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Good Read #006: It’s All About the User

August 6, 2010 Comments off

I don’t consider myself to be an expert marketeer. While I understand the purpose, value, and need of promotional efforts, marketing has never been one of my strong suits. I continue to look to others for guidance and training in this area.

That is what drew me to the book Marketing Today’s Academic Library: A Bold New Approach to Communicating with Students by Brian Mathews. What I found was an engaging, well-crafted text with a clear thesis and a fresh approach to marketing in academic libraries. A quote from the publisher’s description best describes the purpose of the book:

Most library marketing intended for undergraduates promotes the collection, reference and instructional service, and occasional events such as guest speakers or exhibits. The guiding principle of Marketing Today’s Academic Library is that marketing should focus on the lifestyle of the user, showcasing how the library fits within the daily life of the student.

Bottom line: In all academic library marketing efforts, the student–the library user–should always be front-and-center.

The book flows well from chapter to chapter and is filled with valuable insights and advice for anyone interested in employing marketing strategies for their library. And, yes, while the book is specifically targeted towards those in academic libraries, there are useful nuggets of information to be found for those working in any type of library. I would even argue for its benefit to other departments on the academic campus or anyone serving students in general. If nothing else, Mathews’ insights on understanding today’s student are worth reading.

Mixed in with philosophical discussion of marketing to students, you will find plenty of practical advice and examples of how to engage in the various stages of marketing efforts. As a result Mathews has presented an excellent resource for those wishing to engage in library promotion and, more importantly, improving the student experience.

A few quotes from the book…

My objective in not to persuade you that libraries should embrace marketing methods, but rather to demonstrate the possibility of creating a richer library experience. (p. 1)

Promotional efforts must be social in nature, aimed at starting conversations instead of simply treating our users as a captive audience. (p. 2)

…instead of simply focusing on generating awareness or even just increasing use of resources, we should approach…our marketing as a chance to elevate the role of the library in our student’s minds. …We are not just providing more books, more journals, more computers, more staff to help them, but rather more relevance. (p. 141)

A basic outline of the book…

Chapter 1 — Making a case for marketing/advertising in libraries

Chapter 2 — Understanding the characteristics and activities that help define today’s students

Chapter 3 — Understanding student “need states” (that is, what they need in the academic setting)

Chapter 4 — Understanding and identifying those things that the library has to offer

Chapter 5 — Techniques and tips on ways to conduct marketing research in order to guide your advertising campaign

Chapter 6 — Realizing the importance of building relationships with library users and ways to go about doing so

Chapter 7 — Strategies and techniques for branding the library and its products

Chapter 8 — Presentation of practical “building blocks” that can make up the various pieces of a promotional campaign

Chapter 9 — Advice on designing the promotional message to be shared

Chapter 10 — Measuring and assessing the promotional campaign

Chapter 11 — An offering of practical lessons learned along the way by Mathews as well as a collection of promotional campaign examples

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Work in an academic library? Looking for ways to effectively promote your resources and services to students? Want to “elevate the role of the library” for your students? I recommend Mathews’ book.

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Good Read #005: May I have your attention?

June 1, 2010 Comments off

I just recently finished the book by author and journalist Maggie Jackson entitled Distracted : The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age (Prometheus Books, 2008). Knowing my own tendencies to multitask and simultaneously move in many directions, I was interested to see what Jackson had to say on the subject.

The book is well-researched, drawing heavily on studies and the input of key researchers. Jackson’s premise for the book is her belief that “the way we live is eroding our capacity for deep, sustained, perceptive attention–the building block of intimacy, wisdom, and cultural progress.” (Intro) She goes on to state that this erosion of our attention has positioned us “on the verge of losing our capacity as a society for deep, sustained focus. In short, we are slipping toward a new dark age.” (Intro)

Honestly, I struggled with the flow of the book. There were portions that I found cohesive and particularly thought-provoking, such as the chapter on the written word, reading, and literacy. Overall, however, the book did not progressively connect well for me. And I was hoping that Jackson would move beyond a mere description of the problem and propose more of what she sees as potential solutions. She does begin to do so in the final chapter, but I was left slightly disappointed. With all of that said, I do believe this is a book worth taking up. I do agree with Jackson that–for better or for worse–we live in a society that is exponentially being infused with things that demand our attention and it is changing the way we interact with and perceive the world around us. Whether or not you agree with Jackson that we are “slipping toward a new dark age,” I will leave that to your judgment.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the book with a few intriguing quotes:

Chapter 1 — An introduction to the idea of how the “wired” world distracts us. It is worth noting that in tackling the issue of attention in today’s society, Jackson points out early in the book that technology is at the center of the issue but is not the focus.

Chapter 2 — Chapters 2-4 address what Jackson calls the “landscape of distraction” with its 3 key components–virtual reality, multitasking, and movement (mobility). Chapter 2 addresses the focus on the physical vs. focus on the virtual. Jackson discusses the effects of the virtual world on our physical connections.

Chapter 3 — Multitasking and how it negatively affects our judgment and productivity.

Chapter 4 — Mobility and its role in the “landscape of distraction.”

Distraction is the cost of our wondrous, liberating mobility, the price we pay for living untethered.

Chapter 5 — Surveillance, perception, and vision. This chapter focuses on privacy issues (perhaps timely with the recent swirl surrounding Facebook privacy concerns) and how a culture of surveillance damages trust.

Chapter 6 — The written word, reading, and literacy. Interesting chapter addressing our interaction with the written word. This chapter also touches ever-so-briefly on information literacy efforts in libraries.

Relations between book and [computer] screen are better described as dynamic, rather than a dichotomy. Both, after all, are communications technologies, which history tells us have a way of messily coexisting, rather than neatly canceling each other out.

The real question going forward is how we will read….

Chapter 7 — Human-Computer interaction. With a focus on smart computers and artificial intelligence (AI), Jackson ponders if we are entering a post-human era. Rather than machines becoming more like humans, are humans becoming more like machines?

What kind of people are we becoming as we develop increasingly intimate relationships with machines?

Chapter 8 — The erosion of cultural memory. Addresses the concept and challenge of preservation.

Making data is child’s play, but keeping it, alas, is like trying to preserve a sand castle from the tide.

A first scenario of doom involves waves of disappearing data.

To preserve is not to recapture what’s past but rather to change what’s saved, at the very least by shifting the context to the new world of the present.

This chapter also includes an interesting discussion of omni-preservation (saving everything) vs. selective preservation. Jackson seems to favor selectivity over saving everything. (It would be interesting to hear her take on the Library of Congress’ recent move to archive all of Twitter.)

…the thorny skill of selection was the foremost mandate of modern history’s greatest collectors. Embracing and rejecting, sifting and culling–that’s what we as ‘re-collectors’ were born to do.

Amassing towering alternate universes of saved experience marks the abdication of our own splendid multifaceted powers of remembering–and forgetting.

Chapter 9 — The role and value of attention. Here we find a lengthy discussion of the psychology behind what is classified as our three “networks of attention”–orienting, alerting, and the executive. It is here that Jackson offers her clearest solution to the problem of distraction: Attention is key, and it can be trained and taught.

We now hold the potential to know, shape, and utilize a full quiver of attention skills to combat a spreading culture of distraction.

So that’s it–my take on Distracted by Maggie Jackson. I wonder how many folks made it all the way to the end of this post?

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Good Read #004: Libraries in Pictures

April 23, 2010 Comments off

It has been a while since I last posted a “good read,” so I am trying to catch up. Last month, I highlighted Matthew Battles’ Library: An Unquiet History. For another sweeping account of the history of libraries, let me point you to The Library: An Illustrated History by Stuart A. P. Murray (ALA, 2009). Much like Battles, Murray does not attempt to present an all-encompassing history of libraries. Rather he provides small windows to catch glimpses of libraries throughout history and around the globe. And, as the subtitle indicates, this nicely-bound book is filled with wonderful color illustrations throughout which help to visualize the text. Honestly, the book is worth picking up for the illustrations alone. (It does have something of a coffee table book feel to it.)

For the most part the book is divided into chapters which move chronologically through history–from the ancient times; through the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation; and all the way to the budding 21st century. There also are chapters devoted to particular continents or cultures, such as the “Asia and Islam” and “The Library in Colonial North America” chapters. The text does become repetitive at points, but it doesn’t really hurt the flow of the book. Actually the book doesn’t necessarily need to be read from cover to cover.

A final section on “Libraries of the World” provides brief snapshots of almost 50 libraries around the globe. Murray admits that his selection of libraries for this section of the book is somewhat random. He states that “this selection is representative of certain types of libraries, though it can only introduce them.” Murray further adds that perhaps the reader’s interest will be piqued enough to consider visiting these and other libraries of the world. There certainly are some libraries included here that I would love to see in person.

For those who wish to read more than what is contained in this book, Murray includes a list of suggestions for further reading.

Lovers of books and libraries, let me recommend The Library: An Illustrated History for your reading list.

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Good Read #003

March 23, 2010 Comments off

This week’s good read is Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser (Basic Books, 2008). This would be a beneficial book for parents, educators (including librarians), anyone who leads/counsels/mentors children or youth, policy makers, technology developers, and anyone interested in our interaction with digital (in particular, social) technology.

Palfrey and Gasser both are law professors with involvement in the study of interconnections between the internet and society. Together they have crafted an informative presentation of key issues and challenges faced by so-called “digital natives” (those born since circa 1980 who have grown up in contact with digital technology all their lives). To help set the distinction, the authors also refer to “digital immigrants” (those who knew a time before digital technology but adopted its use later in life). Generational terms can be loaded, difficult to define, and passionately debated. Regardless of how you feel about the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants,” Palfrey and Gasser have at least given us a good starting point for engaging the issues.

Each chapter in Born Digital tackles a particular issue/topic, including Identities, Dossiers, Privacy, Safety, Creators, Pirates, Quality, Overload, Aggressors, Innovators, Learners, Activists, Synthesis. The book approaches these issues critically and with caution. And yet, the authors maintain an overall optimism.

One of the strengths of the book is its global reach. The research behind Born Digital involved interviews with people from around the globe rather than being limited to those in North America.

The book is a direct result of a collaborative project called Digital Natives. We read on the project’s website:

“Digital Natives is an interdisciplinary collaboration of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen.  Our aim is to understand and support young people as they grow up in a digital age.  Within the project, we make use of a variety of methods to investigate a range of themes pertaining to young people and their use of technologies.  Our outputs range from academic publications to hands-on legal, educational, and technological interventions.”

As a sidebar, a companion website–Digital Natives–provides access to a blog, wiki, content related to the book itself, and other social resources (such as links to their Twitter account, Facebook fan page, YouTube channel, and Delicious bookmarks). Unfortunately, much of the content has not been updated for quite a while. The Twitter and Facebook updates appear to reflect the most current activity (February 2010). At the very least, more recent posts on the blog would boost the continued value of the site.

“Digital natives” themselves may find the book geared more to an audience of “digital immigrants.” With that said, Born Digital is worth reading because it succeeds in addressing tough sociological issues of today and raising awareness of our interaction with digital technologies.

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Good Read #002 …(un)quiet, please

March 13, 2010 Comments off

This book is for the librarians, bibliophiles, and history buffs of the world.

For a sweeping history of libraries, let me recommend Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles (W.W. Norton, 2003). Anyone would be hard-pressed to pack a comprehensive history of libraries into a few hundred pages. Battles, himself, admits this. What Battles has done is artfully weave together a collection of stories, vignettes, and historical facts about libraries that range from the earliest libraries of Mesopotamia to those of today. The book is strongest in its depiction of libraries prior to the twentieth century.

In Library: An Unquiet History the reader will encounter such things as the burning of the library of Alexandria, the beginnings of the use of the alphabet and numerals for the arrangement of books in libraries, the birth of the library catalog, the Jewish genizas where books go to die, the portable “home libraries” of early twentieth-century America, and a poignant chapter on the destruction of libraries around the world in the twentieth century. The reader will also learn of leading figures in the history and development of libraries, including Melvil Dewey, Richard Bentley, Edward Gibbon, and Antonio Panizzi. But Battles doesn’t stop there. He addresses ways in which library operations and perceptions have changed over the course of time. Most notably, he weaves into the text discussion of a shift in the philosophy of libraries. Libraries as storehouses, with an emphasis on the collections and their preservation and protection, become places of discovery, with an emphasis on the reader/library user. Librarians embracing the latter philosophy, such as Antonio Panizzi, are what Battles calls “Promethean librarians.” That is, those who seek to bring the knowledge contained in libraries to the masses and help the reader find his/her book.

There are other books that more systematically present the history of libraries, but Battles’ book is a refreshing approach. So, to all you helluo librorums (devourers of literature) out there, Battles’ Library: An Unquiet History is worth the read.

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Good Read #001

February 23, 2010 Comments off

Sacred Stacks by Nancy Maxwell

I am planning a regular series of posts highlighting books that I would recommend reading. Good Reads, if you will. These will be books coming from my personal reading list related to librarianship, information, and/or technology. So for those who like to curl up with a good book (or ebook reader), I hope you will find something from these recommendations that pique your interest.

I thought it fitting to kick off the “Good Reads” series with a book by Nancy K. Maxwell entitled, Sacred Stacks: The Higher Purpose of Libraries and Librarianship (ALA, 2006). Maxwell, a veteran librarian currently serving as the library director at the Miami Dade College North Campus Library, reflects in Sacred Stacks on the nature of the library profession, drawing correlations to the sacred/religious. The book grew out of her experiences while a librarian on a Catholic university campus.

An initial reaction might be to assume a religious motivation and focus for the book. Actually it is a professional reflection on the “higher purpose” of librarianship that suggests similarities between libraries and religious institutions–between librarians and ministers. (A quote from the Encyclopedia of Career and Vocational Guidance appearing at the beginning of Chapter 2 helps to illustrate this point nicely.) Following two “introductory” chapters that set the stage for sacred correlations for libraries and librarians, each subsequent chapter deals with a specific aspect of libraries/librarians:

  • Organizing chaos
  • Bestowing immortality
  • Uplifting individuals and society
  • Providing (sacred, secular) space
  • Promoting community
  • Transmitting culture to future generations

The book ends with a final chapter of implications for libraries and charges to librarians.

As a fellow librarian, I can appreciate some of Maxwell’s observations about libraries and librarians. More specifically, as a librarian at a church-related academic institution, I can identify with her perception of libraries as analogous with the sacred. I have always considered my career choice a “calling,” and that perception is confirmed for me daily in my tasks and interactions with library users.

Take a preview of the book and then find a copy that you can read from cover to cover. It has a lot to say about a profession/institution that serves a higher purpose for society.

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