The opposite of school library is…August 15th, 2007 by infomancy
What is the brand, i.e. the identity, of your school library? If you had to define your school library through that classic SAT example of selecting its opposite, could you? Seth Godin, that genius of marketing and other ideas, had some excellent thoughts today about opposites:
The opposite of Starbucks is Dunkin Donuts.
Not an independent coffee shop, and not coffee at home.
On the other hand, the opposite of Dunkin Donuts is not Starbucks. The opposite is ‘not having coffee out.’
That’s because when someone considers getting their morning coffee, the choice is usually home or Dunkin. That person doesn’t have Starbucks as part of their choice set. Defining your brand in this way makes it easier to ignore the irrelevant competition and easier to figure out what you are (and aren’t). [Godin]
So what might this mean in terms of a building up a brand for your school library? As Seth Godin notes in his post, trying to build a brand that doesn’t have an opposite is more difficult…trying to frame your identity against the wrong opposite is just hopeless. So what is the opposite of a school library?
Let’s list a few of the potentials so we have a place to start the conversation:
- Public Libraries – Sometimes people look at the existence of two libraries in a small town, one school and one public, and see wasteful duplication of limited resources. In reality, there is very little overlap of either core collections or core populations.
- Classroom Libraries – If dislike made an opposite, we might be getting somewhere here, but alas simply disliking something doesn’t help us define our identity. Approached in a more objective way, we would probably discover that teachers with huge classroom libraries simply aren’t aware enough of library resources to qualify as opposites. Still, check out the great discussion about classroom libraries that has been continuing on here.
- The Internet – Throw out a red herring like Wikipedia and step back as the debate heats up to a rolling boil. In the end, though, the Internet is not going to put us out of business. Students and teachers who know how to use the Internet for information gathering will or will not use the library for other reasons. We need to address our marketing in terms of the Internet by being more aware of the potentials it brings, as well as continuing to position ourselves as the people that get it and can help you get it as well. That does not make the Internet our opposite, but rather a new form of service delivery.
- Google – Google is certainly a company that has latched on to the new forms of service delivery possible through the Internet, but they have no interest whatsoever in being a library. They want to hold information as a source of marketing revenue. They would probably rather we just continued to do our thing, but in a more open way, so they could harvest links for their index. Google is scanning books because we didn’t get started fast enough to meet the market demand for full digital searching that meant a market opportunity for ad revenue from full digital searching.
In the end, the opposite of the school library is…
Think about it. More and more, libraries are hearing grumblings from publishers about our “pirating” access to printed materials. Libraries, with their socialist approach to buying a single copy of a material and allowing free community access through this heretical philosophy of “sharing” are the anthesis of for-profit publishing ventures. The really big textbook publishers found a way around this – design a new reading program that is based on schools buying individual copies of trade books to be housed in the classrooms instead of in a central library. Not to get all conspiracy theorist on the topic, but there is some interesting reading out there.
Even discounting the potential political mess, we can focus on some of the other opposing ideologies between school libraries and textbooks. The goal of a textbook is to encapsulate a TRUTH that can be delivered as a standard set of instructional activities. Often, there is little or no attempt to address other viewpoints, provide insight into controversy, or explore additional aspects of a subject. One of the reasons for this is that textbooks have to be made bland enough to be appealing to a mass-market of textbook reviewers. Libraries, on the other hand, can be free to explore a variety of topics that enrich and extend the curriculum. Keep this in mind – a way to set a library apart from its opposite is to focus on rich collection development.
Another critical difference is that a textbook must strive to be all encompassing. If a textbook were like a library pathfinder and provided sources for questions, why would a school buy it? In schools, textbooks are supposed to provide the answer. [Note that this is NOT a plural; in a textbook there is only one right answer.] Libraries thrive on questions and can provide access to many additional resources beyond their walls. Interlibrary loan used to be a primary tool for this, now we can also turn to the Internet. The Internet isn’t our opposite, it is a powerful tool we can use to provide benefits beyond the closed set of sites that might be listed in a textbook which are probably outdated long before the book can go through the many years it takes to write, edit, publish, review, trial, and then adopt a book for classroom use. Wikipedia isn’t our opposite; but rather it is us. We are Wikipedia. We are flexible and dynamic and able to acknowledge that Pluto isn’t a planet anymore. Does your science textbook?
As liberating as it can be to realize one’s opposite, it really opens up a can of worms. How do we form our identity when facing such a powerful and influential opposite? The short answer is “very carefully.”
The long answer is…coming in the next post.