Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Extreme Makeover: OCLC Sympoisum at ALA

It's not the Symposium that is being extremely made over but it is the topic of the afternoon's talks at ALA Midwinter. Unfortunately we are not offering makeovers for audience members--or OCLC staff, for that matter, although on the mornings I look at myself and think, "good grief, it's my mother!" I would be most grateful for an extreme makeover.

No, this makeover refers to our collective community, our industry, Libraryland, and is related to the report we just issued called Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources . Respondents to the survey that the report is based on generally like libraries, generally hold the information they get from librarians with reasonably high regard, and even use libraries with some regularity. But, there are some service gaps that need to be discussed, at the very least. Many respondents do not think much of the environments of the libraries they use--cold, dirty, no comfortable chairs, surly staff, confusing layouts and poor signage, inconvenient hours and locations--and most respondents associate libraries with books.

Now, this association with books is perhaps not one we want to discard or change as it is so very clearly important to people and is also important to people who work in libraries. But, what "industry", be that a clothing store, a church, a restaurant, or a car maker, wants to be associated with bad service and unpleasant surroundings? And beyond this, what "industry" wants to be known predominently for "products" that represent only a fraction of their offerings--and the oldest product line, at that? Libraries spend a bazillion dollars on electronic resources for their communities and as far as we can tell, they may as well have donated all that money to Oxfam or Doctors Without Borders and few people would have been the wiser.

Many librarians see Google and other search engines as competitors to libraries that must be beaten at their own game….many librarians still want people to begin searching at library websites because that’s where the “good” information is. This won’t ever happen, but a lot of energy and time is being spent on speaking and writing about the library as an alternative to search engines.

We’ve (well, I have, for sure) started to dig a little deeper into the published literature on peoples’ perceptions and use of libraries over decades (mostly in the US) and have discovered that it’s likely that only a minority of the population has ever used libraries which suggests that attempts to increase use do not provide the simple answer to increased support of libraries. Likewise, marketing of content to people isn’t likely the simple answer either as content is no longer the differentiator it used to be.

One differentiator of the library is in its role in the community in supporting the educational, recreational and leisure interests of all people, and in supporting citizenship and democracy but expression of this role has been muted lately in the library profession as attention is focused on providing content and services virtually, and on the encroachments of the Amazons and Googles.

So, we asked some clever and thoughtful people to come to San Antonio and talk to Symposium attendees about the issues suggested by the report. Hosted by Cathy De Rosa, mine and Alice's boss and OCLC Vice President of Marketing and Library Services, the panelists are: Antony Brewerton, Subject Team Leader at Oxford Brookes University; Patricia Martin, President and Founder of LitLamp Communications Group, Inc.; Jennifer Rice, President of Mantra Brand Communications; and Omar Wasow, Executive Director of and Internet Analyst for NBC.

I'll provide details about them, including links, in my next post.


Alice said...

And can I just express how excited I am to have Omar Wasow and Andrei Codrescu at the same ALA?!?!

Long-time IAG followers know my affection for Tavis Smiley's now retired program on NPR. Omar was/is a regular contributor to that show and to its replacement, "News and Notes." Of course, Ed Gordon and Tony Cox do a fantastic job, as well. I always look forward to hearing what "brother Omar" is thinking about. And as my man Tavis says,
Keep the faith!

Kris Johnson, Citizen said...

On the topic of librarian're in luck!! Check out Look down the page under Target Stories. #2 is looking for either a librarian or a cancer survivor. Hmmmmm???? --Kris Johnson--

George said...

Alice, Tavis is back on public radio, but he works for PRI now instead of NPR. Check out his site at
He's carried here in Columbus on WCBE on Fridays.