Library advocacy and the dangers of the “echo chamber”

Following a conversation on Twitter this morning, me and thewikiman (@theREALwikiman) are trying to find out if anyone has any good ideas for overcoming the “echo chamber” effect in library advocacy. It’s easy to spend time preaching to the converted, but how do you reach people who don’t use the library, aren’t interested in what you have to say and don’t think you have anything to offer? Any thoughts, please tweet using the hashtag #echolib, or leave a comment here. We’ll be blogging anything interesting we find out.


14 comments on “Library advocacy and the dangers of the “echo chamber”

  1. […] like to look into this further, and see what people think. Please use the comments below, or on Woodsiegirl’s post, or particularly if you are on Twitter use the #echolib hash-tag, and let us know what you think. […]

  2. I think firstly you have to consider not just that you want non-library users to be interested but what you are trying to achieve from getting their attention – to convert? Are we talking Joe public or students? I am a strong advocate of library use, not just for information retrieval but for all and any of the other services they offer that remain largely unknown to the general public as a whole.

    I want non-users to be aware of the range of services the library offer including a condusive atmosphere, but also that librarians are not just the image they have inherited from a barage of paraphenalia and/or their teachers/parents. We are so much more!!

    • Good comments. I think it really depends on what sector we’re talking about, e.g. in public libraries you would target the general public; in school, FE and HE it would be students; and in corporate/special libraries it would be anyone entitled to use the library service. In my case, working for a law firm information department, we need to reach the lawyers who do things like send out all staff emails asking if anyone knows of any articles on a certain case, without realising that we can monitor those sorts of things for them.

  3. First of all, you’re creating a mountain for yourself by ramming different groups of people together – while the end result (not using the library) is the same, the reasons for it are going to be very different, and need to be treated as such.

    People who don’t use the library. Why should they? What is so important about coming into the library? What outreach programmes can you institute? How can YOU go to THEM, rather than vice versa? Use advocates (students, members of user groups etc) to assist you in this. What might it be about the library that puts them off? Get someone who has never been in the library, get them to come in and narrate what they see, what they think, what works and what doesn’t.

    Not interested in what you have to say. Perhaps you’re saying the wrong thing in the wrong way? Those users are going to be interested in *something*, it’s your job to find out what, and talk about that. Put up posters about Haiti, listing details on the country, call numbers, info you have on it in the library, point to a URL of data & links that you’ve created. Once you get onto their wavelength & they get used to the conversation, then branch out into other stuff.

    Don’t think you have anything to offer. How do they know? What prejudices do they have? What do they think the library does offer? What do they want? Previous example should help demonstrate what you can do for them. You need to work with them.

    Why don’t lawyers already know what you can do for them? Do you have induction for new joiners? Go on the offensive and produce content on spec, reply to all staff in response to an email query of the type you mention.

    Just a few thoughts. 😉

    • Cheers Phil!

      I know it’s important to identify different groups of people, and their reasons for/against using library/info services. We’re really just tossing ideas around here though, so I’m not too worried at this point about generalising.

      I completely agree that the focus shouldn’t be on getting people into the library – I actually think it’s really important to provide outreach services and make information accessible wherever our users are. See also some of Ned’s thoughts on the emphasis on the library as a physical place: http://www.thewikiman.org/resources/building.pdf

      Some really good points about making sure that you’re talking about things that your users actually want… Some good stuff coming out of the SLA’s alignment project about this: http://www.sla.org/content/SLA/alignment/index.cfm

      As far as the lawyers not knowing what we can offer… We do have inductions for new joiners – everyone gets an overview of what resources we have, what services we offer, etc. We also interview each new starter about their particular information habits and what training they may need. We also reply to all of the “does anyone know where I can find…” emails; and produce regular reports on new and existing clients which get sent round the relevant practice areas. And to be fair, most of our lawyers do make pretty good use of our services. The problems tend to be with the senior lawyers – people who’ve been with the firm for a number of years, and possibly delegate most of their research, so they’re not so sure what to do or where to go for help when they are doing their own research. They’re also the ones with barely a minute to spare, so don’t come to training sessions or presentations we organise, or to the information audit meetings we’ve been doing.

  4. It’s slightly heretical, but some people don’t want to be helped, and the law of diminishing returns kicks in. However, how about something along the lines of ‘You give me 5 minutes and I’ll give you 2 hours’. I was running a training session a while back, and asked a librarian how often she checked her email. We worked out that just *checking* to see what was there, not any reading of it too up about 24 hours a year. I showed her a Netvibes resource that was constantly displaying what email she had waiting for her – and saved her that amount of time.

    If you want to try hardball (may/may not work, depending on your organisation), how about a Friday lunchtime ‘Thank our users’ bash, with some tea/cake, and just invite the ones who use the service, and make it really public – see who else turns up!

  5. I’m going to partially echo (did you see what I did there!) some of the points that have been made already. I think there has to be a very good reason for someone to use a library especially in the corporate/law firm sector. A fee-earner could potentially go from trainee to solicitor to partner without ever using the library, unlikely but possible.

    The Library has to offer something that they cant get or do anywhere else. I apply this when I think about developing web solutions for fee-earners. The solution has to offer something extra and has to be the best place for them to either store information or “do something”

    I probably haven’t explained that very well…basically at the end of a day you need something to really draw users in, increasingly that thing may well go behind the traditional services offered by libraries.

  6. All really interesting posts.

    I don’t think we can force users in who have no need for our services – the cold economic reality is, if there’s no demand then you don’t need the library. What I’m concerned with is making people actually aware of what we do in the first place, so they can make an informed decision as to whether they need / could use us… And I don’t just mean libraries as physical spaces, but us as Information Professionals too.

    We’re good at talking about all the cool new stuff we’re doing, to each other (talking to each other, not doing stuff to each other!) but how to get the message a little wider, in a non-crass non rubbish way?

  7. I’m with the wikiman on this one. Yesterday I discovered that our Subject Librarians have themselves listed as resources on the journals database Metalib. I like this! I’ve never thought of myself as a resource, but as a librarian however (in whatever capacity) that is exactly what we are. Its interesting that we agree that we’re good at getting information to eachother but slightly more uneasy with getting it to the wider population……this is where the marketing for your particular institution comes into play, as well as putting ourselves as individuals out there just like this – blogs, magazine articles, twitter, facebook groups etc etc could go on forever.

    And as for a non-crass rubbish way, well sexing things up in a classy way always help!

  8. […] (which is gathering pace on Twitter and in the blog comments here and in particular on Organising Chaos ) – I was discussing this whole thing with someone in an email, and it forced me to articulate […]

  9. […] Library advocacy and the dangers of the “echo chamber” […]

  10. […] wasn’t updating for some reason. Also had an email/Twitter conversation with thewikiman about library advocacy – we decided to try to gather some thoughts and examples of best practices via Twitter, with […]

  11. […] Spent my lunch break reading through a contract my sister’s wedding photographer had asked her to sign (I used to be a wedding photographer before I was a librarian, and she wanted to know if there was anything out of the ordinary in the contract), blogging yesterday’s day in the life, and replying to some tweets and blog comments on library advocacy outside the echo chamber. […]

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