Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Library promotion: It's not about Tech or Tools. It's about Applications & Possibilities

Kathy Sierra blogged about why she wants a Tablet PC. What struck me were these lines:
Anyway, that was the most expensive hallway meeting of my life, because now I simply must have one. And I don't even like Windows. I've been hearing Robert Scoble talk about them (almost endlessly), but they registered a zero on my personal emotional richter scale, until I saw what Brady had done, and it finally hit me how much more natural this was.

Kept thinking about the last line, especially the part about "personal emotional richter scale". I'm reminded of the difficulties public libraries face in getting relunctant readers (teens and adults) to read. Or even getting current readers to read beyond their comfortable zone.

Reading (for leisure) is an emotional activity, isn't it?

I have to think hard about how we've been promoting reading so far. How much have we sought to agitate a person's emotional richter scale over a book, or any library programme or activity? We've got to make our message strike that emotional scale.

How to do it? Carry on a conversation, maybe. I have more questions and little answers. But here's a personal story that might illustrate what I'm driving at:
When I visited a friend in the UK, she noticed I had a Palm Handheld. So I explained to her how I used it for my work and personal stuff -- taking memos, reading Word & Excel documents, setting calendar entries & addresses, recording sounds... the works. The killer stroke was when I showed her the compact keyboard (which, through clever design, folds out to the the size like a regular keyboard, with the same feel and functions). Last, I even said the Handheld worked as a torchlight! She wanted to buy it from me there and then.
Had I just told her just the functions of the Handheld, I suspect her reaction would be a lot different. What I did was to not focus not the technology and tool, but on the personal application, i.e. what the Handheld did for me.

I'm sure it applies to how libraries promote reading or start bookclubs. Or promoting Lifelong Learning. Most people don't respond to such altruistic goals and ideals. Majority of the public want something "here and now", or "up close and personal".

Maybe the message for promoting bookclubs could be "Join our book discussions today, and FEEL good".

Or how about this? "6 out of 10 people who join our bookclubs have found a date within 2 meetings. How about you?"

Are we pandering to the masses? Absolutely! If not, the option for libraries is to go the way of the dodo in the long run, in my opinion.

I really have to think hard about this.

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  1. the option for libraries is to go the way of the dodo in the long run, in my opinion.

    Has library readership and usage in Singapore been dropping over the years?

    Are you trying to capture a new customer base for replacement of the drop-out rate? Or to bring lost customers back to the fold? Are you looking at capturing a segment which would otherwise prefer to buy their own books?

    Just wondering about your target audience.

  2. Hey, good questions!

    Library readership and usage has increased since 1995. You can verify that from the annual reports published by NLB. Available online at

    If you bother to plot them out on a chart, you'll find that the rate of increase is slowing down.

    The answer to your questions would be Yes, Yes, and Yes -- though there would be differing degrees to the priority to which we accord those three categories.

    Our target audience is very diverse. The inside joke is that NLB stands for "Nobody Left Behind".


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