Thinking Out Loud: Marketing and the Library Lock-In
My mentor called me the other day and asked about what I would do in a particular situation that involved teens at a library lock-in, my very glib response was, “I wouldn’t have had the lock in.” Already many of you are seeing flames and thinking about your replies – but wait, let me explain myself.
I have come to think of the library lock-in not from a programming perspective, but from a marketing one. Everything that we do sends a message and we must ask ourselves, what is the take away of this event. To me, I think we can make a fair argument that the library lock-in may be a form of false advertising. You see, we invite teens in when the library is empty and we let them run around (although probably not literally) and yell and scream (also probably not literally) and use the space in a way that they will never get to use the space the remaining 364 days of the year. In fact, if they came into the library any other day they would probably disrupt other library patrons and be reprimanded (although hopefully quite nicely) by staff. A library lock-in is not normal operating procedures and would could argue that it does not help teens understand the role of the public library in the community and appropriate ways to use the library.
I often worry, too, that we librarians have forgotten ourselves the value in the library: the importance of books and how the written word can change lives, the importance of information seeking and evaluation skills, the importance of the freedom to take in a wide variety of information from multiple points of view and decide for ourselves how we are going to incorporate that into our lives. I wonder if we sometimes aren’t undermining ourselves and our message, our value to the community, by trying to be something other than a public library. It is almost as if the message we are sending is “being a library isn’t enough, we must be more for people to love us.” Instead, what we need to do, is make sure our message is loud, concise and strong – communities need us because they need intelligent, empowered, thinking and feeling members and that comes with access to a public library.
Now, for the other side of this coin: I recently had occasion to dialogue with a teen librarian who uses a lock-in as a reward for teens who participate in her winter and later in the year summer reading challenge. She is a pretty awesome librarian. This changed my mind a little bit on my stance. You see these teens, they are regular library users who have come to understand and appreciate the library’s role in their life. Here, as a reward, it speaks an entirely different message: you are a valued customer and you get a special moment in a sacred place.
So before you flame me, please remember that I AM a library advocate (please see The 2012 Project for proof). I am an advocate for teens and authors and books and information and intellectual freedom. I’m just not 100% sure that I am an advocate for library lock-ins. So let’s talk about it, share what you think in the comments. And for the record, yes – I have done library lock-ins, just not recently.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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