I’ve been doing a lot of teaching about social media lately, and one of the points I drive home constantly is that human beings are inherently selfish. When presented with anything new, the question in our heads is always and immediately going to be: “What’s in it for ME?” When your library promotes anything, it has to answer this question clearly for the message recipients. This constant repetition of this lesson reminded me that I had written something for my old blog, a few years ago, in the same vein. I’m reprinting it here.
Think different. (Please don’t sue me, Apple.)
This isn’t precisely a technology post. Additionally, it’s not even about Apple products at all. This is some fodder for rethinking some things; perhaps a lot of things. You get to decide which things those are.
I was once asked what advice I would give someone just starting out in public speaking. Would joining Toastmasters help? Speaking in front of a mirror? I’m still not sure what the best advice would have been, but I explained how I came to be comfortable with presenting. In my first career, I was an environmental/outdoor education teacher. My job was to keep inner city kids interested in things like the life cycles of frogs and the dietary habits of turkey vultures*, possibly while it was cold, pouring and said kids had no Gortex raincoats. One learned very fast to make these topics interesting, or 1) the final evaluations from the visiting parents and teachers would rip one to shreds and 2) The kids would probably beat them to it out of sheer boredom**.
However, “interesting” is a tricky word and can mean something different from one person to the next. I discovered quickly that I needed to replace that word with the word “relevant.” It was my job to make my classes relevant to those kids, to the point where they not only weren’t bored, but could make some kind of personal connection to the information I was providing. Without that personal connection, that information would almost assuredly go in one ear and out the other. In other words, it was my professional responsibility to give them a reason to care.
So let’s bring this around to libraries. Of course, we’re concerned about our own relevancy in this increasingly digital era. But I think we get very focused on this aspect and can lose sight of the fact that we, too, have a professional responsibility to give people a reason to care. Sure, right now many libraries are seeing large increases in usage. The sagging economy has suddenly propelled us to relevancy in the eyes of people who are trimming budgets. However, I want to bring this down to a more micro-level approach. Think about individual services you provide in your library and how they are promoted.
Remember, my job wasn’t to make every kid that came through our program want to join the Sierra Club, it was to connect them personally to the environment as a whole through connections to smaller, digestible parts. Libraries could be doing the same thing. For every event your library wants to promote, ask the question, “What does this mean to me, Public Library?” In this instance, “me” is the average patron who has way too many demands on her time, is desperately seeking a job, trying to sell his house, finishing a degree…you get the idea. What will the average “I don’t have time” person gain from this? Will this storytime expose my child to literacy activities that will help him in school? Will my cover letters stand out? Could my house sell faster or for more money?
At the most base level, every patron is asking, knowingly or not: “What’s in this for me?” If you can successfully answer that question for them, you have made that personal connection. Personal connections can result in more broad-based support.
So, think a bit differently. Every time you interact with a patron, are you connecting them to something that’s truly relevant to them, or just pushing something the library hopes people will come to?
*Turkey vultures are actually very cool birds. Most predators won’t mess with ’em because one of their primary methods of defense is voluntary regurgitation; yes, that’s right—they throw up on their enemies. And, remember what turkey vultures eat. Carrion. Fun times. (And of immense interest to kids, of course.)
**I actually LOVED this job.
What does this mean to me, Laura?
Just telling people about your library’s stuff isn’t enough. The name of my blog is what it is for a reason. People need to know, plainly, what the payoff is going to be for them. If the payoff isn’t clear, you’re doing it wrong.
How does your library make the payoff clear?