He who falls in love with himself will have no rivals.
On January 29 I attended the annual joint meeting of Baynet and the San Francisco SLA chapter. The main speaker at this event was Sarah Houghton, who is the director of the San Rafael Public Library and maintains the Librarian in Black blog. The title of her talk was “The Wrong Love.” Her subject was a critique of the common “I Love Libraries” marketing messaging. She made the argument that this is completely turned around from what library messaging ought to be, that libraries instead should be promoting the message “Your Library Loves YOU.”
During the questions after the talk, a corporate librarian asked for Ms. Houghton’s take on how “your library loves you” could be applied to a corporate environment, since the culture in many special libraries is different from that of most public libraries. Ms. Houghton addressed this by saying that a more corporate spin on this message might be focusing on the library’s service orientation and letting patrons know what the library can do for them. Even in a more formal businesslike environment, one of her main points, “focus on the community, not on yourself,” still applies. I found both the talk and this question/answer very thought-provoking in terms of libraries demonstrating their value to their communities, and it was interesting going through the readings this week with this recent talk in mind.
In Subject to Change, Merholz et al discuss how one view of customers is simply as consumers, as a means to make a profit (Merholz et al, , 2008, p. 41). Libraries don’t see patrons as a source of profit, of course, but it struck me that the “I love libraries” message–urging patrons to give libraries their “love,” their support, their votes for bond measures!–is a kind of nonprofit version of viewing them as a source of profit. Rodger argues that libraries need the larger entities of which they are a part (whether those are a city, a university, or a business), and they need to give value back to their host systems (Rodger, 2007). This seems like another way of saying “your library loves you”–that is, a library needs to offer what is wanted by the members of the host system. It is certainly advantageous to do some marketing to convince the host system that the library is valuable and desirable, but focusing exclusively on how “lovable” libraries isn’t as useful towards this goal as showing people what desirable experiences the library has to offer. (“Think not what the patrons can do for you…)
As for other views: I don’t think libraries are particularly disposed to view patrons as sheep who are waiting to be told what to do. Tasks and goals orientations or rational actor views are probably more common, especially in academic or special libraries, where people usually are pursuing specific professional goals. This type of thinking is fairly useful, since we do need to allow patrons to accomplish goals, but without knowing more about people, its hard to anticipate tasks and goals that patrons would appreciate, but haven’t thought of yet. Public and school (K-12) libraries probably have the most focus on the human factor. Seeing patrons as whole people is necessary for being able to develop new desirable experiences. If we focus on tasks and goals–”that patron wants to check out children’s books”–we might simply have a checkout station. But if we realize, “that patron wants to enrich her children and also make her life easier by finding something to amuse them, even though it is a struggle to get out of the house with little kids”–we might put a bead roller coaster next to the checkout station so that she can take a few minutes to check out books without being distracted by fidgeting toddlers.
During her “Wrong Love” talk, Ms. Houghton pointed to the “I Love Libraries” website. She asked the audience, “and who does it sound like this website is for?” The answer was that it sounds like it is a site for library patrons, which she agreed to but then said, “But if you look at the website, it really looks like it is a site for librarians.” That is, it’s a site for librarians to cheerlead themselves. I was reminded of the Bain Company survey mentioned by Merholz et al where they found that while 80 percent of companies thought they offered a “superior experience” but only 8% of customers agreed (Merholz et al, 2008, p. 104). That is a pretty big disconnect between the service provider and the customer. Sadly the number didn’t really surprise me; I have worked in a lot of high tech firms, and the internal messaging, especially at company wide meetings, is often focused on how awesome the company is (or how “lovable”). Maybe it’s fine as a way to cheer ourselves on, but it is an error to mistake this pep rally type of talk for reality.
Research helps reduce this disconnect between how awesome we think we are (because of our good intentions), and how awesome the experiences we provide actually are. We need research to see what is, not what we assume is true or think should be true. Quantitative research (like simple surveys or demographic analysis of a population) can provide a useful framework–the Bain Company survey is certainly a wakeup call, for example. Qualitative research methods, however,S get at a deeper understanding why things are happening (Merholz et al, 2008, p. 61).
Friends can help each other. A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself – and especially to feel. Or, not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at the moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is.
Design thinking and empathy can help libraries truly see people as they are, and “focus on people’s real lives” (Merholz et al, 2008, p. 100). Really seeing people will enable us to offer superior experience.
Merholz, P., Schauer, B., Verba, D. & Wilkens, T. (2008). Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.
Rodger, E.J. (2007). What’s a library worth? American Libraries: September 2007, 59-60.