by Erica Bass, BS, MLS, Library Director
Jerry L. Pettis VA Memorial Medical Center
Loma Linda, CA
With the support of a professional development award from the NN/LM PSR, I attended the 19th Internet Librarian Conference October 26-28 in beautiful Monterey. Sixteen of the 19 annual conferences have been held in Monterey. It is truly an international conference with 42 states and 17 countries represented. The total number of registrants this year was 800, so it is a small, intimate conference where you can get to know your fellow participants. This year’s conference theme was: MORPH! Exploring New Directions and Roles for the Information Services Biz, one of the longest in conference history.
There is nary the mention of ‘libraries or librarians.’ This was deliberate and with good reason. Disappearing budgets for all types of libraries have transformed many information professionals into marketers for the 21st century. Most librarians secretly love the Internet but the number of people walking in the front door has greatly decreased since the advent of the trinity of Google, Wikipedia and Ask Jeeves. So the burning question is ‘what of perceived worth’ to our clients do we offer that the Internet does not provide? Phrases which were once foreign to librarians have now become survival rafts. Business phrases like ROI (return on investment), and client psyche are being bantered around and clever librarians everywhere are finding new ways to show our ‘worth’ to management and those with a grip on the budgetary purse strings.
One creative librarian at a Bible Belt Public Library or as he described it “the buckle of the Bible Belt” started a marketing campaign to get feet in the door, which he successfully did. After his marketing campaign got going the public library saw a 400% increase in library users! The library hosted Events like a Mini Comic Con, with library patrons dressing as their favorite comic book characters and the friends of the library supplying drinks and cookies, 450+ attended the event. Other marketing techniques included clever “cool factor” inexpensive drink coasters which were handed out for free to local pizza joints/restaurants/bars or anywhere the community gathered; advertisements for library services such as “Cheap Date? You get dinner, we’ve got the movie” or “romance novels; cheaper than cats.” They also admitted to a few failures like ‘speed dating night.’ They had high hopes but only three little old ladies and one man showed up. Overwhelmingly this unusual marketing campaign with posters, drink coasters and tapping into the biggest interest/buzz generator, Facebook, increased attention which resulted in increased patronage, and city leaders sat up and took notice of this newly minted jewel in the city’s crown, the public library. What did all this marketing cost? It was roughly 20% of the annual library budget. It was money well spent; the ROI was 400% and the library’s budget was doubled, creating an overwhelming success!
So from Bible Belt to medical libraries marketing is the key. Without it we are a voice of one. Librarians innately have a highly valued skill set for the 21st Century, the ability to sort through a lot of material and cull out relevant articles/information. In research this is called making ‘Meaningful Use’ out of Big Data. UpToDate, the program much beloved by physicians and residents alike, is nothing more than a synopsizing of the information in PubMed. There have been several articles in the press lately regarding the big money wheel that is medical publishing, and we are all aware of the exorbitant costs of many medical journals. Now there is a growing backlash among physicians wanting to openly publish/or self-publish their articles. If you used the term “Embedded Librarian” ten years ago, no one would have known what you were talking about. Now it is commonplace to find medical librarians contributing to rounding teams’ informational needs, at the bedside.
Librarians are also serving as key players on Patient Safety Committees, after all who better to research reliable facts on hospital acquired infections, or research the pros and cons of a piece of safety equipment. Reliable information is out there in volumes; it is the culling process, separating the wheat from the chaff that is the key. Librarians, the ‘original search engine,’ have been doing this for years. We’ve all heard the old saying that information is power; with the advent of the Internet I would add that information is power, but not an information dump. Focused, meaningful, information is worth its weight in gold!