Hey Milwaukee, You’re Doing it Wrong!

Milwaukee Public Library billboard

Milwaukee Public Library is running an interesting billboard campaign right now. See the image above – that’s the billboard – it’s being displayed on digital billboards “throughout Milwaukee County at no cost” (from their press release).

My three thoughts upon seeing this:

Thought #1: “Yikes! They’re showing their print book bias.”

Thought #2: Looks to me like the public library is telling Milwaukee social media users that they’re doing it wrong. In essence, they’re saying “reading books is better than what you’re doing.” It’s sort of a negative message.

Thought #3 (a bit more here): Two of the three messages don’t really make sense, and one seems format-specific. Here’s what I mean:

  • Putyourfaceinabook and 140 characters? try millions (book vs. Facebook/Twitter): these two don’t really work for me. Twitter and Facebook are online social communication tools; books are, well … things you tend to read by yourself. It’s an apples to oranges comparison. Reading a book is great – but not if I want to chat with a friend, or do some work, or, say, run a revolution in the middle east (all things that people do via Twitter and/or Facebook).
  • You Could Be Reading (book vs. Youtube): To me, this message makes the claim that one form of content is better than another – i.e., books are better than video-based content. Books certainly work well for some content, but a book isn’t always the best choice! For example, books aren’t the best choice when I want to watch the new Van Halen video, figure out how to install a storm door, or watch a full-length movie (all things I can easily do via Youtube).

I get that the billboards are meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and that many online types think they’re witty and clever. And I think books are wonderful – no problems there. But I also see a lot of libraries taking wistful looks into the past, rather than actively planning to navigate our emerging digital content future. To me, these billboards are looking into the past.

Things aren’t going to go back to the way they were, no matter how many times we tell people they should be reading a book instead of watching a Youtube video or hanging out on Facebook. Is this the message you want to send to your community? I’m not convinced it is.

Then again, I could be way off my rocker. What do YOU think about these billboards?

Update – Check out Will Manley’s post for a historical perspective on a very similar issue … with the same library, no less (ok, and I’m blushing a bit, too – thanks for the kind words, Will!).