Randomly select 20 strangers and ask them what they think about their local public library. You’re likely to get 20 different answers, and most of them are probably not what you want to hear. As we think about who we are, what we do and, more importantly, what our brand is, chances are that our customers think we’re about books while we try to convince them that we’re so much more. After all, many of us loan games, do prom dress drives, teach punk-rock aerobics, partner with microbreweries (Edgar Allan Porter, anyone?), and offer 3D printing services. We push the envelope of what we loan and how we program for one reason and one reason only: to get people in the door so that they can discover what we really have to offer — ideas, inspiration, and access.
Why not embrace the book brand? A review of usage of our library’s electronic resources for a recent month showed that three of the top five most heavily used resources are all book related. Our customers are hungry to interact with visiting authors, they attend our Notable Books series in droves to listen to college professors lecture about books in a program billed as “No papers, no tests, no tuition,” and our social media posts relating to reading consistently receive the most likes and shares. A recent post, “If you could read only one book for the rest of your life, what would it be/why?” reached more than 2,000 people. One of our most popular new electronic resources combines the best that the library has to offer — the expertise of our youth services librarians with our collections — and provides customized reading recommendations to parents of young children that arrive via email and link directly to the library catalog. Another provides readers with weekly lists of the library’s new acquisitions, providing them access to the newest, shiniest, and most in-demand titles.
It’s no surprise that the library’s cool factor, namely the celebration of reading, is what resonates. So is the library’s role as the poster child of the sharing economy. We are the champions of efficiency and reuse and could (and should) make our rallying cry, “Buy the Best, Borrow the Rest.”
If we embrace our book brand and do it the right way, the elegant simplicity is that the brand will carry from library to library and system to system. Like any good brand, we’ll consistently deliver a feeling, build loyalty, and help one another. It will be a beautiful thing.