Friday, 14 May 2010

Library for Sale!

I'm afraid it's been a few weeks since my last post. Has been a bit of a rough few weeks really, mostly to do with job uncertainty and general fed-upness but I won't go into details as it's all a bit boring but it has made me reflect on the question of why are libraries, (or the concept of 'the library') so darn difficult to 'sell'?

It is Adult Learners Week / Knowledge Awareness next week so of course we in the Healthcare Library are keen to get involved to promote our role in encouraging learning. But it has been beset with difficulties - even getting an all staff email out to advertise our activities has been denied and we have been relegated to the fourth or fifth piece down in the staff weekly bulletin. I sent my training courses dates out three weeks ago and still only have a few takers. We are still fighting to get a slot on the bi-monthly staff induction as well and although there has been a breakthrough at our site owing to good contacts, my manager is getting nowhere with the other site where he works two days a week. And just sometimes it feels no matter how much you provide, how well you deliver a service the users just want more, more, more....

Okay so I realise I am moaning on a bit but just what is it about libraries that is so hard to sell to our users? Is it the stuffy old Victorian image that still lurks around us wraithlike, despite our Twitter accounts, e-journals and the ability to convert your essay from single to double-spacing in seconds? Do our users harken back to bad run-ins with libraries from childhood - the scary librarian shhhhing them into oblivion? Or is going to the library an intimidating experience, reminding them of all the things they don't know? The classic excuse (especially for our busy doctors and nurses) is that there isn't enough time to go to the library. But I'm not sold on that one. Our job is to give the clinicians more time - we can run literature searches for them, track down the articles they need, point them in the right direction to find a piece of information to save them trawling through millions of Google results.

Free, high-quality information, when and where you need it. What is so hard to sell about that? And yet I'm starting to wonder maybe that's where the problem lies. You don't need to sell something that is free.

Now all of us working in libraries know our services aren't free - they cost a lot in terms of work, dedication and time as well as money. But our users might not always see that. They are getting something that costs them nothing. And although everyone likes a bargain, people tend to devalue things that don't cost them anything - it's just human nature.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this really - it's just a kernel of an idea forming in my head and I wanted to get it down before I forgot it. I'm by no means suggesting we should start charging for library services or make our users feel guilty by reminding them how much their service costs every time they come to the library desk but I think it may provide some kind of hint or clue into promoting and marketing our services. Defintely something to ponder on and may well become a running thread throughout my blog in future....

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