The Reflected Image of Libraries©
An exploration of images of libraries and librarians in popular culture was the theme of the group project I participated in during this course and it provided me with the background I needed to develop a topic for a final project. Discovering society’s perception of librarians as depicted in literature, art, and in popular media proved to be a very interesting area to focus upon. From the clothing styles librarians wear to the the layout and design of the institutions they work in, library professionals convery a meaning to this imagery. For information professionals, it is important to recognize that imagery is information: it can be interpreted, it can be analyzed and it can be evaluated by the public. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and impressions last much longer than the initial visit to the library, for better or worse. If we fail to consciously select the public image we wish to present, libraries and librarians may unintentionally send an image contrary to the one intended..
Decisions as to what type of information we
send to our clientele should not be made lightly. As information professionals,
we need to make a concerted effort at improving the public image of our
library or institution, lest that image become obsolete, or worse, it
could reinforce the old stereotypes. “Images reflect reality in the minds
of those who think them. They may attract people, or repel them, encourage
people or discourage them to respond favorably” (Sherman
1992, 21). Although the library card is a functional item, it should also
be acknowledged that they are promotional materials as well. For this
reason, it is vital that all promotional materials be designed to create
a positive lasting impression in order to create awareness about that
particular library's mission and promulgate positive public awareness.
Behavioral side to Graphics in Libraries
There is an emotional and psychological connotation
to graphic information that often leaves a lasting impression that textual
information does not. Therefore, it is important that we realize what
we are conveying in regard to all aspects of the library. Although a conscious
realization by staff and patrons may not occur initially, we send signals
to the public in the form of the quality of service we provide, the maintenance
of the equipment we provide for them to use, and the cleanliness and upkeep
of the facilities we operate in. From the architecture and layout of the
library to the cards we issue to patrons, our images not only allow, but
also encourage an inference of who we are, what we do, and what we highly
value in regard to patron services.
“As attractive, likable and outgoing as we all hope we are, we have to admit that the stereotypes do linger on in people’s minds. The dingy, brown, dusty stacks, the restrictive quiet, the trauma of fines – a Freudian analyst would have a field day poking around in that corner of the collective psyche that harbors library neuroses” (Manley 1982, 27). Corporations hire marketing agencies to improve their image, create social awareness, and determine the image they desire to project to others. Should libraries be any less aware of public opinion? Libraries are generally thought of in a positive light, but hardly ever seen as a cutting-edge, exciting location to visit. It would seem libraries would like to change this image if to improve public relations and funding. Corporations frequently change their image to improve sales.
One example of an excellent change in image
was created by the companies that produce beer. Their customer was portrayed
as “a tired brick hauler slouched in a ragged chair while he stared mindlessly
at TV, slurped beer from the can in his hand, and wiped his mouth with
the shoulder of his dirty T-shirt.” Advertising campaigns have changed
this image to one of a young, athletic sports-enthusiast, a connoisseur
of beers who drinks either with friends on the weekend at a sports bar
while rooting for his favorite team or while entertaining a special friend
on his yacht (Sherman 1992, 22). This indicates
that changing an image is possible, if a strong commitment is made by
those who control the power to make such decisions. Changes in library
image, although greatly discussed in literature, does not delve into graphic
The selection of my topic is as a direct result
of a discussion with fellow group members. While sharing articles about
the frustration librarians have expressed in literature as a result of
not being presented with professional status, we decided to examine contributing
factors. My opinion is that it is difficult to exude a professional aura
unless all components of the workplace also communicate the impression
that this institution deserves to be awarded professional status. Pilots,
military brass, police officers and physicians all wear unique uniforms,
are granted respect and sometimes a sense of awe as a result of their
position. One reason is the public recognition afforded them as a result
of the unique qualities of the uniforms or badges they wear. The attorney
is identified as a professional not due to his suit or briefcase, but
due to the power he holds, the income he earns, and the institution related
objects that further indicate his level of professionalism. Librarians
have no such uniform, but other details may identify them as professionals.
There is a noted inconsistency in expressions
of professionalism, both between different types of libraries and even
within individual library systems. “What is surprising is that as ‘publishers’
librarians have not always applied the same rigorous standards to their
own efforts as one would expect them to apply to those of others” (Usherwood
1981, 19). What may at first appear as a minor detail may be in a sense
the calling card of information professionals: the library card. As a
group, we decided to compare the library cards we had in our possession
and determine whether or not a relationship existed. There was quite a
variety in the cards from graphics to text, but they all had some similarities
in common as well. This report will examine the image projected by the
library in the form of the one library artifact that remains with the
patron at all times: the library card.
While locating literature related to this topic,
I discovered that I was unable to locate primary or secondary resources,
whether a chapter or solely a paragraph in a text, written specifically
about library card design, nevertheless how such design relates to image.
However, ample literature does exist about advertising, marketing and
promotion of profit and nonprofit corporations and businesses. “Everywhere
we go, we come across symbols that communicate messages without the use
of words. Street signs, restaurants, hotels, airports- all use symbols
that communicate to people, regardless of whether they speak the same
language” (Napoles 1988, 13). Library promotional
literature provided ideas about how libraries have customarily promoted
themselves and interesting comparisons could be made between the two.
Finally, library architecture and library interior design information
was also available and one author in particular related this topic to
behavior patterns of patrons. Conceptually, human behavior can be affected
by the arrangement of book stacks and furniture, the lighting of the library,
and by color schemes selected and used throughout. It is also important
to note that human behavior may change throughout time due to cultural
forces and social adjustments.
Omission of this topic in library literature illustrates yet another avenue of library image that has been overlooked. We should ask ourselves as professionals, how many additional items about our image have been overlooked, and how much is that contributing to the stereotypical image of the librarian. Attorneys realize that attention to detail is important when making an impression on a client, so they contract with designers for creating a look that represents their station: the layout of the office, the design of their business cards, and the watermarks on their stationery, all are created to make a striking first impression.
I came to the realization that this is an overlooked
topic in library practice, and a subject not covered in current library
literature. It is hoped that my research will encourage librarians to
take the time to consider details in design, not only in library cards,
but in all aspects of library accouterments when making selections that
have a lasting effect.
Investigation of Card Design
The library card is in many ways a symbol of
the library that issues it. Therefore I examined library cards from several
Criteria for the
Suggestions for Improving the Image
Investigating the image of the library, bringing awareness of details to the forefront, and suggesting improvements to that image were the goals of my research. The criteria above should assist in evaluating the layout and design of the current library cards we hold, but we must also be thinking of the future and not be hesitant to stretch the boundaries of what we determine should be the parameters of this construct. For this reason, I offer several suggestions as to the improvement of the design of library cards, and thus the image of the library and its librarians.
Telephone numbers are invaluable to patrons seeking answers to their questions and when a reference desk is only a telephone call away, patrons are more likely to use it. Of course, sufficient staff needs to be assigned to those telephones to ensure that patrons are served in an expedient manner and not placed on hold for great lengths of time. Many patrons enjoy having the ability to renew books over the telephone and if this service is available either through an automated system or by calling the circulation department, then that telephone number should be printed on the library card to provide ease of access.
The library card need not necessarily be in a credit card shape, in fact, any shape that would allow at least one flat surface with a barcode would be sufficient. The objective is to delineate the library card from other cards such as credit cards in order to present the library as a succinct entity. Perhaps we need to consider adding our vision statement to our cards as a note to the cardholder of what our values are.
Technology is progressing in leaps and bounds. Digital photographs are becoming less costly and eventually these could be incorporated into the library card. If images of the owner were embedded, then this may reduce some of the unfortunate losses that libraries and patrons experience each day. A picture identification could cause a reduction in the number of people who share their cards with friends who then checkout materials and do not return them. Additionally, the use of stolen library cards for checkout of expensive art materials, DVDs, and compact discs, could decrease as well, adding a level of security for the cardholder. Patrons would be more likely to guard and respect a library card that contained their photograph than they currently do.
The current trend for libraries is to go online
with a web catalog and web links to useful websites. Additional services
available at some library websites include 24/7 online reference service
with a librarian, and access to subscription databases with full text
magazine or newspaper articles and value-added information. With the addition
of these services, it is logical that libraries should wish to include
their web address on their library card. This addition could stand as
a hallmark of advancement into the 21st century and an indication
of the value the library places on providing a variety of resources to
patrons as well as an indication of the level of advancement of the technology
available. A note of interest: this research is being performed at the
end of 2001 and yet a very low number of the library cards I examined
provided their webaddress on the card.
There is an inherent cost to the promotion of any business or corporation and the library is no exception as it is a type of nonprofit corporation. Librarians and information professionals must come to the realization that they are in competition, not only with other libraries, but in other service providers both on the Internet and in their communities. Libraries and archives contain valuable information, but their utility has not been seen nor appreciated by the public because creating public awareness of their value has not been a top priority, instead collection development and programming have often taken the bulk of the budget.
As we now are at a critical turning point with the advent of commodification of information, we need to voice our benefits including free access to information to the public. Administrators can do this by being willing to allocate their budgets to provide for either the hiring of promotional consultants or the training of staff to create such promotions. Committees should be formed to decide upon which materials best represent the vision statement, the mission statement, and future library image. Library image materials should be seen as an investment into the professional careers of existing and future information professionals. If we are to change the image of the librarian, we must change the dated trappings as well. Library cards are our calling card to the communities we serve and therefore are the reflected images of libraries.