Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Power is On!, or What failure looks like, and what it doesn’t

Due to Hurricane Irene, sometime between the close of business on Saturday and our opening on Sunday, the library lost power. Conferring with the powers that be and staff on the ground, we closed the building for Sunday, hoping that we could reopen in time for the start of the workweek and the second week of courses. So we waited. And waited. We were without power for about 80 hours, and this is what happened, and what we learned.

On Monday library staff were relocated to a basement classroom in another building. It seemed that nobody missed us. We had a few e-mails, but no walk-ins, nobody asking about reserve books, even. It looked like a failure; a library goes dark and nobody notices.

But the next day, after finally persuading the higher ups that we needed an all campus e-mail about the situation (??), and word got out. We had a few visitors in our new digs, and I lead an impromptu reference session on the steps of the library via a laptop and wifi. Our reference librarian visited the bookstore, where students asked about us and when the building might reopen.

Wednesday morning was slightly busier, and finally we got power back on Wednesday afternoon. The library is hopping, so I am happy.

We don’t do a lot of marketing here. We’re an academic library and there aren’t any public libraries within walking distance; students are somewhat stuck with us, which is a lousy choice of words, but it’s true. They’ll continue to use Google and Wikipedia first, and then the library databases a distant second, but I was struck by how quiet our makeshift library was while the power was out. I didn’t like it.

This situation became, for me, something of a test run. What might a library look like without books, without a building? We went to other locations on campus, we interacted with students in locations they wouldn’t expect to see us, like the dining hall, the bookstore, and even outside.

And so a power failure shed light on what were were and weren’t doing as a library, and as librarians. A marketing failure became an opportunity, one that we’ll continue to explore. On my shelf I have a few books on library marketing. It’s time to take a look at them.
  • Marketing Today’s Academic Library, Brian Mathews (2009)
  • The Accidental Library Marketer, Kathy Dempsy (2009)
  • Building Bridges, Monty McAdoo (2010)
  • Academic Library Outreach, Nancy Courtney, ed (2009)
Another failure was our disaster plan. Chiefly, we didn’t have one. We will now. Laptops with all the software we need, a projector, a power source, and if the building is safe (and it wasn’t for a time here, as the power surge damaged one of our air conditioning units, threatening a fire) we’ll close the stacks and retrieve books for patrons.

And so what began as a loss of power became something beneficial by exposing what needed to be done. It’s post hoc, but it’s a start.

1 comment:

  1. gorilla market it. Get an artistic staffer of friend to re-brand your image; plaster that image around town. organize an off-hours beer-tasting event in the vinyl recordings section advertised only through miniature handouts distributed by hipsters to randoms around town. ehm, don't tell admin.