It's A Walmart World
Marketing (or the lack thereof), of libraries has always fascinated me. The loudest voices in our profession seem to be yelling about things that aren't going to help our grow or even survive. Take the Walmart V. Kmart retailing fight: Walmart is successfully growing because it's convinced everyone it's biggest & cheapest. That's what people care about. Walmart knows what people want, and people are convinced Walmart has it.
Unfortunately libraries are Kmarts in a Walmart world. Kmart might be just as cheap as Walmart, but for some reason the message just isn't getting out to people. We may be "better" than the Internets, but our message is not getting out there. "Times A Million" and David Lee King got me thinking about how "we" should be marketing libraries, but my conclusion was even more pessimistic than usual, and I tend to be a pessimist on this topic. Godin writes people are motivated by "something that [they] can have a direct influence on." People don't get the "times a million math," and they* don't get libraries. People don't care that libraries "change lives", that we're "foundations of democracy" or much else we so proudly boast. They don't get it, they don't care, "and repeating it with frequency isn't going to help much."
So to successfully sell, Godin says, we need to make the distant immediate, we need to make the bucket smaller, we need to show people just how our services will impact them, now. People need to know exactly what we can do for them, and why they should support them. Whenever I think about big picture things like this I think of my wife, and her sisters, and our many, many nieces and nephews. That's about 30 people in total I know very well. Of the 30 I can think of only 5 that have any use for any kind of library now. The 4 in college all say they never go to the library, they just use the web (2 of those 4 have a 4.0 average). Only one of her sisters has any time to read, but she never does. Most of the kids don't care about books or anything else libraries have to offer. 3 or the 30 are heavy library users, they need no selling.
So, like I said, my conclusion to this little thought exercise wasn't positive. I concluded the school, public, & academic libraries in my family's lives have nothing to offer most of them. No amount of time and money spent on advertising, collection development or new facilities could possible motivate them to come and use a library. These aren't dumb people. These aren't lazy people. These are really average suburban middle class people that I think are representative of the rest of their demographics. They don't have the time to use what we have to offer. They don't have any interest in what we have to offer.
Each has their own reason to not support the library. One is a neocon who sees libraries as havens for liberals. Some of the kids avoid reading like the plague. Some of the kids only buy books. Most of the adults don't have time. Some of the adults have no interest in much of what we have to offer. Some of them think we're just full of old, outdated, dusty books.
There are many reasons people have for not using/supporting libraries. I don't think we can overcome many of those reasons, nor do I think there is any effort to do so. These reasons are growing and no amount of marketing will change those minds. I don't think it matters if we know we're better, faster, cheaper, a good investment, or not stereotypical. It doesn't matter that we change lives, lift people from poverty or have DDR on Friday nights.
So think about a few questions:
Do enough people "get" what "we" do to keep "us" in business?
Do enough people care about what we do?
Do enough people even have a need for our services?
Is the number of people on our side growing?
How easily can we be replaced by Google for some people?