March 17, 2018



OCLC has just released Perceptions of Libraries, 2010: Context and Community. Their 2005 Perception Study changed everything. It officially put libraries on notice that we had to adapt and change. At my library we revolutionized ourselves based on this notion from that study: that the public prefers speed over accuracy. In this kind of world, what is the role of the  library?

To put context around this latest study, I reached out to Cathy De Rosa, Vice President for the Americas and Global Vice President of Marketing for OCLC. Cathy and I shared a dinner in December LJ’s Director Summit and I so appreciate her smarts and savvy.

I asked Cathy what pressing questions that arise out of this 2010 study. Here are her thoughts:

I believe the latest perception work poses several very important “In a world where”…..questions for libraries.  Here are three of them:

1)      In a world where very soon, almost all information users will be online, how will libraries provide an online library as social, and as valued, as the physical library?

The physical library is a very social place and a very social space.  It is clearly viewed as a community asset (per the study). Our physical libraries are social, but our online libraries are not.  The number of Americans using library web site is flat from 2005, even when the demand for physical libraries visits is up significantly.  The need to find a way to extend library hours is critical as we know.  “Expand your hours” was the top piece of advice for libraries in 2010.  It seems that the primary focus on the online library experience to date has been more about what (information) than about what’s possible.  As books become electronic, ”ask an expert” services are electronic, and social networks create online learning and meeting spaces, there is a significant need, and urgency, to rethink the library online experience.   

2)       In a world where most online users are enthusiastically embracing “asking an expert” services,  what do libraries need to do to be considered information experts?

 “Ask an expert services” are one of the fast growing online services from 2005 to 2010.  Yet, “ask a librarian” services are flat, with low use (still in the single digit percentages) – both for public libraries and academic libraries.  It is important that we reconsider our current approach.  Our virtual reference concepts must be put into the information consumers context.  

3)      In a world where millions of Americans are discovering, or rediscovering, the library [due to economic needs] what will libraries do to ensure that these new library relationships become lifelong relationships?

As you know, the library has an incredible opportunity to reconnect with so many patrons during these tough economic times.   Our study found that patrons who are discovering the library, or rediscovering the library, are using services more widely and more frequently than current patrons.  This creates a great opportunity to learn about how to position our services and how to brand our value. 

Download the report today and get busy reading. Let me know what you think.

Alison Circle About Alison Circle

Alison Circle is director of marketing communications for Columbus Metropolitan Library. Previously she was an Account Director at Jack Morton Worldwide, a global branding agency, and her primary client was Target Stores. Prior to that she was the National Marketing Director for Minnesota Public Radio and "A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor." She has advanced degrees in English and Fine Arts, and is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant.



  1. Ron J. Stefanski says:

    Alison Circle “gets it.” In order to succeed, libraries have to create an online experience that replicates the wealth, expanse and sense of community created in the physical library place. We love going to our local library, but find it a cumbersome, non-fun, non-rewarding experience to visit the library online.

    This shouldn’t be! Libraries make all the difference in our communities today. The same can be true if we take the opportunity to re-imagine this “library space” and bring in more patrons than ever before.