Having come from a bookstore my knowledge of the library has been primarily that of a user. So, at this juncture I can speak of the goals of the American Library Association (ALA) and how they impact the work of a librarian only in theory. Because I worked in a bookstore I do have experience serving the public in an information industry. Through my work, and also my time as a student in community college and university, I have acquired an understanding of the importance of information access that the library provides to its community. This issue is, in fact, why I decided to become a librarian.
The ALA’s goal to “…enhance learning and ensure access to information for all” is my core motivation for going into this field. As a clerk in a bookstore I often encountered people who were looking for information but had very little idea where to begin their search. Helping people locate books, periodicals, or even sections in the store, was the most gratifying part of my job. This was especially true when I was working with customers who had language barriers or gaps in his or her education that made locating resources more difficult. I would do whatever I could within the limitations of the bookstore to help, but often I found I had to direct them to the public library. Many times after giving this advice the customer would look at me with the surprise of a light switching on suddenly in a dark room and say, “oh, that’s a good idea.”
The fact that a customer at a bookstore looking for research material for their 5th grade child’s science project or a reference book from which they only needed the information located on pages 358-63, wouldn’t think to go to a library is a reflection, I think, of our consumer society. So, what can be done about this? And is the ALA thinking of ways to remind the population that libraries still exist and are far more than mere relics with shelves of dusty books, card catalogs, and microfiche?
Looking on the ALA site I did not find much pertaining to advertising or marketing plans. It could be that I was not searching in the right places. None the less, I feel that there should be an easy link to the ALA’s marketing strategies. I know it costs money to advertise and money is something libraries have very little of, however, I think it would be money well spent. With the economy as it is now, it is the perfect time for libraries to strike out with advertising campaigns. People need and want free services. If the ALA funded a campaign something along the lines of the dairy industry’s tag line, “Got Milk,” or the cattle industry’s quotable, “Beef, it’s whats for dinner,” I believe that the light would go on in the darkened memories of once upon a time library users and be an invitation to those who have never been exposed to the library and its services. If the ALA collectively created an “Ask Your Librarian” website that was as innovative and user friendly as the that of the dairy and beef industries, we might have more enthusiastic patrons. As of now when I type in that phrase I am offered links to the Public Library in Forsyth, North Carolina and the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. Not bad sites, but not necessarily sites that make you want to hang around and take a closer look. We can fix that. We can make the library appear as the exciting place that it is.
Though we may have some work to do on a national level, there are communities who are taking library advertising upon themselves. Check out this adorable YouTube commercial made by students at Southside High School in Alabama:
Blog entry created by J.A. Lee