Ok, I saw a lot of hate on the Slate Article about what librarians look like. The hate ranged from people being upset because the people were too diverse, to it being stolen from other people, to people being “over it” in regards to library stereotype articles. Basically, I think each of these are ridiculous for a bunch of reasons. The most offensive TO ME though is the people who hate it because they are over stereotype bending articles about librarians. Let me break it all down for you.
First, let me note that I am NOT hating on the article. I personally loved it a whole lot and this whole blog post is mostly about the fact that we need a lot more of them.
So these are really important things to talk about but I’m a mildly successful, middle class, fully abled, white guy with the difficulty level of my life set at “easy” so I’ll let other people make the arguments on this one.
Ok, I know the article looks and sounds like a bunch of other things that librarians have done. But can we please just get over the victim mentality on this. I’m going to write a much longer blog post on this mentality now that I think about it more. It’s really so much more than I can possible talk about here. But I can sum it all up by saying that it’s all been done before. For example, there have been train libraries, there have been libraries on donkeys and on librarians backs and on boats, there are probably 30 organizations building libraries in Africa, there have been tiny free libraries before, there are a thousand blogs talking about a million things, and guess what? Your library FB page isn’t original either. So instead, how about we just give props when someone makes something cool happen even if you’re trying to do the same thing because what you’re doing isn’t new either anyway. Let’s get on the same team here people!!
The REAL Message
Ok, you’re probably already mad at me and I’m cool with that. But, if you got to this point, I’m going to explain why I’m REALLY UPSET by people hating on it because they are so “over it.” I hear this every time librarians try to get a new message out about our stereotypes or more honestly, try to get a message out about anything. So let me talk about why that really irks me and why this just proves without a doubt that we need a lot more political and marketing and advertising training in our profession.
Let me start with what I’ve learned from my work with EveryLibrary and EveryLibrary California about the message in a political campaign. In every single book about campaign messaging and in every campaign message training I have ever been to, I have learned that there are three key strategies to remember about messaging.
1) Say the message
2) Repeat the message
3) Repeat the message
4) *free bonus strategy* REPEAT THE MESSAGE
This article’s Message
In the case of this article, it looks like there are two messages being played out in complimentary ways. I think that a first glance it appears that the message of the project is that librarians don’t look like what you expect. But when you read the actual text of the article, the message that stands out is that libraries are highly important institutions that do a diverse range of public goods. It looks to me like the pictures of these diverse librarians was meant to reinforce that idea in the text. But let’s look at the one message that everyone is talking about and the message that librarians are so over.
“Librarians are not the stereotype”
I think that there are a couple of truths that we need to recognize here. The first and foremost is that this wasn’t an article written for librarians to read at all. Basically, we’re talking about breaking down the stereotypes of librarians in the minds of non-librarians and not do anything in the minds of librarians. The second thing is that this conversation about changing the stereotype of librarians has been going on for a long time and it seems that most librarians want those stereotypes to change. We can debate about whether or not most librarians want that change or not, I don’t really care. But enough librarians want those stereotypes to change that it’s a conversation that we’ve been having for a long time.
So how do we make that change?
Well, we begin with the message that librarians are not the stereotype. Then we repeat it. In fact, we repeat it so much that we are tired of hearing it. If this were a political campaign, we wouldn’t even be discussing the fact that we are tired of hearing. In a campaign, we’re supposed to be tired of hearing the message. If we’re tired of hearing it, it means that the public is just starting to hear it for the first time. If we’re just tired or “so over” our message we’ve only just begun to do our jobs. To prove why that is, let’s do the math on that article.
Let’s be HUGELY optimistic and say that 1 million people read that article in just the United States. That means that after the views by everyone else in the world, and minus all the librarian views, that there are one million views by the public in the states. There are slightly more than 313 million people in the United States and lets just simplify that to 300 million. This means that just ONE THIRD of ONE PERCENT of the American Population saw that message. And finally, let’s be honest and say that in reality, probably only 100k people living in the United States saw the article. Guess what? We’ve only reached ONE THIRTIETH of ONE PERCENT of the population. So in these scenarios, to reach the entire US population, we would have to repeat this message 3 THOUSAND times at the million views mark, and 30 THOUSAND times at the more realistic hundred thousand view mark.
Now, let’s get even more serious. For campaigns, it’s widely accepted that for every 7 times a voter sees a campaign message, they register it in their mind once. At campaign trainings they also say that voters need to register it at least three times to be effective, and they need to register it ten times for it to be engrained. Ok… Are you following along? That means that we would have to put out this message AT LEAST 21 thousand times to register in the minds of US citizens just once at the million view mark and we’d have to write a similar article and put it out AT LEAST 2.1 million times at the more realistic hundred thousand view mark just to register it in their minds once. You want it engrained in their minds? Multiply those numbers by ten!!! Yes, we’d have to put out this message 21 million times to be effective.
More Like a Campaign
Luckily, in a campaign we typically only have to be effective with 50%+1 of the voting population. But even if we were to cut these numbers in half and add 1 to just the voting population like a campaign… Well, I think you still see how huge a national campaign needs to be. Now think of your state or town and how large even that campaign needs to be. I REALLY hope that one of the take aways you have from this is the size of a local campaign. Maybe a local campaign for your library?! This is way campaigns are so expensive and why EveryLibrary is so important.
I’m tired just writing this
So yes, you ARE tired of hearing messages about libraries. And you should be. And if you’re upset about a message going out once on an article like this one on Slate, just remember how little impact this one article actually has. It has, at most, 1/210th of a percent of an effect on the minds of Americans. So just be cool and praise the folks involved for getting it out there and then work on the message you want to get out. You’re going to need a lot of help on your message too.
Since this is my blog, I’m going to have to throw out a pitch for EveryLibrary California and what we are doing to get the message out about the importance and impact of libraries on the lives of Californians. We are running a campaign for $50 contributions to our fight for California Funding and every $50 gets the message into the minds of up to 38 thousand Californians. Consider making a contribution today.
I wrote this blog about the overall effect of this article on the profession in the minds of Americans.