Magazine article Information Today

A Big Win for a Small-Town Library

Magazine article Information Today

A Big Win for a Small-Town Library

Article excerpt

Here's a story: A library in a small Canadian town lost its most important public venue, its local newspaper. The paper's owner, a big newspaper chain, struck a deal with another big newspaper chain, resulting in the closing of more than 3 dozen papers in a matter of hours. Such situations are a shock--a kind of death, like the day the railroad left town. Or like the moment the big factory does the globalization thing and heads for warmer, less expensive climes, leaving a shuttered chain-link fence and a big black hole in both the town's collective memory and its balance sheet. If this has ever happened in your town, you know there's a moment of mind-freeze, of shame, that "my town doesn't rate."

In a recent Open Media Desk (OMD) session, we took this situation apart in a disciplined and detached way. We're discovering that OMD is really an opportunity-analysis tool. But this was real-world stuff. The library marketing person had to invent a fresh media strategy in a community where social media isn't an everyday fact of life and where digital disruption hasn't yet changed the game. We had a workaround problem of real dimensions.

Designing effective library brand media starts well before any keys are tapped down. OMD focuses on a serious plan-test-plan strategy in advance of the storytelling with a trio of objectives in view:

* Aligning desired outcomes with the available strategic partners, library resources and talents, and stakeholders

* Identifying library-friendly influencers (media, community, etc.), advocates (word-of-mouth initiators, role models, board members, etc.), and gatekeepers (municipal funders, state and federal policymakers, local politicians, etc.)

* Mapping out both community and timeline considerations around key events and identifying dates and times of most intense media activity for effective outcomes

Clownin' Around

Back to the demise of the key community platform for the small-town library. Here's what we did. First, we identified that word-of-mouth in a digitally undeveloped rural community means the world: We weren't going to win this one without thinking very, very simply about the most important factor in this workaround. No Facebook ad campaign or Twitterverse wonder-tweet was going to do the trick. So we asked ourselves what the real opportunity was using a combination of our Story Engine process and an asset audit with the entire team present.

After a real back-and-forth-OMD is highly collaborative and participatory; no top-down solutions invented here, please--we had a shared flash of insight: a town crier. Three little miracles then bubbled up: First, there were already a few folks who'd been town criers, although not on regular basis--and all of them were library cardholders. Second, we thought about the Humans of New York storytelling model: simply asking strangers to tell their life story. And that insight, obliquely, set loose the capper.

The library has only one male employee, and everyone in town knows him. He's also blessed with a superb voice, so much so that the library has resisted using anyone but Mark--we'll call him Mark--to phone cardholders informing them that a held book is available. Literally everyone in town answers the incoming library call with a "Hi, Mark."

Third, not only that, but Mark is a well-known clown in his spare time. So the little library that lost its most important media venue just came up with an OMD-mediated solution that we'll refine in our next session: Mark, as Crispy the Clown, is taking his act and hitting the road as the library's town crier. …

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