by Barbara Quint
I love Westerns. (And so should you. Think what a better world this would be with future generations raised on old episodes of Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger rather than reruns of CSI and Law and Order. Harrumph.) For us who love Westerns, a day spent without seeing a horse and a Stetson is a day without sunshine. Of course, down near the border country, we’d be missing a cayuse and a sombrero.
|What does this have to do with
the daily lives of librarians? We
have serious branding problems.
In the days of my distant childhood, the language of Westerns permeated daily conversation. I knew that era had passed forever on the day when a library patron asked me if I was a Texan just because I greeted him with the word, “Howdy.” But not all the language of those days has vanished. For example, marketing still uses the term “branding” to designate the process of creating a strong, clear recognition and memory in the customer’s mind for the name or logo of a product, service, or company.
The Western image of some calf lying flat on its side bellowing for rescue before a red-hot branding iron sears a logo into its hide makes a strong image itself of the sometimes painful difficulties involved in branding. It’s not only no fun for the calf, but the cowboy and his roping pony have a hard work day ahead of them on branding day.
The branding efforts of corporations can also involve some potentially painful and risky challenges. Failure to brand effectively can open opportunities for competitors to steal customers. With particularly poor branding, companies may even find loyal customers somewhat confused about which company makes what and buying from the opposition. Ironically, the same situation can result from overly effective branding. Some company and trade names become so dominant in a product category that they become synonymous with such products. Ask Xerox or Coca Cola or even Google. When your trade name turns into a verb in the dictionary, you’re going to have a hard time keeping competitors from using that dictionary to defend the use of your trade name in describing their products. And if your company decides to diversify its product/service line, it may have a hard job convincing customers of its innovative competence. There was a time when the words Hewlett-Packard always meant printers.
So what does this have to do with the daily lives of librarians? We have serious branding problems. For centuries, we have had a strong image — not always a chic and fashionable one — but certainly definite. We tended collections of books and other respectable printed content. Want to get such content in the printed format on any specific subject or from any particular author, you go to a library and ask the librarian. For a brief, shining couple of decades, the same strong branding applied to online searching. (Sigh.) But then along came the internet, its World Wide Web, and the Great God Google, and that era was over. So what do people, the average Joe/Jo who should be our customer and whose patronage drives our employment, think of us now? What do they think we do? And whatever we do, why do they think they need us to do it? The answers to these questions define the future directions and survival of our profession.
At the very least, we have to register our ownership role in digital versions of the same content with which we have always dealt. Ebooks must carry a connection to libraries the same as print books. Digital scholarly journals tend to come from libraries still, but the complications stemming from relations with scholarly publishers (GGGRRR. Don’t get me started.) have led to the open access movement. And in this area, despite the high level of support from academic librarians, we may play an important role, but that role is not clearly visible to the public.
As to ebooks and public libraries, that’s another kettle of fish. Here’s one idea. There are zillions of downloadable, public domain ebooks. Just look at the pre-1923 collection at Google Books or the smaller, but distinguished collection at Project Gutenberg. How about launching a national campaign for public librarians to teach and train patrons to enrich existing ebooks with multimedia features? Then these “library editions” could be used by the individuals (Xmas is coming!) and the libraries — selectively. The libraries could attach them to their own websites and/or share them with other library-based consortial sites. We might even build a partnership with Google Books and Project Gutenberg. When it comes to dealing with Google, OCLC already has an ongoing relationship it might be willing to tap. And there are other players too. OverDrive has already launched a digital ebookmobile to show its wares to the patrons of subscribing libraries. (Check out firstname.lastname@example.org.)
We might even expand the “library edition” concept to journals and open access content. Librarians could forage through the citations found in scholarly content and add links where not already available. The same might apply to scholarly ebooks of course.
Whatever we do, we must share it with each other. That way we squeeze every bit of advantage from the process, advantage for our profession as well as our particular patrons. The easiest way to make sure that our efforts and the efforts of our vendor partners have the most impact would be to integrate the efforts into an overall branding process. In other words, when the !#$@#$ are we going to get a “DOT-LIB”?
Whatever we do, the way I reckon, it’s time to git to gittin’. We’ve got to sashay down to the corral, saddle up some hayburners, and hit the trail. And I do mean pronto, because right now we’re just burnin’ daylight. You savvy my palaver, pardner?