An ongoing conversation about the changing landscape of public libraries.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Makeover @ the Library, continued - Selling Your Services

Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you can’t sell it.

We’ve all heard that question: what exactly do librarians do? Doctors treat disease, firefighters extinguish fires, and librarians… stamp books? To the general public it’s not really clear what librarians do. Granted public libraries could use a complete image overhaul via radio ads, billboards and their very own Super Bowl commercial, but we should probably start smaller. The best marketing happens one-on-one and begins right at the information desk!

Another comment I’ve heard all too often in library break rooms is staff complaining about trivial job responsibilities. “I got a masters degree so I can direct people to the restroom?” Lets think positively here for a moment. Why did you go to library school? How do you wish to define your job? Things are changing. We used to be just about books. Now I hear it’s information. Right this very minute we have the unique opportunity to define what exactly public libraries do.

I’m not suggesting we should stop pointing out the restroom when asked, but try advertising to patrons what you wish to do for them. And be creative! Think outside of that formal job description your supervisor gave you on your first day (that probably hadn’t been updated in about ten years). Take control of your image and start defining who you are and what you do!

Here are some creative ways to sell library services that will appeal to patrons and non-patrons:

  • Offer computer classes. From email to employment services to filing for financial aid, computer literacy is becoming increasingly vital for Americans young and old. Certainly you can teach introductions to word processing and the Internet, but if your patrons are bored then go beyond that. Try teaching a class about YouTube, Flickr, or LinkedIn – you may be surprised at who signs up!

  • Provide specialized services. Ask casual questions when you’re talking to patrons, and listen to the answers! I can’t tell you how many program ideas have come to me from quizzing patrons. Find out who these patrons are. A lot of the time they are teachers, authors, performers, and knowing this type of information will open a wealth possible services that you can provide.

  • Go above and beyond. People don’t remember adequate services – what they remember is when they are unsatisfied or super-satisfied! I’m so tired of running across posts on Twitter about nasty librarians. I want to start seeing tweets from people raving about their local librarian’s helpful service (but I’ll also settle for killer style).

  • Share your excitement! If you’re passionate about being in the information business, then let that show! If you’re not, then go hide behind the scenes - I’m sure there are some books that need to be shelved somewhere. Like it or not, even nonprofits are involved in sales - embrace your belief, or idea, or cause, and sell it!

Photo credit: Washington As It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959

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