crowd of librarians sitting in conference hall at ALA annual 2018

“I am convinced that about one-half the money I spend for advertising is wasted, but I have never been able to decide which half.”

John Wanamaker, Quoted in Bible Conference, Winona Echos (1919)

It’s been 5 years since I attended an ALA Annual Conference. My interest in this yearly gathering of librarians from around the country has waned considerably in the last half-century as I’ve become more and more entrenched in the work of my own institution. That’s a story for another post. What I wanted to briefly talk about today was one aspect of ALA Annual that I miss: the PR Xchange Awards and the John Cotton Dana Awards. Both of these awards celebrate excellence in library communications efforts. The JCDs focus primarily on strategic communication and public relations, while the PRX celebrate singular promotional items. 

This year’s award winners highlight a few academic library projects. The University of Colorado Boulder Libraries’ “Culture Crawl” is a collaboration between eleven cultural and heritage organizations to highlight library spaces, services, exhibits, and local museums. It was the only college/university to win a JCD this year. The PRX awards had a much better showing from the academic side: Montana State University, Washington University, and James Madison to name just a few. 

While I love that these two awards bring attention to academic libraries producing remarkable content, I would love to see a separate award for excellent marketing, communications, and strategic outreach (and/or programming) for higher ed libraries. The needs of our communities and the best practices for reaching them differ just enough from our colleagues in public libraries to merit our own arena. Our audiences are captive and demographically narrower than the general population. Moreover, our ultimate ends lean more towards the specific (i.e., supporting graduation and retention) rather than the general (e.g., lifelong learning). Outreach to students, faculty, and staff is a different beast altogether than outreach to a local community. 

In developing a new award, the intent and structure of the ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries Award (currently on hiatus) is a good place to start: how does communications and outreach connect with your library’s strategic mission and the mission of the college/university? Are you connecting the dots between (1) the skills, collections, and services that libraries provide; (2) our professional ethics; and (3) the goals of the housing institution? Outreach and communications success could be measured quantitatively or qualitatively, but would needs go beyond gate counts and feedback forms. 

All that said, perhaps a separate award isn’t necessary. I do enjoy seeing the wide variety of materials showcased by both the JCDs and the PRX. Either of those awards could create separate categories based on library types. I think what I want most of all is simply to see more academic library external commutations work. I know folks are out there creating remarkable content: let’s see it and celebrate it!

What I’m reading

Toward a Leisure Ethic by Stuart Whatley

“Every fleeting moment of our spare time is surrendered to the superficial offerings of the attention economy, all of it designed for addiction, the goal being to monetize people’s experiences rather than create meaningful ones. […] Many have extolled a leisure ethic, and none would say that time well spent lies in ambitious careerism or in drifting on a sea of addictive content. Most would agree that flourishing in time consists of free, active, thoughtful engagement with the world in accordance with one’s nature.”

The Ambitious Plan to Open Up a Treasure Trove of Black History by Erin Migdol

“The archive contains around 5,000 magazines, 200 boxes of business records, 10,000 audio and visual recordings, and 4.5 million prints and negatives that chronicle Black life from the 1940s until the present day.”

Writing for the Bad Faith Reader by Susie Dumond

“Not every book is for every reader.” Good advice for anyone creating art.

News from the garden

vegetable garden with squash vines, beans, and corn

The vegetable beds are [finally] in full swing. The vine in the foreground is butternut squash. And look! The corn made it knee-high before the Fourth of July! There are also tomatoes, peppers, and beans to be excited about. 

Links to the past

  • 1 year ago: Where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. “We give far too much weight to Twitter’s impact on social and political life and “the public square.” Collectively, we overestimate its influence, obsessing to an unreasonable degree over how it will react to our content, knowing full well that any storm we create today will be subsumed by next week’s hurricane of rage.”
  • 6 years ago: Life, uh, finds a way. Actually, now I would be OK with that.
  • 10 years ago: On ukulele calluses.

Overheard online

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