The Jolly Librarian Ponders Getting the Word Out

Today, two students asked for help on research topics. They started out asking for books, which I didn’t have on those particular subjects. I suggested that the databases were a better place for these topics and showed them how to use them. I then told them they could access them from their computers at home. 

I enjoyed working with them, but I was a little bemused by their surprise that they should have access to such wonderful sources at their fingertips. After all, we (the various members of the library staff) speak at new student orientations. We tell new faculty about our services. We do orientations for all sorts of classes. There is an orientation online. The information is on our website, in the student handbook, and the college catalog. But each semester, I feel that there has to be a better way of promoting our services and that many students don’t use them because they simply don’t know about them.

Of course, in this information-drenched world we live in, it’s not uncommon for any one message to get lost. More than once, I have mentioned something to a library staff member only to receive a blank look in response. “You know, I sent an email about it last week,” I say. Still, no spark of recognition. And just last month, my friend Michele and I agreed to go to a concert. I managed to get the tickets and sent her an email the next day. Her response: “What concert was that again?”

Maybe you just have to be flashy in these days to be heard AND remembered. Maybe we should try one of the following:

  • give interviews where we look vaguely psychotic and announce, “Yes, I’m on a drug. And that drug is the library.”
  • star in a music video. Many libraries have gone that route, my favorite being “Librarians do Gaga.”  But there are two problems with that idea. One, my favorite band, Snow Patrol, has no music that lends itself to adding lyrics on the joy of searching databases. Two, my staff has threatened to quit if I make them gyrate on-screen.
  • make the library a ‘cooler’ place by being more exclusive. Perhaps we have been too open and welcoming in our approach. We could put a bouncer at the door and let him/her choose who is ‘cool’ enough to gain entrance on given night. We could change up the passwords to the databases, giving them out to only an exclusive few.   

But the problem is that library workers, by definition, want people to feel happy in the library. We want everyone to have access to our services. As a colleague who works in another library once said, “Some areas divide students into ours and theirs. But libraries see everyone as ours.”

So we’ll keep advertising our services, hoping to reach as many as we can, and depending on word of mouth. And we’ll always feel that we didn’t reach as many we could have. So it would be nice if you’d help us out. Tell someone about your library today!


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