Sunday, October 23, 2016

Librarians as Human Hyperlinks Rather Than "Search Engines"

When reading for my INFO 254 Information Literacy and Learning course this week, there was an article about advocacy in which the author shared her personal favorite marketing slogan of: "The ultimate search engine is your librarian." I have seen this before, and it always makes me cringe. I also wince when seeing librarians proudly recite the Neil Gaiman quote: "Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one."

Don't get me wrong. I love libraries and I love librarians. I work in a library. I am a librarian, I am married to a librarian, and many of my friends are librarians.

But, I also worry when I see advocacy efforts that appear to be self-congratulatory or pre-emptively defensive. To me, the slogans above fail because they play into the false binary that people must choose between technology OR libraries rather than technology AND libraries.

I worry, because I feel that non-library observers may interpret these slogans as librarians being dismissive of technology rather than as embracers and champions of positive and wise use of technology. I think these statements do not recognize the true value of librarians as humans who additively complement technology rather than replace or compete with it. And, to be frank, if we choose to compete with Google, we will lose.

I strongly feel that we librarians will fail if we insist on selling ourselves as “all-knowing” or at least more knowledgeable than others. While I hope people may find helpful the unique training I have and purpose that I serve, I think that it is important to find messaging that simultaneously respects the expertise and capacity of others in a way that teachers are similarly shifting from roles as “sages on the stage” to “guides on the side.”

I'm still thinking about what I would propose as alternative marketing, but one idea that comes to mind is libraries and librarians as embodiments of hyperlinks rather than as search engines. Instead of being gateway keepers to information or the sole or "best" means for access, how may we emphasize the way libraries facilitate unique opportunities for connection and librarians as humans who help other humans discover and develop connections?

What marketing slogans do you like?

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