Seth Called Us Out On Our Bullshit And Folks Got Mad

Ok, yeah, I was going to just ignore this whole thing, but then a couple of other blog posts from librarians kinda got to me (Librarians I love and respect BTW). So, I’m going to throw my two cents at this whole debate since just about every other person in the library world has. And, I’m going to say this – Seth is Exactly Right!

The thing is that librarians are debating about how Seth perceives the library. Some librarians are making this statement;

“the article reinforces Godin’s belief in the stereotype of librarian as clerk, declaring that films are “a mere sideline that most librarians resented anyway”, exhorting us to stop “defending library as warehouse”, and arguing that”what we don’t need are mere clerks who guard dead paper” – absolutely right Mr. Godin, but then this ceased to define a librarian many, many moons ago.”

Or this one;

“Godin then addresses access to information:

‘Wikipedia and the huge databanks of information have basically eliminated the library as the best resource for anyone doing amateur research (grade school, middle school, even undergrad). Is there any doubt that online resources will get better and cheaper as the years go by? Kids don’t schlep to the library to use an out of date encyclopedia to do a report on FDR.’

He’s right, they don’t schlep to the library to use an out-of-date encyclopedia. They schlep to the library to use a current, up-to-date online one, and databases to write that report on FDR. Online encyclopedias and databases that the library pays for.”

The problem is that the real root of this article, and the aspects these good folks are arguing against, are problems of perception. Of course, we all know that the library isn’t just a “warehouse of books” and we know some folks use our databases, and we all know that kids shouldn’t use Wikipedia. But unfortunately Seth’s statements are exactly what a HUGE percentage of the population believes. This is our fault. This is the brand that generations of librarians have been reinforcing for years. In fact, some of my favorite library marketing has been about the book brand of libraries. Seth is merely calling us out for not doing our jobs to ensure that we are adequately re-branding libraries.

In this sense I think Godin hit it just right. Seth is pointing out what a library is in the minds of the average public non-user. Maybe that’s what’s ruffling some feathers? Remember that this guy isn’t a librarian at all. He is library user and an advocate for libraries. He is exactly the kind of person who should be telling us what a library is. He is Joe Public and he has very Joe Public perceptions of the library.

What we need to do is listen to him, listen to what he says a library is, then talk to the public and see what they perceive the library to be. I bet you’ll get a lot of the same answers. I know that I get these answers when I talk to non-library users. When I talk to people who haven’t been to a library for a couple of years, I usually get the response “it’s a shame people don’t need libraries anymore, all the ebooks and Wikipedia have taken its place. I used to love the library when I was kid.”

So, to all the librarians who are arguing with Seth (who probably won’t read your blog anyway), I’m going to tell you to do something more productive and market your libraries better. Spend some kind of money on library marketing. I mean real marketing that sends the message about what libraries are in the 21st century. Because a lot of us are what Seth says a library should be. We’re already doing a lot of the things he says we should be doing. We just haven’t told anyone yet, and that’s our fault. Thanks for pointing that out Seth, kuddos to you good sir.

If you want to win some money by doing this marketing and telling folks what a modern library is…


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22 thoughts on “Seth Called Us Out On Our Bullshit And Folks Got Mad

  1. I completely agree with you! I was thinking about writing a very similar post, but moved on … if I had written it, I would have pretty much said what you just said. Seth nailed it. Period.

  2. Good point, we do need to market ourselves, be proactive in engaging with both users and non-users and get the word out there. But I still think Seth Godin should have done some research before he wrote the piece, and acknowledged that not all librarians are stuck in the 19th century.

    And I don’t mind if he doesn’t read my blog! It’s about debating the issues involved with anyone who’s interested. I’m certainly not one of those who thinks Godin should stop writing about libraries, he’s sparked a very interesting, and important, debate.

  3. The worst part is … the BS is decades old. Archibald MacLeish railed on this when he was Librarian of Congress, dismissing those (mostly, I think, librarians) who conceived of a library as a warehouse. It remains an “arsenal of democracy” that has a function in society rather than a mere place.

  4. actually if you read my post carefully that my problem isn’t that I “got mad”. I agree with parts of Godins post and but I don’t think those things are new or noteworthy and I think getting a titter cuz Godin said them is part our problem. I have a real issue with the factual errors in his post. Those are real. Someone like Godin has a huge audience and has responsibility to do some research before spouting out his ear about something he knows nothing about.

    1. Bobbi and Katy, actually I should have noted that yours wasn’t one of the mad or angry ones. Yours were the just the two best written against the whole thing (and two of the blogs that I read most often) so I that’s why I quoted you both. Other people were saying the same thing, but said it poorly and more angrily. 🙂

      1. Thanks Patrick. I’ve been a little shocked at the reaction to the whole thing. My post includes some good points too (maybe I shoulda used a different title eh?) I think with both posts, Godin’s and mine, people aren’t really looking at the whole thing, just grabbing on to the part they agree with, or disagree with and running with that.

  5. Thanks, Patrick. I enjoyed this post. Not only do libraries need to work harder to meet modern needs, but the marketing needs to be done at the same time. As a very recent library school graduate, I think we’ll see a lot of these changes soon because my education focused quite a bit on marketing and rebranding.

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