Logos vs. Branding

My rant last week about library logos arose from a discussion I had with a co-worker about branding libraries.

Too often, people seem to think that their logo is their branding. Or that coming up with a good logo is the most important first step in creating their brand. The conflation of logos with branding is such a universal issue that there’s a whole school of thought dedicated to correcting this misunderstanding. Google “branding is not a logo,” or “brand vs logo,” and survey the results.

Whenever I discuss library logos, someone always brings up the New York Public Library’s lion as an example of how effective a logo can be. But the reason the lion works so well as a logo is because it was already an iconic image of a library with a deeply rooted history in the community. It’s specific to the NYPL and encapsulates the reputation and history the library already has.

The purpose of a logo is simply to reference the larger identity of an organization.

That larger identity—not your logo—is your true brand. Your brand grows out of the interactions you have with your patrons and the role your library fulfills in its community.

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Death to Book Logos for Public Libraries!

Survey the websites for public libraries in the United States, and how many do you think feature some kind of book as their logo? It’s got to be well over 50% of them.

Some of my own favorite library systems use book logos. Take a look:

Oak Park Public Library in Oak Park, Illinois
Mid-Continent Public Library in Missouri
Garfield County Libraries in Colorado

These are fantastic libraries that do great work in their communities. I follow their work avidly. But seriously—what’s with the book logos?

I’ve developed an almost visceral aversion to seeing book logos on library websites. Why?

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Prohibitive Library Signs

In the library world, few issues are more divisive than the use of prohibitive signs.

On the one hand, there are those librarians who see prohibitive signs in libraries as a very bad thing. This post by Michael Stephens is a good example:

Ten Signs I Hope I Never See in Libraries Again (posted on Tame the Web on July 7, 2006)

And of course, there are the obligatory “Passive Aggressive Library Signs” boards on Pinterest:

On the other side of this debate, librarians point out the necessity of having rules—we need to maintain a safe and clean environment for all our patrons and for the maintenance of our collections.

I agree that rules are necessary—but I don’t believe that explicitly prohibitive signs are a useful or healthy way to communicate those rules to our patrons.

Even worse, such unilateral prohibitions punish patrons who don’t deserve it.

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The Death of the Library

I know that many librarians (myself included) and library-lovers have been saying this ad nauseam. We’ve been saying this long before Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service unleashed the current flood of op-ed pieces. But this is important and it needs to be said:

Libraries are, have always been, and will always be much more than just collections of books.

What the ‘death of the library’ means for the future of books by S.E. Smith (posted on The Daily Dot on July 30, 2014)

Website Development as Storytelling

In my last few jobs—non-profit health support organizations in Chicago, the Kansas City Public Library—I developed a reputation as the person who can break your brand new website in ways that you never anticipated.

As we built our award-winning Civil War on the Western Border website here at KCPL; as the non-profit I worked at for my last few years in Chicago went through two different content management systems and completely redid their website—we obviously spent a lot of time testing the new sites and services, making certain of the functionality, running the systems through their paces before launching them to the public.

In the process, I learned that I’m the guy who identifies the most bizarre ways that things break down and fall apart. I search for the most counter-intuitive paths I can take through a site and I see where they lead me.

For example:
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On the Role of Digital Librarians

The other day, I told someone that I’m a digital librarian. Of course, they asked the standard follow-up question:

What does a digital librarian do?

Such exchanges have become common for me and they highlight the continuing issues of misperception that plague digital librarianship. People assume that it must be different from traditional librarianship.

I’ve addressed this issue before but I want to take another stab at it:

Digital librarianship is librarianship. There’s no significant qualitative difference between a digital librarian and any other kind. Digital librarians require the same basic training and fundamental skills that all librarians need.

Digital libraries are libraries. Sure, different sorts of libraries are different (how’s that for tautology?)—public vs. academic vs. private, etc.—but digital libraries aren’t any more so.
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A Lesson in Customer Service

I recently had an eye-opening customer service experience. Given how much customer service experience I have—in a few different industries—I’m somewhat surprised that I can still have my eyes opened.

I was contacted by a library patron who was looking for musical scores. He wanted a list of what the Library has in our collection. I’m not sure how he got my contact info for this inquiry—I’m not on the Reference staff, I don’t work the front line, my contact info isn’t on the website. Regardless, I tried to be as helpful as I could and sent him a link to our catalog listing all our holdings categorized with the “Musical Scores” format. I provided him with instructions on how to search for scores by particular composers and encouraged him to come visit our Central branch where we hold the bulk of our sheet music collection, to browse the shelves.
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Education & Empowerment

Education and the empowerment of marginalized people are essential values for me. They form the core of my ethics, my morality. This is why I chose to go into public library service.

For the past several decades, we’ve witnessed a steady and dramatic increase in the gap between those who hold the greatest wealth and power, and those who don’t. More wealth lies in the hands of fewer people than ever before in the modern world, and more people in the middle and lower classes are struggling harder just to get by. Fewer companies control larger portions of industry and the market. We’re witnessing the destructive consequences of this.

Those who possess wealth and power have a vested interest in holding on to it and in guarding it against those who would compete with them for it. Over the past several decades, those who control the purse strings have been enforcing changes in our nation’s educational milieu and social empowerment systems to produce the kinds of workers who will fit harmlessly into the economic and social structures that reinforce the wealthy and powerful in their power and wealth. The last thing powerful people want is to lift up those who would threaten their position.

The last thing they want is the kind of universal education and social empowerment that public libraries hold as a core value.
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A Librarian’s Thanks

More than ever, author John Scalzi is a personal hero to me. Not only because he’s one of my favorite authors, not only because he’s smart, hilarious, and—by all accounts—a kind man, but because he expresses the value of libraries better than I could ever hope to:

A Personal History of Libraries (posted on his blog, Whatever, on February 23, 2013; accessed via Library Journal on November 27, 2013)

Honestly, between Mr. Scalzi and Neil Gaiman, I’m just going to sit back and point people to them when I feel compelled to try and express the value of libraries.

Whenever people like Terry Deary or MG Siegler proclaim the end of the library and insist that libraries no longer serve a useful function in our communities simply because they themselves no longer use them, we should all respond with this quote from Mr. Scalzi:

I don’t use my local library like I used libraries when I was younger. But I want my local library, in no small part because I recognize that I am fortunate not to need my local library—but others do, and my connection with humanity extends beyond the front door of my house. My life was indisputably improved because those before me decided to put those libraries there. It would be stupid and selfish and shortsighted of me to declare, after having wrung all I could from them, that they serve no further purpose, or that the times have changed so much that they are obsolete. My library is used every single day that it is open, by the people who live here, children to senior citizens. They use the building, they use the Internet, they use the books. This is, as it happens, the exact opposite of what ‘obsolete’ means. I am glad my library is here and I am glad to support it.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I’m grateful for all the libraries in my life and in all the communities in which I’ve found myself, whether I personally used those libraries or not. I’m grateful for vocal supporters of libraries, like Mr. Scalzi and Mr. Gaiman, and everyone in my community who makes the library an essential part of their lives.

More than anything, I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve my community and make my living as a librarian. My connection with humanity extends beyond the front door of my house and I’m happy to dedicate my life to this fact.

The End Of The Library?

I just read this post on TechCrunch:

The End Of The Library by MG Siegler (posted on October 13, 2013)

Obviously, this post is generating huge reactions among some librarians. There’s not a lot for me to add to the discussion on the future of libraries that I didn’t say in my post Another Librarian’s Response to “What’s a Library?” and in my response to Terry Deary when he suggested that libraries are no longer relevant.

In particular:

He doesn’t see our research resources, our literacy initiatives, our job search assistance, our government documents collections, or our social services. He doesn’t see our partnerships with local school systems and cultural institutions. He doesn’t see community use spaces and safe places to for people to hang out. He doesn’t see a champion of informed democracy and self-improvement. He doesn’t see librarians as curators of information, experts to guide people through society’s myriad information resources.

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