After all, we’re the libraries. We have plenty of experience with corporate entities that don’t reflect our values. We deal with the journal publishers who practice a business model that hoards the world’s knowledge and maximizes profit from the research that our university’s scholars conduct. When it comes to the academic publishing system, institutions of higher learning have made a deal with the devil, and we, the libraries, are the campus units who pay the bill. We do it every year, often facing steep price increases with flat budgets.“Why We’re Dropping Basecamp” by Duke University Libraries
“Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty-three thousand miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules— and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress.”(Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., The Sirens of Titan, epigraph, 1959)
Last week, I attended the 2023 Library Marketing and Communications Conference in Indianapolis. This is one of my favorite conferences to attend. It’s relatively small, relatively affordable (with meals included!), and attended by people who get me. Regardless of whether we work in academic libraries, public libraries, as librarians or as professional staff, we all speak the same language. We understand that not everything can go on the website. We know that fliers are a net waste of everyone’s time. We know that creating social media content is a specialized skill that few people actually do well. We realize that more promotion does not equal more awareness. We understand the power of storytelling. We value having a consistent brand. And yes, we all spend too much times on our phones, but secretly (or not) we enjoy it.
So here are a few of my takeaways from this year’s conference.
Burnout is real
Libraries cycle through outreach and communications folks like trends on Instagram. Constantly developing new ways to connect with users takes a toll on all of us. A number of sessions this year spoke to the necessity of setting up guardrails, taking time to step away, and the need to find ways to reconnect with your creative spark. Sadly, there wasn’t much talk about burnout being a systemic and organizational problem that needs to be solved at the management level, but that might be a result of there being so many new professionals in attendance.
Email is king, Instagram is queen, and existential dread
Everyone is looking for an excuse to get off X/Twitter. No one is interested in Threads. TikTok is banned in many states and the rest of us are reluctant to jump on. But email… email is king. Email offers a stronger analytics story, a closer connection to users, and a more dependable way to reach out. And it’s what our users want! A number of presenters confirmed what I’ve discovered at my own library: users prefer to be contacted by email. Instagram is a close second, but only as a vibe check. If email is for sharing information, Instagram is for sharing feels.
Social takes way more time than people assume
If it wasn’t apparent from my opening, one of the best aspects of LMCC is the collective kvetching. One strong theme this year was how many of our colleagues misunderstand the complexity of our work, most notably the time it takes to develop content. A 10-second Instagram post may only take an hour to film, edit, and post, but what you don’t see are the countless hours searching for inspiration: finding the right music, twisting the arms of the right colleagues, waiting for the right time of day to film, coordinating with all the other communications going out that day. We spend far more time consuming content than creating it, but that’s necessary for understanding how our work fits in with the ecosystem of any given platform.
What I’m reading
How I’ve Changed My Thinking About Burnout by Anne Helen Peterson
“I am doing less. I am lowering the bar. I am loosening my schedule. But I also have a fuller life, with so many places to direct my attention and time. It’s both less busy (with work) and more busy (with other life) than ever before.”
Nobody Wants Their Job to Rule Their Lives Anymore by Eloise Henry
“If I had a shorter work week and a dignified salary then they’d get a well-rested, enthusiastic and switched-on employee. Instead, they’re getting a poor and exhausted worker.”
Adopting the Perennial Mindset by Tara McMullin
“Quality-of-life guarantees could help people make life transitions—at any age—with more ease. And while these guarantees do benefit individuals directly, they also benefit our society. Fewer people scraping by, falling behind, or burning out because of unreasonable expectations is an overall cultural and economic good.”
Until next year, friend! For about 6 weeks, this lovely orb weaver rebuilt her web between the top of my dwarf orange tree and the power cables running to our house. Each evening before sunset, she would meticulously reweave her web, which by midnight would already be full of flies and the occasional honey bee. I haven’t seen her for a few days so my guess is she either returned to being strictly nocturnal or, more likely, she mated, produced her offspring, and died. It was comforting to greet her each day when I came home from work.
Links to the past
- 1 year ago: Notes from the 2022 Library Marketing and Communications Conference Day 1 and Day 2.
- 6 years ago: One of the best photos I ever took
- 10 years ago: I still need to find out the answer to this mystery
Protip: browsing and borrowing from your local library can satisfy the shop therapy part of your brain without costing you moneyami_angelwings on Mastodon (h/t Dense Discovery)
There comes a time in every librarian’s life when your library decides to migrate the catalog. No matter what role you play in the organization, you’re gonna feel it. This past year, MPOW moved from Sierra to Alma, the first such migration in 30 years. As the head of outreach and engagement, I would be responsible for overseeing campus messaging.
In September 2022, I drafted the initial communications plan. This included key messages and their explanation, a list of target audiences (both primary and secondary), communications channels, deliverables and assets to be created, a production and implementation timeline, and a matrix of responsibility that listed who was responsible for creating what and when. I presented this draft to our ILS Migration Steering Committee, the library’s leadership council, and various stakeholders. Six iterations later I had a completed plan.
Along the way, I asked for buy-in from each and every stakeholder. I recorded the changes to the plan in a change log, and noted the date of each stakeholder approval. A created lists of every action item and recorded who was responsible for every asset and its deadline. I created a list of check-in dates—three for every stakeholder—by which I would touch base about various aspects of the plan.
It was a robust plan. The most robust plan I’ve ever created. And while I cannot prove that it was foolproof, the library successfully migrated its catalog with no campus outcry. Certainly, there were some complaints: many of the functions previously available are currently still in production as we slowly check off all our post-migration to-dos. But not a single person has said they were unaware of the change. In fact, many faculty and staff have made comments to the effect of “oh, I heard your have a big systems change happening…”
Now, one could read this as indifference, but as a the person who oversees communications, I read this as success. “So, you’ve heard of me, then.”
What I’m reading
In this essay I will: On distraction by David Schurman Wallace
“A common idea of distraction presupposes that you’re turning away from something more important that you ought to be paying attention to instead. And you ought to be working all the time.”
LeVar Burton Wants You to Read Banned Books by Heven Haile
“I think, in truth, the effect of book bans has been limited. What happens, though, is people who engage in this kind of censorship self-identify as folks you need to keep your eye on. And for me, that’s gold, because now I see you.”
“Recognizing that social media is not a key to clicks seems like a correction to years of chasing traffic through outside platforms.”
Links to the past
- 1 year ago: Service work is broken. 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.
- 6 years ago: Subtle nudges in library programming. How we at MPOW try to subtly remind our guests about future events (other attempts are not so subtle).
- 10 years ago: When parenting was easy. It’s been mostly downhill since then.
Correspondence disclaimers through history
1660: I have written you a long letter because I did not have time to write a short one.overholt on Mastodon
1950: Dictated but not read
2010: Sent from my phone, please excuse typos
2030: Composed by AI
An active, critical approach to engaging with community needs that explicitly acknowledges the influence of social, cultural, financial, and political power on information access and information behavior is necessary for librarianship to confront limitations to freedom of speech and informed citizenship (especially in Black communities).Park Dahlen, S., Chancellor, R., Lee, S., Gibson, A., Shorish, Y., & Cooke, N. (2017). “Libraries on the frontlines: Neutrality and social justice.” https://doi.org/10.17615/pyyv-r646
Whatever the nature of the ultimate sources, Arthur symbolizes a deeply rooted factor in human nature. […] He still strikes a chord to which literal belief is irrelevant, and which reverberates far outside his own legend.King Arthur, The Dream of a Golden Age, Geoffrey Ashe
Donald Trump is a white supremacist. Full stop. If you vote for him again you’re a white supremacist. Full stop.“Chapter 319” by clipping.
Hamilton, of course. I’ve watched it twice in 24 hours (but I’m working on three. Oh!)
”Harry — I think I’ve just understood something! I’ve got to go to the library!”
And she sprinted away, up the stairs.
“What does she understand?” said Harry distractedly, still looking around, trying to tell where the voice had come from.
“Loads more than I do,” said Ron, shaking his head.
“But why’s she got to go to the library?”
“Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.”
— J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Can friendly circulation staff inspire curiosity? Does redesigning a search interface build confidence? Can virtual chat reference change someone’s economic circumstances? Do RSS feeds in the OPAC promote critical thinking skills? Can a collection development policy inspire lifelong learning? Can a coffee shop increase the equitability of access? Can metadata teach users about confidentiality?