Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant
Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.
The Library Brand
It's likely that few professionals worry more about how their services are perceived than librarians. Lawyers may have more reason for concern, but many of them laugh all the way to the bank. We have little if not our reputation. So the new report published by OCLC, "Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources," deserves notice. OCLC commissioned Harris Interactive, Inc. to survey Internet users worldwide. The responses, gathered online, represent a significant portion of our user communities. The survey--asking such questions as, How are libraries perceived by today's information consumer? Do libraries still matter? On what level? Will library use likely increase or decrease?--generated heartwarming comments but also much to cause concern. Sample findings The report states a key finding bluntly: "'Books' is the library brand. There is no runner-up." In an age where many people are accustomed to successfully retrieving information over the web, even while using library-licensed resources, this is disturbing. But there's more. The survey shows that respondents pretty much equally trust the information they found using Internet search engines and the information they received from their library. And even worse, we appear to fail even on service: "Respondents indicated that search engines deliver better quality and quantity of information than librarian-assisted searching--and at greater speed." Several recurring themes surfaced, according to the report: users are not aware of the electronic resources libraries make freely available; users are as comfortable using web information sources as library sources; and "The library brand is dated." Indeed, just six percent of total respondents said they are satisfied with the library and the services offered. The bright side All is not gloom and doom, however. George Needham of OCLC, in a podcast interview by UK vendor Talis, said, "Seventy-five percent of the respondents actually have library cards and they have very positive ideas about libraries, although their perceptions about libraries were primarily formed in about the 1950s, I think." Many respondents had rather outdated views of library services. "The biggest message that comes out of this report," Needham continued, "is that we have to do a better job of advocating for libraries and [of] merchandising and marketing and getting the word out about what we do." This report, as well as the Environmental Scan that came out over a year ago (which people are still talking about), is an excellent example of the kind of strategic leadership we need. OCLC is trying to help us all puzzle out what it means to be a modern library and to identify the challenges and opportunities before us. Tip of the iceberg Quotes from the survey (e.g., "Don't be so uptight about kids hanging out in the library," complains a U.S. 17-year-old) and tabular data are sprinkled throughout the report, but Appendixes A and B (which make up nearly half of the 290-page report) collect the supporting data tables and many survey respondent statements. These are only a sample of the data available, however, as OCLC retains a trove of data that staff will continue to mine. We have our work cut out for us. Our support is in most cases directly connected to how we are perceived by our users--as it should be. If we are not there for them in ways they expect, or if we can't expand their expectations to meet our new capabilities, then we will find ourselves no more than the repositories of books many people apparently believe us to be. Given the statement, "In this world, convenience will always trump quality," Needham's sensible rejoinder is, "So it's our job as librarians to make quality convenient." That's an excellent start, and something I have long advocated. But this report also brings to light more urgent challenges. Many respondents clearly don't know what their libraries currently offer. We must revamp our services and our service posture to align with current user needs and expectations and then find ways to spread the word about our improved services to a much broader constituency. __________________________________________________________________ For more information... Environmental Scan www.oclc.org/reports /2003escan.htm George Needham Podcast talk.talis.com/archives/2005 /12/george_needham.html Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources www.oclc.org/reports /2005perceptions.htm