Monday, March 06, 2006

Transforming patrons into communities

We'd all agree that libraries are vital in sustaining and creating community, but how does a librarian actually go about "making" a community that will, in turn, sustain the library?

Duct Tape Marketing points to a post by author Guy Kawasaki that may be useful. In it, Kawasaki outlines 8 principles that are essential in community building, all of which librarians can do or do better. Some of my favorite are: Create something worth building a community around; Create an open system; and Welcome criticism. The Duct Tape Marketing post also features a podcast interview with Kawasaki on the topic.

In my own attempts at community building, I've found that creating an advisory committee has been an amazing way to harness the enthusiasm of patrons to come up with creative solutions. The students on my committee are very passionate about libraries and they never hesitate to voice their opinions, good and bad, while also sharing their excitement with other students. I don't know how I could do my work without the two-way communication and insights this little community offers. What strategies have you used to foster community in your library?

Update: A great comment on this post prompted me to clarify what I mean about creating communities from a marketing perspective. Certainly, librarians' responsibilities include reaching out into existing communities on their terms and on their turf so as to support those communities without imposing upon them. There is, I think, another kind of community as well, and that is one that derives its purpose from the library itself and members of those communities act as library advocates and advisors. I do not mean to imply that patrons must come to the library building itself in order to be a part of this community, but that they share a common passion for the library and the services it provides. Librarians can create an environment that fosters the formation of these communities by opening up lines of communication and giving people exciting news and services to rally around. In this sense, such communities sustain the library by invigorating its mission and telling others about its value. These are not artificial communities that librarians can mechanically construct, but they originate from genuine relationships between library staff and patrons and can be nurtured by creating some of the elements Kawasaki mentions in his post. At least, that's how I see it today, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on this as well!


Bill Drew said...

There is a basic fallacy in this post. The library can not create a community. The library needs to become part of the community. You are still thinking of bringing people to the library instead of taking the library into the community and to where the people are located, online or in the real world.

Bill Drew said...

I like your response to my comment. We are reaching out to students via MySpace and Facebook looking to create the type of community you are talking about. It will take time. what are some other ways to reach out to our users and potential users via marketing for a small academic library? We use IM for virtual reference. We send out e-mails announcing our services and special events. We have a blog. We allow and encourage students to bring food into the library. What more can we do? I really want to know. Keep up the good work.

Jill said...

Thanks for initiating and continuing this important discussion, Bill! I certainly don't have all the answers, but I do agree that community building by its nature takes time to develop. Also, I think that community is more than reaching out, it's also getting an actual dialogue going where patrons are invited to be a part of the service design, offering feedback, etc. It's a two-way street and it's personal. This won't appeal to all patrons, and in fact, it will likely appeal to only a small number of patrons who have strong feelings about the library but who want to share their enthusiasm with others. And so, while small in number, they can have a big impact. As an example, I've been exploring Facebook a bit and was surprised to find that there are about 4 groups or so that mention our library in their name. Members are not advocating for the library, but just acknowledging that they're here a lot so they might as well get to know one another. What a great opportunity this could be to get to know our regular users and invite them to preview an upcoming service or get their insights on facilities and signage issues, and so on. Inviting them to be on the inside and behind the scenes rather than just telling them we offer X, Y and Z is one way to spark a conversation. I would definitely recommend creating a student advisory committee if you don't have one and you might also want to read the book Creating Customer Evangelists, which I've mentioned here before. There are a lot useful ideas there and a small setting like yours it might be the ideal place to try them out. I know I'll be thinking on this a lot more and hopefully other readers will contribute their thoughts as well. Thanks again!