Tag Archives: public libraries

Dig a little deeper to understand your story

Why do I think branding is so important for a public library?  It’s simple.  Going through the process of developing a brand for your library is one of the best ways to get your library to think about why it exists.

We can’t tell other folks what we do in a short, succinct statement if we don’t first figure it out for ourselves.  And in today’s sound bite world if you can’t convey why you exist very, very quickly you run the risk of ceasing to exist.

Your library’s “story” is the statement that explains why your library matters.  It isn’t your brand but it is the beginning of your brand.  It is your answer to the question “why does your library matter to this community?”

The biggest issue that librarians have when they are defining their story is that they get stuck talking about their library’s attributes.  Attributes are lists of what we do or products that we provide.  Our library is special because…we provide children’s services and we have great book groups and we are free (someone always wants to throw that one in) and we have WiFi.

We librarians are trained to think in lists.  We put together fiction lists and children’s book lists and lists of reading for teens.  So, it comes very naturally to us when developing our brand “stories” to think in terms of lists.

The problem with lists of attributes is that they don’t really define what makes you unique.  Every public library should have good customer service.  We all have children’s programs and sponsor book groups.  Those are all great attributes…but they are not what is unique about your institution.

To figure out what makes your institution unique and special in your community, ask your community to help you answer the following three questions:
1.  If your library disappeared tomorrow, what would people miss the most?
2.  Why does your library matter to this community?
3.  What do people come to your library for that they can’t get anywhere else?

To start with your answers are going to look like attributes.  They come to the library for our friendly staff.  They come because the library is a quiet, comfortable place to sit and read.  The library matters because it helps seniors figure out how to use the Internet and no one else in town does that.

Take a step back from simply accepting these answers at face value and start digging a little deeper.   Why do people want friendly librarians in their lives? Why is it important to people to have a quiet, comfortable place to read?  Why is it important for seniors to access the Internet?  If you can get answers to those second tier of questions you will be getting closer to the heart of why people really care about the library.

An example of how this might work:
I like the library because the staff are so friendly and warm and accepting and smart.
Do other places in town have staff like the librarians?
No.  I know it is a great town but sometimes it can feel a little unfriendly.  But when I go to the library I always feel welcomed and accepted by the librarians.  The library almost feels like home to me. 

So, the real story here is not that the library has great staff.  The real thing that matters to this individual is that there is one place in town where she feels truly welcome and at home.  That’s the story that will resonate with the public.  Finding your story can take some time and digging.  But, it really is the first step in developing a strong brand.

Moving now

This week I went to a library seminar in Augusta, Maine about ebooks and their impact on libraries. The key speaker was Jason Griffey who was thought provoking and fun at the same time – a great combination.

Griffey talked about “experiences becoming expectations”, the situation that occurs when folks encounter an easy interface with technology at home (like downloading a book onto a Kindle) and then come into the library assuming that their experiences in the library will be just as easy.  When libraries don’t deliver (try downloading an ebook from Overdrive), there is a huge gap between expectations and reality which can result in the loss of users.

He had a great statement that summarizes this situation – customers will almost always pick “cheap and easy versus free and hard”.  That is an eye-opening thought when you consider how often we public libraries like to tout that we are free, making an assumption that because our services are free we don’t have to worry about how difficult those services might be to use.  Seems pretty obvious that if we don’t find a way to make things easier, even our loyal supporters are going to stop coming back.

For the past year I’ve been feeling like the trends in technology are demonstrating an ever-increasing potential to either make or break the public library in this country.  Ebooks are not the only manifestation of that technology tsunami but they are certainly one of those most relevant to libraries.  My net take-away from this seminar was an increasing feeling of pressure.  If we don’t get technology and public libraries figured out VERY quickly we are going to become irrelevant even faster than we anticipate.

I think that technology has to move to the top of every library’s priority list – now.  Not six months from now but today. I f other things get moved way down the list, that’s ok.   I talked to Jason Griffey at the end of his presentation and asked him how long we have to figure out how to drive technology changes versus being driven by them.  He said 3-5 years – then we (libraries) get left behind. Yikes.  Pretty scary.  I better get to work.