An ongoing conversation about the changing landscape of public libraries.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Make Your Library Remarkable

Public libraries set the bar really low. In general, we create a boring environment with bland products and mediocre services. But this doesn’t have to be the case, and I think libraries can learn a lot from the business world. I just finished reading Purple Cow: Transform your business by being remarkable, by Seth Godin. What follows is a list of advice from Godin and how I think it can be applied to public libraries.
  • Users are interested in services that are remarkable. Most libraries are boring, bland, stagnant. As Godin says: “Stop advertising and start innovating.” Consistently good service is not enough; libraries have to be innovative. Does your library make people say “wow”?
  • Key to promoting is to get the message to the right users, not the most users. Who are the right users? “Sneezers”: patrons who will spread your message. Example: high school and college students, and nonprofit organizations. Social networking was available for a while, but it didn’t become hot until teenagers helped spread it. Focus on groups that will spread your message!
  • Think about niche markets that are being underserved. Example: students, job seekers, grant seekers, immigrants. Are there gaps in your collection? Can you improve your services to any of these groups?
  • Libraries need to provide services that fascinate people. Example: video games. People either love or hate the idea of video games in libraries. Regardless of their feelings, it gets people talking about public libraries. It generates publicity. What other services can public libraries provide that will really wow people?
  • Be aware of your competition. Know who your competitors are and what they are doing. Competitors might be nearby libraries or libraries that are leaders in the field. Find out what competitors are doing well and what they are not doing well. Use this information to improve the services at your own library. The status quo is not good enough – we have to be surpass the expectations of our users..
  • Be obsessed with creating a great experience. Libraries are always an option, but what can we do to make the public library the first option? How can we make our services remarkable?
For more on these ideas, read Seth Godin’s Purple Cow (Portfolio, 2003).

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Adult Gaming @ Public Libraries

I love video games in libraries. But the whole concept of gaming programs in public libraries is often sold as a lure for reluctant patrons, and I think this is misguided. I think there are two major benefits to gaming programs.

Lets be honest, libraries (and librarians) have a lot going against them, from the stereotypes of being a boring place and enforcing noise policies to just a shear lack of funding. From a marketing standpoint one of our biggest challenges is to remind patrons young and old that public libraries are relevant to their lives. The library shouldn’t be a place to take a break from the fast pace of the real world, it should be the center of the community – a place where people go to do things!

As reported by the Entertainment Software Association, the gaming industry continued to grow in 2007, outselling music and movies in total revenue. It’s important for public libraries to play a role in the gaming world. We don’t have to be the first choice, but libraries need to at least be in the conversation. Gaming programs at public libraries remind patrons that we speak the same language.

But more importantly, we need to start seeing video games as learning tools. It’s been suggested that gaming doesn’t fit into the mission statements of public libraries, but I disagree. It’s simple: games encourage learning. Although everyone says this differently, the primary mission of most public libraries is to support educational activities within the community. Gaming has many positive impacts, including:
  • Teamwork
  • Socialization
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Basic technology skills
  • Problem-solving
  • And probably more that I’m overlooking

But hold on - these results are not just beneficial to young people; there are plenty of adults who could improve these skills. Education is a lifelong process, and gaming programs in public libraries is another way to help patrons improve their lives.

Unlike their younger counterparts, older adults may not attend gaming programs willingly - it may take some serious encouragement! 

Many older adults have finally come around to personal computers, but the gaming world is completely foreign to them. Gaming is the realm of their children and grandchildren, and many adults are reluctant to show their ignorance with this technology. The trick is to get them in front of a game - like Wii Tennis - and put that controller in their hands. Once they start interacting with the games, they will be sold.

Be sure to have staff members of all ages around to help patrons get the hang of it. The result that I’ve been most impressed with is the interaction between the teenage staff and the senior patrons!

For more information on starting or continuing gaming programs in your library check out Gaming - Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki.