Library Stories vs. Library Advertising

One of the most important tasks libraries have is to tell our stories, and the stories of our communities. To show the difference we make in people’s lives. This is the best way for us to show why libraries are important.

But as soon as telling these stories crosses over into calculated advertising for your library, it destroys the message.

Consider:

This past month, there was a video that went viral online, featuring Derrick Coleman, an NFL running back for the Seattle Seahawks, telling his story of struggle being a deaf football player:
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The Decline of Reading in America?

Earlier this month, I explored some stats about reading in America as a jumping-off point to emphasize my desire to be more aware of how different the world can be for different people.

What I didn’t talk about was how much those stats scared me. I understand that as an avid life-long reader my perspective is biased, but I believe that reading is one of the most important things a person can do to grow, to realize their best self, and to keep their mind healthy.

Last week, the Pew Research Center released a report (PDF) which showed that nearly a quarter of American adults haven’t read a single book in the past year in any format. That’s nearly triple the percentage from 1978. For me, this is terrifying.

So I was quite happy when I came across this article through Stephen Abram’s blog:

The Decline of the American Book Lover—And why the downturn might be over. by Jordan Weissmann (posted on The Atlantic on January 21, 2014)

I hope the author is correct in this reading of the data. I hope the state of reading in America isn’t so dire.

And let’s look at this number from the other way ‘round—just over three quarters of adult Americans still read, and most pretty regularly. That’s not nothing.

On the Need for Readers’ Advisory

I read this article a couple weeks ago and I keep thinking about it:

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reader by Colin Robinson (posted on The New York Times on January 4, 2014)

In it, the author argues that one of the consequences of the decline of professional book reviewing and slashed library budgets is the loss of quality guidance for readers. Expertise has been replaced by crowd-sourcing, solipsistic online communities, and impersonal algorithms of limited nuance.

For the past several years, the main focus of libraries has been library technology and innovation. As a digital librarian, I spend all my time at work dealing with issues of library technology and service in an online world. This is an irreducibly important field.

Articles like this one remind me that readers’ advisory is one of the most important services libraries offer in this digital age. As intently as we focus on becoming leaders in library technology, I wonder if it wouldn’t serve our community and our industry just as well—if not better—to focus on becoming leaders and innovators in the field of readers’ advisory. There’s an obvious need for it.

Education & Reading in America

In my last post, I vowed to do better at raising my awareness of how different the world can be for different people.

People like to think that they’re typical—we each like to believe that we’re the norm. I believe that much of the conflict that exists between social classes and political parties stems from our inability to see (or, more accurately, our inability to accept and truly understand) that the world for other people isn’t always the same as the world is for us.

I grew up in a family of well-educated, avid readers. Pretty much all of my friends are well-educated, avid readers, too. I can’t imagine living in a world where I don’t read, or where all of my friends and family don’t read. Where the majority of people around me don’t have college degrees. I just can’t picture it.

Today, Stephen Abram posted some highlights from the Digest of Education Statistics, 2012:
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