Making People Pay Attention to Libraries

The Creating Passionate Users blog has some wonderful posts that often really get me thinking about ways to provide our users with better experiences. Kathy Sierra’s post, Competing for attention (i.e. why you need to be provocative), makes a compelling argument that we need to do something provocative in order to capture the attention of our client base. Kathy has a great pie chart with all of the different types of things that compete against each other for attention in one’s brain. Because there are so many things that compete for our attention, something needs to be very provocative in order to make us pay attention. Kathy writes: “We can moan all we want about how the responsible person should pay attention to what’s important rather than what’s compelling. But it’s not about responsibility or maturity. It’s not even about interest. It’s about the brain.” This statement made me stop and think and think some more. I think that libraries often see themselves and their mission as important – and believe that people will use libraries because of that importance. I wonder if this is part of the reason that libraries have not been great at marketing themselves historically – since we often see ourselves as serving an important function in people’s lives, we don’t believe that we need to get people’s attention. Kathy offers some suggestions on getting people’s attention: being provocative, being visual, being different (breaking patterns and expectations), being daring, changing things regularly, inspiring curiosity, posing a challenge, being controversial and committed, being fun, being stimulating, exciting and seductive, and helping users have hi-res experiences. While I don’t think that I will be able to use all of these suggestions, it seems to me to be a great way to challenge myself and my way of thinking about things in order to compel our users – to provide them with something that they would be interesting in using – to provide them with services they want to use – to provide them with spaces they want to visit.

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3 Responses to Making People Pay Attention to Libraries

  1. Phyllis says:

    You make a valid point about libraries seeing ourselves as important to people so we don’t need to market. We have assumed that people will come because we are a “community service”. Also, in the past we have not aknowledged that our users have options. The days are past when we can afford to be low-key. Our users can go elsewhere to get much of what they want. We can’t afford to linger in the background any longer.

  2. […] Read the complete Creating Passionate Users post “Be Provocative“.These concepts apply to our buildings, our webpage, our programs, ourselves.  Life As I Know It says that libraries see themselves as so important to people in their communities and that, historically, they don’t market themselves. […]

  3. Bob says:

    I attended Kathy’s seminar, Creating Passionate Users, at one of O’Reilly’s ETech conferences a couple of years ago. It was everything I hoped and I’ve been reading her blog ever since. I am responsible for a library Web site so the idea of creating repeat visitors to my site — and not just for the catalog — is of interest. She’s talked at length on her blog about allowing your customers to achieve small successes encouraging them to continue in their quest. Kathy used to be in the game design business and that’s a perfect example of a setup where the players have small successes, they move to the next level, have more successes, etc., and they end up feeling like winners.

    At that same conference — and I wish everyone remotely interested in IT could have been there — I was at a session called FAB given by an MIT fabrication professor, Neil Gershenfeld. After his presentation about the building of devices there was a panel discussion. One questioner in the audience said he would like to provide the space and equipment for “poor people” to make their own devices. Where could he find such spaces? One of the panelists said, “How about libraries? No one uses them anymore.”

    This wasn’t a library convention, in fact I was probably the only library employee out of the 1500 member audience so there was no commotion, (hell, there probably wouldn’t have been a commotion if it HAD been a library convention, but that’s a topic for another post) but it did occur to me that on that very same day, there was a Computers in Libraries convention going on in D.C. where 500 or so people would probably have been very surprised to have heard his comment.

    So, as you’re well aware, technology, computers, and the Web continue to change at an astonishing pace. These changes affect many aspects of our lives, some subtle, some less than subtle. Netflix is making video rental stores obsolete. Digital photography has made darkrooms a thing of the past. Airbrush artists used to touch up photographs with airguns and Co2, now we have Photoshop. Didn’t we used to listen to LP’s?

    Libraries are not excluded from all this. Library competition, as well as potentially being our best friends, are Google, Amazon, Starbucks, Borders, etc. Reading habits have changed. eBooks and eAudiobooks are coming. Are you ready? We have Google, what do we need reference librarians for?

    I don’t know of anyone who goes to the library anymore. You probably don’t either. Go ask people, “do you go to your local library?” You’ll hear, “No, never do,” and “haven’t been there since I was in school,” and “don’t read books any more,” and “I go to Amazon.”

    So what are libraries doing, or going to do, to survive? I see it as a two-pronged situation, one web based and one building-based.

    The Web, of course, is about convenience. Won’t everybody who has a use for a library in the future just download eBooks or eAudiobooks? Why would they want to get off their seats and go into a branch? I think the future for most libraries lies on the Web and if there’s any truth in that then you’d better make the most of it and get as much content on your site as possible. But what content? Well, what you have that I or any other library doesn’t have is local content. You’re probably the only show in town on this subject so play it up. What’s unique to your locale, your situation? Tell me all about it on your library site.

    Do you talk to your site visitors on your site? Do you ask them the “What do think about this or that” kind of questions? People love to write to you as long as it’s a simple question, simply answerable. Like Kathy suggests, make it attainable and they’ll keep coming back.

    As for the bricks and mortar, well, there’s a chance your customer base tomorrow if not today will be kids under 5, poor people, retired people.

    Kids under 5 because, well, we gotta do something with them during the day. Poor people because we have the computers and Internet access and they don’t, and the elderly because, well, they gotta do something during the day.

    So if this is your customer base, cater to them! Give the babies their programs, the poor people their computers, their help with English if they need it, help with immigration if they need it. Whatever they want, can you help? Or can you at least point people in the right directon for help? Lots of retired folks like the idea of sitting down for a chat with their friends over a cup of coffee or a place outside the home to read the paper. Can they do that in your library? Because if not, they’ll go somewhere else where they can and you’ll have lost a third of your customer base. No coffee? Shush! No talking? Thanks, but I’ll go to Starbucks or MacDonalds.

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