The Disparate Languages of Libraries and Politics

This is an excerpt from my article in the Political Librarian. You can download the full article here.

20130713_usd000_0It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone when I say that the political landscape in America has drastically changed. We have seen some of the wildest political rhetoric that we could imagine come from political pundits, politicians, our presidential candidates, and various media outlets. There are accusations of fundamental biases rooted in deep belief systems that are based on many of the fears of middle class Americans who have been left behind in the job market, Americans who feel threatened by outsiders, Americans who feel they are losing their familiar identities to anonymous and unknown forces. These fears are being capitalized upon by a multi-billion dollar political industry that is designed to exaggerate threats and use fear to win elections.

The most exaggerated of those fears that affect us, librarians, and our industry is a fear of government overreach and blaming taxation for a wide array of economic and social problems in the country. This fear didn’t spontaneously come about into being by itself. It was coldly cultivated with big data, polling, focus groups, targeted messaging, and the strategic radicalization of highly specific populations within our citizenry. These political groups have used this data to develop new sets of exclusionary languages that allow people of the same beliefs to communicate and understand each other. This has lead to the development of new political cultures within targeted demographics. These differentiating languages are one of the strongest walls against communication between differing political views. The language that is used is something that librarians, as government employees who are paid by taxes, must learn if they are to continue to serve their communities.

Read the full article in the Political Librarian here.

Turning the entire Library Marketing ecosystem on its head.

I had an amazing conversation with some people on twitter the other morning all about how libraries doing a really bad job of marketing themselves. I tweeted that “I believe that if librarians spent time money on marketing then we wouldn’t be constantly complaining about people perceptions of libraries” and that libraries need to drop a database in order tell people about the other 49. Well, I’m going to take it all back. I realized that I was wrong, the problem is not that librarians are refusing to market themselves, its that our biggest vendors refuse to market their products.

The problem is that it shouldn’t have to be librarians who are marketing and advertising the things that libraries are offering like databases and our various collections. The ones marketing their products to the public should be the ones selling those products to us. If some database company wants my library to buy their product, there should be a demand for their product. If nobody uses their latest proprietary database on the mating habits of the Great Spotted Alaskan Chinchilla, then my library just simply shouldn’t be buying it.

Why are librarians the one stuck paying for a product, and then having to pay to market that product to the people to make sure that demand is high enough to justify buying that product? Why do we have to do their work for them? This is not how it works with any other industry.

Here’s my analogy;

The mom and pop stores on the corner of my block carry all kinds of Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, whatever… But, not once have I ever seen an ad on FB, on TV, on the Radio, in the Newspaper from the corner store telling people how delicious Pepsi is. They might advertise that they have it, but they’d never advertise that anyone should drink it over anything else. You know why? Because Pepsi advertises that people should drink Pepsi, which makes people demand Pepsi, which is why stores offer Pepsi.

But in our case;

A database company sells their database to the library.

But that’s it! That’s all that happens! Then its up to the library to make sure anyone uses it or cares that the library is paying for it. The library has to convince the public that it’s a good product AND the library has to expend resources telling people that they library offers it. The library pays for the opportunity to offer a product nobody wants because the company that makes the product doesn’t spend any resources to tell people how great their product is. It’s as if libraries are paying twice for the product and being forced to do all the big vendor’s work for them as well.

But here’s something to think about.

If one of our database companies started using their money, not to advertise to librarians that they have the product, but to advertise to the people that there is a really great product offered at their local library, then the libraries would have to offer their product due to demand AND people would know that libraries are offering these products. Essentially, by advertising to the public about what their products are offering and how great they are and that they are available with a library card then more libraries would have to buy those databases due to increased demand and libraries would get more people to use their services. Because of this we will also get more engaged and educated library users and that translates into more library support which translates into more funding for libraries which in turn translates into more money for library vendors since more people will be demanding their databases.

What do you think? This was really just a quick and rough brainstorm that I had and it was too long for a tweet so I wrote a blog. Am I totally wrong on this idea? I’d love to know that I’m wrong.

The necessity of extremism in library advocacy and political outreach

Exploring_ExtremismThis is a post that I’ve been working in various forms for about 3 years. There’s a lot of background and explanation here and I’ll even cite my sources where I can. Essentially, I’m going to make the claim that advocacy and politics in America has been hijacked by a sadly necessary extremism and that for libraries to continue to exist as we know them we need to get on board with the rhetoric. If we don’t learn to start to talk about libraries in a severely emotionally meaningful way that engages and activates our most impassioned supporters, libraries will be next on chopping block. We can’t allow this to happen because libraries are one of the few truly great institutions to come out of the American Government.

Before I really get into this, I’d like to point out that this is not a partisan issue. I have seen these tactics in use by every political party. I’d also like to point out that I’m a pretty hardcore moderate and I have a strong and healthy distrust of both progressive and conservative parties as well as low faith in both the government and corporate power structures. I’m going to do my best to pull examples from as many different arenas as possible for a fair and balanced discussion of the issue that should make everyone equally angry.

This all begins with my own blog and why I essentially stopped blogging. The truth is that I was frustrated about what kinds of posts got the most hits. A few years ago I realized that the posts that “did the best” were ones that were inherently mean spirited or controversial for their extreme views. For example, I wrote a post about Second Life that was intentionally mean spirited and to this day it is my most read piece. The thing to realize about this post is that I never really said anything important. There was nothing in there that would move anything forward. Libraries were already dropping Second Life and by the time I wrote the piece the virtual landscape was already a ghost town. On the other hand, I wrote a number of other posts that I think were more important but didn’t have anywhere as close to the same level of emotional reactions, emotion, or rhetoric and they were hardly read at all.

Of course, we could make the argument that the other posts weren’t as well written, or as timely or whatever, but really, the biggest difference is the level of emotional sensationalism. I really don’t hate Second Life, I really don’t care at all about Second Life, but I had the chance to write something in the extreme and see what happens. I was so disappointed in the broad and deep response that my number of blogs written per week almost drops off completely after that experiment. I went from writing one blog a week, to one every month or two. That was 4 years ago.

When I realized that these are the kinds of articles and blog posts that get the highest ratings I began to notice what was happening in the commercial media sphere. Everyday online it seems like there is more bad news, or emergencies, or constant state of urgency in the world around us. There are constant streams of vicious and witty criticisms and very few appraisals of positive viewpoints or constructive ideas. I realized that this was because moderate ideas simply don’t attract reaction or generate the ratings and views that are necessary to raise revenue or resources through encouraging actions or ads or donations. For example, this article criticizing adults for reading comics. There was really no point in writing this article because it doesn’t move any discussion forward, its poorly written, and it doesn’t matter if adults read comics or watch superhero movies and essentially has no real affect on the world. However, because it is an extremist viewpoint and wild criticism of a popular and generally well liked pastime, this article appeared multiple times on my social media feeds with varying levels in indignation. It was clearly being well read and circulated.

1104-1dl4j10Recently, I left full time library work to work for an organization called EveryLibrary. If you haven’t heard me talk about EveryLibrary let me quickly fill you in. EveryLibrary is the first and only National Political Action Committee for Libraries. In the last three years we have helped libraries win local measures for library funding to the tune of almost 100 million dollars. Because EveryLibrary is about libraries, it’s a non-partisan issue, which is one of the things that I, as a moderate, really enjoy about it. But because it’s a non-partisan issue, I’ve attended webinars, trainings, conferences, read books and professional literature, followed campaigns, etc… for just about every political party in the United States. These trainings came from the Tea Party or the Libertarian Party or whatever flavor of progressive politics they were and were essentially all over the political spectrum.

I say all this because my work with EveryLibrary combined with these trainings have also reinforced my belief in the necessity of more extremism in our advocacy efforts. When we write for EveryLibrary we noticed that some of our posts or emails get a much higher level of engagement than others. While we understand that library issues are highly complex and require complex solutions we noticed that when we explained those issues in an educational and informational way that lays out the full scope of the issue, they were generally left unread by the professional public and the public at large. However, the ones that have the highest level of emotion, the least amount of complexity, and least amount of real information or solutions are the ones that get the highest levels of donations, the most shares, the most likes, and are the ones that are most widely read. What’s the point of writing something educational if nobody reads it to be educated?

We have many examples of this stark contrast between informational or educational posts and emotionally extreme posts. For example, when we post articles about how important libraries are for businesses and startups and how those kinds of organizations can take advantage of the services of libraries, we get very few click-throughs, almost no shares, and we get even less donations. But, when we post that libraries are being attacked by the Koch Brothers we can raise thousands of dollars and have hundreds of people sign up to support libraries in a matter of hours. There is a guttural emotional reaction to the idea that wealthy billionaires are working to strip services away from the American people and there is no sense of urgency in learning that businesses and startups can benefit from the services of libraries even though providing a higher level of services to upper social classes would position libraries as more relevant and necessary institutions to those in power. It is, without a doubt, more important for libraries to learn how to better engage upper class and more powerful cross sections of communities than it is to know that the Koch Brothers are attacking libraries, yet there is no engagement there.

angry-man-yellingWe also conducted A/B testing to determine messages that engage the highest amounts of people and return the highest level of actions take for libraries. We wrote emails that explained what positive things that libraries were doing and how they help communities and got very little return. Yet when we wrote something controversial or something that was more highly emotional and less deeply informational, we were able to see more donations, sign-ups, shares, etc… I have also seen this to hold true when we are attempting to activate people to sign a petition to fight legislation. Our calls to action that were informational went largely unheard and our calls to action that were highly emotional generated thousands more signatures.

While many people who work in the library industry have brought up the fact that they don’t enjoy our extremist posts, I would like to point out that those kinds of posts are generally not for them. People who work in libraries tend to be well educated. They tend to have a broader understanding of the complexities of the issues that surround library work. Librarians tend to be less motivated by reactionary posts about the Koch Brothers attacking libraries because they understand the full complexity of the issue at hand. For example, librarians are the people who know the difference between things like para-professional staff and MLIS credentialed librarians while the broader audience that we are writing for and the general population of people that we are trying to engage think that anyone who works in a library, from a page to a director, is a librarian. So, while I absolutely understand their concerns (I have them too), we aren’t writing for the people who are already engaged and have a strong understanding of all the issues, are already willing to take action for libraries, and are well educated on librarianship. We are writing to engage the public at large.

We can also see examples of the high level of success of this kind of extremist messaging beyond librarianship. We see it in the political discourse around minimum wage or abortion or the second amendment. You have probably participated in the discussions yourself or, if you haven’t, you have almost definitely noticed how the discourse between other people often slides into a highly emotional argument of sound bites and meaningless rhetoric and continues to decline into a barrage of name-calling rather quickly on all sides. What is interesting here is that, just like the issues in librarianship, the highly emotional and rhetoric filled views of these issues are not fully representative. Each of the issues are highly complex and require a deep level of understanding of the full scope of social concerns that surround them if we are seriously looking for a cure. If we think about each of these with a full understanding of them, we’d quickly see that soundbites like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” are wildly dismissive of the deep-rooted social ills that are actually behind high murder rates and, likewise, simply banning guns won’t cure the underlying social ills that cause murder either. For there to be a real solution, there needs to be a fully immersive strategy that undertakes the task of explaining all the possible solutions at each level and the people need to be educated about the entirety of the situation with holistic solutions at every level. So, these soundbites and simplified emotional rhetoric are clearly not the solution.

So why are such simplified and meaningless rhetoric to discuss highly complex issues so prolific? There is a sound reason for this. As we pointed out earlier, extremist propaganda returns the most extreme return on investment. Another example from outside of librarianship of a large ROI on an extremist action comes from US Representative Joe Wilson who yelled “You Lie!” during the State of the Union Address from President Obama. His campaign for re-election raised millions of dollars from his supporters in the next week. Joe Wilson was then able to use those resources to go on to defeat his general election opponent, Rob Miller. Joe Wilson was able to use his extremist outburst to drive up donations to use as resources to win his bid for re-election. Of course, this isn’t just limited to candidate campaigns, we see a similar set of actions and outcomes play out repeatedly in almost every cause. That’s because these extremist actions are the necessary first step in allowing causes to have the money and identify the supporters and help them build the resources they need to take action for the actual solution.

<> on September 9, 2009 in Washington, DC.
Representative Joe Wilson yells Liar during the State of the Union Address

Of course, Joe Wilson’s donations didn’t come from moderates. His donations didn’t come from people who could see both sides of the issue. His donations came from people with deep seated and extreme anger and resentment towards President Obama. People who kind of like Obama as president weren’t the ones who donated to Representative Wilson. It was the ones who hate and oppose Obama the most. What this proves is that extremists are the ones who take action. Not moderates. It’s very important to understand that extremists with extreme views who are using extreme rhetoric are the ones who give money, volunteer, and otherwise provide resources to causes. You won’t find someone who has only moderate views on an issue or is careless about an issue spending their hard earned money to fight for or against it.

What is also interesting is the very low percentage of individuals that give to campaigns. Bernie Sanders, for example, who has raised more money from individual donations for his campaign than any other candidate in history has received donations from 1.3 million Americans. While 1.3 million people sounds like a large number, when compared to the size of the general population, it is almost a meaningless statistic. There are over 330 million people in the United States and that means that Sanders has only raised money from less than one third of one percent of the population. The most successful individual donor candidate in the world has only been able to actively engage 0.33% of the public and convince to take action. This is also interesting considering that he polls at an approval rating of about 40% of Democrats and about 30% of Americans identify as Democrats or about one hundred million people. Since you do not have to be a registered voter to donate to a campaign, there are around 50 million people who potentially support Bernie Sanders (far less are willing or able to vote) and could be tapped into giving donations to the Sanders Campaign. Why then, do only 1/3 of one percent of Americans give? Because those are the individuals with the most extreme faith and belief in a country governed by President Sanders. The truth is that it take a very small percentage of extremist Americans to drastically influence politics.

All of this is to say that if a cause wants to exist, it needs resources to fight, and therefore it is in the best interest of causes and political parties to generate more extremism in order to get more access to more of the resources that they need to be maintain a sustainable fight.

So, if libraries are to continue to have the resources that they need to continue to fight for their existence then libraries need to find ways to identify and engage a small percentage of Americans who are extremist and ravenous supporters of libraries and who will take action and give those resources to library causes. Whereas, Bernie Sanders is supported by 50 million people, libraries have far more supporters than all of the presidential candidates combined. Libraries have an approval rating of over 80% across the country and across a wide range of political beliefs but we’re failing to engage the most extremist believers in libraries. Librarians need to understand where and how these extremist beliefs are generated and how they can be used and who they can be used on. Libraries also need to really take some time and look at the messages that are being used against them and take the time to understand the root of those messages in order to develop effective and emotionally charged counter messages.

One of our biggest weaknesses is that we know very little about the kinds of people who support libraries, why they support them, and we know even less about the people who are against libraries and why. For those other well resourced causes that we mentioned earlier as well as political party platforms, literally millions of dollars are spent every single year to research voter perceptions and motivations for voting or taking action on behalf of the cause as well as identifying messaging that works effectively and the kinds of people that it works on. Every single year, these causes of the most current and up-to-date data to help them fight. Whereas, for libraries,the only real study that has been done to look at the propensity of registered voters to support libraries at the ballot box was done in 2008 with 2007 data. This means that the data comes from a time that was pre-recession, pre-Tea Party, pre-any tax is a bad tax organized groups. Since then, we have had a major culture shift built entirely around the circumstances set up in the recession. But even with that study and disregarding the recession, we learned very little. For example, we know that people’s support or opposition to libraries is not dependent on their use of the library and we know that people are just as likely to vote for or against the library regardless of their political ideology unless they are extremist in their views on either side of the political spectrum. What should scare librarians and library supporters is that we do not have data to create a model of voters for libraries and we don’t have data to create a model of voters in opposition to libraries.

We can, however, look at some interesting trends in the comments on our Facebook Page. Because there is currently no funding for this research, this is where we are starting to look to build this data although it is a very poor source for data. One of the biggest things we’ve noticed is that the people that comment positively for libraries are not extremist, but the people who comment in opposition to libraries are extremist. They are generally deeply neo-liberal or deeply neo-conservative.

For example, if you click on the comments below, it will take you to the walls of the commenters where you can see that the majority of their FB posts are almost entirely around extremist political rhetoric even though they are typically individuals who do not work in a political sphere. These are individual that have no reason to post politically because they are not major influencers in politics, they are not authors or personalities in politics, they have low “friend” numbers and are not engaged by comments from their “friends” or followers, and they are essentially impotent in the political world and have no real incentive to post any kind of political rhetoric.

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I want to point out that there is nothing wrong with the beliefs of these two example cases. With their experiences and their understanding of the world around them, they are right to believe what they believe. However, it our responsibility to understand them and their ideologies and be able to respond to them in a way that’s meaningful to them.

What this does show is how strongly the kinds of individuals who oppose libraries are influenced by the political extremism of neo-liberalism or neo-conservatism. It’s interesting that, these individuals, without any personal influence on American politics, without any responsibility in American politics, and without any real role in American politics at all, feel so strongly that they only post American political rhetoric on their personal walls. This is especially alarming considering the wide range innovation in the world, the immense amount of venues for entertainment across hundreds of venues and mediums, the vast discoveries and inventions of the 21st century, and the potential for exploration of an entire world at their finger tips in the digital age that they would choose to almost exclusively post about American political rhetoric. Essentially they are focused on posting about a small sliver of the world in which they live and a very small sliver of the world in which they have almost zero influence. The obvious complete control of each of these individual’s mind is a testament to the power and influence of political think tanks, the vast resources and far reaching power of diverse issues, and the kind of extremism that is being tapped into in order to fund the fight for these various oppostional beliefs.

But, wouldn’t it be nice if libraries could tap into this kind of extremism? In fact, I would argue that it has become even more of a necessity for librarians to be able to speak in ways that tap into these kinds of extremist belief systems. We need to take the time to study and look into the reasons that people believe the kinds of things that they believe at such guttural levels. After all, these kinds of extremist views and these kinds of systems of support that are based in extremist ideologies where specifically developed for these outcomes. Why couldn’t similar ideologies be built around a belief system that is supportive of libraries?

One of the reasons this hasn’t happened in libraries is that we have never had the need for it before. Previous to the Great Recession, libraries have had the benefit of being so well supported by the general public that they have not even had to campaign to win elections. Libraries could simply place ballot measures before the people and about 85-90% of them would pass without the need for well-funded or well-trained and structured campaigns. That level of passing referendum is almost unheard of in almost any other cause and we can’t expect to ever surpass these levels again without highly structured and well-funded modern campaigns. But because libraries have never had the need to learn to be better politically positioned in communities, libraries have not had a strong culture of politics or political action in our day-to-day work. This is can no longer be the case.

Currently fewer library campaigns are winning and those that do are winning smaller at margins and are being even further eroded by legislation that require super majorities to win tax increases. We also seen more movement to fight against libraries like the recent movement by the Koch Brothers funded Super PAC to come out against libraries. Comparatively, causes that have had the benefit of years of research and careful construction like 2nd amendment rights, abortion, and minimum wage, have a level of extremist influence built through years of experience and deep pockets of resources that libraries have just begun to understand and don’t yet have access to. Organizations like our own EveryLibrary are only just beginning to build the data and research that we need to ensure that libraries continue to win at high margins. We are only just beginning to understand these extremist viewpoints and build extremism into our own rhetoric…. Like it or not…

But now its time for a solution. Libraries need to spend time and resources on data building, on focus groups, supporter ID, and message development to build our database of extremist supporters with key messages that we know will activate them to take action on behalf of libraries. This is one of the reasons that we created this Knight News Foundation Grant Submission and are looking for funding to continue our research into this area. For other causes this was done through well-funded think tanks with financial backing and big data resources. The need for identifying supporters is also why we created our Political Action Platform for libraries. It’s time for libraries to duplicate the efforts of national causes and political parties and cadidates and truly understand what makes Americans ravenously believe in causes to such an extreme that they will support those causes with money, time, and other resources. We need this level of extremism on the side of libraries in order to ensure that libraries continue to exist at all to continue to serve the good of the American people.

Fighting for school libraries, public libraries, and using big data to do it

evillibrarianslogo

I spoke with Dustin Fife of Utah Library fame for his podcast and I spoke about what we can do to support school libraries, how we can win elections and ballot initiatives for public libraries, making libraries fun, and how we can all support each other.

I was speaking on behalf of EveryLibrary and the work we do as a political action committee that supports local ballot initiatives with training and resources pro-bono for libraries.

The most important thing you can do right now is get involved and sign a petition or pledge or, even better, contribute $5 a month to fight for libraries on our Action Page

Listen to the podcast here
Evil Librarians Podcast 112

Resources we discuss:
EveryLibrary
Vote Libraries
Take Action for Libraries
From Awareness to Funding

Librarians Need to Show Up

Many libraries conduct traditional outreach like tables in front of Starbucks, storytimes at the local parks, or showing up at community meetings. These are great ways to get out of the library and into the community at large. But, what if we extended these traditional outreach programs into opportunities for networking with community leaders, politicians, professionals, and entrepreneurs? How would we develop relationships and what could we do with them?

While working for EveryLibrary on political campaigns for libraries I’ve noticed that the better connected a library is to these groups, the better funded they are, the better positioned they are to win their campaign, and the better supported they are in their community. Often, this level of influence in a community is due to only one or two well-connected employees. Typically, this is the library director or assistant director who has spent time and energy building relationships with city council members, attending Kiwanis or Rotary Club meetings, or some other social group. Through these relationships the library is able to gain access to grants and funding opportunities, or establish partnerships to provide bigger and better services, and enjoy the benefits of pro-library political climates. Also, by extending the sphere of influence of the library, there are simply more opportunities all around.

If your library doesn’t have a well-connected administrator, one of the ways to begin is to start providing more services to those with money and power and influence in their communities. Libraries do a good job providing and marketing their services to children, community members in need, the middle class, and many marginalized communities. These services are outstanding and terribly, and unfortunately, much needed across the country and in every town and city. But we also need to reach start-ups, entrepreneurs, unmarried men and women in their late 20s and early 30s, build relationships with local businesses, and maybe even create partnerships with other non-profits and influence politicians. Some people might argue that those people don’t need libraries, and that might be true, but I would argue that libraries need them. I would suggest that libraries need these kinds of community members in order to continue to have the resources and social capital we need to survive.

Because they don’t come into the library, and because we don’t always do a very good job doing outreach in their networks, many libraries might not know how to reach them. In fact, there are only a few ways to get into these networks. The most important and most impactful way is to show up and librarians should always show up. There are few places that librarians can show up, and I’ll just talk about two of them.

If there are any community meetings happening, a librarian should show up. These are opportunities to meet the influential people even if the community meeting has very little to do with the library. There are almost always a wide range of people who attend these meetings and many of the people who show up are the ones who are most committed to the community as well as many local politicians or people with political aspirations. These are some of the few people who actually show up to the city council meetings and speak on behalf of a local issue. The librarian can make many connections with the most politically active community members by showing up to these community meetings and introducing themselves, hearing about their issues, and discussing ways that the library aligns with their beliefs. The best part about working in a library is that there is almost always some way that the library aligns with every local issue even if it just providing books and collections that deal with that issue.

network-after-work-85310445Besides community meetings there are almost always networking events and social engagements throughout the area or nearby. If you live in or near a larger city, one of my favorite networking events is called Network After Work and has large networking events happening across the country at very low prices. I always tried to attend as many as I could or send my librarians to the ones happening nearby. If you don’t have a Networking After Work nearby, try looking for events on Facebook, Meetup.com, or even Craigslist. These kinds of events are filled with people working in start-ups, entrepreneurs, bankers, and new or early professionals who want to work on projects. One of the big things I always came away with where a handful of cards of people who wanted to do something in the library like debut their documentary, host a financial literacy fair, or provide some other program. But, the most important outcome was the opportunity to talk about the services that the library can provide to these kinds of individuals who don’t usually use the library as well as find people who want to help the library through donations, volunteerism, or other engagement like speaking or writing in support of the library when you need them to.

My biggest issue is that I’m an introvert. This is something that I wanted to be able to work around so I have spent a lot of time learning how to be social in these situations and I’ve spoken and written about how to fake being an extrovert until you get the hang of it. You can watch the talk in the video below.

How Librarians Can Party Hard and Make it Happen (Keynotes for AZLA)

The weekend before Thanksgiving I gave a series of talks at the Arizona Library Association Conference where I talked about partying hard and making it happen in a professional context. As many of you might know, this is the Mantra of ALA Think Tank which is the largest online network of librarians in the world. The opening keynote was entitled Party Hard and I spoke about how to take advantage of professional and social functions to make connections that will benefit you, your library, and your career. In the closing Keynote I spoke about how to take advantage of these connections and make it happen in order to accomplish even more for your communities. AZLA was kind enough to record the sessions and I am making them available here. The slidedecks for these presentations are available on Slideshare here.

Partying Hard

Making It Happen

My Goal for the New Year: DO MORE STUFF

Moving to the East Coast is probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I started my library career desperately wanting to be an administrator. The pay was better, I enjoy everything that comes with management and leadership, it’s where people have always told me that I should strive to be, but really… I just haven’t been as ecstatic with it as I thought I’d be. Being a library administrator has allowed to live decently and pay off my debts and buy my boat (which has always been a dream of mine since I was about 6 years old) but watching the library directors around me and seeing what it is that they do makes me wonder what I’m striving for. I don’t get to work with the public as much and I don’t really get to get my hands as dirty as I wanted, and overall I’m not sure that being where everyone tells me I should be is as rewarding as they tell me it is. But mostly, I just don’t get to do a whole lot of stuff.

The thing is that I don’t really enjoy HAVING a lot of stuff so the measure of success being money or stuff doesn’t do much for me. In fact, moving to Brooklyn, I only have a few bags of clothes, the things I need for work and sailing, and two guitars. I think I figured out that I hate HAVING things and I LOVE doing things. In fact, most of the money I’ve made in libraries I’ve spent on doing stuff in libraries like going to conferences, makingithappen.us, making donations to causes I believe in, sending people banana slicers (until Amazon stopped me), and projects like the Great Librarian Write-Out or the Story Sailboat. So with this move, I’m really excited to just try to do stuff for libraries and people as my actual job. Mostly around EveryLibrary and political action for libraries, but I’m open to doing other stuff and getting involved in bigger and better projects and finding great passionate people to work with. So, that’s my goal for the new year. DO more stuff with people who are also doing more stuff and somehow be “successful” whatever that means.

This blog was written because of Calvin and Hobbes. When I was a kid I religiously read Calvin and Hobbes. In fact, there was quite a bit of time when I almost ONLY read Calvin and Hobbes and I desperately wanted to draw like Bill Watterson or have his insight or his great use of language. But yesterday, I saw this comic and once again Bill Watterson really sums up my life and defines me as a person.

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In the end, I’m just really lucky to even have the opportunity to make this choice and thanks to everyone in this profession who has been so good to me.

Leaving California and Traditional Library Work!

Is-This-the-Next-Big-Thing-in-Content-Marketing.jpgI am making some big changes in the next month and I am really excited, scared and… well… mostly excited. I am leaving my administrative job here in Sunnyvale and moving to Brooklyn to be with my girlfriend Kate Tkacik and working for EveryLibrary full time.  Personally, I’m very excited to take the next step with Kate and start that chapter in my life, but this is my professional blog so I’ll focus on those things. If you want to get personal, feel free to friend me on Facebook.

One of the things that makes me most excited about this transition is that I get the opportunity to do something that I think is important and give back to the profession that has been so supportive and good to me. Librarianship has truly given me a lot of opportunities and I can’t possibly repay all of the great love and support I have received from so many people and organizations. I have been able to see the country and meet a lot of amazing humans that I call friends all over the United States all while paying my bills. I have really been very lucky to find such magnificent people and a profession that does such important work. I feel as though I have real opportunity and obligation to give some of that back and work to make the future for libraries a little bit better by taking on the local funding challenges by working for EveryLibrary fulltime.

In case you aren’t familiar with EveryLibrary’s work, it is the Nation’s first Political Action Committee built to work specifically on local campaigns and ballot measures for libraries.  In the last 3 years we have helped libraries win over 60 million dollars in funding through working to support local ballot committees, training campaign volunteers and library staff, and helping them win 26 campaigns all over the nation. We have also spoken at a number of conferences and given trainings and workshops to hundreds librarians in dozens of states.

I have been involved with EveryLibrary as a board member since its creation nearly 3 years ago and I have been more and more involved in the ground level work over the last few years. The political work, working with campaigns, and talking about libraries as important community causes has been some of the most fulfilling work I have ever had. This work is both challenging and educational and there is just too much to do for me to not take it on and work with John Chrastka and the team full time on it.

Of course, if you’re interested in the work that we do, need some campaign consulting, or having me or any of the EveryLibrary team members speak at your conference or workshop, feel free to get in touch with us. Of course, our work is pro-bono and only made possible by your generous support.

Since I’m leaving traditional library work, I’d love to close this out by giving a big shout out to the folks at Lincoln Public Library for starting me out with my first huge job, San Mateo County for just being amazing and supportive to work for, the wonderful librarians all over CA and CLA who have been really amazing to me and some of my best friends, and the librarians at Sunnyvale who are doing some of the most innovative work I’ve seen.

PS – I’m keeping the boat.

New Coke VS. New Libraries and Lessons Learned?

In 1985 the Coca-Cola Company realized that its market share had fallen almost 25 percent and wanted to do something new to compete with Pepsi. They decided that they would release a sweeter version of Coca-Cola that, in blind taste tests and focus groups, did far better than both Pepsi and the original Coca-Cola flavor. They called it New Coke. However, New Coke is generally regarded as one of the largest marketing and product flops ever and while millions of dollars were spent marketing and producing the product, it was quickly taken off the market. In fact, it was such a flop, that over 400 thousand people wrote letters to the Coca-Cola Company to complain about the new soda. The big problem was that while Coca-Cola did their due-diligence on the flavor and idea of New Coke, they completely overlooked the brand identity that Coke had cultivated over its long history.

Currently libraries are in a state of fluctuation where we are competing with organizations like Amazon, Google, and the emergence of eReaders. In many places libraries are rushing to catch up with new and innovative collections, exciting maker-spaces, on demand printing, and less quiet areas and proudly marketing themselves as community centers and creative spaces. However, in many cities the libraries are seeing a pushback from these changes and in some cities a strong resistance is growing. The problem is that many people still believe the brand identity of a library being quiet study spaces and entirely about books on the shelves.

What could Coke have done differently? Many brand managers argue that had Coca-Cola not tried to change their formula overnight with a large ad campaign and quick change and instead simply slowly increased the amount of sweetener and slowly changed their formula without the large ad campaign, they would have been much more successful. They might have also been more successful if Coke had also just increased their regular marketing campaign without loudly proclaiming that they’ve changed. In the end, they would have wound up with a better tasting soda and a larger market share by implementing a slower change and less marketing about how much it has changed.

It is possible that libraries are making the same mistake that Coca-Cola did with New Coke. We know through research from PEW that communities largely support libraries and that they largely support libraries based on their “nostalgia” (I would argue that nostalgia=brand identity) for libraries. When we work with campaigns in communities as EveryLibrary we often see the nostalgic idea of traditional libraries and the resistance to the new idea of librarianship in the campaign messages of the opposition. It’s possible that we could be pushing quickly for a change and boasting loudly about that change before people are ready to give up their old brand identity of the library.

So what can we do? I think we already know that libraries have to adapt and change to the needs of our community and I think we also know that we need to improve and drastically increase our marketing and advocacy. My solution is to copy what Coca-Cola should have done and use the nostalgic brand of librarianship to bring people into the library to experience the small changes that libraries have made over the years in order to slowly update that nostalgia. I think the wrong solution is to do what Coca-Cola did and suddenly and heavily advertise that the library is completely different than what people grew up loving. We have seen libraries try to quickly tell their communities that the library is different and we have seen them met with a lot of resistance, anger, and opposition.

In Sunnyvale we are doing this in large part through our Facebook Ads and our Email Campaign. We have put $100 a week (we have 140k Sunnyvale residents) into Facebook ads and we are actively building our email list. We keep a strong base in the book brand with a lot of the posts and we occasionally slip in the updated idea of libraries. We heavily promote our books and “traditional” resources while casually mentioning some of the things that people can get beyond books. We have had huge success with this model with more people coming to the library for our innovative programs, drastic increases in digital collection use, and more foot traffic in general while we also haven’t seen much pushback when we add more to the library like 3d printers, seed libraries, and louder group work spaces. If you want to see exactly what our posts are like, feel free to take a look at our Facebook page. If you need more content for your ads, check out Ben Bizzle and Jeannie Allen’s Library Facebook Images Dropbox.

Vote For My Staff’s Amazing Conversation Starters at ALA San Francisco.

11001569_10153175109823707_6698739412170076201_oI’m going to take a minute and brag and recklessly hype these conversation starters from my staff and not feel bad about it. In my library my staff are doing amazing things and I would love to have them share with the rest of the library community.  For example, they consistently have huge turnouts to our library programs because of their marketing.  They are also working really hard to get more women involved in the maker movement with the Make-HER program, creating a platform for the library to be an independent publisher of eBooks, and making our staff training activities fun.

What is a conversation starter?
Conversation Starters are lectures, panels or discussions and will take place at ALA in San Francisco on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. The wide range of emerging topics, trends and innovations in the 36 Conversation Starters are what make them so powerful.  But they are made even bigger because they are the presentations that you choose through your votes.

Click on the links below to go to the voting site for these presentations.

Holy Moly, 100 Adults Came?!? WTF?
Are you tired of spending hours preparing for a program when only 10 people show up? So were we. Sunnyvale librarians discovered the secret of attracting large crowds by using marketing tools and choosing timely topics. With personal interests as sources of inspiration, we created innovative programs on such topics as starting a vegetable garden,  adults-only crafting, showcasing electric vehicles, using the 3D printer, and more. Learn steps for success, participate in a brainstorming session, and walk away with a practical toolkit to help you take your adult programs to the next level.

Spice Up Your Staff Training – Ninja Style
Got new resources? Staff? Need a reboot? Create a team challenge that brings everyone up to speed.  Through seven online challenges, Sunnyvale Public Library managers and staff worked together to become Tech Ninjas.  Managers upped the ante by pledging performance art upon completion of each task. Unlock the Discover & Go level and sing “Take a Load Off, Annie” with a manager on guitar. Conquer Encore and watch “Green Eggs and Ham” come to life.  Learn eBook basics and see a manager go blonde.   Fun, free, and customizable — learn how to Ninja-fy your library!

From Maker to Make-HER: Leveling the STEM Playing Field for Girls
How do techie girls make their way in what’s been termed a “bro-grammer” culture?  Despite advances in other fields, women still are vastly underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math professions (STEM).  Explore how public libraries can support girls and engage mothers as mentors through project-based STEM learning.  Get inspired by Make-HER instructors, discover what’s hot in the Maker Movement, and explore the practicalities of Library as Make-HER Space.  Finally, unleash your inner maker and learn-by-doing as #LadyMakers lead participants through a mini Make-HER project.

eBook Maker: Libraries as Independent Publishers
The Sunnyvale Public Library currently offers 3D printing services as well as a series of adult crafting programs, and just this year will publish an eBook anthology featuring local writers. The idea for the Bay Area Library ePublishers (BALE) project developed as a response to these “maker” programs, seeking to provide support and an artistic space for local writers. This panel discussion will feature librarians from Sunnyvale Public Library that took part in the project as they share their experiences of creating their own eBook, while providing a blueprint for libraries and librarians interested in pursuing publishing programs and platforms.

And a few for me…
Ok… A little bragging and recklessly hyping about the ones that I’m involved in too. EveryLibrary submitted a conversation starter to share what we’ve learned on the campaign trail and to help libraries learn about what they can start doing today to win elections years from now. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to ensure your library remains well funded for years to come.  I’m also presenting an interactive conversation starter on Professional Networking and Schmoozing based on my recent article in Library Journal. If you want to learn how to engage your peers and colleagues or build rapport with members of your community, you’re going to need to learn to schmooze!

SuperPAC Advocacy Hacks for your Library
Ever wonder why the nation’s largest SuperPACs are so successful at political advocacy? These organizations are well funded, well supported, and are able to convince thousands of Americans to take action to further their agenda.  But what if libraries could use the tools, tips, and tricks used by these organizations to support libraries? In this session, the folks from EveryLibrary (the nation’s first and only PAC for libraries) will share what they’ve learned from national PACs and through their political action activities in support of libraries.

Schmoozing for Beginners
Professional networking and schmoozing are two of the most important skills a librarian can have. They are not taught in MLIS programs, and being proficient at both was one of the hardest lessons I had to learn. In order to get the projects done in my community that I was passionate about, move my library forward, and garner political support, I realized that I needed to take advantage of the many professional and political social opportunities going on around me. This presentation shares many of the tips and tricks that I’ve learned that have been successful for me.