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David Lee King

The Librarian IS the Rockstar



pic by libraryman

About a year ago, I tweeted this:

But I leave u with this to ponder: are your librarians your rockstars in your community? Should they be? If so, how do u get there? (from Twitter).

Here’s where I was going with that tweet: Awhile back, my library’s Communications Specialist said this to one of our librarians, who was worried that an article in our library newsletter focused a bit too much on her. Our Communications person said this (summary) “yep – my goal is to make YOU the rockstar, not me.”

I thought that was an insightful statement.

Our marketing person realized that one HUGE asset our library has, and therefore our community has … are our librarians. So we sometimes need to focus on our staff, rather than just on our stuff.

Why NOT “showcase” some of our fine staff a bit? We do that with all our other important, cool stuff, right? Our Harry Potter books and movies were all over some of our websites a few years ago. We make banners for important author events. We turn our “stuff” into the attraction (which makes sense – people come for our stuff).

How about this – why not create a banner showcasing, say, the librarian storytime dude that plays guitar and attracts a crowd? We’ve actually done that. In the process, instead of focusing on our “stuff” (in this case, the fact that we have storytimes), we focused on the specific staff person that did the storytime.

This also makes sense, because some people come for our stuff … AND our staff. You’ve seen this, too. More kids attending a certain person’s storytime. Patrons asking for a specific person at the reference desk. Maybe even one librarian blogger getting more hits on his/her blog posts because of their more personal writing style. People like our staff.

Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. We have amazing staff – and I’ll bet you do to. So why not showcase them a bit? Put them out into the community. Get them on the news (we do that on an afternoon news program). I know some librarians that write weekly newspaper columns.

Get out of your building. Step away from the reference desk. Call the newspaper. Start emphasizing your rockstar staff – not just your rockstar stuff.

Then see what happens.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://twitter.com/jdscott50 Jeff Scott

    Great post David! I think a major problem in a lot of libraries is that staff don’t want a lot of attention for the great work they do. It seems to embarrass them. They need to get out there and get the credit they deserve for all the great work that they do. We have a librarian that embraced that status when she made the front page of the local section of the newspaper. It was great for her, to recognize her for the work, to recognize all the great things the library does, and advertised the program wonderfully.

  • Srobinson

    Sorry David I think you have it totally wrong. The patron is the Rockstar. If the patron does not leave your library feeling smarter, well served, and connected then what have you achieved? Self promotion is great if that is the service your are providing. I think it is wonderful if you are an actor but if you are in the service and information industry self promotion is a waste of energy in my opinion. If you are talking about promoting the services and materials of the library then I would agree the library should be the Rockstar in your community. To make a librarian a Rockstar again in my opinion is to jump the shark.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Good thoughts, and I agree with you – certainly the patron is the rockstar. Sure. I was more thinking of our “stuff” – for example, we have a nice book display in our lobby right now. We’re showcasing our stuff. We’re marketing it.

    But do we ever market our staff as a resource, as an expert? Not so much. I think it’s a great thing for our staff to be recognized as experts – and even recognized in the grocery store (cause we are already).

    But not for the mere kick of self-promotion – not where I’m going at all. More thinking just of the fact that our staff – even individual staff members – are a HUGE resource we have … that we never promote.

    As to the shark – hope it’s a clean jump :-)

  • http://twitter.com/JustinLibrarian Justin The Librarian

    I have a lot of trouble with the term library rock star. I don’t know why exactly, but I feel like it brings a certain cockiness out in most people. Not just librarians! But I mean, look at rock stars in general. For example, Tommy Lee is a pretty cocky dude! I prefer to think of them just as awesome people.

    Then again David, I agree with you, especially on this point:
    “How about this – why not create a banner showcasing, say, the librarian storytime dude that plays guitar and attracts a crowd?”

    I love the idea of showing off the staff. They’re such a great resource for the community and I love this approach. Often times, libraries just treat the librarian as another part of the building. Saying “hey look what we have here…NO ONE ELSE HAS THIS PERSON!” is such a great idea.

    “Sorry David I think you have it totally wrong. The patron is the Rockstar”

    And I love this!

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    The word “rockstar” – people either immediately get it, or get turned off by it. I’m just using it because that’s what our marketing person originally said (and I hear other people talk about experts as “rockstars” sometimes).

    But yeah – if we’re serious about pushing our resources out to our community (ie., basic marketing here) … shouldn’t that include our amazing staff?

    I think so!

  • Soothersizeme

    Perhaps it should be librarians help patrons channel their inner rock star? It’s a symbiotic relationship really. I like the idea of occasionally touting the virtues of a staff librarian. Budget cuts abound and kooky crusaders who slash and burn thinking that they’re doing the public a favor are really doing it a disservice. An intelligent, experienced librarian who can relate to patrons is priceless in this age of misinformation–there’s a lot online but who better to shepherd people through it than an excellent librarian?

  • http://www.LibrariesAreEssential.com Kathy Dempsey

    I have to respectfully disagree w/ Srobinson here. Great staff should absolutely be recognized as such, inside and outside the library. Plenty of other orgs do this. Do you have a particular person you want to see at your investment company, hair salon, grocery check-out line, etc? Do you like to get your fave waitress at the restaurant? The food is the same if you sit at a different table, but the service might not be as good or the meal as enjoyable.

    People like people. It’s the staff who makes the library service as great as it is. It’s also essential that patrons learn to value our expertise. And librarians should be promoting their expertise, not just their stuff. If they don’t, then why wouldn’t people go to bookstores, music stores, DVD stores, and the internet for everything? Why use the lib instead? (aside from “free”) The human contact and the expert who delivers the service are big parts of the experience; they make it more personal and memorable.

    I do agree that it’s all about the patron, but the user shouldn’t leave feeling like a rock star himself. He should leave feeling like the person who just went to a concert and totally loved the experience and appreciated the work of the entertainer. He’s enriched & satisfied for having the experience.

    For the hard-working librarians to toil in obscurity is a mistake that does nobody any favors. Visitors remember *people* (esp those who help them or make them laugh) and those people are some of the highlights of library experiences. They don’t have to be full-on “rock stars” but they should absolutely have a place at the forefront of your user experience.

  • http://www.LibrariesAreEssential.com Kathy Dempsey

    I hope readers get past the term “rock star” to see your real point, David.

    I can tell you, as a professional library marketing expert: the STAFF is one of any lib’s greatest resources — and one of its most expensive. They absolutely should be promoted as much as any other resource!

  • http://educationflat.com Eddie

    “Start emphasizing your rockstar staff- not just your rockstar stuff.”

    I don’t know if they’re going to actually go out behind the reference desk and be rockstars in their own rights. They seem to be timid people most of the time, though, so it’d be impossible for them to just rock out.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Timid? You’ve not been to my library, have you? No timidity here.

  • http://www.beyondslicedbread.com/ taxonomylady

    This reminds me of the Tony Hsieh (Zappos) quote, “People relate to people, not companies.” Libraries for the most part are a “brand” that people love, but why not showcase the actual people, the human element, that makes them great places. Love it!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/mstephens7 Michael Stephens

    This is a fascinating topic and one librarians struggle with. I’ve long praised Hennepin County’s Extranet – they’ve been sharing staff success and gems from the staff Intranet there for a number of years:

    http://www.hclib.org/extranet/

    Michael Casey and I addressed similar themes in the last “Transparent Library” column:

    Encourage one another. Administrators and colleagues should let the stars at your library shine—and everyone can be a star in some way. Celebrate little successes and big ones, outside achievements, and inside accolades. Acknowledge great customer service and rewarding ideas brought to fruition.

    We still hear whispered horror stories of recent LJ Movers & Shakers who feel like outcasts at their jobs or who have had to leave for other pastures. Remember “Check Your Ego at the Door”? Administrators, remember to grow your talent, encourage staff, and promote their accomplishments—big and small.

    http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6695149.html

    And this from the “Ego” column:

    Recognize and appreciate talent. Outside awards and recognition bring praise and attention to the library. Our profession, like any other, has rising stars. The Internet has enabled these stars to gain national and even international attention at a pace much faster than ever before. How coworkers, supervisors, and administrators respond to this person’s “15 minutes of fame” is very telling. Encourage and embrace the exposure and make sure to alert the library’s user community.

    http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6573364.html

    I also believe we need a balance between highlighting staff and highlighting the public – as user contributed content becomes more and more prevalent, I’d hope the librarians and the public could be stars together.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mstephens7 Michael Stephens

    This is a fascinating topic and one librarians struggle with. I’ve long praised Hennepin County’s Extranet – they’ve been sharing staff success and gems from the staff Intranet there for a number of years:

    http://www.hclib.org/extranet/

    Michael Casey and I addressed similar themes in the last “Transparent Library” column:

    Encourage one another. Administrators and colleagues should let the stars at your library shine—and everyone can be a star in some way. Celebrate little successes and big ones, outside achievements, and inside accolades. Acknowledge great customer service and rewarding ideas brought to fruition.

    We still hear whispered horror stories of recent LJ Movers & Shakers who feel like outcasts at their jobs or who have had to leave for other pastures. Remember “Check Your Ego at the Door”? Administrators, remember to grow your talent, encourage staff, and promote their accomplishments—big and small.

    http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6695149.html

    And this from the “Ego” column:

    Recognize and appreciate talent. Outside awards and recognition bring praise and attention to the library. Our profession, like any other, has rising stars. The Internet has enabled these stars to gain national and even international attention at a pace much faster than ever before. How coworkers, supervisors, and administrators respond to this person’s “15 minutes of fame” is very telling. Encourage and embrace the exposure and make sure to alert the library’s user community.

    http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6573364.html

    I also believe we need a balance between highlighting staff and highlighting the public – as user contributed content becomes more and more prevalent, I’d hope the librarians and the public could be stars together.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mstephens7 Michael Stephens

    This is a fascinating topic and one librarians struggle with. I’ve long praised Hennepin County’s Extranet – they’ve been sharing staff success and gems from the staff Intranet there for a number of years:

    http://www.hclib.org/extranet/

    Michael Casey and I addressed similar themes in the last “Transparent Library” column:

    Encourage one another. Administrators and colleagues should let the stars at your library shine—and everyone can be a star in some way. Celebrate little successes and big ones, outside achievements, and inside accolades. Acknowledge great customer service and rewarding ideas brought to fruition.

    We still hear whispered horror stories of recent LJ Movers & Shakers who feel like outcasts at their jobs or who have had to leave for other pastures. Remember “Check Your Ego at the Door”? Administrators, remember to grow your talent, encourage staff, and promote their accomplishments—big and small.

    http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6695149.html

    And this from the “Ego” column:

    Recognize and appreciate talent. Outside awards and recognition bring praise and attention to the library. Our profession, like any other, has rising stars. The Internet has enabled these stars to gain national and even international attention at a pace much faster than ever before. How coworkers, supervisors, and administrators respond to this person’s “15 minutes of fame” is very telling. Encourage and embrace the exposure and make sure to alert the library’s user community.

    http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6573364.html

    I also believe we need a balance between highlighting staff and highlighting the public – as user contributed content becomes more and more prevalent, I’d hope the librarians and the public could be stars together.

  • Stephen Abram

    When all of the major books are online and digital and possibly having books, articles or movies available for the less than the price of gas or a bus ticket to drive to the library, then libraries must have laid the groundwork for promoting their key differentiator(s) from Google (worry about Google Editions), NetFlix, Facebook, or Amazon, or whatever the site of the day is. And that differentiator is library staff – all of them. Few can name staff at the big competitors like Google etc. beyond the rockstar founders/inventors/investors, because the staff are irrelevant to the site experience. That should never be the case in libraries. If we continue to promote collections and downplay staff we are contributing to our own problems of image and comparisons to other websites. Libraries are not their website. Our programs do have rockstars and our modesty militates against our goals and services in serving the ultimate user. If we’re about relationships, then a true relationship knows the name of the person they want to deal with – not just an anonymous professional behind a desk wearing a badge that says ‘librarian’ or generic virtual reference identity.
    It is difficult to say that supporting marketing libraries through great staff identities and relationships in any way takes the focus off the users’ needs. Who wants to deal with any other professional consumer service where the people are anonymous – doctors, lawyers, accountants, financial advisors, teachers, and more? What other profession would argue against promoting the best in their organization and setting role models for all to aspire to?

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  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Nice comment – and thanks for the links! Good stuff. I like the whole “balance” thing, too – here’s a video that showcases that balance in a nice way – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiLq2axJPew – from the University of Alberta libraries. Great job, UA!

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Great points – thanks for sharing them!

  • http://educationflat.com Eddie

    Yeah, but that’s your library, not here from where I live. Trust me, there are a lot of timid librarians here and it’s a long story why they are.

  • Crowcrumbs

    As someone who might be called “timid” I’d like to comment that although quiet I do have things that I am very good at that might be highlighted. I’m a “rock star” at helping new computer users, my super power is patience and I have a few interesting hobbies that I would gladly share if asked about. I’m sure that your “timid” librarians are rock stars too. You just have to ask the right questions and give them a place, time and permission to shine.

  • http://www.LibrariesAreEssential.com Kathy Dempsey

    You bring up some great point here, Michael, esp about admins. There are still some who don’t want any staff members to shine in a public light, let alone *encourage* them to shine, let alone know how to *deal with it* when it happens. One of the many things they probably never had a class for in library school.
    And then of course there’s the fact lack of time for even basic tasks, so planning and adding staff recognition programs can be tough. Many of us think that’s vital, but when bosses weigh it against spending time on the needs of those the library serves, staffers often get the short straw.
    Keep up those encouraging, educational columns!!

  • http://andromedayelton.com Andromeda

    But why is it the responsibility of the patron to give permission to, and elicit talent from, the librarians?

  • Brigitte Doellgast

    You are totally right! And it made me realize that of course my staff members have real star qualities too. So I took the opportunity to praise their “Rockstar Qualities” in my blog: http://blog.goethe.de/librarian/archives/333-Librarians-with-Rockstar-Qualities.html . They were delighted and I am sure they felt like Rockstars when I pointed it out to them – yeah!!

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  • Guesticle

    I think Crowcrumbs means that other staff, marketing managers etc should be eliciting talent from the librarians, not the patrons :]

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