Friday, December 9, 2011

Pantone's Color of the Year for 2012

It's that time again - time for something that I still can't believe is a big deal - Pantone has declared the Color of the Year to be "Tangerine Tango,"

Read all about it:

The official color is a super-saturated red-orange. I have to say, I haven't particularly noticed the trend. Last year, the bright pink that they called "Honeysuckle" (which I will forever call "carnation pink" thanks to the Crayola boxes of my childhood) was EVERYWHERE. You could look through the junk mail, and half of it was pink! I thought to myself, "Wow, maybe Pantone is really trend-connected." Now I'm not so sure - I guess I'll wait to see if my junk mail will start to be orange.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Interesting Articles

Shamelessly reposted from our library's wiki: two articles about libraries from non-librarians. Outside perspectives are always interesting. Wired magazine, on the topic of children's ability to evaluate search results: Make magazine on the future of libraries:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Our Brand is Books: a VLA perspective

I always find it fascinating to listen to the keynote speakers - what sentiments does an outsider bring to a group of librarians? Steve Almond, the keynote speaker at this year's VLA conference, was very focused on the experience of reading - he exalts it as a route to imagination, as a deep and potentially spiritual experience. He contrasted the experience of reading heavily against the experience of the internet and TV - in fact he described the fact that he no longer owned a television, he descried TV and the internet as too convenient and as imagination-killers, and expressed a sense that even audiobooks take something away from the experience of reading. (I happen to agree, but it's a personal preference issue for me.) He got a little smattering of applause for saying "Books have only one app - YOU READ THEM."

He also described, with affection and nostalgia, the old, dusty feel of the stacks, the slight mustiness of books, the sleepiness of the library. I hear this often, and I remember the feeling from my college-student days: the enjoyment of the aged feeling of libraries, the sense of peace. I could see the librarians around me nodding slowly as he described, with a writer's elegance, a very old-fashioned library experience.

I thought his speech, and the audience response, was very telling. I tend to think of "beyond books" as a given of the library world, and despite my personal preference for paper books, I think that embracing digital formats will be necessary to our survival. Is this the prevailing sentiment, and applause for paper books and quiet libraries just an expression of preference? or are more of my colleagues than I realize still tied to the library-as-books idea?

This train of thought carried through to my next session, where the speaker mentioned in passing the library brand of "books." This isn't something she made up - this is the result of OCLC research, showing that most people still associate libraries predominantly with books. (Get the full report here: It's the prevailing feeling in my library system that everyone already knows we have books, and that we should concentrate our marketing and branding efforts in other areas. The presenter of my second session made a different point. "Our brand is books," she said. "We need to embrace that." She talked a little about their "big read" program, with giant cutouts of the book they chose, and then of course book talks and programs and book reviews and lots of time on Facebook talking about the book. I can see her point. As she mentioned, people who like reading tend to love reading. Reading enthusiasts still probably make up the core of our customers. Should we be directing our efforts more towards those people, the ones already inclined to love our services? This is really a key question for library marketers.

As we search for advocates, this becomes an especially important issue. I've heard my coworkers talk about the all-important process of converting a user into a "super-user" - someone who loves the library, someone who tells their friends about their good experiences, someone who will advocate for the library when fundraising and support become issues. Will our program attendees, our computer learners, our meeting room users, speak up for us when we need them? Or do we need to tap into that nostalgia and affection, that worshipful attitude that comes from reading books?

I'm personally not ready to give up on "beyond books." We are and can continue to reinvent ourselves as so much more. And I think that the need for our own agora, a gathering place, an intellectual haven, a center of community,a place where you go to when you need smart help, is as sharp a need as my community possesses. Even past the need for workforce development, early literacy and health information, we need to recognize that education and personal development are necessary to a fulfilled life, and fulfilled citizens are necessary to a thriving community.

But as part of this, as part of transforming ourselves and our communities, it's clear that we need our roots. We can't alienate those lovers of reading, those nostalgic and passionate users for whom the library is almost a church. They are, perhaps, the heart of us.

Monday, October 31, 2011

VLA Conference 2011

On Friday I went to VLA. The circumstances were somewhat ridiculous - we had to leave the library parking lot in our county van at 5:45 in the morning, and I think we got back around 6:30 that evening. 12 hours of paid time for 8 hours of conference-time. I chose Friday because of "Connecting to Community" and "Measuring the Soft Stuff." (On a humorous side note: the marketing preconference was cancelled due to low attendance. Funny but also sad - I fear that people don't recognize that libraries need marketing, now more than ever.)

Here's my programme of activities and a synopsis of the sessions. I deviated somewhat from my planned agenda, with mixed results.

* * * * * *
Connecting with Community: Reinventing Your Library as a Community Hub
More practical and less theoretical than I had hoped. Spoke more about libraries in small communities, answering needs, like dental care and nutrition classes, where because of the rural community, the library served as the only point of access. Had some cool-but-standard program ideas - partnerships with businesses, work with other departments, etc. Their approach to programming is basically the same as ours.

The presenter did emphasize one firm, solid principle that everyone should take to heart - think recklessly about radical ideas.

I'd like to maybe use that "think recklessly" (or perhaps "no fear!") as part of an internal campaign to rethink our library. Right now I think that one of the obstacles towards library reinvention is hesitancy among the staff - they are uncertain of their authority, reluctant to disrupt the status quo. Big concerns: it's too loud, it's in the way, it might be disruptive, it's too much work. My answer? THINK BIG. THINK RECKLESSLY.

Keynote Speaker
Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak. Funny, engaging, a true lover of literature and therefore of libraries. A complete essay inspired by his speech (especially his impression of libraries) will follow. For now, I'll just say he's a speaker worth hearing.

Measuring the Soft Stuff
This is a two-hour workshop compressed into 45 minutes, and you can tell. A lot of stuff flew by on slides that I wish we could have spent more time on. We touched on brand management in general, library brands in particular, social media strategies like connecting on a personal basis, and the rule of thumb for online conversations (listen twice as much as you talk!)

The "measuring" part was focused pretty much entirely on social media, and Facebook specifically. But the inherent message was good:

First, set goals, and align those goals with your strategic plan. What do you want to have happen?
Second, get some measurements. (She offered some tools for doing this, mostly Facebook focused).
Third, Do something with your numbers. It's a measurement when you write down a number. It's a metric when you have something to compare it to: an expectation, a previous measurement, etc. She suggested spending time focused on statistics that can correspond to physical statistics: number of visits, questions asked and answered, things like that.

We got a good list of things to potentially measure, and I got a bit of information about a concept that's pretty new to me - the "listening post." This seems to be an online portal for keeping track of online mentions of a specific keyword - i.e. your library's name. I believe one of my coworkers is using Google Alerts, but I'm interested to see what else we can do to keep track of our presence online. I wonder if there is any way to filter by location? Mentions of "Chesterfield Library" are great, but what about tracking all mentions of "library" within Chesterfield County?

Using Quick Assessment Tools to Generate Meaningful Data from One-shot Instruction Sessions
Interesting information - academic-library focused. I went to see if there perhaps might be some relevance to computer instruction. I think the main obstacle towards implementing this strategy would be that non-students don't do homework or expect to take tests - could we get them to fill out assessments?

In terms of presentation, this was probably the best workshop I attended, mainly because the presenter had a realistic idea of how much information could fit into a 45-minute session.

Lean Library Management
A fairly basic process improvement workshop - "work smarter, not harder" - with a focus on developing a team of people to address a specific problem or inefficiency. Again, it's hard to fit much information into a 45-minute time slot.

What I appreciated most was that the presenter emphasized the importance of trust in this process. She talked about some of the reasons that people fear change, and about how those reasons boil down to trust. People may fear that a new way of doing things won't be as good as the old way, but if you get their input, they will trust the process. People may fear that they won't be good at the new way of doing things, but if they trust their organization, they won't be afraid of losing their jobs. People may fear that their input is being ignored, but if you get them on board at the beginning and give them ownership over the changes, than they'll trust that the new system is truly better. Since this was a workshop for managers, the main points were these: When your employees trust you, they will be less resistant to change. When you trust your employees, you get the full benefit of their knowledge and experience. She also mentioned that if you keep the conversation focused on "How will this help the patron?", you can probably get everyone on board.

* * * * * *

Overall, the sessions were good but not great. At no point during the day did I feel that spark of inspiration, that feeling of "Yes! This is a great idea, I have to tell everyone about this!"

In my mind I return to the math of hours. Me and one of my coworkers were both there for 12 hours - 24 man-hours at this conference. If we instead divided those between the 6 people in my office, we could all take a 4-hour retreat and talk about our ideas, our problems, our creative solutions. Next year, I think this might be a better notion.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Media Communications

We've been having some success in our media communications recently, so I wanted to share what we're doing.

These points apply particularly to our position as a public library and as a county department, but I hope that some of these points could be generalized.

First, we work as a group in advance to decide which events and new developments will be highlighted. We discuss this at our weekly meeting - what's going on that is newsworthy, trend-related, or strategically important. We make a small list of 3 or 4 items to focus on.

Next, we have designated a single point of contact in our office. One co-worker monitors our visibility in the news and on the web, sends information to the media, and works with the county's Public Affairs department. Which brings me to our next point...

We are working more closely than ever with the Public Affairs department. Our point-of-contact speaks with a representative from Public Affairs every week; they discuss our list of highlighted items and how best to publicize them. This connection to the knowledge and experience of the Public Affairs dept. has been invaluable. For example, sometimes they send press releases for us, and other times they use memorandums to reporters. What's the difference? We don't know, and now we don't have to - we're taking advantage of their experience to lessen our workload. Now not everyone has a Public Affairs department to work with, but a broader point applies - use the tools and experience you have available.

Our results? News stories (3 or 4 in the past month?), skyrocketing interest in programs and events, and a smoother workflow within the office, since we're not jockeying to position our own events at the forefront of the publicity efforts.

In brief: focus your efforts, have a single point-of-contact, and use the tools and shortcuts available.

Monday, August 29, 2011

I like your stye

Great graphic design work here. I especially like the oh-so-simple, two-color work of the Tyler Crowley and Jonathan Vassar album covers.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Retail Marketing Expo

Recently most of my department went to a Retail Marketing Expo, put on by the Retail Merchants Association. It was an interesting contrast to the library conferences we sometimes attend - a gathering focused on our job function rather than our industry. My boss thought it was "way more useful than all of us going to VLA." I'm not sure I agree, but I am glad I went. Here are some insights into the pros and cons of attending this event, and what we learned.

My goals: Get more information about advertising opportunities, get new ideas for marketing/advertising vehicles, make contacts that could be useful later. I know that others in my office were more interested in the networking and making contacts side.

What we gained: I got contact information for A LOT of printing shops. We do a little bit of outside printing, so this was useful information. We could see sample papers and other things that it's hard to do online. One of my coworkers was able to get several price estimates for a new type of publication we want to create. It was quicker than doing the same research over the phone and online, and it allowed us to start building those relationships.

We saw some striking and creative signage and displays, which really inspired us to think about the physical displays in our library. We're interested in getting out of the "shoestring" mentality, moving away from the "boxes covered with colored paper" paradigm, and starting to get some elegant, professional-looking displays up in our library. The catalog that we got from one display company will be endlessly useful as we explore possibilities for future displays.

We were able to talk with some companies where we otherwise might not consider their services, or where it might otherwise have been difficult and time-consuming to get cost information. For example: radio stations, Valpak, small magazines.

The downsides: I would say that about a third of the exhibitors weren't relevant to our interests (Payroll services, health care providers, "groupon" deals, credit unions) and another third were so completely out of our price range that it's unlikely we'll be able to use information from them anytime soon (marketing and branding consultants, TV stations, radio stations, app developers, event planners.)

Speakers: We also attended two "power sessions," which I think were supposed to be like a power-nap or a power-walk, with lots of oomph in a short time. The information was about what you would expect; little nuggets of info, nothing new or groundbreaking, more like a reminder and a conversation-starter.

The first session was "Taking the Work out of Networking" with Jim Roman. It was a very short session, and the speaker didn't try to fit too much information in. He stuck to a couple of key points:

  • Networking is different from marketing and selling. It's about building relationships, letting people get to know and like you as a person, to facilitate doing business later (not now.) Networking is about farming, not hunting. It's a slow process of cultivating your relationships, not a matter of finding someone to pitch to.
  • You only need 2-3 networking groups to find success. How do you find the right groups? Ask your best clients/customers what networking groups they belong to - rotary clubs, professional organizations, etc. People hang out with like-minded people, so if you want to find other great clients, that's a place to start.
  • Begin a relationship by offering something. Take someone out to coffee, find out more about what they do and what they care about, and figure out how you can help them. Help someone three times, and they'll help you back.

The second session was about social media, and it was a little disorganized. But there were still a couple of points that stood out to me:

  • Be engaging. (He actually said "enchanting", but we all agree that "enchanting" sounds too Disney.) It's not enough just to post - you should post something interesting. "Be fractious, be factual, be funny, be famous, be first."
  • Content is currency. Good content means views and likes, which translate into business.
  • Take disputes offline. Don't argue it out on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

VLA 2011 Annual Conference Schedule

The VLA Annual Conference schedule is out: With work piling up the way it is, I don't know if I'll actually be able to go, but I liked the look of several things:

One of the keynote speakers is Rebecca Kamen, a fascinating artist who explores the connections between art and science. She'll also be presenting a session on Thursday afternoon about altered book art!

One of the preconferences is about marketing. Social marketing, no less - and a good thing, too! It's time for libraries to get serious about our brand and our image. WE know that we're wonderful, and it's time that everyone else knew it too.

I see several cool and applicable sessions I'd like to attend, which isn't always the case. Conferences seem to mainly have sessions at 1) reference librarians and 2) library administrators. Ideas for programming and marketing are much rarer. But this conference has quite a few sessions that apply to publicity; in a different set of circumstances I could see myself happily spending 3 days in Portsmouth, chillin' at a hotel, going to conference events, and getting inspired.

Here's my ideal Marketing Agenda for the VLA Annual Conference, 2011:

10 a.m.-1 p.m. Can Libraries be sold as soap? (preconference)
Afternoon/evening: Skip second preconference about ghosts in Virgina. Bum around, blog, catch up on emails, "network."

10-11:30 a.m.: Opening Session, with keynote speaker Rebecca Kamen
noon-1 p.m.: New Members Round Table Forum Lunch (I'm thinking of joining VLA)
1:15-2 p.m.: What Can I Do with This? Deciphering Copyright and License Notices
2:15-3 p.m.: Sustaining your Professional and Scholarly Identity in the Digital Environment
3-4 p.m.: "Visit the Exhibits"
Since I'm not shopping for RFID systems or early literacy computers, I mainly watch for two things at the exhibits: design and trends. I pick up any literature whose design I like. I keep my eyes open for creative layouts and formats, and new ways of presenting information. And I look at the trends - how are library-focused vendors presenting themselves? What are they emphasizing? Are there any ideas - for example, interactive signage - that I might be able to take back and apply in some way?

4-4:45 p.m. Destroying Books, Creating Visions.
(Yes, this session would be an indulgence, but altered book art is so cool. Alternate session would be Advocating for Public Libraries: Online Tools and Tactics)
5-6 p.m.: Paraprofessional forum
Evening: Conference social. More "networking."

8-8:45 a.m.: Connecting with Community: Reinventing your Library as a Community Hub
This time slot is when I'd most like to have Hermione's Time Turner available - there are several good options.
9-11:30: General session
11:30-12:15 Measuring the Soft Stuff
1:15-2 p.m. Nothing good. Visit exhibits? Take a long lunch? Write a blog post?
2:15-3 p.m. Documenting the Civil War: The Civil War 150 Legacy Project
Digitization and scanning are all the rage. Better get on board.
3:15-4 p.m. Reading Images: Art Libraries in Norfolk, VA

If I make it, I hope to see you there! Conferences are important - not just for the information and networking, maybe not even mostly for the information and networking, but because they give us a chance to focus on the big picture. Details aside, just the act of getting together to discuss fresh ideas, long-term solutions and goals is incredibly valuable. In my opinion, the gain is doubled if you make time to share what caught your interest with your coworkers. If we can inspire each other, spark conversation, and get ideas flowing, we've spent our time well.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ask not what your partnerships can do for you...

(This article is brought to you in conjuction with Captain Obvious. Or maybe Lieutenant This-Should-Be-Obvious?)

Periodically, our department identifies other organizations that we believe would be good partners for the library. We then begin an interaction. Here is how it usually goes:

Us: We think you'd be a great partner. Want to help us with this project we're doing?
Them: Uh, I guess so.
[Minimal help is given] or [they stop returning our phone calls]
End of interaction.

A couple of weeks ago, the county's department of youth services contacted us about starting a partnership. Here's how the interaction went:

Them: We think you'd be a great partner. I noticed you have a project going on. I've thought of some ways to help. What do you think?
Us: Yeah, that would be great!
[help is given]
Them: Okay, here are some ways we can work our goals into your project. What do you think?
Us: Okay, sure!
Them: We have some other projects going on.
Us: Maybe we can help you!

See how much better that is? And it's all because they came to that first meeting saying "Here is how I can help you" instead of "Here is how you can help me."

Here are my takeaways:
1. Prepare. Be aware of current projects within your partner organization and take some time to think about how the library could support or enhance them.

2. Come prepared to give more than you take. Invest some time at the beginning of the partnership, and it will pay off later.

3. Bring your strengths to the table. By offering help, you're basically giving yourself a chance to demonstrate what you do well, thereby demonstrating your value as a collaborator.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Harry Potter Read-Alikes for Grown-ups

We all love Harry Potter. From fantasy fanatics like me, to the fantasy-wary, almost everyone finds something to like in the easy-readability, the fanciful world, the likable characters, and the strong sense of morality. Here's my list of Harry Potter "read-alikes" (books that offer a similar reading experience) for adults.

Sabriel by Garth Nix
This is probably the best recommendation on this list; if you like Harry Potter, you should read Sabriel. The title character is tough and appealing, as she faces an array of obstacles both creative and frightening. You'll love the world and its characters both.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Okay, I said I wasn't sticking to Juvenile Fiction, but I'll use it when appropriate. Gaiman is a genius, and The Graveyard Book is a great story. Even if you don't particularly care about fantasy, you should give Bod a chance to win you over.

The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold (Vorkosigan Saga)
The Harry Potter series is a great coming-of-age story; it watches Harry grow up, from age 11 to age 17. In a way, the Vorkosigan saga is the same; it starts Miles' story at 17, and watches him grow up from there. It's science fiction instead of fantasy, but it shares some charming qualities with Harry Potter. You can't help but love Miles, even when you don't agree with his decisions, and the books read fun and easy. If you love finding a new series to sink your teeth into, you'll be delighted to discover the Vorkosigan saga.

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik (Temeraire series)
I'm consistently struck by how much I like the characters in this series - I was hooked right from the start. The adventure is fun, and of course, there are dragons - who doesn't like dragons? But what really got this book on the list are the wider themes. Much like Harry, as the series progresses the characters must deal with not only their own dangers, but with a choice of how to behave in the face of wider injustice.

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card
How will an ordinary young man respond when he finds himself at the center of extraordinary circumstances, battling a legendary villain? The inner journey of the two main characters is the linchpin of this fairy tale.

On Fortune's Wheel by Cynthia Voigt
Character focused, thoroughly appealing. I like to bring up Cynthia Voigt when I talk about strong women in fantasy. Her characters have a true strength; not the leather-outfit, tough-exterior strength that you sometimes see, but an iron-at-the-core strength that will resonate with anyone.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Whether you love or hate The Lord of the Rings, don't expect The Hobbit to be cut from the same epic cloth. It's a great adventure story, extremely accessible, with a sense of humor and a lot of relatability.

Fairies of Dreamdark: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor
I've been trying to recommend books with a universal appeal; stuff that even a non-fantasy-reader will enjoy. This book is an exception. It isn't a story of rich characterization that explores the heights and depths of the human spirit. This is a fun adventure, starring. . . fairies! Awesome fairies, fighting evil powers. Trust me, it's a total blast, and if you liked watching Harry learn to live up to his destiny, you'll like watching Magpie do the same.

I'm happy to hear your additions to the list! Add in the comments, or mention on Facebook and I can repost. I've mostly stuck to fantasy, but don't feel limited. I almost put Voigt's Dicey's Song on the list, but On Fortune's Wheel won out.
Well, here's where I'm adding the suggestions that other people have for the list, and stuff I didn't think about the first time around.

His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman I purposefully left this off the first list, but I'll add it here along with her description (thanks Maya!): "It's a fantastic coming of age story whose narrative complexity follows the character's emerging adulthood. It's filled with complex issues and the need for true bravery."

Why I left it off: That very complexity takes the form of an increasingly conceptual story, touching on philosophical and religious issues. Characters (and therefore readers!) must cope with higher levels of moral ambiguity and personal tragedy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Trouble with Automatic Recommendations

Last week I was chatting with a coworker who said that she loved the Harry Potter books, but otherwise didn't read much fantasy, and she asked me what she should read. It got me thinking: there ought to be a Harry Potter read-alike list for adults. I'm hoping to make that the subject of my next post: a list of books for the adult Harry Potter fan.

I'd love to get suggestions, but I warn you: this will not be a list of books about kids learning magic. I want a list of books that capture the wonder and adventure, the likable characters, the easy readability, and the sense that it's important to do what's right.

Which brings me to the main topic of this post: automated book recommendations. They are terrible. I find the "find similar books" features on NoveList and What Do I Read Next to be utterly useless. (Amazon does a little better, but not much.) And I think I know why.

NoveList and What do I read next make decisions based on topic. They say "Oh, you liked this story because it's set in the deep south. Would you like to read some more books about the deep south?" Or "women detectives," or "coming-of-age stories." The problem is that topic rarely has anything to do with why I like a book. (Rarely, but not never. For instance, I like dragons. I'll read almost anything with dragons in it. And many people have similar affinities. But these affinities aren't a factor in a majority of my reading decisions.)

Amazon, of course, makes decisions based purely on "people who bought...also bought...", meaning that for any genre bestseller, the recommendations will consist of the rest of the bestseller list. Not helpful.

Our reading decisions are based on intangibles: tone, character, moral compass, etc. We need a system that reflects these intangibles. And Amazon's failure to produce useful recommendations from its one-dimensional rating system tells me that only a multi-dimensional system will work.

Harry Potter read-alikes for adults will make an appearance next time. In the meantime, another list: the factors that I think define what we like in what we read. (I envision these as sliding scales, not multiple choice.)

Setting and circumstances: realistic or fanciful?

Moral stance: clearly defined vs. shades of grey?

How many POV characters?

Pace: quick and easy, or slower?

"Fun" book vs. "serious" book?

Characters are motivated by: duty, revenge, survival, logic, emotions?

Characters are: likable and easy to identify with, or complex and flawed?

I know that's not everything, and I suspect I'll be adding to this list as time goes on. Feel free to offer suggestions!

What I wonder for the long term is, would this be workable as a rating system? Could Innovative, or NextReads, implement a rating system like this and create an automated system that would offer true read-alikes?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman

This book is a steampunk alternate history western, which sounds suspect, but actually it worked pretty well. The book had a LOT going for it in terms of creativity. The premise was truly creative, and the interesting ideas kept going all the way through. The pacing was EXCELLENT - the world and the characters were slowly revealed throughout the book, so that the feeling of discovery continued through to the end - just like it should in good speculative fiction!

That said, this book wasn't really to my personal taste. The premise involved too much NASTINESS - the book is all about human failings, and the destructiveness of hate and fear, and about how even our best urges turn wrong....that's not what I'm looking for in a fiction book! I also wasn't impressed by the storytelling - either there's a sequel coming, or the story ends at a very odd point. Since I like to read for character and story, this book didn't rank high for me. But in terms of world-building and originality, it's sublime.

Note: I have since heard that there is in fact a sequel coming. Thanks to Erica, and to the library's wiki!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"The future of the library" - Seth Godin and more


I have a lot of enthusiasm for the vision of library-as-community gathering place, and I really love Seth's vision of the library. As a voracious lifelong learner, I love this image of the library as "The vibe of the best Brooklyn coffee shop combined with a passionate raconteur of information." Frankly, that's the kind of place I've been looking for all my life - the kind of place I've always wanted the library to be.

We should be a haven of geek-chic, a convergence of intelligence, a world where "knowledge is power" is a proven truth, not a catchy bookmark.

So where do we start? Sadly (for me), I don't think a catchy bookmark will do the trick. As much as I'd love to single-handedly save the library by creating great publications, I think we'll need a much wider approach. Here are my suggestions for the small steps we can take to start down this road.

  • Put the staff forward as hubs of book conversation. Encourage us to show our love, our enthusiasm, and our personality in our conversations about books.
  • Staff suggestions should be well-displayed; don't just throw them on a shelf or cart. Take a lesson from bookstores and do some MERCHANDISING.
  • Don't give up on Book Discussion Groups. This oft-maligned but perennial library standard is based on a good solid premise: that avid readers like intelligent discussion about books.
  • If you have any kind of Small-Business Center (our library does), offer some opportunities for networking. Try doing some workshops aimed at business owners, or having a business-to-business bulletin board, or a meet-and-greet. We should be positioning ourselves as the hub of a network of RELEVANT information.
  • Connect with existing groups that use the library already. For example: author groups. homeschooling groups, chess or bridge clubs, and artist's associations already use the library as a meeting place. Think about how you can create a symbiotic relationship that will benefit the group and the library.
Or we could just build a coffee shop right in the lobby. I'm being flip about it, but really....the idea has some merits.

(Thanks to "The 'M' Word" for directing me to the Seth Godin piece.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Top Ten Tips for Brochure Design

(for libraries or anyone else)

1. Figure out the main objective of the piece. Is it an advertising brochure, or an information brochure? It cannot do both equally - you need to decide what is the top priority.

2. Think about the "vibe" you want the piece to have. Should it be accessible and welcoming? Sleek and corporate? Hip and trendy? Don't just wing this - decide in advance. It will help you as you select fonts, colors and photos.

3. Word and Publisher templates are not your friends. They're the cutting edge of design from the 80's. Avoid.

4. Clip art is not your friend. Clip art tends to make a publication look amateur. Even if you are limited to black-and-white, try using graphic elements (like large blocks of ink, and bold fonts) rather than clip art.

5. Avoid aligning elements right on the fold. Folding is almost never an exact science, so graphic elements that need to be folded just-so are likely to end up looking bad. Instead, build a small folding buffer into the design.

6. Cut down your text. Cut it drastically. Cut it in half. The more text there is, the less likely people are to read it. (I know, I know, this is a horrible thing to say to information professionals. But you have to do it.)

7. In that vein, don't explain things that don't need explaining. Saying "Free Wi -fi" is enough - you don't need to write a paragraph about it.

8. A single large image is better than a collage of images. I know it's tempting to try to include lots of pictures, to advertise all your different services and appeal to all your varied users. Restrain this impulse and select a few striking images to illustrate your main point.

9. Limit your fonts. Don't use more than two - and they should both be very easy to read.

10. Skim-ability is important. Use headings, and make them meaningful. Separate chunks of information with color blocks. Use bullet points.

Have fun!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Long-term Planning for Library Programming

My former boss (actually, like 3 bosses ago) used to make everyone who wanted to suggest a library program fill out a form. This form asked why we suggested the program, how it helped fulfil the library's mission, and more stuff like that. At the time, I thought it was the DUMBEST FORM EVER. And maybe it was, but since then I've come to appreciate the impulse that went into that form: the idea that we ought to be thinking hard about every single program we plan.

Since right now we are trying to increase overall program attendance, it's easy to approach this by trying to schedule more programs. At times, it seems like this becomes rather haphazard. People contact us, and we schedule a program. We have an idea, so we go for it.

But this approach has serious problems. Here are some of the issues that can (and do) arise when we fail to create a long-term plan:

1. Events not spread equally between branches.
Some libraries in our system are larger than others. Some have nicer facilities, some are more centrally located, and some staff express more enthusiasm. It's easy for events to develop a drift; we get in the habit of putting our large events at one or two branches, or a particular manager is always clamoring for children's events, and before you know it, some branches are slammed with events while others are ignored.

2. Seasonal ebb and flow.
Summer is a crazy-busy time for our department, because of the Summer Reading Program. So here is how our year usually goes: We are crazy-busy in May and June, getting the summer straight. We're so exhausted from that effort that we plan very little for September. But in August/September, we bring out all our new ideas, and plan TONS OF STUFF for October and November. Then we get busy publicizing that stuff, so we don't plan anything for December and January, until we get busy with the Winter Reading Program and Black History Month. Enthused from our winter break, we go NUTS with the events for April and May. WE get so caught up in our April and May stuff that we don't plan for summer as early as we should, so May and June are crazy-busy...and it all begins again.

If we had a clear map of how many events should be held each month, and a sufficiently long-term calendar, we could create a nice spread of events, with something great happening every month.

3. Competition between events.
When we all just schedule whatever we feel like, it's easy to get into a situation where each person in the office has a pet project needing to be publicized in May. Then we end up in competition for budget and advertising. What event will be the newsletter cover story? What will be the first slide in the slide show? We could plan these things in advance, and we would not only market more effectively, we would reduce office tension.

4. Haphazard or slapdash array of program topics.
This is key. What percentage of our time and budget goes to children's programming as opposed to teen programming? How many of our programs are interactive instead of lecture-style? How much money are we spending each year on musical events vs. author events?

Not only do we need to know the answers to these questions, we need to know what we WANT the answers to be. We need to know if our behavior is in line with definite goals and guidelines. In short, we need a long-term plan.

Of course, a plan for distributing efforts across months, geography and genre is only a subgoal. The true issue, the true beginning of such a plan, is the role of events in the library's mission. But that's a topic for another day.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A great article

Okay, this is a lame thing to post after such a long hiatus, but still:

The importance of interactivity cannot be stressed enough.

(Thanks to whoever posted this blog to our library's wiki!)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Magicians and Mrs. Quent

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, by Galen Beckett

You may pick this book up thinking "This could be a great combination of fantasy and regency romance." And for the first few chapters, you would be right; it's a Jane Austen parody/homage, with some excellent and surprisingly complex worldbuilding going on. But the author isn't really interested in writing a regency romance, so partway through the book we switch to being in a Bronte novel, and then later we switch some more.

I have the impression that the author wished to gracefully combine the elements of several classical authors, creating a complete story that poked fun, paid homage, and yet stood on its own. A difficult task, and I feel this book falls short of the mark. The changes in topic and style felt abrupt and jolting. A switch from third-person narration to first-person narration, even under a thin guise of being epistolary (the writing does not take the form of letters), is bound to jar my suspension of disbelief. Along with the changes in tone and writing style, I found that plot developments were often also rather abrupt. I sometimes had the feeling that characters and storylines were blundering along, not waiting for the reader to catch up. I felt a COMPLETE lack of emotional buy-in to a MAJOR plot development, and this caused some emotional distance from the characters. It was hard to live the story with them when I couldn't understand their feelings or behavior.

In fact, now that I think about it.....there's a large and significant portion of the book where I cannot figure out why it is there at all. In my opinion, the book would have been better without it.

All in all, this book disappointed me, because I felt like it was close to being great, but the elements just couldn't quite fall together properly. I suspect that the author had too many ideas for his own good, and he couldn't bear to set any of them aside for the sake of his narrative. It is clumsy storytelling, and since I read for story, that's a harsh criticism indeed.

There is a follow-up book, The House on Durrow Street. I will probably read it, in search of some kind of emotional resolution. Galen Beckett may parody Jane Austen, but he lacks the ability or inclination for true homage, because the emotional satisfaction of a Jane Austen book is ENTIRELY absent. Perhaps the second book will provide it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

All Things to All People: Large-focus versus small-focus marketing

There is a long-running, low-level debate in our library system about the target audience for our story times: should we design them for a specific age/reading level, or should we try to create broader multi-age appeal? Some people make the argument that by broadening the appeal, we are serving more children. Other staff say that these broadly-designed storytimes are losing their early-literacy benefits; since we can't design for a specific reading level, we can't focus on any particular skills, and the result is that we don't help anyone.

As I listened to my coworkers discussing this issue yesterday, I was struck by how well this debate applies to marketing as well. What works better, a "something-for-everyone" approach, or a targeted effort?

Something-for-everyone is a tempting path for library marketing because it is so true. A wide range of people use the library, and there's a wide range of people who don't use the library, who should. And yet, it is like nails on a blackboard to me when we start to create a new bookmark, and everyone starts (metaphorically) shouting out services that we ought to mention. "Put something about our new downloadable books! Add a bit about room reservations. Be sure to include this new grant-funded program we're running! Make it appeal to twenty-somethings, but also to seniors. Put in something about the small business resource center, because some of these moms might be business owners also!"


I realize that our print budget is tight, and that we would all love it if this one bookmark could appeal to all groups, and convey information about all our services. But by trying to cram in too many functions, trying to appeal to too many audiences, all we're really creating is confusion. Our marketing piece doesn't know what it's trying to say or who it is trying to tell.

How do we fix it? We target, and we simplify. We pick a group, like "Moms", and we tell them what the library can do for them. We tell them what a particular SERVICE can do for them. Then we have a piece that's truly versatile, because we know that wherever we take it or put it, when moms see it they'll think "Oh, that's for me."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What I'm Reading: Tolkien, Love, and Landscape

About three weeks ago, I finished rereading Lord of the Rings. Every time I read it I get something different from it, and this time I was deeply struck by the landscapes of the book. In the introduction, Tolkien talks about wanting to create a story that is deeply rooted in place, and for him the place was England. Tolkien's love for his land permeates Lord of the Rings; trees and hills and rivers and shafts of sunlight are described with caring (as well as careful) detail.

I think it's Tolkien's love for the landscape, rather than the physical features described, that makes me so inclined to picture Virginia when I think of Middle-Earth. Middle-Earth is described with love, so I respond by thinking of a place that I love. For weeks, Virginia has been infused with a fairy-tale glow; I see Middle-Earth in every mountain range, every gully. A city park takes on the green wonder of Ithilien. Central Virginia at sunset becomes the soft hills of the Shire.

For books one has loved from childhood, it can be hard to tell if your opinions were shaped by the books, or if you loved the books because they resonated with something you already knew or felt. But I don't think that Tolkien taught me to love landscape. I think that even in youth (and much more so today) I felt that Tolkien was illustrating something that was already deeply rooted in my mind and heart; a passion for the land around me.

Tolkien, for your many brilliances I salute you. Virginia, I love you dearly.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is this a library?

There's a lot of talk about the changing notions about libraries. Here's an interesting article:

Basically, this describes a "library" with a computer lab, comfortable seating, wi-fi, and meeting space - but no stacks. It's an interesting idea, and my imagination takes off as I think about what we could do with a large library space like that. A job search center? Large-group performance space? A teen area, where we could put out the Wii? Space to run art programs? There are a lot of fun possibilities.

One big question comes to mind: would you call that space a library? It's really more of a community center, and I can't decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing. "Free books" has been our primary function for many years, and it's still our single most unique service. However, in the age of the internet and the ebook, libraries are struggling to define and redefine themselves, and this is a definite redefinition.

But is it really a good idea? Is it justifiable to use taxpayer money allotted to libraries to open a computer lab/community center/performance space? Would a space like that help us fulfill our mission, and help our community?

Are we thinking outside of the right box?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tip of the Week from Captain Obvious: Don't Work Too Fast!

Captain Obvious Says:
Working too fast WILL lead to error. When you're writing, copying and pasting, proofreading, managing multiple versions of documents, and in general doing the things that people who work in publicity do, you must take your time. Good work cannot be hurried.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Consistency and Excellence: The Customer Service Debate

Here's a scenario:

On a quiet day at the library, you bring in your résumé. You come to the desk and ask me, "Is there someone here who can look at my résumé?"

Now, résumé proofreading is not a service that the library normally offers. However, I used to do résumé critiques in the Career Services office at UVA, so I'm completely qualified to look at your résumé and offer comments.

How do I answer?

The obvious answer is "Say yes!" Do whatever you can to help your customer, right?

"Say yes" is not the prevailing answer in library-land. Many of my coworkers would suggest treating your question as a reference question: "Here are some books and websites that can help you, and the Virginia Unemployment Commission will look over your résumé," and so on. Why would they say this? Why direct you to an hour-long struggle with books and websites, when all you want is a 10-minute critique?

Consistency of service. This notion is so important that it has found its way into our library's mission statement. Not excellent customer service, consistent customer service.

Why is this so important? Let's have some variations of our scenario:

If you come to the library when it's busy, there's no way I will have time to spend 10 minutes critiquing your résumé.

If you tell your friends how helpful I was, and 20 of them visit the library expecting help with their résumé, there's no way I will have time to help them all, even if I happen to be at the desk when they arrive. It's even more likely that I won't be there, and your friend will walk up to the desk and say "I need my résumé looked at."

My coworkers will say "I can help you find some books and websites."

"I don't want books, I just want someone to proofread my résumé. My friend said you would do that here."

"No, unfortunately we don't do that here, but maybe I can help you find an organization that can help."

"But my friend got her résumé looked at here last week. Do you mean I drove all the way here for nothing?"

This is the point when my coworkers (and your friends) begin to feel that I haven't done anyone any favors by helping you with your résumé.

This is just a brief introduction to a long-running debate, and I want to make it clear that I understand both sides of the issue. But where do I stand?

I confess: my "scenario" was a true story, and none of my hypothetical downsides came to pass. All that happened was that I helped someone.

I'm on the "use your expertise and help the customer" side of this debate. Library workers aren't all the same. We have different areas of interest and expertise. If you want to chat about the latest fantasy novels, I'm a good person to talk to; if you want to chat about westerns, you might want someone else. We complement each other with our strengths, and we are all here because we want to share our information and knowledge with others. We should neither hide our differences nor waste our talents. If we can help, we should help. That's the route to customer service excellence, and personal excellence as well. That's my take on the issue.

Monday, February 7, 2011

My Day in Design, February 2011

It's the Philadelphia edition of My Day in Design. These are items I found while cleaning out my grandparents' old house. There's some architectural elements, and some cool vintage graphic design. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

SEO: Quick Tips for Libraries

If you've already heard a bit about SEO, you may find the idea terrifying, because the potential scope is so large. It can be a huge project requiring a great deal of time and expertise. But please don't run away screaming; I've got some quick tips that can get you started.

(I already know what SEO is; I want to skip straight to the tips)

Or you may be wondering, What on earth is SEO? Well, I'm glad you asked, because I've been doing some reading, and I'm learning a lot.

SEO is Search Engine Optimization. Basically, this means "making sure that people who are looking for you (whether they know it or not) can find you. So: you want them to be able to find you if they google you; for example, if they type "marketing non librarian." You want them to be able to find you even if they can't remember the name of your organization: "publicity not a librarian" (you can see that I don't turn up here at all, so I obviously need some tips!) Ideally, you want to be at the top of the page when someone searches for what you do: "library marketing blog" (again, not in the list.)

This applies to libraries in a big way. Don't you want people to be able to find you when they search for "teen events [yourtown]"? Or "job search help [yourtown]"? Or when they search for your annual "humpty dumpty festival"?

Of course you do! And there are some very simple things you can do to help this happen.

1. Web pages should have meaningful titles. Don't just have the title of every page say "Mytown Public Library." Include some descriptive information, such as "Mytown Public Library - Job Search Resources" or "Mytown Public Library - Teen Events." (By "title" I mean the stuff that goes inside the "title" tag, and shows up in the bar at the top of the window. But this could also apply to the headings you use.)

2. One topic per page is best. If something is important, it needs its own page. If your annual Humpty Dumpty Festival is a big deal, don't bury it in a mile-long listing of events - give it its own page, and this will help search engines find it.

3. Put relevant text on the page. So you've created a page for your Humpty Dumpty Festival. Don't just upload a pdf of your flier and leave it at that. Add some text that will make sense if you see it in the search results: "The annual Humpty Dumpty Festival is held the third weekend in September at the Mytown Public Library."

4. Don't put important information in images or in Flash. Search engines can't find words in images or Flash. So if important information - like the topic of a page or the name of an event - is only displayed in an image or in Flash, Google will not find it. If you're using images to convey information, be sure to use alt tags on the images. If you're putting information in Flash (for instance, in a slide show) then make sure the information is also available elsewhere in text format.

5. Links are important to search engines. In some way that I don't fully understand (yet), it changes your search rankings when you link to people, and when they link to you.

How do I get people to link to me?
I don't know! This is a tough question. I can offer a few suggestions:
-Take advantage of your community partnerships; offer to link to their site if they can link to yours.
-Add your events to online event listings. Your local paper, or other local sites, may have a section where you can list your events for free. This builds links, and as an added bonus, you get free publicity!

I'll leave you with a few articles about SEO.
This claims to be a list of basic tips, but it's not; it's a quick run-though of the potential scope of search engine optimization:

This is one of the nicest bare-bones guides I've seen:

A super-intensive (and graphically excellent!) beginner's guide: (full disclosure: I haven't read it all. But what I read seemed good!)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: a Love Letter

Don't worry, I'm not going to use the direct address. No odes here. But I am going to use this opportunity to talk about some of the many things I love about this book.
Why I love the cover:
I like the striking black and cream, and the simplicity of the design.

I especially like the starkness of the raven.

I love the font. I love the unevenness of it. I love the sharp point on the second stem of the N. I love the sweeping tail of the R. I love the asymmetrical slants on the beaks of the T. (Sorry if the terminology is confusing. Just look at the T and how it is asymmetrical, you'll see what I mean.)

And I love how well the odd, antiquated feel of the cover goes with the content.
Which brings us to...

Why I love the novel:

Pacing. This book doesn't rush; it takes its time revealing character, setting, system of magic, and story. There are footnotes. But by the end, I was utterly gripped. I stayed up until 4 in the morning to finish this book.

True unpredictability. I really enjoy not knowing what will happen, and the events of this book are truly original.

Love of books. It's a pervasive theme throughout the novel, and (of course) it rings deeply true for me.

Atmosphere. Victorian, gloomy, and mystical. Reminds me of the art of Arthur Rackham - check out this site and particularly, this image.

"Getting the magic right." When I read a fantasy book, one of my criteria for rating the book is the system of magic: is it well-conceived? Is it consistent? Essentially, is it believable?

Well, the system of magic in this book is well-conceived and believable, but for me it goes one step beyond that. When I read this book, there's a part of my brain that goes "Yeah! That's how real magic is!" It's much like I feel when I read a book with a child character, and the child character actually behaves like a child. I think "Hey, they got it right! That's what a kid would really do." Well...apparently I believe in magic, and apparently I believe that real magic is structured the way it's structured in Jonathan Strange.

Which is funny, because if you were to ask me, "Hey, Kate, if magic is real, what's it like?" I would describe something completely different. I would maybe have cited "Poison Study" or "The Name of the Wind." But neither of those books rings true for me the way Jonathan Strange does.