ON LIBRARIES: Branding Your Library

My first association with branding, although I didn’t think about it at the time, goes back to the 1950s when television was new and all the rage.  Kids like me watched whenever we could, much like today’s kids who are buried in their devices.  Westerns were popular and they invariably included cattle rustling and how the rustlers would alter the brand to conceal the theft. They also including television shows sponsored by a single product.

Brands today mean much more, but there is still some truth in what I learned in those old black and white movies.  Brands identify the owners and problems occur when the brand is blurred. Businesses work hard to protect their brand.  Every now and then a marketing plan or a product goes awry and the brand is affected.  It takes hard work to restore it.

What does this mean to you as a librarian?  Remember you are in business (or you are out of business), and you do need a brand.  So, what is your brand?

As John Williams says in The Basics of Branding, “Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customers. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors’. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.”

If you haven’t identified your brand, you may be surprised to know you already have one. In this case, however, it’s likely not what you want it to be.  It may be the “shushing place.”  Or “The dusty place of books.”  While you may not have intended this, it is somehow fixed in the minds of students, teachers, and administrators. That kind of brand can lead to decisions on cutting your budget or worse, eliminating the library.

Note the last part of the definition of branding. “Who do people perceive you to be?”  Unless you have developed a strong brand, your users may have a negative perception of you which colors everything. You have to change it.

If you don’t create your brand – one will be created for you, like it or not.

To create the brand you want, look at the rest of the definition.  It’s imperative you differentiate yourself from your “competition.”  For school librarians, the competition consists of classroom teachers, computer teachers, and literacy coaches. If they are doing the same thing you do, your “product” is not unique.  And if you are not unique, you are redundant and likely to be eliminated.

So, how do you create a brand for your library? Start with what you already have and review your Mission, Vision, and Philosophy. For those of you who haven’t written those statements as yet, you can read my blog on Mission Statements which also discusses Visions.  As to your Philosophy, look at the Core Beliefs in the AASL Standards for the 21st-century Learner for ideas.

As you work on identifying your brand, look to make an emotional connection.  The best and most lasting brands in business do.

McDonald’s brand makes it “the happy place.”  Kids’ meals are called “happy meals.” It was the first to have a place for kids to play.  Their spokesman is a clown, and its primary philanthropy is the Ronald McDonald Houses where parents can stay close to a child in in the hospital and not have to travel back and forth. It’s not about the burger. It’s about the feeling.

Coca Cola is another brilliantly brand, in fact considered the most valuable brand in the world.  It promotes the wonderful feeling you get about being with family and friends –and Coke.  One way or another, their marketing is about – things go better with Coke, the “things” are always the strong emotional tugs we get from activities with those who matter to us. Again, it’s not about the soda.  It’s about the feeling.

You may use some aspects of your brand in a tagline (slogan) that carries a positive message about your library program. However, even when taglines are changed to meet new situations or a different target audience, your brand doesn’t change. In 1971 McDonald’s slogan was “You Deserve a Break Today”. Currently, it’s “I’m lovin’ it”. Basically… the same feeling. 

On a personal level, because I write and present, I have a brand.  It is “Be a Leader and Become Indispensable.”  No matter what the topic of my presentation or workshop, no matter the title of my books, no matter what my blog of the week is called – the message is always, “Be a Leader and Become Indispensable” and the feeling I always want to leave you with is that you are indispensable.

Now it’s your turn.  What do you want your brand to be? It will take some time to formulate.  Spend time playing with the wording to see how to bring an emotional content to it. Some possibilities might be, “Always here to help you with your information needs and recreational interests,” or “Getting you to the right answer you need, every time, no hassle.”

Do you feel the emotion connection in both?  Can you envision possible taglines that may come from either of them? How will you present yourself and your program to embed the brand you want in the minds of users?

If you have developed a brand for your library program, I’d love for you to share it.  How did you establish it?

ON LIBRARIES – They Want Me To Do What?

Invariably at some point in your career, your principal or superintendent will ask you to do something that detracts from your library program. How do you respond?  The bottom line is you do what you are told or you are insubordinate.  But as a leader, and as the expert in what is needed for the library program, there are ways to handle the various situations in a proactive manner.

You don’t want to acquiesce sullenly, which will be recognized by your administrator. Worse is to complain to your friends on the staff about the stupidity of the request.  The school grapevine travels fast.  Your principal/superintendent will hear about it very soon.  This will shatter any relationship you have built up and seriously impact any future requests you make.

On the other hand, I strongly believe we teach people how to treat us. If you act like a doormat, people will step on you.  This may sound like a contradiction of what I said before, but it’s not.

When you are told to do something that takes away from your program, stop for one minute and recognize your administrator is in a bind and is looking for a solution.  It may or may not be the best one, but if you come from leadership, you can get it changed or altered to work better.

Here are some examples – many of which have occurred in my career:

The principal needs to use the library for one period so that a group of students can take a test. You are asked to close the library for that period. You have a class scheduled at that time.

This happened when I was very new at a high school having been transferred from the elementary school. I told him “If you need it, I suppose we will have to close, but Mrs. S. was counting on me working with her students that period.  I will let her know.” He was taken aback, thought quickly and said, “Maybe we can use Mrs. S.’s classroom while she is in the library.  I will speak with her.”

A similar incident, which I discussed in one of my books, occurred in another high school.  I got a call from the principal’s secretary asking me to close the library for several periods to allow the athletic directors from our region to meet in the library.

I told her I would notify all scheduled teachers about the change. On hearing the news, one of the teachers stormed into the principal’s office, complaining.  I heard she said, “Who is our library for?  Our students or the athletic directors?”  I soon got another call from the principal’s secretary in which she said she had misunderstood the principal.  I need only close off a section of the library (privacy screens would be provided.) 

In both cases, I did not object.  I appeared willing to do what I was told, and yet made changes in the outcome. My principals had an opportunity to see the library and I were of value to our educational program.

A frequent occurrence for many of you is being told to cover for a teacher either because the substitute is late or none is available.  I can remember being told I needed to cover a physical education class.

I said it was a shame to have to close the library for the entire school.  Was it possible to have the phys ed class meet in the library?  No problem.  The principal didn’t care as long as students were supervised.  I had the class work on researching aspects of a sport of their choice.  I told students their work would be turned into the teacher for a probable grade.  I got good cooperation from them, and once again showed the administration I was a team player – pun intended.

Many of you are required to shut down the library for days when high stakes tests are given.  Everyone is stressed out, including the administrators.  But it’s a terrible loss to the continuity of the library program.

Successful librarians have dealt with the challenge by getting permission to take their necessary tools on a cart and work with individual classes.  As long as you are not required to proctor, this has many benefits.  You partner with teachers on their territory. Since kids are also stressed and off kilter because of schedule changes, this puts two adults in one room. The kids get to see you in a different setting and as more of a teacher –and you might build new collaborative partnerships this way.

Districts are always dealing with budget cuts and frequently give librarians extra duties.  Sometimes it means going to two schools.  Other times you are given actual classes to teach.

You are not going to get out of this entirely, but if you do everything they ask with regards to this, you will only get more and/or they will assume you didn’t have that busy a day so this really wasn’t a problem.  Make a list of all your tasks.  Star what you consider the high priority ones and put a check next to those you will need to drop.  Take the list to your administrator explaining your “predicament” and ask if he/she agrees with your ranking of tasks and what you will be dropping. Be open to hearing their opinion. You will have taught your administrator the range of the library program and how it impacts the educational community.

One more personal note.  After completing a library renovation project giving the library 25% more shelf and floor space, the principal called me over the summer, asking me to come in.  He had to move the “School to Career” center into the library. This came with many apologies, but there was no other room available.

Again there was no way to escape this.  Looking at the floor plan, I found a section that was out of the way of the general flow. I got a display height bookcase and filled it with our career books to create the area as a separate place. My cooperation was well-received.  The head of the program was great at grants.  He got lots of tech which became library property and he became a strong library supporter.

Following directives doesn’t mean rolling over and playing dead.  What experiences have you had with “orders” from an administrator?  How did you handle it?

ON LIBRARIES: The School Libraries of the Future

With so much change, it is natural to wonder what the future will hold.  Some look on the possibilities with excitement, others with trepidation.  Many of you have become members of the Future Ready Librarians Facebook group.  Not wanting to be left out, I decided it was time for me to trot out my crystal ball.

I have done no research for this beyond what I see and read each day.  I am sure much of what I predict will be wrong which is true of every future caster.  But I think the basics of my predictions will happen.

It doesn’t take much clairvoyance to state there will be many more changes and technology will lead the way.  Social media will evolve or disappear while new ones will come on the scene. Adults will bemoan that kids are so wrapped up in the latest digital format (or whatever) that they are losing out on what is important.  And this includes the new adults who are attached to their smartphones today.

Makerspaces will change and may be replaced by something we haven’t foreseen as yet. Augmented Reality (AR) is already having an impact which will continue to grow. If you haven’t dealt with it, here’s how it works. I know there are librarians out there already using Aurasma.

Virtual Reality (VR) is another technology that will grow as more is available.  There will definitely be complaints about kids so connected to an artificial reality they don’t know what’s going on around them. Think about the Pokémon Go craze.  That is considered either AR or VR or maybe Mixed Reality (there is an ongoing dispute about it).

Despite our growing reliance on communicating electronically, we will recognize the value of working face-to-face.  While we will be doing more distance collaboration, we can’t ignore the fact that humans are social animals.  Anyone who has served on a committee which has met by phone, even using Zoom or Skype, knows when you get together in-person there is a synergy that accelerates the process.

The need for social interaction is why I believe the Library Commons approach will be adopted in more schools, no matter what it’s called in the future.  Library furniture is already becoming more flexible to meet whatever users’ needs are in the moment. Students and teachers need a welcoming space to meet and collaborate as they create new knowledge. The resources of the library and the expertise of the librarian make it possible.

I’m convinced Google will continue to find an endless variety of ways to integrate their products into education and our personal lives.  I also believe many vendors we deal with today will be absorbed by other larger ones (I’ve seen that happen too often over the years not to think it will continue).  But at the same time there will be new services and companies who find more flexible approaches to meet our needs, and we should be on the lookout for them.

Check out the link to this AMAZING library in France – https://ebookfriendly.com/a-futuristic-public-library-thionville-france/

The look of libraries will alter as the new tech becomes integrated into teaching and learning.  Some librarians will struggle to cope with giving up tools they now depend on and love. More will adapt and adopt at varying speeds. Others will lead the way, embracing the new, holding on to what is still valuable and helping their colleagues move into the future.

What does this really mean for you as school librarians and for your program? First and foremost, you and our profession will survive.  And if we are wise and prepared we will thrive.

A quote often attributed to Darwin but which seems to have come from a management text states, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor is it the most intelligent that survives.  It is the one most adaptable to change.”  This is how successful businesses thrive, and we either are in business or we are out of business.

To be adaptable to change, you need to be on guard against decisions coming from your paradigm. The Oxford English Dictionary defines paradigm as “A world view underlying the theories and methodology of a particular scientific subject.” What this means is we interpret the world based on what we have learned as we grew up.  It’s hard breaking through the model we hold.

One of the most well-known examples of this is the tale is of Xerox who became concerned in 1970 about the potential impact the new computers would have on their copying business.  They set up the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), hired many of the leading computer scientists, gave them virtually unlimited funds, and told them to create the future.  They did.  They came up with a graphic user interface (which all computers now use but Steve Jobs saw early), local area networks, laser printers, and more.  But Xerox, was locked into its paradigm, and couldn’t recognize the potential and did nothing with what was created for them.

Despite the need to be ready to make changes, it’s imperative you don’t act too fast or too drastically.  Some things are important and core to libraries. I believe libraries that have gone bookless made a mistake.  Someday print may disappear but studies show even the young prefer print for their recreational reading.

Whatever happens, students and teachers will need librarians to guide them through what will only be an increasing flood of information.  And students will need the safe, welcoming environment of the library to find their path academically as well as personally.

What does your crystal ball tell you? Do you agree with my predictions?