One of the projects that took up a fair amount of my time a few weeks ago was serving as a Rater for applications to this year's Eureka Leadership Institute. This involved reviewing and rating about 60 applications for the 30 available slots. Applicants had to submit a resume, several reference letters, provide answers to four qualitative questions about leadership, and describe a project that they plan to undertake as part of the Eureka process.
One of the qualitative questions was along the lines of "What are the most pressing issues facing your library and your community and how can the library address them?" and I was stunned by the number of people who wrote only about the issues facing their library (budget pressures, short staffing, lack of awareness of library services, etc.) with no reference to the needs and issues of the community they serve and/or responded that the most important thing the library can do is make sure more people are aware of and use its services...i.e. "selling" the library or, as I have seen it put, "converting the heathen".
I don't know whether it is an indictment of the state of library education or a reflection of a "hunkering down" mentality within libraries, but it was very disappointing that so few applicants seemed to grasp that the path to success isn't convincing people how wonderful libraries are, but rather in identifying and addressing real community needs.
My experience of the Eureka applications is still fresh, so this blog post from Dan Blank about using social networking to build communities (via David Lee King) really struck a cord, especially this:
You don’t sell to a community. You support a community. You provide for a community. You connect a community. You mediate a community. You balance a community. You sacrifice for a community.
One of the important roles libraries can play (in both the physical and virtual worlds) is helping build communities...but as Dan Blank notes that is very different from selling something.
Sure, we need to make sure people are aware of our services and most libraries, PVLD included, invest a significant amount of time and effort in marketing our services and programs. I get worried, though, when as a profession we seem to confuse marketing with developing a deep understanding of the communities we serve and their needs and aspirations, and then connecting what we do to those needs.