Got the new ALA catalog in the mail yesterday, and my 3-year-old son was going through each page yelling: “READ! READ! READ! READ! READ!” through each spread of READ posters. His take: “This is a FUNNY magazine. Why does it say READ so much?”

OCLC’s recent “Perceptions” report notes that 70% of respondents identified the library “brand” with books. I don’t think this surprised anyone — and, in my heart of hearts, if someone demanded from me an instant one-word association with libraries, “books” it would be. (And yup, I’m a degreed librarian. Yup, I’m a Library 2.0 believer. Yup, I’ve been a systems librarian, and go to my local libary partly for the free wireless access, and have worked in a public library spending rainy Saturdays watching patron after patron make a beeline for our Internet terminals, with DVD rentals running a close second.)

But I’m also one of those people who went into librarianship partly because I love books. Yes, I said it. And one of the things I miss most about working in a public library is walking into work each day and heading through the stacks to get to my desk, knowing I had a part in getting some of those books onto the shelves. Working surrounded by books is in some ways as nice as living surrounded by mountains… but I digress.

So anyway, I see people talking about the OCLC report and other surveys reaffirming our bookish associations and wondering what we can do to change those perceptions. To them I say: “Good luck.” Maybe we’re all going to turn into “Idea Stores,” but I’m noting that even their reports say they’ve “doubled spending on books in recent years.” Do we really want to mess with a brand this powerful? Or can we work on being books AND… like what our friends at B&N et al have done with books AND coffee.

On that note, back to some Dean Koontz (OK, I said “books,” not great literature…) in my smelly hotel room in lovely Saint George, Utah, where I’m speaking at the ULA conference in the morning. This post caps off a day of minor travel annoyances, culminating in getting stuck in a smoking room for the night. But, the hills are gorgeous, and, luckily, I brought some books!


  1. Laura:

    I’ve never understood what the problem with books is. I remember going into the very new San Francisco Public Library in the summer of 1996, long before I ever thought of being a librarian, and being baffled. Where were the books? It was an impressive building with many computers (and a really long line at the circ desk), but it felt strangely empty.

  2. Harrlynn:

    free access to books is certainly the most visible part of our brand. just as doctors prescribe medicine, i prescribe free books to people; i also prescribe free access to other things as well, such as databases, dvds, cds, websites, archival materials and so on… and so forth.

    anybody who says differently or wants to buck the traditional library as a free book place perception is clearly a knucklehead who deserves my thickest knuckle sandwich. change the free book place perception and you will do irreparable damage to libraries and librarianship.

    and the key marketing term there is free. nobody competes with free. if people don’t need free, well then, we just wait, we just be patient, because someday, in some way, for some thing or another, they will need and want it for free. of course, that’s not to say, in the mean time, we let our places go to hell. no, we maintain them, just as we would our own homes, depending on how hospitable we can afford and want to be.

    books are old school and people will always dig them, even if they’re not using them as much as other materials. and that’s not to say that we don’t provide internet access and collect whatever else comes down the technological pike. but the collection must always be balanced in favor of books, because that’s our primary mission. our primary mission is not to replace our book collections with video games. andrew carnegie didn’t shell out millions for people to endlessly entertain themselves in front of a screen.

    and yes, rachel, that “read” campaign is ridiculous. what kid ever picked up a book because he saw his favorite star on a poster statically staring up from a book they probably never read?

    people read because they have to, or they love to, or some combination therein. the lovers usually adopt the reading habits of their parents or their peers. same as smoking or any other habit.

  3. The Shifted Librarian:

    originally, I just wanted to leave a comment noting that the thing I miss most about being in a library was opening the boxes of new books!

    however, after reading harrlynn’s comment, I also want to add that technically, libraries aren’t “free.” just ask voters about that when it’s referendum time. in my home town, voters decided six times that the library wasn’t “free” and wasn’t going to get any more “free.”

    also, I haven’t seen *anyone* advocate for replacing books with video games. libraries have never been *just* about books; otherwise, we wouldn’t have reference desks. I think your “books AND…” approach sums it up pretty well. I’d love to see a new marketing approach based on that idea.

  4. Chris:

    I think you will enjoy this – the writer makes a good point that although new technologies might make the book less relevant, still and all, the book will endure. Check it out:
    “Why Books Resist the Rise of Novel Technologies”:,,20411-2193549,00.html from the Times Online.

  5. unemployed librarian:

    I read the OCLC report. The Library’s “brand” is books.

    I also read the article “Scan This Book!” The book is disappearing.

    We’re in trouble, folks.

  6. Anonymous:

    Google doesn’t list any other resources to view Shirley Duglin Kennedy’s article “seek and ye shall find”

  7. Rachel:

    To anonymous: It wouldn’t, because it’s subscriber-only. You need to use a database like InfoTrac (or, I’m assuming, EBSCO) to access the full-text.

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