Branding is for Laundry Detergent

Here are two posts to the Progressive Librarians Guild discussion list, on librarianship vs. the business model published with permission of the authors. "

Tom Eland (a fellow zine librarian). "[PLGNET-L:10823] Re: [Fwd: rebranding]," Mon, May 14, 2007 10:32 am.

I have been having an ongoing discussion on the Information Literacy Instruction Listserv concerning the mis-application of the word "customer" to students, and the commercialization of higher education. Talk of "rebranding" the library is simply one more instance of the takeover of consumer ideology in our profession (actually, it goes well beyond our profession to all aspects of social life and public social institutions). We should all fight this and challenge the use of this language at every step. This is an effort to colonize the consciousness of the public so that we all think in commercial terms and see every aspect of life as a commodity relationship. Language is not neutral, it shapes the way we interpret and act in the world.

I publicly challenge and correct every administrator and faculty member on my campus, as well as librarians on listservs and in meetings, that use this type of language when referring to public sector institutions and the people we serve. It has come to the point where administrators correct themselves at meetings that I attend. We need to actively debate the use of these concepts and reassert the meaning and role of the public sector and the language of citizenship and participatory democracy. (Personally I am working on Participatory Economics as well, but that is an even more difficult battle.) The "problem" with libraries is not our poor "brand identity." The problem with libraries is that they are public sector institutions supposedly devoted to serving the public good in a society that is driven by the corporate private sector and its profit based logic. Unfortunately library administrators attend too many conferences run by corporate types that tell them that they need to become more like Barnes & Nobles and adopt a customer service business model. Most library administrators (and many working librarians) have so bought into the consumer model that they simply do not have the intellectual ability to frame library service in anything but a consumer relationship. If this is the way you think, then the need to "rebrand" the library makes perfect sense.

I am not surprised that all this would be coming from a library "leadership" program. I could write pages on the issues and problems I have with "leadership" training programs. They tend to contribute to a hierarchical, elitist, and corporate conceptualization of the world.

Tom Eland
Information Studies Department
Minneapolis Community & Technical College
1501 Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Monika Antonelli. "[PLGNET-L:10826] Re: [Fwd: rebranding]," Mon, May 14, 2007 11:02 am.

Re-branding is for laundry detergents. I am not a "product" to be sold.

I really dislike it when we borrow trends from the business world. Libraries are not a business. We do not sell things, at least I hope we are not selling our services. Money is not being exchanged therefor we don't have "customers." So let's just get over this whole business wanna be thing.

I would like us to focus on getting "our story" out to communities and the media. We need to take control of the message and re-frame the role of the librarian in the community. We need to tell them why librarians are important and what a community lacks when they don't have librarians and libraries.

Also we need to get over this whole image thing and focus on what is really important about librarians, which is "we help people." Who else in this world is concerned about helping people for FREE! If that is not cool than I don't know what is.

I wear sensible shoes, glasses and cardigans and I am an excellent librarian, if do say so myself. So we should wear what?... Spandex and high heels? I wonder if exotic dancers worry about their image. Maybe they dream of wearing glasses, sensible shoes and cardigans?

And, while I am on my soapbox, I would like to see us get away from the whole information thing and take it to the next step, Knowledge which can lead to Wisdom.

How about this for a bumper sticker, "Librarians help people use their brains."

Monika Antonelli
Ref/Instruction Librarian
Minnesota State University, Mankato