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Library Branding. Important or not? February 16, 2010

Posted by michaelpawlus in Uncategorized.
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So, if you do any reading on how to make yourself stand out in a crowd, many professionals will advise you to write a blog.  However, the one caveat that often accompanies this advice is: keep it positive.  It’s a sound warning.  No one wants to listen to someone constantly complaining about everything that’s wrong.  Moreover, if one of the reasons for your blog is to grab the attention of potential employers than it’s important to consider how your blog makes you look.  Who would want to work with someone who is always whining and negative?

It is with this call for caution in mind, that I enter into this blog post with some trepidation.  I want to make it extremely clear from the outset that I have no personal problem with the person who claimed branding was not very important.  However, when this person opened up the floor for questions, I asked whether there were any benefits or drawbacks from branding libraries by other names such as: Idea Stores, Discovery Centres, Learning Commons, etc.  This person responded that libraries have much more important issues to worry about at the moment.  While I say again that I have nothing bad to say about this person as a person I was more than a little offended that my question was so casually dismissed.

What this person may not be aware of is an incident that took place in early 2009 and which was reported in ALA President Camila Alire’s blog where the mayor of Philadelphia was trying to justify the closing of eleven library branches by claiming that they were “knowledge centers” and “community-based learning centers” and thus not libraries.  Here we can see that for some libraries, their very existence is tied into how they are perceived in the public.  Politicians spend a considerable amount of time deciding just the right words for their ideas because words and brand do impact end-users perceptions.  When the term “bailout” was polling low the US Government had to aggressively flood the media with terms like “rescue plan”, “stimulus package”, and “economic recovery plan”.  The plan is the same.  The only difference is the name and yet it affects the feelings of message receivers.

In fact, this person referenced a survey where a number of people were given a set of questions and asked where they would go for information.  The responses included friends and children but did not prominently feature the library.  When it was revealed to these respondents that they could have found the information to answer all the question at the library they were surprised.  They then made the recommendation that Information Centre should be included in the name because they didn’t know about all the information-gathering services available.  This person scoffed at these findings saying that because they had put so many resources into gathering these results they felt they should change the name to Library and Information Centre but this person wasn’t aware if that made any real difference.  Well, I think it would be important to do some research to see if it has had an impact.  I think it is so easy to get lost in our library silos where we know every product and service offered and the value of those products and services.  However, if you ask people what they think and there is a disconnect the problem may very well be that we are not properly marketing and branding our products and services.

I am not advocating for the library to become the “Library and Information Centre” or any other fancifully creative name.  However, since some libraries are trying to create new brand identities I think it warrants investigation and I by no means think it is a trivial concern.  Why was there so much coverage of the iPad when it was released?  The most important reason is that Apple make high-quality products but secondly, they have a great brand.  Libraries already have the most important component of a successful business, we have a great product.  Maybe we just need a better brand.  I don’t know; but I do think it is at least important enough to talk about.