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portal: Libraries and the Academy 4.1 (2004) 158-160
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The Visible Librarian: Asserting Your Value with Marketing and Advocacy, Judith A. Siess.Chicago: American Library Association, 2003. 176 p. $30.60 (ISBN 0-8389-0848-9)
You need only pick up American Libraries or Library Journal and read about the latest budget cuts and layoffs around the country to understand why Judith Siess, an expert in the field of special librarianship, has written a book about how librarians need to become more visible to their parent organization through marketing and public relations.
Siess, a recognized author in the field (The OPL Sourcebook, Information Today, 2001; and The SOLO Librarian'sSourcebook, Information Today, 1997) and publisher and editor of The One-Person Library newsletter,has written a short but straightforward treatise on the hows and whys of marketing, publicity, public relations, and advocacy for librarians. Each of these subjects is addressed separately and explained with real world examples in a conversational, flowing style. The author's rationale for writing this book is simple and one that most librarians will understand and agree with: the benefits of having an information professional (librarian) in your organization are invisible and taken for granted. To reverse this school of thought and counter the trend of library closings and layoffs, Siess believes that it is imperative for librarians to determine customer needs and provide appropriate, relevant services to your constituency regardless of whether it is a public, special, or academic library. The author believes that "what makes a library special is its ability to know and customize its services to a specific user population." (p. xiii) To determine these needs, her advice is quite simple: get out from behind that desk and market yourself! [End Page 158]
While this book is replete with practical advice and a list of wonderful and up-to-date additional resources for further reading and consultation, it is written primarily as a management tool. It will be most useful for library directors or department heads who ultimately must shoulder the responsibility for running their organizations effectively and efficiently. Academic libraries, although addressed in the text with appropriate examples, are not well represented. The text is biased towards circumstances that occur more frequently in a corporate or other special library situation. For example, Siess suggests impressing a CEO or department head by anticipating an information need and providing it in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Many corporate libraries are required to become a profit center. It is therefore not surprising that the emphasis in this text is on running the library as a business, with little attention given to educating the user to achieve a sense of empowerment. The author feels the process of educating our users to do their own research would undermine our value as information providers. Siess states that librarians should "leave self-service for the grocery store. Our customers want and need intermediaries; they want and need service." (p.7)
While most academic librarians would strongly support the view that our patrons need intermediaries and superior service, I would submit that most would find Siess' "self-service" statement to be the antithesis of the academic library's mission to teach our students how to find and evaluate information. Academic librarians are in the "business" of teaching, not providing users with all the answers on a silver platter. For a corporate library, Siess' observations are right on the money. Academics will agree with her overall thesis that we need to market and publicize our services to stay visible and relevant on our campuses. On the other hand, many academic librarians are not comfortable with equating patrons to customers and the process of education and learning to a business. Indeed, the issue of running a university as a business has always been, and will continue to be, highly controversial.
If the last Association of College and Research Libraries Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, was any indication, most academic librarians have already heard Siess' message on marketing and public relations and taken it to heart...