet, for the most part, libraries don’t have a product. As many say, the library is its own product. And in systems where needs and expectations differ from branch to branch, a library may not be able to be all things to everyone, but it should certainly address diversity. Can a Facebook page using a “Locations” tab accomplish this? Branch pages for the Columbus Metropolitan Library would suggest the ability is limited. They offer hours, a map, the manager’s name, and a link to the library’s event calendar. Functional? Sure. Offering users an interactive, community-specific Facebook presence? Not so much. A well-branded library is a well-connected library–one that goes to where the users are and makes itself at home. It’s local. It’s hyperlocal. It gives its branches the keys to the neighborhood.

A regular Bubble Room reader, I can tell you that Alison’s thoughts on branding and marketing would be invaluable to any librarian. Yet, when it comes to limiting Facebook to a branding tool and denying users a participatory relationship, it’s easy to remember I’m reading the sentiments of a marketer–not a librarian.

Please Play

Since subscribing to comments on Will Manley’s blog post the other night, my phone has lit up more than the chainsmokers in a LaSalle, IL, tavern. That’s what happens pretty much every time Will posts something new. On this occasion, Will chimes in on the ALA READ campaign. I have two thoughts on the subject. Well, three, really. But I put one of them in the comments section of Will’s post. It had to do with my love of John Fante’s books and my willingness to appear as a Fante torchbearer.

Whether you noticed or not, I posted a piece recently in which I made some suggestions regarding the classic and very popular READ posters. Fortunately, Will suggested to me that he liked that piece, so I count myself out of  a certain crowd he mentions in his current post. Will writes, “It’s very fashionable among bloggers to dump on the American Library Association.  My guess is that if ALA didn’t exist, library bloggers would have to invent it in order to have something to write about.” It’s well said, for sure. And I’d like to read the ALA-critical literature that inspired Will to write his post. (Will, if you’re reading this, please slip me some links.) Will and the commenters make many points–some salient, some salient and funny, some eyebrow-raising. Do check it out and leave your remarks.

The only critique I’d make is regarding one of the words Will states he wouldn’t want to see on an ALA poster. He writes, “READ plays to our strength and the reason why we exist.  I hope ALA never succumbs to the temptation to put out posters that say PLAY; LISTEN; COMPUTE; SURF; or DOWNLOAD.” An editor and grammarian of sorts, I don’t particularly enjoy semantic arguments. But when you’re talking about a marketing plan based on, essentially, a face, a book, and a single capitalized word, semantic discussions are to be expected.

As I mentioned in that earlier post on the READ ads, I like word play as it relates to the missions of public, school, and academic libraries. “Play” has different meanings for different people and different age groups. If cognitive studies of gaming have shown us anything, it’s that the library style of play promotes learning and growth in very special ways. And that doesn’t even begin to tell what cognitive strengths are exercised by adult play or forms of play involving young people who simply aren’t into traditional gaming. People of all ages make their own play, just as they decide what types of literature most appeal to them. Another word for play is fun. We make our own fun, no matter what age, and more often than we realize, we learn something or strengthen specific cognitive skills each time we create and have fun, even if the activity’s initial appearance doesn’t immediately suggest its value as an educational or even constructive activity.

Libraries are about many things–among them, an amalgam of freedoms, including freedom to play. COMPUTE, SURF, and DOWNLOAD? Those are services that should be pushed, certainly, but never in a READ-type graphic. The READ graphics aren’t about services. They represent, as Will writes, “the reason why we exist.” They’re about the availability and importance of materials and freedoms that serve fundamental human desires: literacy, connectivity, knowledge, growth, and, yes, play.

Anatomy of a Trick

If you haven’t seen it yet, have a look at the “Anatomy of a Librarian” graphic from master-degree-online.com.

Insomuch as it’s a representation of what librarians are all about, this graphic is not necessarily worth getting all bent out of shape about. Yet it is cause for some concern regarding the bigger picture. Many LIS people, including PC Sweeney and Stephen Abram, are poking at the thing with sticks to see what it is and whether it’s alive. And with good reason.

My concern with this graphic is not one of misrepresentation. I’m sure some research (possibly unscientific) was done to corroborate the list of librarians’ interests. And while many librarians’ salaries haven’t yet approached the halfway mark, the average here surely includes salaries of library staff in large metropolitan areas where costs of living are reflected and where funding has long been relatively safeguarded. In the City of Chicago, it doesn’t take a public librarian a decade to reach $60K. Notable is the fine print beneath the salary stat. The disclaimer states that the average salary is specific to librarians with ALA-accredited degrees, while I suspect many of the online library programs supported here don’t enjoy ALA accreditation.

For the most part, I’m fine with the infographic’s content. It’s rather benign in and of itself. My primary concern regarding this graphic and any graphic of this kind is with its intent and its potential effects. This graphic wasn’t created by a library entity. It’s a corporate graphic created for master-degree-online.com, a website paid to sell online degree programs. While some universities associated with the site are fully accredited ones like Northwestern and USC, most are for-profit schools. I’ll assume the general differences among for-profit schools, nonprofit private schools and public universities are common knowledge and leave dishonest recruiting practices and accreditation shortcomings for another post.

Purely as a persuasive advertisement for online degree programs, this stylized graphic supports for-profit LIS degree programs using misleading information to market potentially empty degrees to an already-flooded market. And that’s a problem. Clever word choice also skirts the issue of the greying profession. The ad states that “a large number of librarians are likely to retire in the coming decade.” The operative word here is decade. Ten years is a long time. Historically, it also takes a nation a long time to recover from prolonged recessions. So unless our government gets us out of the financial sewer we’re currently in, that large number of librarians may not be enjoying retirement until the second half of that decade.

My advice is to the target demographic–the potential students who may be swayed by this kind of ad: be vigilant. For-profit schools serve a niche market. For various reasons, many people don’t make the cut at public and private universities or can’t procure tuition funds. For-profit schools get you the money and put you in a seat. Do your homework about for-profit degrees, online schools, accreditation, and employment markets. It’s awfully difficult to pay back an expensive student loan when you’re at the bottom of the heap in a frozen market.

What Are Words For?

readEverybody loves ALA’s classic celebrity READ posters. And for good reason. Multi-age, culturally relevant celebrities inspiring multi-age people to read books and get literate. They’re popular and possibly even effective. Still, the READ poster is alone in its work. It wants a family. It needs siblings.

Libraries continue to evolve and struggle against their own underrepresentation. They seek ways to break the mold. The READ campaign advocates literacy and promotes the library as a literacy center or, from a non-LIS perspective, a place to get free books. But isn’t that the very stereotype we’re trying to conquer? For all the good the READ posters may do toward promoting literate communities, they may concurrently, from a library science point of view, perpetuate the traditional stereotype of the library as “a place to get free books.”

LEARN. PLAY. CONNECT. ENGAGE. CREATE. These are the sibling marketing terms that libraries and ALA should advertise along with the classic READ poster. These are the terms that help represent what libraries are all about. What terms would you like to see on that ALA poster at the bus stop?

Why Aren’t You Here?

In my travels this week, I noted that a certain north-suburban public library had not tweeted since June. Curious as to the reasons for the lapse, I decided I should contact the library and satisfy my professional curiosity. And I still might. Instead, I decided to blog about it.

It could be that the person who was tweeting took a position elsewhere and her position remains open. Perhaps delayed or slashed funds have left the library understaffed and short of time for social networking. Maybe the director has found that they simply have too few Tweeps to justify continual use of the network. Or maybe somebody decided the whole thing is just stupid.

Perhaps I should have my head examined, but I remain among those in LibraryLand who believe social networks are a great tool for not only contributing to professional discourse, but for seeking library ubiquity–for getting hyperlocal. Blah blah, yawn. I know. You’ve heard it all before. Still, one shouldn’t pooh-pooh the potential benefits of these simple cloud tools. They’re free. They’re fast. They’re reciprocal. They can be collaborative. They push programs, services, and your brand.

Yet many astute library professionals, particularly administrators, have yet to bring their libraries onboard the social media boat. Others have made brief appearances on social networks only to disappear soon after. Another suburban library, one whose director is notably proactive about marketing strategies, has no Facebook or other social network presence.

This is the part where I might write, Everybody else is already there, so shouldn’t your library be there too? But I know that everybody is not there. It may often seem like everybody is there, but the digital divide simply does not allow everybody that type of access. Many public libraries serve very small communities or communities comprised largely of poor and immigrant families who can’t afford daily computer and web access. Many of these people have little or no experience with computers or the Internet. Many others have no interest.

I’m not a library director. I don’t manage a staff of programming librarians, reference librarians, techies, clerks and pages. So I’m curious about the practical reasons why libraries don’t use social networks, particularly Twitter and Facebook.

Please share your thoughts and experiences.