Something old, something new

A recipe for a successful library

The library is one of society’s most unbiased services that maintain democracy. Library services are available to everyone irrespective of economic status, religion, political background or level of education.

Marketing at the library – with or without balloons? Photo: Photo: Risto KuittinenThere are fewer and fewer places in this consumer society where you can use free services and where you don’t have to buy a cup of coffee or entrance ticket just to justify your presence there. You don’t even need a library card. However, the library is not static; rather, procedures and goals change over the years, as with all fields. There is no such thing as static work.

In the library field, there has long been a great deal of discussion about the dynamic operational environment and the pressure to revise job functions. At present, there is pressure related to transferring materials to the digital network, changes in municipal and state funding and duties brought on by the new national curriculum in schools. Change is constant – there has always been change and there will always be change.

I have worked in public and university libraries for 30 years now, and my job duties now do not resemble those which I have done in the past. Loans and returns, the only duties of the library in the eyes of many people, are made using different equipment and, more and more, they are becoming a self-service with the book-omat. At times, change can be tiring, but static work is not only impossible but it would also take the joy of learning new things and variation out of the work, and these are things people need to remain enthusiastic in their long careers.

Why do I do this work and how?

When in a constant state of change, work easily becomes fragmented into single projects, and when new duties arise, it’s difficult to abandon old ways of doing things. However, in the library field, a single library and all of its employees must have a clear picture of the aim of the library’s activities. Why do I do this work and how? It’s a question of the distribution of resources and coping with the workload.

Shedding light on the library’s goal is the job of the management, in particular, to help the employees understand the impact of the work they do. Libraries have approached new phenomena, and the demands and duties have been created with enthusiasm, but no one wants to run around the building without motive or a vision of reaching the finishing line. Library work can easily be invisible; job tasks are never fully defined, but the employee must feel that (s)he is useful and part of a meaningful process.

Framework and quality requirements

Each library is different. The resources in libraries vary among and within municipalities with regard to the different branches, for example in the number of employees working in them.

The desire for libraries to offer media education is easier to fulfil in a large library as opposed to a small library where there may be 1-2 employees.

There has been little discussion in the field about the differences between libraries and, personally, I wish there was discussion concerning the minimum level of library work versus full-service libraries. It would be good to communicate the framework and quality requirements arising from this discussion to library patrons to eliminate expectations that are either too high or too low towards a certain library branch.

What are we involved in?

Libraries themselves could also consider in which activities they actually wish to partake. We easily take up the newest trends and consider how we can execute them in the library, but at the same time we have also perhaps partially forgotten our strongest brand – peace and quiet, which, in today’s world of mindfulness would mean surfing on the crest of the wave of trends!

Storytelling has become a part of commercial marketing and that’s the one area in which the library is strong. Conveying, storing and even producing stories are an essential part of the library’s expertise. Alongside museums and archives, the library plays a significant role especially in storing local lore and modern-day information.

Resources do not exclusively involve finances. Activities do, indeed, depend largely on finances and the number of annual work units, equipment and collections, and constantly calling economic resources into question or having to fight for them may have a negative impact on the perspectives taken when planning activities and ultimately on the ability to cope with the workload. It is, however, a question of the staff ’s expertise which is something the staff itself seems to doubt the most.

Perfect know-how – does it exist?

There is firm belief in the field that one has to know and have command of a matter, otherwise there’s no sense in advising the patrons. In today’s information society, gaining absolute, solid knowledge and expertise is a distant dream. Whether it’s a question of information technology, electronic material or online communication, no one can claim to be completely educated.

Consultancy situations are often interactive where both the giver and the receiver of the information learn something new. In situations of change, it is mostly a question of attitude. Library workers are prepared to learn and capable of learning new things and sharing what they’ve learned with the patrons if they so desire. Intelligent people seek careers in the field, but their own attitude may keep them from learning new things. A good leader must have the skills to motivate and maintain enthusiasm to take on new things.

Stories, facts and fiction

In a changing world, the library still has its firm position and duty. Marketing that is readily concentrated around customized services, such as loaning sports equipment or 3D printers, often forgets the library’s fundamental purpose, i.e. loaning material and various advisory services which are, in the light of the statistics, one of the municipalities’ most widely used services.

The library’s duty, now and in the future, is to help people find stories, fact and fiction irrespective of the format and tool. This calls for resources but, above all, an inquisitive attitude and the desire to work for the better of the patron.


Service Manager (Community Connections) Regional Library of Joensuu