The Physical Library in the 21st Century?

From the comments on this post:

“… what happens to the physical library? If Topeka Public mails the holds to patrons and they can drop the returned item at boxes, and the patrons need not come to the physical library… I’m the systems librarian at the Academy Library Budapest and am alarmed by the declining clientele. What still draws them to the library is the line of subscribed databases which are unavailable outside of the library. What can we offer to repopulate the spaces, apart from the complementary agora-like events like occasional exhibitions, book presentations and invited lecturers-speakers?”

Great question, and a great way to end the year… or start the new year, depending on when you read this. So – readers, what do you think? How can we get people into the physical library?

Here’s my shot at it – we need to run the library a bit more like a business, and simply offer people something they want (like a good or product that a business offers to a customer). But what do we offer them? Here’s a great example from the ReadWriteWeb:

Imagine a future when you go to the library with a 5 minute video you’ve just made about last night’s Presidential debates and that librarian says to you:

‘You should upload it to YouTube and tag it with these four tags – two broad and two more specific to existing communities of interest on YouTube and the topic of your video. Then you should embed that video in a blog post along with some text introducing it and linking to some of your favorite posts by other people who have also written today about the Presidential debates. Make sure to send trackbacks to those posts!’

‘Now, I think this is a particularly good video on the topic, so if you’re interested I will vote for it on StumbleUpon (as a sexy librarian I have a very powerful account there) and give it a good summary explanation. Any of those are steps you can take that will make your work all the easier for people to discover.’ “

So again – readers? What do you think? Why should our customers still visit the physical library, and how do we get them to do it?

And… Happy New Year!!!!!!!!!!!

You-promotion or Me-promotion?

Just saw this on Seth Godin’s blog today, and thought I’d pass it along. Go read it – but here’s the jist:

  • Seth writes about self-promotion
  • He explains that 37 Signals doesn’t do self-promotion, because they’re “promoting useful ideas. They’re promoting tactics or products that actually benefit the person they’re reaching out to.”

Then he sums it up by saying “that’s because they’re doing you-promotion, not me-promotion.”

And that made me think – which type of promotion do libraries do? When we want people to know about our databases for example – do we do me-promotion (i.e., “we have a new business database”) or do we do you-promotion (i.e., “we have a way for your new business to gather B2B leads…. in this new database at the library.”)?

I’m not even sure those are good examples of me- and you-promotion… but – do you get this idea? In our advertising, in our writing, in our video making (for those libraries doing video) – are you simply sharing what you have? Or are you emphasizing the benefit to the customer? Showing the customer what our content, our expertise, our form of community will do for them?

That has the potential TO BE HUGE.


More MeeboMe Ideas

Wow – there have been lots of comments on the MeeboMe widget. Great! Some other libraries are trying it out – check the comments on my original post and on Jenny Levine’s post titled Mashing on the Library, Part I to find them. Others have been emailing me, asking for details.

Now, let’s take this one further – where else can you embed this thing? For example, Edward had a great idea (left it in my comments). He said “Very cool. I think I might go ahead and add this to our log-in failed page for EzProxy.” Great idea, Edward!

And that made me think… I’ll bet there are other good places to embed something like this. For example, my library’s looking into other places to drop it in the catalog, like on the search results page (idea swiped from Paul Pival).

Think about it like this – where do your patrons get hung up? What stops them… confuses them… makes them click away? Maybe that’s a good place to embed a MeeboMe widget (or something similar). Don’t think “well, I put a link to a Help file there, so that’s good enough.” Come on – do YOU click that Help link? That’s like removing the Information Desk and replacing it with a bin of tipsheets on using the Dewey Decimal System!

Finally, a couple of commenters have mentioned being wary of embedding an IM widget in the catalog because it’s not a 24/7 service. My thoughts:

  • Well… it CAN be a 24/7 service, if you’re willing to not sleep :-)
  • I think the focus is off – you’re concerned with what is most likely a very small minority of patrons searching the catalog at 2am. Instead, focus on helping the majority of your patrons… and add text stating your IM hours.
  • Most 24/7 virtual chat reference services (the only thing I can think of providing 24/7 live help) have people in other libraries answering those 2 am questions… do you really want someone at another library answering a question about YOUR library catalog? Maybe yes, maybe no…

Are you planning to embed a meeboMe widget in your catalog? Leave a comment!