Archive for the ‘echolib’ Tag

Cataloguers, step into the limelight

I have always said that if librarians as a profession struggle with their public image and with public understanding of what they do, then cataloguers are the librarians of the library world.

When people talk about the “echo chamber“, where librarians need to talk to the wider public rather than to each other, I can’t help but think that cataloguers are stuck within their own little bubble inside that echo chamber, mainly talking to other cataloguers.

So, for a long time now, I’ve been interested in promoting cataloguing and cataloguers within our profession, to other librarians and information professionals. And within our institutions – there has been a tendency to describe us as “back room staff” and “back room activities”, tucked away in our fusty corners, poring over rule books, measuring things with rulers, preparing antiquated records fit only for card catalogues while the whizzy, modern, exciting work of whizzy, modern, exciting libraries takes place around us, even in spite of us. This isn’t the case, but we really need to get better and telling people the facts. And showing them what we do.

Biddy Fisher talked about library advocacy and the role of “cat & class” within the new heart of the library profession in her keynote speech at the CIG conference in September (the powerpoint slides are available here). It was a subject that came up a lot in general discussion, over tea, at dinner during the conference.

At the conference (and mainly due to us both being on Twitter), I met Venessa (who tweets as @scarlettlibgirl and blogs at Scarlettlibrarian) and since then we’ve been talking about our mutual interest in proactive advocacy for cataloguing and metadata. Talking about the new roles and activities for the staff traditionally called “cataloguers” (you will note that my job description places me in a “cataloguing” department whereas Venessa’s calls her a “metadata adminstrator” but that’s only the tip of the iceberg in what our various roles cover). We also interested in how cataloguers promote themselves and their work within the wider library, perhaps even the whole institution.

See Venessa’s call to arms on her blog. Our aim is to promote debate and discussion within the cataloguing world but also to encourage promotion to librarians who are not cataloguers. All of this is with the aim of making cataloguers more visible, we need to step into the library limelight and do more to promote our contributions.

We’re particularly interested in anything (official or not) that cataloguing staff have done to promote themselves or their cataloguing work to their colleagues. We’re working on raising our profile so hopefully you will hear more from us in due course (Venessa is working on this right now).

Please do get in touch, on Twitter or via our blogs. I think there’s a real groundswell of broader library advocacy and promotion going on from grassroots level in the wider profession and I really want to see the cataloguing community build on that.

I’ll be posting more about this shortly…

Marketing

I have been putting off writing about marketing (Thing 19) for a number of reasons. I have read some great posts on the topic over on other cam23 blogs and wanted to digest and maybe even respond to some of that. It’s a huge topic and I still feel that there is just too much to say, especially when I am aware that I’m falling behind and really, really want to complete all 23 Things in time for that voucher. The specific requirement on the Thing 19 instructions to blog “specifically about one tool or strategy you are going to adopt to promote your service as a result of your participation in Cam23” makes this a difficult topic for someone like me, who is not in a position to make decisions about the use of social media for marketing in my place of work. There are many other people in the same situation, who have dealt with it in a variety of ways – Librarianintraining takes the opportunity to play “fantasy librarian” (and request a larger office), Birdbrain points out that “surely this kind of thing has to go through SMT” (bit of a UL in-joke, but very funny and almost certainly true).

The issue of marketing raises some related questions that I do also want to look at, even though they aren’t directly answering the question posed in the Thing 19 instructions.

The marketing opportunities offered by social media

Social media marketing cartoon

Lots of people have already blogged about this very well. I think that social media do offer new avenues for marketing, especially if you see communication and visibility as important part of how a library markets itself to potential users. A Facebook page (setting aside my personal dislike), a Twitter account, a blog that users can subscribe to via rss feeds, audio podcasts – these are all communication methods that allow libraries to be more visible and to communicate in various media and in a number of online “locations” with users.

There is, as always, an issue of time as many have already pointed out. Many of the social media tools we’ve been looking at require a responsiveness and even an immediacy that does cost in terms of staff time and effort, even if the tool itself is free. A Twitter account is no good if nobody answers the questions that it inevitably will attract. I have found myself that it’s much easier and therefore more appealing to tweet a question to an institution than it is to track down an email address or phone number to ask that same question. Same goes for a Facebook page. If a library sets this up they need to be prepared to devote the staff time and energy in maintaining the content and responding to communication (not just using these as means to “push” publicity messages out to people).

This has all been covered in more detail and with prettier pictures. At the UL, there are already several initiatives on marketing the library using social media (blogs, rss feeds, videos, twitter). So, rather than repeat the same again (with less pretty pictures) or play fantasy librarian about “what I would do if I were in charge”, I’m going to say some other things that I want to say when thinking about marketing, social media and libraries.

Marketing the librarian rather than the library

One aspect of social media is an element of personalisation. Of moving things from a remote, impersonal institutional level (the Library website, the catalogue) to a more personal, immediate, conversational level (the Library twitter account is often a single person, the ability of blogs/Facebook to allow comments, interaction, response, images). I think it’s a good opportunity to think of marketing the librarian (or rather all members of library staff) as well as the library with its resources, databases, facilities, training. It’s the chance to become more visible, engage with people and demonstrate the added value that library staff can offer that way.

Every encounter, training session, question at a reference desk, query to a passing member of staff in the corridor is in essence a marketing opportunity. What social media does is moves this chance encounter, this passing conversation, friendly interaction outside of the library walls and into other arenas. Be where the users are, as everyone says. It’s what Miss Crail already recognised with her marvellous poster (I had to find a way to reproduce it here, I very much hope she doesn’t mind):

Miss Crail's, Your Librarian, Your Friend

courtesy of the marvellous Miss Crail

I’m going to go a step further too. In a very large library like the UL, there is also an issue of internal marketing. Marketing to the rest of the 300+ members of staff who you are and what your work contributes to the library, what services you can offer in your particular role to the rest of the staff. This is much easier if you’re in a very senior position or in a very public-facing position, where you are carrying out training or inductions. It’s harder for other members of staff whose work is less visible (that includes a huge number of people in the UL, it has to be said). While taking part in 23 Things, I’m starting to see the opportunities social media can offer for this internal marketing and communication both within the library and within the wider Cambridge library system. It would have been almost impossible for the various people who have commented on Andy’s “blog post that wouldn’t die” over on Libreaction (it’s long but worth a read if you haven’t already seen it) to have had that discussion in any other media, there’s no email list or event that would allow it (maybe in a discussion at the libraries@cambridge conference but then there’d be people who couldn’t make it, or who were a bit intimidated about speaking up in person at a large event… you see what I mean).

Social media should be explored as a means of offering a personal presence for librarians, for marketing to the rest of the staff in their library (if it’s a large institution or if, like me, you work in a “backroom” kind of function), for marketing to other libraries and library staff in Cambridge and – just as importantly – for marketing the librarian (and thus the library) within the University  to academics and students, as a way of demonstrating what value librarians can add, by showing how librarians can contribute to research and teaching. A blog, a twitter account, whatever it takes.

Since I (reluctantly) joined Twitter, I’ve already answered several cataloguing questions of varying degrees of obscurity and also used it as a (surprising) forum for discussion on RDA cataloguing rules. I’ve been able to use the new contacts and communication methods to point people in the right direction if I can’t answer a question. This is something it can be very hard to do as a cataloguer. It’s good to be “visible” in this way and a huge number of benefits can come of it, both personally, professionally and for the wider library community. It gets us out of the “echo chamber” if we can do it right (or at least get cataloguers out of our own particular version of it, but that’s an idea for another time). It reminds me of the whole concept of “embedded librarians” which works well for subject librarians but not for cataloguing staff – social media offers the opportunity to try to become more “embedded” whenever possible.

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