Nancy Ling is an Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. She is also an author and a poet and loves working with children and teens and teaching poetry. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Record or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud. Podcasts are archived on the Voices from the Library page of the library website.
A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.
— Henry Ward BEECHER
Recently the Massachusetts Library Association asked the question: What is the future of libraries? This was my response:
You may have forgotten his name—Martin. You may have a hard time deciding which one of his ads is your favorite: the one where he’s dancing in Texas, or his journey out of the parking lot. But there’s hardly a soul out there who wouldn’t recognize that tiny, British-accented gecko who is the mascot for Geico Auto Insurance. Not only is Martin a gecko, he IS Geico. Without a doubt, Geico has increased their sales and notoriety with consumers through Martin.
The future of our libraries depends on the same—a clear, concise marketing style. In the past, libraries have made the mistake of thinking they are separate from this business of marketing. We’ve argued, people should value us for what we are. Or, we’ve always existed, therefore we should be forever appreciated. Unfortunately, this is a harmful assumption. As much as any business out there, the library needs to make its value to the community known—consistently and constantly. Marketing is the key to our future.
So how do we do this? More than the number of books we provide on OverDrive, more than the variety of programs we offer children and seniors alike, it is the people behind the library’s name who serve as our best asset. As Rivkah Sass wrote in Library Journal (6/2002), “As highly touted, purely electronic tools like Questia fade into history, we should remember to market the value of what is the largest percentage of most library budgets—the staff.” Librarians bring in depth knowledge, experience, and a relationship to our patrons. We do this daily in the Outreach Department at the Morrill Memorial Library. We reach out to the community. We are in the business of touching people’s lives and making a lasting impression. This is what we do best, and this is something worthy of the patron’s attention.
In my parents’ town of Wrentham, there is a hardware store called Cataldo’s. This family- run store is a beloved fixture on Main Street. However, the day that Loews moved in everyone was worried. How could this small business survive the big competition? Turns out, it wasn’t a problem. Why? The reason for its success relates to librarians as well. Not only does Cataldo’s provide the goods. Not only do they provide the know-how. They provide the personal touch. They are there for you when ice dams crash through your ceiling. They know your children and your children’s children as they grow up.
Just as the famous jingle from Cheers goes, we all want to go where “everybody knows your name.” The library is that kind of place. We are essential to our communities—the great equalizers of society. We need to send out this message loud and clear. Librarians are valuable. You can bet your future on it.