A few weeks ago a post in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Surprising Gadgets, Not Just Books Are Ready for Checkout at College Libraries,” made the rounds on my Twitter feed. Comments from folk in my PLN ranged from the slightly snarky, “Really? It must have been a really slow news day over at the Chronicle of Higher Ed” to the affirmed, “It’s nice to know we’ve been ahead of our time.” My reaction to the post, I think, was along the lines of, “Libraries and librarians have the #WorstAdvertisingAgencyEver.” I didn’t think much about the hashtag at the time, but the more that I think about it, the more that I think it is the painful, honest truth. Our profession is incredibly bad at advertising and publicizing ourselves.
Think about it. In the year 2014, how on Earth can it be a surprise to anyone that libraries loan things out other than books? Libraries in areas where I have lived have loaned out movies and video games for as long as I can remember. School libraries in areas where I have worked have loaned everything from DSLR cameras to tripods to video cameras to audio books to laptops to computer chargers to phone chargers. You name it and a library somewhere has probably loaned it. Heck, the public library in Calcasieu, LA even is developing a circulating collection of cake pans and they’re thinking of making fishing rods available to patrons at another branch. Libraries and librarians are meeting needs in communities, both larger public communities and in our independent school communities, far and wide which begs the question, “Why are people surprised that we (libraries and librarians) do things like loan out computer chargers?”
Yes, in library school we learned about “library advocacy,” but I’m sorry, the days for mere advocacy have come and gone. We need to get out into our communities and sell the [insert expletive here] out of what we do.
“But, Dave, I’m not a salesperson. I don’t know how to sell.” Well. If we want librarianship to live on into the third decade of the new millennium–that’s a problem. We are librarians. We know to how to locate tools and resources that help us solve problems. So let’s solve it. Start off by reading Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human and then go out and sell, sell, sell. Sell information to kids and sell your information services to your faculty and administration.
Here’s the thing about sales. A good salesperson listens to customers and is prepared to give customers what they want. Lots of librarians are good at this! #Yay
To be the top salesperson and win that all-expenses paid trip to Disney World, however, we’re going to need to get in there and show teachers and students that they need services that we provide even though the may not have known they needed them–That it has been a horrible injustice for them to not have known that they, indeed, need our expertise and our high quality resources. Nobody needed a gigantic iPhone that did everything except make phone calls until Apple showed us that we, indeed, all “need” an iPad. Teachers and students don’t know, what they don’t know…
So now that, that ranting is over. Here is my plan for shoring up my own dicey selling skills:
- Share/Publish – I had the great fortune to be able to attend a presentation on social media by Josh Stumpenhorst (@stumpteacher) at the 2014 Schools of the Future Conference here in Honolulu. One of the the great takeaways I got from his presentation was that it is all educators’ moral responsibility to share our work. “An idea that is standard, everyday stuff to you is a brilliant a-ha revelation to someone else.” Please make the time to blog and tweet about the great things you are doing in your libraries. Our profession will not survive if you don’t.
- Step Out of the Shadows – I blogged and tweeted under a nom de plume for a long time. About a year and a half ago, we were hiring a technology integration specialist and when I got a resume the first thing I did was Google the applicant. People with no online presence in their real names barely got a second look. At that point I realized that I needed to step out from the shadows and put my name on my stuff. The simple act of putting my name on my stuff has lead to some amazing professional opportunities because people know who I am. I’m no better a librarian than I was previous to doing it, but people can find me now. It makes all the difference.
- Do Professional Development with People other than Librarians – I absolutely LOVED last year’s AISL Conference (and Toronto and New York previous to that), but I won’t know how to sell my services and product line to my customers unless I get out of the library world and see what is trending in the rest of the world of education. If you are looking for learning opportunities, I highly recommend next year’s Schools of the Future Conference here! And if it is not to your liking, well… You’ll be in Hawaii!!!
- Keep the Store Looking Fresh – Selling information services is really hard if we don’t have customers around to whom we can sell our wares so we’re working on making sure we have a physical environment that keeps our customers coming back. Institutional gray walls… Farewell!!! “True turquoise” wall with “Orange Slice” accent trim… Hello!!! Added bonus… We’re putting ReMARKable clear coat paint over the blue so our customers will be able to write on the walls with dry erase pens… #Yay #LetsHopeItsNotaDisaster #LOL Many other libraries that I know are putting in comfy chairs and, #gasp, even letting kids eat!!! (We’re okay with drinking, but I’m not there on the eating yet… We’re in the sub-tropics. Have you ever seen the size of roaches in the sub-tropics? Think, “B-52 cockroach…”). There are even some very reasonably priced ways to keep the store interesting as long as we remember how to tell good stories with our spaces like Stacey Goodman, a teacher in Oakland, does with his classroom.
- Have a Good Product Mix – We are super fortunate to have an administration that wants the library to be a vital part of our school learning and innovation culture. We recently got a 3D printer and plans are in the works for Google Glass and other tech tools to circulate via the library. We don’t know how to use the 3D printer yet or how we’ll use the Google Glass, but when the opportunity comes, just say, “Yes!” and figure the rest out later. I can learn how to use the 3D printer and what to do with the newest, coolest gadgets, but if I say, “No, that’s not what we do in the library” somebody else on campus will be excited to take it on. I’d rather be a part of the mix. It doesn’t have to just be about fancy gadgets, though. Need a pair of scissors? We have them for you to use! An adhesive bandage? We have those, too! Clear tape? Got it covered! If you need it, there’s a pretty decent chance that we’ll loan it to you (even if it is from the librarians’ personal stashes).
I hope that this post doesn’t come off as being too strong. I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings. It just makes me sad to see so many librarians doing really wonderful, important work and not being honored for the value they add to their institutions.
It’s time for us to get out, close the sale, and win those all expenses paid trips to Disney World!
Start selling right now! Don’t just read! Click on comment link below and share your sales techniques with the rest of us! What is a standard everyday idea to you might be the tip that sends one of the rest of us to Disney World! #DisneyWorldorBust
What should we ride first? #FirstWorldProblems