Over the past week I have participated in a discussion on an ALA listserve titled The Marginalization of Librarians. It has been interesting to read the perceptions of librarians (from ‘special’ libraries, academic, public libraries etc…) about themselves. It seems like there are two streams of thought arising:
1. Those that believe that libraries and librarians have great resources which just need to be marketed better. Only if people (members of the public/academics and other users or non-library users) knew what we had, would they come to appreciate libraries and thus librarians.
2. Those that feel that librarians and libraries have missed the mark. It is not about ‘marginalized librarians’ but actually about marginalized communities. Libraries and librarians have not effectively sought out and developed approaches for library staff to work with communities to discover what needs they have and discover from target groups what the libraries role could be in fulfilling these needs. (To clarify, this is not outreach – it shifts what we are doing when we are in the communities from talking to listening.)
I am wondering after 50+ years of marketing, if libraries have possibly hit their saturation point? Are non-library users/sometimes library users at the point where they are so inundated by marketing messages, that libraries are just one other small piece of the chatter?
How do we know that the messages we are sending them are applicable to the possible barriers they face accessing library services, especially in an environment when many people perceive information being available over the internet? I know this is really distressing in an environment where we proclaim that librarians provide more accurate information than search engines, but – if people are satisfied with their search results – who really cares?
Is getting up on a soap box and talking about the services we have created for the ‘non-converted’ not a little backwards? Have we talked with them to see what they feel the role of libraries should be?
I don’t think that using marketing to scream about how valuable we are will make a difference to a large segment of the community. Actually, I know it doesn’t. (Don’t get me wrong, marketing can and still plays a valuable role for libraries – especially for those that regularly access our marketing tools).
Also, I definitely don’t think that making the public’s response to libraries personal and talking about Librarians being marginalized will do the profession (or library service development) any favours. It doesn’t address the underlying issues, and does not change anything about libraries from the public perspective – other than viewing us as a bunch of whiners.
It is time to stop this self destructive behaviour and time to start creating solutions to ensuring our continued relevance to existing and potential user groups. The issue is not that people don’t appreciate libraries or librarians, the issue is that they need to see themselves, and their needs reflected in the services provided. Only then will they appreciate libraries, librarians and library services.