The AL often depends on the kindness of strangers, whether it’s obsessive stalkers who drive up blog traffic or kind readers who send great stories.
From one kind reader comes this delightful story from Chicago: Chicago Public Library’s ‘Library Lounge’ Nights Aim To Make Libraries Cool Again. Chicago, as you might know, is a toddlin’ town, the kind that Billy Sunday couldn’t shut down, and the Chicago Public Library wants to take advantage of that.
As part of a “Not What You Think” campaign (and by god you had better not think of books!), the CPL is heading to local bars to hand out library cards and tell “young, professional urbanites” all about the library. I think it would be better to host parties in the library itself, but maybe there’s a rule against that.
Having been a young, professional urbanite myself once upon a time – at least if you count librarianship as a profession – I can only applaud and approve. It’s a great idea to associate libraries with alcohol and good times.
I myself frequently sit on my balcony sipping wine and reading an improving book. Not today, of course, since the weather where I am is much too wet, but frequently.
However, while Lounge Nights might be a great idea, this story promoting them is pretty bad from beginning to end.
The title is just weird. When were libraries ever cool? If they were never cool, they certainly can’t be cool “again.” Isn’t the writer familiar with library stereotypes?
Sadly, I don’t think the writer is familiar with library anything, and as usual we have a news story promoting libraries written by someone who hasn’t set foot in one for decades.
For example, it begins, “If the last time you saw your library card was senior year of high school, then there’s a good chance it’s still tucked away in your “East of Eden” paperback.”
Huh? Maybe if the “young, professional urbanites” went to high school in the fifties or sixties, but which of them is likely to have read “East of Eden”?
We also find out that “In addition to having the opportunity to sign up for a library card, Chicago residents can also learn about the valuable resources available to them at CPL. Hint: it’s much more than the microfilm we all sifted through for term papers in the ‘90s.”
Again, huh? Did we all sift through microfilm for term papers in the ‘90s? Something tells me the writer’s experience with libraries is very limited.
To be fair, she’s most likely prompted by the CPL’s Director of Marketing, who tells us about the public library collection: “We get to show off the fact that we have popular music; you know, our music is not all classical, our movies aren’t all black and white from 1945.”
That’s pretty much been the case in libraries for decades, so this is hardly news to anyone who has used one. It also seems to imply that classical music and classic movies are somehow bad, or maybe just stuffy. Classical music is great, and classic films are way hipper than any library.
The marketing director naturally enough has to give out the standard promotional line for libraries these days: “we are kind of not what people originally thought; we are very relevant, we are hip.” We wouldn’t want people to think that libraries weren’t hip. That would be a tragedy.
Librarians have been saying that for decades, and nobody seems to be listening. Millions of people use public libraries, and even they probably don’t think libraries are hip.
The problem with a lot of library marketing (if marketing is really the word for it) is that it’s hard to market an incoherent brand, and librarians are doing all they can to confuse what used to be the most coherent brand of all.
What are libraries for? Reading. That’s why the ALA has those goofy posters with celebrities that say READ. The posters don’t say, WATCH, or LISTEN. Reading. Literacy. Books. Magazines. More books and magazines than you could ever afford, and a wider selection than you would likely see elsewhere. Everything else libraries do is secondary.
And reading is hip. Think about the huge public discussion of books everywhere from Amazon reviews to Library Thing to book blogs. Books are hip. Reading is hip.
You won’t hear that from librarians very often these days, though. Libraries are apparently relevant and hip because of all the stuff they do that has nothing to do with books or reading. Unfortunately, “a whole bunch of stuff that isn’t about reading” isn’t a very catchy slogan.
I suggest instead a new slogan. Instead of “libraries are hip because they have a mishmash of things unrelated to reading,” libraries could market the one thing they do very well and that everyone already knows about.
Reading is hip.