November 21, 2017

Transformation Time: Sari Feldman hits the right tone | Editorial

RebeccaWebEdit2015If you haven’t tuned in to the new Libraries Transform initiative from the American Library Association (ALA), please do. It’s a savvy approach to the broad challenge libraries face as they continue to evolve and must communicate what they actually contribute to their communities. This three-year project, launched October 29, is much more than talk. It’s an actionable toolkit you should put to work now to help your constituency understand the real life of libraries.

I’ve written before about the limits of the book brand (“Library Unlimited”) and the need to develop better storytelling about libraries of all types. This broad branding and engagement package is a great step in the right direction.

I love a lot about this project, which I see as especially valuable to small libraries and any library without marketing bandwidth. As LJ’s news editor Lisa Peet reported, it has several components with which librarians can work. This includes web banners and posters to download and distribute or display; a toolkit with guidance on how to take action; and a forum for sharing how you use the kit via the #LibrariesTransform hashtag.

Happily, the design goes the extra mile to convey just some of what I find exciting about libraries. It’s colorful, hip, and smart—all spinning around the concept of displaying “because” statements that get at the impact of libraries on the lives of their users and society at large. They (one example is pictured) are short and snappy, wide ranging, and presented in colorful simplicity. “I love them because they are a little edgier, from the way they look to what they say,” ALA president and Cuyahoga County Public Library executive director Sari Feldman told me. “They give us an opportunity to start the conversation and then give pause to people who haven’t thought about libraries or been in the library in a long time.”

I love them because they transcend advocacy approaches that make an appeal to save libraries, basically asking people to care about libraries first and themselves second. Instead, this public awareness campaign confronts people with the positive impact libraries have, answering the question of why they matter over and over again, with fresh, effective language.

And do we ever need it. We can and will keep answering this question locally, but to have a coherent, national message to point to—one that hits home—is most welcome. This initiative presents, in a smart and highly consumable way, the intelligence at work in the evolution of libraries as they bridge new technologies, expand services to provide information via new tools, and reinvent how their spaces are relied on by their communities as the famous third place. I’d argue they are doing all that and still retaining invaluable expertise about a singular great technology that shaped the persisting library brand: the book.

That said, Libraries Transform is definitely not book forward. Feldman said the project is intended to express that, while committed to the tradition of reading, libraries are well on the way to reinventing what they deliver in light of the need to be digitally inclusive in service strategy. Feldman, like so many library leaders, hopes to answer for good the question of why libraries are still necessary. Libraries Transform is a great response. Now it’s up to the library community to put it to use and, over time, inform its evolution by creating new “because” statements.

We are living in a great time for libraries. We have to make sure people know it. The Libraries Transform initiative is one way to help get that done.

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Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (miller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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