So a seemingly innocent conversation on twitter (it’s amazing how many of my blog posts could start that way!) became me being captain of the sparkly pants readahoopathon. The idea is that lovely lady librarians will raise awareness of libraries while hooping in sparkly pants and reading.
Now, I’d really love this to happen – not least because I managed to excuse myself from any hooping/sparkly pant wearing! But because it’s a different way to raise awareness of libraries. It’s something that might well draw in people outside the usual crowd – and people outside the area we’ve been aiming a lot of #echolib escaping efforts at. Yes, I’m talking about people who don’t read the Guardian or listen to Radio 4.
Let me clarify that I am in absolutely no way dissing Ian or Lauren‘s fantastic Guardian articles. I love them. I’m delighted that they were written, thrilled that they were published, and exhilarated and frustrated by the debates they provoked. But articles in a middle-class liberal newspaper will not significantly expand the library support demographic. They are unlikely to get our message into new ears. We need to look at alternative channels. We need to put library promotion into normalspace – and bring the world into the library.
Fine rhetoric (ok, medium-ish rhetoric), but what does that actually mean? Well, I think we often forget one of the main things we try to hammer into our users: Librarians Are People. Normal people. People with lives and interests and a sense of humour. And we’re not using this to our advantage.
This is where the (probably hypothetical) sparkly pants readahoopathon comes in. Having a bunch of people hooping outside the local public library would likely draw a bit of interest, no? Interest from people who might not usually go into the library? And then if they stop to talk to the hoopers, get taken inside, shown some learn-to-hoop resources by nice, friendly, interested librarians… well, who knows where it might lead?
Librarians have hobbies. Librarians often have hobbies that involve joining groups. Librarians hoop, run, bellydance, knit, sing, quill, garden, photograph, paint, bike, bake, row and a million and eight other things. How about this: do it in the library. I don’t mean on your own at 11 am on a Monday – you’ll just gets odd looks. Try to organise a meeting. Talk to local library staff – can they let you have some space outside the library for a get-together or a demonstration? Can you get a display of related books? or some related websites up on the computer?
It’s the old routine of finding out what people are interested in, and showing them how the library can give them more information about it – but we can’t wait for them to come into the library. We need to grab users – potential users! – by the interest, and get them through the doors, onto the website, into the mindset of ‘wow, my library does have something for me!’. Pander to your favourite spy fantasies by becoming an undercover librarian: make every group you join serve a double purpose.
I’m sorry if this sounds a bit didactic, a little overwhelming. Yes, of course you are allowed to have a life outside libraries. But we really need to take responsibility for advocacy, make it a part of our lives and everyday activities. Katy Wrathall puts it well:
We can’t sit and wait for somebody to do this for us, and we can’t assume that they won’t come for the college, academic, legal, or business librarians next. We have to stand up and be counted, we have to tell people what they are throwing away which they will never get back, we have to act outside the stereotype. And we have to do it now.
Stand up and be counted, librarians – and don’t stop hooping.