Library marketing and communications conference 2022 – day 2

Day 2 of the Library Marketing and Communications Conference began with a keynote by staff from Brooklyn Public Library about their recent “Books Unbanned” campaign. The panelists discussed how they successfully managed what quickly became an international phenomenon to simultaneously increase access to e-books and raise brand awareness. I was feeling pretty run-down by this point in the conference, but I still managed to attend a presentation during each session. Here are the highlights.

Video Killed the Radio Star: Creating Engaging Short-Form Video Content for Your Library’s Social Media

I’ve been hesitant to dive into creating short-form video content on a regular basis, but this session gave me the inspiration I needed to go for it. In addition to detailing some basic needs (ring light, microphone, green screen, and video editing app), each of the panelists highlighted some of their most successful content and described their creation process.

Main takeaway: There is no getting around it: video content takes time. However, on both Instagram and TikTok, you have the potential to reach audiences outside your followers.

Meghan Kowalski (U. of the District of Columbia) on Developing Your Brand

Kowalski walked us through the process of defining, determining, and if necessary attempting to change your library’s brand. Branding is not a logo, or a tagline, or even a campaign. “Branding is the express character of your library: It’s a vibe.” You can determine what your brand is through interviews, focus groups, and analysis of your services, but to change it is incredibly difficult. There were a number of takeaways for me on this one, including:

  • Branding is an art, not a science. You don’t need (or even want) rigorous data.
  • Create an internal branding document for your colleagues.
  • Branding is inexorably linked to customer service.

Audience Segmentation and Email Marketing

This year, I’ve started spending more time working on email-based outreach, so I was excited to attend two sessions on the topic: Jayna McDaniel-Browning and David Brockton on Using Segmentation and Email Marketing and Sarah Barton-Bridges and Skyler Noble on Controlling Your Own Content with Email. The presenters offered a number of good tips, including:

  • using emojis in subject lines (the weirder the better)
  • creating segments based on who clicked on what
  • sending out “preference” forms to get a sense of which users are interested in which materials
  • creating separate newsletters based on activity (e.g., work, play, learn) instead of audience demographic
  • correlating email blasts with web analytics
  • Segmented/targeted email have a much higher open rate (40% should be your minimum)
  • Change up your call to actions (not just always “Learn more”)

Final Thoughts

By the end of Day 2, I was pretty wiped out. I’m still recovering from a week of being under the weather and two 12+ hour travel days didn’t help. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to be back at this conference. To my knowledge it’s the only library conference that specializes in the work that I do. Moreover, there isn’t any sense of competition among presenters and attendees: we all genuinely understand each others’ struggles. =)

Communications is only a piece of what I do: most of my time is spent managing a department, collaborating with other units, representing my team on the library’s leadership council, and overseeing a host of events, exhibitions, and orientations. However, it’s certainly one of the most exciting and creative aspects of my job, so I enjoyed the opportunity to talk shop with library colleagues from other institutions.

Library marketing and communications conference 2022 – day 1

Indiana Statehouse at night

This week, I’m attending my first in-person conference in more than three years. I am in Indianapolis at the annual Library Marketing and Communications Conference. This is my third time attending this event and what I loved about it most in 2016 is still true today. The attendees are a mix of librarians and non-librarian staff, instruction and outreach folks, graphic designers, social media managers, front-line staff and administrators, all from both academic and public libraries. It’s a hodgepodge of “people who do outreach work” with a specific focus on communications. These are people who do the same work I do, albeit in a wide variety of settings and capacities.

I attended every possible session on Day 1 of the two-day conference. Here’s a run-down of my favorite sessions.

Chris Tonelli (NC State) on “The Comfortable Uncomfortable”

Tonelli spoke about two recent events from the NC State Libraries system: the discovery of the First white supremacist history of their building’s namesake as well as the discovery of a library-adjacent (though not technically employee of) staff member who identified as a Proud Boy and was accused of doxxing students. Tonelli’s presentation urged folks in the room to not think of these as “PR nightmares” and instead see them as opportunities for healing, connection, and clearly communicating your institution’s values. I particularly appreciated how he walked us through the entire communications cycle between the library’s external relations team, library administration, and university communications. As he reiterated numerous times, having a good working relationship between all three entities is essential for finding a solution that is respectful of both the institution and the people who (rightfully) brought the issues to light.

Main takeaway: Never accept the first draft of an external comms. And if you don’t agree with it, offer an alternative draft.

Chris Vitellio and Charles Samuels (NC State) on “When Other People Try to Do Your Job”

As an outreach librarian, I would never unilaterally negotiate an e-resources contract with a vendor. I would never accept (on my own) the gift of an archival collection. I would never set up my own roving reference desk. Yet, quite often I find myself having to negotiate communications- and programming-related agreements that others have made on behalf of the library. As Vitellio and Samuels point out, that’s part of the job: sometimes we are freelancers, collaborators, service-providers or, yes, an afterthought. They instead showed strategies and examples for how you can get more colleagues on board with your workflows and processes, including templates, style guides, and web forms.

Main takeaway: Try to shift your role from “creator” to “editor” when you can’t control the entire process.

Best line: (referring to logos and branding) “We are not a food court. We’re Apple.”

Brianna Marshall and Julie Pitts (NKU Steely Library) on “Transforming Non-Library Users into Library Advocates”

The project described in this presentation blew me away with its creativity and outcomes. Marshall and Pitts, in collaboration with a library student advocacy group, created a social media campaign that blended storytelling, scavenger hunts, and exploration of library spaces in a truly innovative way. To highlight their makerspace, they created 3D prints of stegosaurus babies in the style of a statue that occupies their library’s main lobby. On Instagram, they then encouraged students to “Find my babies” using clues and photo hints. The winning team would win a study room for a whole day of their choice, plus a catered lunch for 3 additional friends (brilliant!). The level of engagement they got through Instagram was through the roof.

Main takeaway: Scavenger hunts on Instagram can work, with the right incentive, the right story, and the right real-time modifications.

Erin Rushing (Smithsonian Libraries and Archives) on “Collaborative Social Media Strategies”

This idea has been on my to-do list for years: cooperating with other institutions to mutually engage and boost each others’ content. Initiatives like #ArchivesHashtagParty and #MuseMeme are good examples of such projects. Followers love to watch institutional accounts interact with each other. Some great ideas that came out of this session include “swapping” accounts with another unit on campus; connecting with institutions that have similar names as yours (and may be frequently confused); and finding creative ways to highlight similar collections across institutions.

Main takeaway: Clear your schedule. If you host something like this, it’s going to take all day.

Final Thoughts

As I am fond of saying and my colleagues are tired of hearing, “I don’t need more ideas. I need resources to implement those ideas.” It’s true: there is no lack of good ideas coming from library outreach circles. As one presenter noted, we’re all extremely creative people and it’s likely what attracted us to these positions in the first place. Add to that the fact that we work with colleagues who are as equally scrappy as we are creative, and you will have no end of potential outreach projects. However, there are only so many hours in a day, weeks in a year, and people on my team. So I am torn when returning home from conferences such as these: what can I implement now? And what needs to sit on the hold shelf until I’ve finished my current to-be-realized projects list? Regardless of my answer to those questions, I’m leaving Day 1 inspired and energized.

It’s just a job

For the last few years, I have been striving to de-center my job. I’ve stopped thinking of higher ed as a calling or a lifestyle. Instead, I’ve tried to focus on living in a more balanced way: one that still includes attention to craft, community, contemplation, and constitution, but in ways that are not grounded solely in my job as a librarian.

For this, and many other reasons, I loved Meredith Farkas’s latest post, “Stop Normalizing Overwork.” In particular, I liked this quote:

“Let’s stop being complicit in creating cultures of overwork. Let’s let structures that are built on our overwork, on our exploitation, fall apart. Real solidarity requires this. By refusing to overwork, we not only set an example for our colleagues. We make it that much less of the norm. It’s hard to fight to de-normalize overwork while you are continuing to overwork.”

A three-pronged solution

My own solution to the problem of overwork (in addition to therapy) came through the combination of task-blocking, autopilot scheduling, and quotas.

Task blocking is the process of determining in advance how I’m going to spend my time and then scheduling that work on my calendar. So if I have 5 major tasks I want to accomplish next week, I decide how much time I need to complete them and then schedule that time into my calendar before the week begins. If it turns out that I don’t have enough time in my calendar, I either (1) cancel something on my calendar to make room for it or (2) decide not to do that task.

Autopilot scheduling is the process of setting aside a specific block of time each week for a recurring task or class of tasks. For example, I know that I need at least 1.5 hours to plan out and schedule a week’s worth of social media posts, so I have a recurring meeting on my calendar for this work. Additionally, I know it takes about 6+ hours/month to create each issue of the library’s monthly newsletter, so I block off 1.5 hours each week and, if necessary, add more time if it seems to be taking longer than usual.

Quotas are weekly, monthly, or quarterly limits that I put on certain types of work. In academia, we often divide our work into performance, research, and service. I try to set aside no more that 10% of any given time period for service, 20% for research, and 70% for performance. Additionally, I limit myself to no more than three “big” projects at a time and then schedule those projects out over three semesters.

As a result of spending years fine-tuning this work, in addition to time tracking cyclical projects, I can tell you with relative accuracy what I’ll be doing in any given week. In fact, here’s what my calendar looks like 6 months from now for the week of April 25, 2023:

Unless the parameters of my job changes, I know I’ll be working on my annual goals. I know I’ll be meeting with my direct reports. I know I’ll be developing content for social media. I know I’ll be writing something for the library’s e-newsletter. I know I’ll need to spend time on my research. I know I’ll need to meet with people (“Drop-in Hours”). I know I’ll need to eat lunch. And I know something else (“ad hoc”) while probably come up. These time blocks could move around, but I know what work I need to do in order to do my job well enough.

Setting up guardrails

And therein lies the solution. I’ve pre-determined what I need to do to be/feel successful. I’ve set my priorities in advance. Any new projects that come up have to fit into one of these buckets. If not, then either: (1) I have to stop doing something I’ve already committed to, or (2) I say “No, I’ve already met my quota on meetings/ research/ liaison work/ ad hoc projects/ etc.”

My guardrails are set at 45 hours per week. If I cannot regularly fit my work into that timeframe, then something has to give: meetings, responding to email, or specific projects themselves. And since my boss and I have already set my priorities for the year in my annual goals, I have a legitimate excuse to say no to new ones.

This system does have its drawbacks. My colleagues find it difficult to schedule meetings with me. It also limits opportunities for serendipitous projects, but to be honest: those were always the problem. In academia, we don’t lack for good ideas. We lack the time and resources to accomplish them. At least with this system I can accomplish what I set out to do and still be able to completely shut off each evening and weekend. I’ll take that over easy meeting scheduling any day.

Final thought

It should go without saying that this is not a solution to the plague of overwork in academia. I’m of the cynical belief that universities couldn’t survive without the overwork of their faculty and staff. Not enough of us plan out our unit-level projects and commit those resources in advance. Instead, we tend to simply agree that Project X is a good idea and just move forward willy-nilly, carving out time along the way to the detriment of all our other commitments. I would love to see a more systematic and thoughtful approach to moderating the project load of an entire unit, instead of relying on individuals to figure it out for themselves. That said, if we all agree to stop being complicit in overwork, as Farkas calls us to do and as I have done in my own work life, then maybe our organizations will start paying attention.

Service work is broken

Here’s my hot take: Service on library committees should be required for all library employees.

Relying on committees to accomplish work that is operationally necessary to the library, while also expecting (read: allowing) those committee seats to be filled by “volunteers” is a recipe for failure.

“But, if it’s required then it’s not service!” Don’t worry, I’ll get to that.

Here’s the problem: Some employees volunteer for too many committees and often do so repeatedly. On the flip side, some employees never volunteer for any committees. As a result, the same group of people tend to run the committee culture of the library year after year. To say nothing of the limited bandwidth of those employees who over-extend their service work. This becomes especially problematic when committees that are essential for library operations cannot be adequately staffed because of staff turnover, burnout, or overwork.

A case study

Recently, I ran the numbers on the committee rosters at my library. At MPOW, people serve on anywhere from 0 to 6 committees. A handful of folks serve on 5-6 committees. A handful more serve on 0-1 committee. Surprisingly, there are much fewer who serve on 2-4 committees. It’s an inverse bell curve.

Obviously, this is not an equitable distribution of labor. Setting aside for a moment the complicating factor of ex officio appointments, one would hope to see a more even distribution of committee appointments. When committee membership, however, is based entirely on volunteers, this is what you get: a handful of people carrying the bulk of the labor. Not surprisingly, the people serving on 5-6 committees tend to be the ones who also serve continually year to year. (How they manage to get any of their day-to-day work done is beyond me… speaking as someone who used to fall into that 5-6 group).

A proposal

Let’s say an organization has 50 library staff. Let’s also say there are 20 committees (working groups, task forces, etc.) with 5 seats on each. Ideally, each employee would serve on 2 committees. That would be enough to cover the labor needed to staff all of those groups.

“But, if it’s required then it’s not service!” Ok, let’s address this part.

With the exception of ex officio appointments, no one would be required to serve on a specific committee. In fact, there would be no guarantee you would serve on the committee of your preference. So in this regard, there is still the potential to do work above and beyond your job description. Secondly, each committee would have designated roles: chair, vice chair, secretary, archivist, etc. Thus, there would still be opportunities for leadership and work beyond simply showing up to the meetings and contributing to the conversation.

Mix it up

We could make this even more interesting. Here are a few ideas:

Term limits: No one could serve on the same committee for more than three years or two terms, whichever comes first. Three years is enough time to get up to speed and get into a groove. Not only does this have the added benefit of keeping certain folks from running the show, it bakes diversity into the whole system, ensuring that new ideas can arise through new combinations of people. Moreover, it allows more people the ability to experience a wider range of library operations, thus deepening institutional knowledge.

Directors/managers can’t be chair: Academic libraries outside the R1s suffer from a lack of opportunities for leadership. What if department heads, deans, and/or directors were not allowed to be committee chairs? Chairing committees could be a leadership opportunity that is exclusively set aside for non-management staff, allowing them the opportunity to hone those skills.

Opt-outs and overages require approval: Because our main goal is an equitable distribution of labor, serving on fewer than or more than 2 committees (or whatever the expectation is) would require justification and approval.

Rotating seats for ad-hoc committees: Throughout the year, new task forces or new working groups may need to be formed. Instead of once again asking for volunteers and seeing the same folks as always step forward, appoint seats based on a rotating roster. So if a search committee needs to be formed, you can appoint 5 people above their 2-committee limits, but the next time a search committee needs to be formed, you cannot go back to those 5 people until you’ve cycled through the whole employee roster. This way, you avoid the same people always working overage each year.

Ex officio

There is still the problem of ex officio appointments: people who serve on committees because of their role in the organization. For example, as the Head of Outreach, I sit ex officio on my library’s Outreach and Engagement Coordinating Committee. Similarly, the Head of Collections sits ex officio on the Collection Development Committee. What exactly is the rationale for those ex officio seats?

If the rationale is so that the lead of that operational unit is a part of those conversations, that could easily be replaced by clearer committee charges and reporting structures. For example, the vice chair of the outreach committee could be tasked with regularly reporting a summary of any meeting to the Head of Outreach; and anything requiring the department head’s approval could be sought at that time. The same would apply to any ex officio appointments that exist for the purpose of liaising.

Final thought

Notedly, this only works in a library where there are more committee seats than employees. This post is a hot take, so I don’t feel obligated to work out all the details or arguments. It’s just been rattling around in my brain for some time. I admit that committees do help to break up the monotony of my work, but when so many are operationally necessary, and yet we can’t fill those seats, then the problem is not in the people, but in the system.

I’m tired of knowing I have too much on my plate only because I’ve gotten to the state of having too much on my plate. 

On arm twisting and outreach work

One of the more difficult aspects of my job as an outreach librarian is the need to wrangle people together for a common cause. This need is constant, recurring, never-ending. There is very little that I do which doesn’t require asking someone else to set aside their time, resources, and/or attention to support a project that I’m working on for the library. My work consists of finding connections between and among others in relation to the library. Though this type of work could be required of any librarian from time to time, it is my daily work.

This frequently puts me at odds with my colleagues. It’s like that meme about everyone’s reaction when the social media person shows up to your office: Shit. Shit. Shit. When I come a calling’, you can be assured that something is about to be added to your plate. For some, this may be invigorating! The novelty of a new project or a new partner. For others, it may be a frustration, especially if there is a sense that one cannot say no.I try to be considerate. When possible, I do some of the groundwork in advance. I provide concrete deadlines, estimates of time needed, and suggestions for how this work could be mutually beneficial.

Ultimately, the job of the outreach librarian is to make connections and promote the library, and like any job, the part that involves people is the hardest part.

Like Doodle, but not Doodle

I hate having to use Doodle, but I love *the idea* of Doodle. Mainly, I like that it puts the power of scheduling in the hands of all parties, not just the meeting organizer.

My place of work uses Outlook calendaring, so with the exception of meetings with external folks, I rarely use Doodle. But why doesn’t a Doodle-like function exist in Office 365!? No, Scheduling Assistant is not the same. How do you know that “free” time on someone’s calendar is really “free”? Just because they don’t have a meeting on their calendar doesn’t mean they’re “available.” Conversely, just because you have something on your calendar, doesn’t mean you’re NOT available: e.g. some folks use their calendars for reminders. So unless everyone is using their calendars in the exact same way, Scheduling Assistant is a crap shoot.

If someone sends me a meeting request, I want to be able to select from a variety of options. If I’m the one scheduling the meeting, I want the attendees to select their preferences as well and have the option to move things around before responding. The problem with Outlook Scheduling Assistant is that it doesn’t give the recipients an active say in the meeting time the organizer selects. Yes, you have the option to propose a new time, but only one proposed time slot can be discussed at a time. And that can quickly get out of hand as the number of meeting attendees increases!

Instead, wouldn’t it be better if I could simply send the recipients a more general “request for meeting.” In the request, I select the range of dates and times (e.g., next week, 20 minutes between hours of 10-4). They could then all respond Doodle-like with their preferences (which would already be populated based on the current calendar, but with the ability to make overrides). As organizer, I would get a list of the best possible options in ranked-order, organized not by something as crude as “free” or “not free”, but by each recipient’s preference. Everyone has buy-in. Similar to ranked-choice voting.

This adds work to the recipients, but it gives everyone more control. It slows things down, but maybe that extra time for reflection (“do I really need this meeting?”) would benefit us all. For people who prefer to be more hands-off, an option to “accept any meetings scheduled in my free time by default” could be an option.

If functionality like I’ve described above exists natively in Outlook and I’m just missing it, please tell me! But don’t give me third-party app/plugin recommendations: it’s no good unless the whole org uses it and I’m NOT at that pay grade.

2021 Héroe Viognier (Paso Robles)

Bottle of wine, glass of wine, and potatoes.

Fresh linen and thick honey on the nose. Light straw colored. Hints of grapefruit, citrus, and freshly rinsed gravel on the tongue. Full-bodied and chewy. A long finish of apple-flavored hard candy. This wine feels vibrant and alive.

Far from the maddening feed

In Cal Newport’s latest article for the New Yorker, he contemplates the future of social media companies in the wake of TikTok’s recent growth. The kernel of the argument is that TikTok’s method for capturing attention (which it does remarkably well) is not rooted in the social graph, something which gives it an advantage over older platforms; and that this essential difference could lead to an arms race that results in a more diffuse social media landscape.

“This all points to a possible future in which social-media giants like Facebook may soon be past their long stretch of dominance. They’ll continue to chase new engagement models, leaving behind the protection of their social graphs, and in doing so eventually succumb to the new competitive pressures this introduces. “

I can imagine a third path: one in which Twitter and Facebook push back toward the local. Part of the original appeal of these platforms was that “all my friends are there.” For libraries, it was a chance to connect directly with local communities.

That experience changed with the emergence of retweets and the news feed. It was no longer just you and your connections: it was all their friends and follows as well. The community got too big. For me, I lost the sight of my closest connections. For libraries, we had to compete with content creators outside our community.

This is why I’ve been hesitant to dive into TikTok. You’re not competing for the attention of your local community. They’re not even part of the equation. You’re just competing with everyone.

If the noise was removed from my feed– if I could find the signal to connect me with the people that matter most– would that pull me back? Would that pull others back? Would libraries find it easier to connect with their communities instead of competing with the content creators of the world?

Outreach competencies, assessing programs, and practical marketing for academic libraries

a room being added to a house

For the past two years, I have set myself to building my CV through publications. That work and intentionality paid off this month when three works of scholarship I co-authored were published all within the same two weeks!

Metzger, R., & Jackson, J. (2022). Developing Competencies for Outreach Work in Academic Libraries. College & Research Libraries, 83(4), 646. doi: https://doi.org/10.5860/crl.83.4.646

Abstract: This research study investigates the behaviors, knowledge, and skills necessary for academic library outreach work. Through a review of published literature, job advertisements, and a survey of library practitioners conducted in the fall of 2020, the authors define and prioritize 18 competencies for outreach. Hiring managers, LIS instructors, and practitioners can use the results of this study to structure and lay out the essential areas of outreach work in academic libraries. [peer-reviewed]

Jackson, J., Andrade, R., Raby, C., & Rosen, R. (2022). Apples and Oranges: An Indicator for Assessing the Relative Impact of Library Events. Journal of Library Outreach & Engagement, 2(1), 56. doi: https://doi.org/10.21900/j.jloe.v2i1.898

Abstract: This article details one library’s attempt to create a simple assessment method for evaluating the relative engagement of program attendees across a variety of events. The indicator–a combination of perceived level of engagement and calculated level of certainty–can be used alongside other metrics to give a fuller view of overall impact of library programming. By conducting this study, the authors created a method by which to quickly assess and prioritize the most and least impactful events within a particular set. [peer-reviewed]

Finally, it’s not a full article, but a brief case study I wrote on social media analytics was published in Practical Marketing for the Academic Library, by Stephanie Espinoza Villamor and Kimberly Shotick (ABC-CLIO, 2022). I look forward to reading the whole book!

Currently, I have no writing projects on my plate, though quite a few half-formed ideas. My goal this fall is to identify and begin at least two more opportunities for research and/or publication. If I can initiate one new writing/research project each semester, I should be well on my way to promotion to full librarian in four years.