Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Content has left the Container.....

A group of librarians gathered this morning in St. Paul to listen to Cathy DeRosa of OCLC discuss the recent study, Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources. It was a terrific blend of librarians from all types of libraries, and there was a lively discussion afterwards.

Cathy is engaging and entertaining, and brought up some thoughtful questions about our libraries. How long does it take to be served? How many touches does the patron get from us when they're outside the institution? How many of us incorporate news feeds? If you had a dollar, would you put it in content or service? (Our patrons would prefer we put it in service, by the way.)

Cathy's background is in marketing, so it's not surprising that she's passionate about the idea that we do a terrible job of marketing ourselves. (Not a newsflash.) She insisted that we need to do a better job of branding the library.

People are fond of libraries, but the libraries are those of their youth. What are we doing to make ourselves current and relevant? Do we make any effort to reinvent ourselves when necessary, while keeping our primary mission in mind?

To that end, the group was walking back to the parking garage when we were stopped short by a store we passed. We were confused by what we were seeing - the Geek Squad, a salon, chocolates, health items, a pharmacy, computers for public use, books....what was this place?

The place is EQ-Life. They're a wholly-owned subsidiary of Best Buy, though you don't find reference to that on either web site. But apparently the Best Buy folks did some research, found a market they weren't reaching, and decided to fill it. According to a story on MPR,
"Eq-life president Mike Marolt says the idea behind that formula is to provide a resource center for customers, and supply them with a wide array of products and services to address their health issues.

The store's technology offerings are geared toward this philosophy. They include such items as diabetes monitors, heart rate monitors, laptop computers and portable music players. "

This place was seriously cool. The staff was delightful, one and all. Tami, a stylist ("The Stylist", according to Tami) gave us a tour of the salon, tried to talk two of the group into massages (they'd never had one!) and was enthusiastic and welcoming. If we didn't live over an hour away, I'd be there daily. As it is, I may make a point of making the drive.

The ultimate guy store has made an effort to reach out to women. If this place is any indication, I can't imagine that it won't be successful.

So here's the connection, at least in my mind. We keep hearing that libraries may be in trouble, that people don't find us relevant, that we're nice and all that, but I can Google what I need, thank you. And presented with this information we....pout. Deny. Excuse.

Perhaps....just perhaps....we should take a serious look at reinventing ourselves. I'm not exactly sure what that would mean. Perhaps allowing and even embracing (gasp!) IM in the library. Perhaps it would be allowing the patrons to lead the collection development. Perhaps it would mean reaching out past our own little library boxes, connecting with other library boxes, and offering the world to our patrons. As Cathy reminded us, the world's libraries have over 16 Billion items to offer. That makes places like Amazon and Best Buy look like tiny operations.

If we ever decided to really join resources and work together, we'd be a force to be reckoned with. So why don't we?


Anonymous Susan V said...

Amen. Great essay. Before I even read the next sentence, I decided to put that dollar in service, not content. Glad to know I was on teh side of the patrons on that one. Librarians tend to act like beleagured souls instead of taking the steps needed to reach out and be relevant.

3:24 PM  

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