The latest Informed Librarian has a “Guest Forum” contribution “Reading the Tea Leaves” by Chris Olson. IL invites comments, but only via email–and when I tried to go back this morning to check on the address, the site appeared to be offline. So…
Olson looks at the OCLC Perceptions report and finds things there that somehow eluded me. “People say that they use the library less, that they read less…”
Odd. The report I read shows that 69% of U.S. respondents had either increased their use of libraries or stayed about the same over the past few years, and that 73% expect to either use libraries more in the future or use them the same amount. (The figures for Kids These Days, the ones who’ve abandoned libraries and print: 74% and 88% respectively.)
“That they read less”? Maybe I didn’t read the report carefully enough, but I see nothing in the report that says people are reading less. Never mind; my reading skills may be impaired.
Olson also accurately reports that people equate libraries with books. And that most people feel that they can find information on their own.
Olson later has one of those sentences that tends to stop me in my tracks: “Libraries are no longer the sole keepers of information or providers of access.”
That’s like saying that the U.S. is no longer the only democracy or capitalist country in the world. “No longer” implies something that is simply false. Libraries have never been the sole “keepers of information or providers of information.” Never. Get over it. Nor, in my opinion [repetitive rant] have libraries ever been the first or most important source of information for most people in their daily lives[/rant]. Ever.
So what’s Olson’s conclusion? “Anyone who can change their brand name or drop the word ‘library’ from it, should consider doing so if they want to be perceived as offering something other than books.” Oh, and they should make sure that branding stays away from any association with libraries or books…
Olson doesn’t say “Any special library or corporate library.” Olson says “Anyone.”
Hmm. 80% of survey respondents view libraries favorably. As libraries. Even as collections of books.
Now, if you really believe that your library is an “information service,” then maybe Olson’s advice makes sense. For many special/corporate libraries, that’s a reasonably accurate definition. For, oh, 99% of public libraries and, I would argue, most academic libraries as well, “information service” is a tragically misguided term as a primary descriptor.
Chris Olson’s marketing firm “has transformed libraries into uniquely branded information services.” If you’re in a public library and ready to throw away 80% approval rating in favor of pushing your role as doing something that most people explicitly say they’re perfectly capable of doing themselves…well, I trust you have another career in mind.
Maybe it really is a divide between “information professionals” and “librarians.” Which are you?