They evoke feelings and thoughts. They influence behavior.
Organizations spend billions each year creating and preserving them, for they know brand loyalty grows and dies hard.
I’d argue library is also a brand and needs to be actively managed to increase its visibility and public support. A few thoughts and observations…
On creating a logo or service mark
Libraries currently do not have a logo; they have thousands of them. Each library creates its own and this can dilute the power of the brand. I strongly recommend public libraries adopt a common symbol endowed with an extensible professional design and clear usage guidelines. Apple has done this beautifully.
On keeping good company
Earlier this month, the ALA/PLA announced a two-year, $750,000 grant from Dollar General. Half of it will be distributed to 70 libraries within close proximity to a DG location. In return for the $5,000 grant, individual libraries will be required to participate in a 60 minute media training and do a variety of other promotional work for ALA and Dollar General.
Dollar General is a low-end retailer that Hoovers describes as “living off the crumbs of Walmart”.1 Not surprisingly, the company has a reputation for unenlightened management and undervaluing its workforce (here and here, for instance). The library grant is effective brand management for Dollar General because it associates the company with an organization that can elevate its image. Can the same be said for the libraries?
The Got Milk? campaign has painted a white moustache on hundreds of spokespeople over the years. In every image, the people look good and the brand looks real good on them.
Contrast this with a 40 year campaign to change the image of librarians. In 1970, the ALA hung a daffy librarian from a pole. In 2009 it brought nationwide attention to nordic warrior queens battling it out in the Librarian Book Cart Drill Championships. I can only imagine the campaigns in intervening years. If choices from last year’s Top 50 Librarian Blogs2 is representative, I’d prefer not to know.
On guarding your turf
I think it’s fair to say that not so long ago, people shared a reasonably consistent idea of what a library was and what services it provided. This meaning has dissipated as libraries have become less secure about their identity and value, and other organizations have stepped in to provide traditional library services.
On the cover page of every downloadable book in its collection, Google claims to be the custodian of public domain books by helping “readers discover the world’s books while helping authors and publishers reach new audiences.” And the tagline of the service findingDulcinea actually reads “Librarian of the Internet”.
Libraries need to stake a claim — to a strong identity and a few services they perform better than other governmental or commercial organizations. Strong executive leadership can get them there.
1Summary from Hoovers: Dollar General’s at ease with living off the crumbs of Wal-Mart. The retailer commands a chain of more than 8,700 discount stores in 35 states, primarily in the southern and eastern US, the Midwest and the Southwest. Offering basic household items, such as cleaning supplies and health and beauty aids, as well as some apparel and food, it targets low-, middle-, and fixed-income customers. Stores are generally located in small towns off the radar of giant discounters. Its big-city stores (about 30% of its total) are situated in lower-income neighborhoods. About 35% of its merchandise is priced at $1 or less. Two years after being taken private by affiliates of KKR and Goldman Sachs the chain went public in 2009.
2From the top 20: Annoyed Librarian, ranting from the shadows with wit and venom; The Days & Nights of the Lipstick Librarian, a brash and sexy librarian who tells the mousy stereotypes to shove it; and The Society for Librarians* Who Say “Motherfucker”.