Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Why I Love My Library: The ME Factor

You knew I couldn't go too long without talking about libraries. 

I can't help it. As you all know, I spent 40 years of my life as a librarian, over 30 of those years in California, so it's practically in my blood at this point.

So that said, I am continually struck by the fact that not everyone knows what a great job public libraries are doing and all of the great FREE services and programs they provide.

And it is important to me that people know what they are missing by not taking advantage of what public libraries have to offer. 

But let me digress a bit.

My first library job was in a small Carnegie Library in a very rural area of Northern California.  How rural was it?  It was so rural it didn't even have a McDonald's!


Things were looking up with my career until 1978, when the Jarvis-Gann tax initiative (also known as Proposition 13) took hold of California and things were never the same again.  Property taxes were rolled back to their 1975 values and annual increases were restricted to less than 2%.  And a 2/3 vote was required for any tax increases, making it extremely difficult for public entities to raise taxes.

This was good news for property owners, especially older ones who were increasingly being taxed out of their homes (one of the major reasons this "tax revolt" occurred), but it was the death knell for County and City services, especially libraries, that relied on property tax revenue to operate.

I had not been a librarian long enough to become entrenched in big budgets, but every year I saw more and more cuts to the library budgets, fewer books, fewer services, fewer programs.

But despite a lack of money, we librarians did what we always did: provided the information and service people needed to help them make sense of their world.  So all hail to my ex-colleagues at the Monterey County Free Libraries and to all library staff who strive to provide excellent customer service despite setbacks.

Fast forward to when I moved to the Seattle area.

It was a revelation and a delight to continue my career in Washington, a state that is not only known for it's coffee drinkers, but for being one of the most literate states in the country and its residents huge library supporters. 


I was able to spend the last ten years of my library career working in a library with enough money to provide the services its communities needed and wanted.

But even in an area where the residents support library services, I was continually running into a number of people who were not aware of the programs and services that are available for free from their local public library, despite libraries working very hard to advertise and market these programs and services.  And this has been something that has not changed much over the last 40 years. 

People like the idea of having a public library.  It's a part of the fabric of the community.  They know it's something good to have and they want to have it.  But ask the regular person on the street or in a bar or at a party if he or she goes to the library and you will inevitably hear, "I haven't been in a library since I was a little kid," or "I buy my books" or worse yet, "I haven't read a book in years." 

This is all assuming, of course, that libraries are only about books, which these days is certainly not the case.

Why, despite pointed efforts to promote library services, do so many people carry misconceptions about libraries and are not aware of the plethora of programs and services available?

I have come to the following conclusion:

People are not interested in GOOD NEWS.

We were talking about this issue when I was in library school 40 years ago.  How do we get people to think of the library when they need information, to continue their education or to gather with other community members? 

And 40 years later, we are still asking the same question.  And with information so readily available on the Internet, it is an even bigger question.

One of my professors in library school said the best thing that could happen to libraries would be for a librarian to be splashed across headlines in the tabloids as part of a scandalous love nest or (this was the Watergate years) to be found to be a Watergate conspirator.

The point being, bad news sells and gets the word out. 

Good news doesn't.

I always felt that if people knew about all of the programs and services offered by their local library FOR FREE they would be beating down the doors.

As I said, most people would say that libraries are good and a community should have a library.  It's part of the quality of life for a community and is part of the "greater good." But that doesn't mean they use the library.  And that doesn't mean that when it comes time to raise taxes to support libraries, that people will support "the greater good."

That leads me to conclusion number two: 

To have their value appreciated, libraries need to connect directly one on one with someone's specific need.  Then the light bulb goes off, or as Oprah would say, that "A-Ha Moment" happens.

Because, in the end, it's all about ME.

Here is an example:  I meet someone at a party.  He is telling me about how he enjoys listening to talking books in his car on the way to work.  I ask him if he knew he could download talking books for free from the library's website?  Light bulb goes off.  "I did not know that," he says.  "I am going to check that out."  

"The Me Factor?"  I like talking books and I like to save money.

Or the person who comes to the library as a last resort because a friend had heard the library had free computer classes.  She is looking for a job, needs to fill out an online application and knows nothing about computers.  The librarian helps her on the spot.  Light bulb goes off. 

"The Me Factor?  I need a job and I need help filling out an online application.

Or when people find out they can check out 10 current DVDS for free...another light bulb.

"The Me Factor?" I like to watch DVDs but I don't like paying Netflix $25.00 per month.

So it seems that when someone has a need and the library can go beyond that person's expectation to fulfill that need, their own PERSONAL NEED, that's when the realization hits: 

The library has what I need.  The library can answer MY question.  The library can fulfill MY needs.  I need the library.  I will be back.

Personally, in the last week alone, here is how my local library helped ME:

1.  I used Ancestry.com to get some information for my blog post about my Swedish heritage, which you can read here, if you are so inclined.  Ancestry.com is a genealogy database that costs a fortune to use if you subscribe on your own, but it's free at the library.  I type in the name of my ancestor and voila!  Census records, immigration lists, etc.  If you have watched the TV show "Who Do You Think You Are" or "Finding Our Roots (PBS)," they use Ancestry all of the time.

2.  If you have been reading my Friday blog posts, you know I am embroiled in a project to see all 1001 movies listed in the book "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die," (and you can keep up with my progress every Friday), a book I heard about and found at my local library and which has given me a project that will keep me busy until...well, until I die.

I painstakingly went through and marked the ones I had seen and made a list of those I had not seen - 312.  Then I checked Netflix and Amazon and my library's catalog, and though the library did not have all 312, the library had many of them AND some that neither Netflix nor Amazon had.  One movie alone would have cost me $150 to buy through Amazon, but at the library, it was free.

3.  I am getting ready to visit my grandchildren in California.  Whenever I fly, I want to have content on my IPad so I load it up with the magazines from Zinio, another service that is quite expensive if you were to subscribe to an online magazine on your own.  This service is available free on my library's website, and it includes a wealth of full-text magazines for free in all of their full color glossiness.  Why spend $10 loading up on the gossip mags at the airport (and you know you do!) when you already have them for free on your device?  And nobody can judge you for your choice of reading material!

(I have to confess I read them at home via Zinio too, along with the Food Network Magazine and other cooking magazines, Oprah's "O Magazine," and tons of fashion magazines.  Why pay for magazine subscriptions when you don't have to? And there is something for everyone - from "The Advocate"  to "Golf Tips" to "National Geographic Traveler").

So that is how my library has helped ME, in just the last week.

  • But if I still had toddlers at home, I would take them to the free story times that would help them get ready to go to school.

  • If I needed help with my English, I would attend the free ESL classes.

  • If I wanted to become a U.S citizen, I would attend the free classes that would help me pass the test.

  • If I needed to repair my car, I would use the free car repair databases.

  • If I wanted to learn a new language, I would use the free Mango service on the website.

  • If I had school children, I would set them up with the free homework help available online.

I could go on and on. 

It just depends on what your specific need is right now - your "Me Factor." 

So whatever it is, next time you have a question, a need, check out the library first.  Your specific need might just be filled right there for free.

And, on the library side, I don't think marketing the library by directing the librarians to get involved in a scandal so as to make the news is a good option.  However, working on marketing the "Me Factor" might work.

The American Library Association has long had a motto:  "The right book for the right person at the right time."

In this day and age, it should be "The specific need fulfilled for the specific person (ME) at the specific (and perfect) time."

Because in the end, it's all about ME.

Oh, and my local library that has given me so much? 


But I think if you check out YOUR local library's website or better yet, pay the library a visit, you will find many of the same great services.

Thanks for Reading!
See you Friday
where I will judge the new movie
"The Judge" 
along with my other reviews.

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