About Ruth Kneale

Ruth Kneale is the Systems Librarian for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope in Tucson, Arizona and the author of You Don’t Look Like a Librarian: Shattering Stereotypes and Creating Positive New Images in the Internet Age. She was the Librarian and Webmaster for the Gemini Observatory in Hilo, Hawaii, and the Gemini 8m Telescopes Project. Kneale has written on computer topics for Information Outlook and Computers in Libraries, and publishes a regular column about librarians in Marketing Library Service called “Spectacles: How Pop Culture Views Librarians.” She started the website You Don’t Look Like a Librarian! (www.librarian-image.net) in 2002, and a companion blog called Random Musings from the Desert (desertlibrarian.blogspot.com) in 2006.

Author Archive | Ruth Kneale

Marketing in Libraries: Yes, It’s Up to You!

When you hear the word “marketing” do you throw up your hands and walk away, because marketing is for advertising companies and not for librarians? I beg to differ!

What is marketing? To sum up: “Marketing is the process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers” (Wikipedia). Every portrayal in popular culture markets our profession, not always to the betterment of it. Every interaction you have with a patron markets our profession. Every time you fundraise, ask for a budget increase, plan a program, post to your library’s Facebook page–you are absolutely, positively engaging in marketing.

One of the most powerful ways we can change the way we are perceived – in popular culture and in real life – is to market ourselves and our skill sets better. But how? There’s a number of ways, but they boil down to: Toot your own horn! Be sure to advertise what you did, how you did it, who you benefited and how. Get program news out everywhere you possibly can. Outline in your fundraising flyer how many books/computers/databases last year’s fundraising efforts provided. Punch up your online presence!

Need some help? Check out these resources:

▪ The Accidental Library Marketer, by Kathy Dempsey and her overall web site Libraries Are Essential. Kathy has put together a thorough reference site for marketing in libraries.
Pop Goes the Library, by Sophie Brookover and Elizabeth Burns. A great book that outlines ways to corral pop culture references into your programming opportunities.
Marketing Library Services, a newsletter specifically to address marketing issues in libraries, including what worked and what didn’t.
popculture-l, the ACRL Popular Culture in Libraries discussion group, “devoted to the general discussion of popular culture materials and all types of libraries.”  It’s open to librarians everywhere, and is a great way to find out what other folks have done, or are considering.

There’s absolutely no reason not to use pop culture references in your own marketing efforts. You can make a connection to a large percentage of the population with a Hollywood reference, and once that connection is made, your value communications will go even better. Give it a try!

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Are Librarians Loners? Some Stereotypes Die a Slow Death

Here’s an example of why we need to be vigilant about how we are perceived–because if we aren’t, and we don’t keep educating people about who we are and what we do, then people like Daniel Bukszpan of CNBC will. And we can’t have that!

In May of this year, Mr. Bukszpan wrote a slideshow article for CNBC titled “Jobs for Loners.” Care to guess what his first listed job was? Yep. Librarian. Here’s what he had to say: “If you’re in love with books, and you like shushing people more than you like meeting them, then a job as a librarian may be for you.

So tell me, what do you think? Is introversion the first thing you think of when you think of librarians? Or socially inept? Based on the comments floating around Facebook (where I first saw this posted), there are a lot of librarians out there rather annoyed with this portrayal. Here’s a sampling of commentary:

  • from KG: “Sheesh, another pundit who hasn’t been in a library in oh, 75 years.”
  • from KE, “Perhaps the author should have availed himself of the expertise of one his local librarians for some research assistance. Oh, wait… that might have meant walking into a library or interviewing an ACTUAL librarian.” (This was a common, common refrain.)
  • From VE, an international perspective: “It is depressing for a Swedish librarian like me to learn that people’s prejudiced views aren’t very different in other countries compared to here. I don’t mind small kids believing whatever they think I do at work… But when grown-up people, especially the influential ones, start making up their own ideas about what libraries and librarians are… now that’s where I start having issues. That is some serious sh#t that can’t be ignored.”
  • From SD: “those who have BEEN in a library in the last 10 years know it’s not AT ALL like this article makes it out to be.”
  • Finally from, LP: “Stereotypes appear to die a slow death.”

Sadly, the CNBC article did not allow commentary, nor was contact information given for Mr. Bukszpan. I’m certain he would have gotten multiple earfuls! Do you want people like this writing things like this about us in venues like that? This this is how the stereotype is perpetuated. It’s incumbent upon us all to keep fighting it!

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A Librarian’s Perspective: Pop Culture’s View is Still Relevant

I admit it; I’m hyperaware of anything having to do with libraries, librarians and pop culture. I look, I listen, and I’m deeply appreciative of all the things I get sent via email and social media. Many folks ask me, “Why are you still going on about this? Surely it doesn’t matter anymore!” and I’m here to tell you–it does.

Recently, Karen Glover wrote a great Backtalk article chock-full of pop culture and librarianan for Library Journal, titled “What Popular Culture is Telling Us About Libraries and Why We Should Listen.” I loved her discussion of the library as a mysterious, possibly dangerous place. And if that’s the case, then what is the librarian but a master of the mysterious and dangerous? Ms. Glover also discusses the theme of “Library as Place,” which I believe truly the library is evolving into – it’s about so much more than books now! And the wielder and protector of the mystery, the danger, the adventure, the wonder–is us.

She references personal favorite Rex Libris, a comic book series about a no-nonsense librarian superhero, who’s been around since Alexandria; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, about whom nearly every librarian knows; The Sandman, award-winning graphic novels by Neil Gaiman, whose Library consists of every book an author never finished except in dreams; Warehouse 13, a SyFy TV show about steampunk supernatural super-archive and the agents who run it; National Treasure, a great campy adventure movie where research and libraries power the search; and The Walking Dead, a TV series where libraries and those who know how to use them truly are powerful people.

While Ms. Glover’s primary focus in her article is on the library, I think every example she gives can also be taken as a nod to the librarian, even those specifically about the Library as Place. What is it that is invaluable in making the library a wonderful location, where “the atmosphere and ambiance is even better”? It’s the amazing people that work there.

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