Monday, September 27, 2010

New Rules for Communications Chapter 10 – News Releases

In the “old days” press releases were for the press. An organization sent a press release to every newspaper, TV, or radio station they could and hoped that one of more would print a story. Many years ago I asked a magazine editor why some of the articles in his computer publication looked like carefully researched articles and some looked like “warmed over” press releases. He said because some “articles” were supplied by the organizations and were just press releases. When I wanted to raise public awareness for an issue at my children's school I supplied most of the text for a reporter. The ideas were mine, but the public thought the reporter wrote the article.

This is an older way of using press releases. In the financial markets screens display news feeds all day long. The screens sometimes display releases directly from the companies involved without editing from a reporter or editor. If Boeing got a large order of airplanes or IBM made a new discovery, they would put the news on the wire. Traders seeing the news react sometimes based on this news. That is why the financial summaries on the evening news report rises or falls of stock prices based on news events. Data bases within Factivia and LexusNexis give professionals and library users access to this news feeds. (These data bases are usually available in businesses and large university libraries. They are not available in the Chicago Public Library or the college where I work.) Listservs, direct e-mail, and groups send news releases to their members or users. Not everyone [1] in the PR business agrees that direct contact with the consumer is the best idea. I am of the opinion that PR people in the library should use any method, media, or technology to spread their message.

In business many people say that one must innovate to stave off the boredom. I don’t entirely agree. Within the library we must revise and grown on the established while we are seeking new ways to attract and encourage new users of our resources. The press release should be one of the ways we communicate not just with the press but with all interested or potential users.

A press release is an announcement to the public. It is not an opinion or explanation of how to use a library resource. There may be a semantic argument with the PR professionals. If sent to the “media or press” the item should be aimed at the “press.” If aimed at the consumer or public, it is “news.” For that reason we should be talking about “news releases.” Announcements or news releases may be made for the mundane or the special. For example at the beginning of the school year the library could announce the library hours. This is mundane, but important for everyone to know so that they can come only when the library is open. An announcement about a special award for a librarian is special and interesting, but not very important in the everyday use of the library.

New releases are written with the same style and language as a newspaper article. They should start with a catchy headline and indicate something about the content. The tone should be informative, direct and non-opinionated. Write in the language of the intended readers. Obviously if audience is children or teenagers, write at their level of understanding. The news release is more of a one-way information flow than other forms of information that are meant to be exchanges. Remember that once on the Web search engines will find your words.

Rules for News Releases
1. Don’t just send news for “big” events. Find good reasons to send regular news. New releases are for single topics that can’t wait for a full newsletter treatment.
2. Target your users, readers, and stakeholders. Don’t be concerned with the media.
3. Since the releases will be on the Web, include keywords that users with search engines are likely to use.
4. Include something compelling that will encourage comments or visits to the library.
5. Add tags for social media for additional exposure.
6. Make the length appropriate for the message. If more information is required, drive them to your web site, blog, podcast, or encourage a library visit. This is a news release not a summary report.
7. Make a separate section on your web site to gather new releases for future consultation.

Tell people what you want them to know about your library, your programs and your people. News releases do not always need to be cold and bland. Sometimes there is room for humor.

[1] Steve Rubel in his blog article, “Direct-to-Consumer Press Releases Suck” ( January 19, 2006 disagrees with David Scott. Rubel says, “I feel strongly that fluffy press releases that are not for the press are bogus. I am adamant that we should not be spamming the press releases wires. ... Put your energy into launching blogs and engaging in direct-to-consumer conversations.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Jewish Lamp with David and Goliath's Names in Greek Letters

Last week I was reading volume one of, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, by Erwin R. Goodenough (1893–1965. Goodenough was a professor at Yale University in Jewish Studies. He was born in Brooklyn, New York into a Methodist family, but he did not practice any religion. While studying at Harvard from 1917 – 1920 he was influenced by George F. Moore, a Christian Harvard professor who was expert in the Talmud and Judaism of the first centuries. Goodenough earned his Ph.D from Oxford University in 1923. While preparing his doctoral thesis, published as The Theology of Justin Martyr (Verlag Frommannische Buchhandlung : Jenna, 1923). In the preface he departs from the conventional wisdom that Judaism and Hellenism are mutually exclusive. He states that many Hellenistic elements of early Christianity were derived not from the pagan world, but directly but from the already Hellenized Judaism In his, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, he seeks to show the influence of Hellenism on the Jews and document the art and symbolism of the Jews. He examined artifacts and documents from many libraries and museums. He said that seeing artifacts is like a pictures without understanding the context that a text offer.

The section I read, chapter 1 of volume 1, The Problem,” he describes a lamp with seven openings for wicks. On the upright back of the lamp (a 1913 gift of Rebecca Darlington Stoddard)[1] is a picture of David (ΔΑΥΙΔ) and Goliath (ΓΟΥΛΙΑΔ) with the names in Greek letters. He has a black and white reproduction of the lamp in a later volume. The catalog was created by Paul Bauer (published in Yale Classical Studies, I (1928) p.4-5) says that the style of letters fits the 1st century. Bauer dated the lamp as 3rd-4th century Christian. When Goodenough saw this description, wrote Baur for an explanation. Bauer said that since everyone knows the Jews had no art; it had to be a Christian artifact. Since Christians didn’t exist in the first century, the lamp had to be from a later time. Goodenough later explains (volume 5 pages 105-107) that the palm tree and the idea of a seven wick lamp are Jewish symbols and are reminders of the Temple of Jerusalem. He found 182 examples of the use of the seven branched menorah. This lamp was the inexpensive version of a seven branch menorah. If the lamp was created before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, it could be argued that the David and Goliath were symbolic of the Jewish struggle against the Romans. If created after the destruction its seven lights are a remembrance of the Temple that was already destroyed.

The seven branched menorah (candelabra) was a symbol used in the Temple. When the Temple was destroyed the rabbis said making an exact 3D menorah reproduction was forbidden. Flat pictures and sculptures without the full branches are allowed. Today the symbol is found in almost every synagogue. The middle branch is replaced or topped with a Star of David or a blank spot.

When I saw Goodenough’s discussion, I had to investigate. I found a color photograph on the web site of Yale University Art Gallery. The letters are not clear, but are legible. The web site still had the incorrect description of Paul Bauer. I wrote to the museum stating that the mistake was written about in 1953 and that should be enough time to fix it. They answered back acknowledging the mistake was based on the bias of Paul Bauer. Today the web site no longer has the word “Christian” on it, but still has the 3rd-4th century as the date. I can’t argue with them about the date as I have never seen the item. The museum has no record of the item’s providence before it was presented to the museum.

Goodenough’s careful scholarship has largely been ignored. Very few scholars today realize that he brought together pieces of the story of confrontation of Greek and Roman society with Judaism that previous scholars never knew existed. He wanted to understand how the symbols contribute to our understanding of ancient Judaism. Some claim that his work was over shadowed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. While I knew about his books for many years, I never read them. The copy I acquired sat on a library shelf for more than 50 years and looks as if no one had ever touched them. Now some 45 years after his death, scholars should start to understand the fresh approach to the study of Jewish interaction with other civilizations and how Christianity was following some Hellenistic Jewish trends and not taking over some of the ways of pagans.

1. The Preliminary Catalogue of the Rebecca Darlington Stoddard Collection of Greek and Italian Vases was published by Yale University in 1914. This lamp (item 654) was part of the collection. The catalog is available online :

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Marketing and Public Relations -- 9 Using Blogs

Blogs can be effective in getting quickly prepared messages to the public. A blog can be like a newspaper columnist’s message, a new report, personal journal, or a semi-scholarly short article. Indeed many newspapers, popular magazines, and trade magazines have paid reporters who produce blogs that are published electronically and never appear in the print version. Instead of waiting for a whole issue of a library newsletter to be produced, a librarian may produce a short article and send it to the public. With the use of a blog many librarians within the library can write personal or official library messages. Search engines index blogs and make them available immediately. Reporters, marketing people, and other searchers rely on blogs to find experts and to get a feeling as to what people are thinking about.

A blog allows ideas to be pushed into the marketplace and receive comments. The blog is a way to both push ideas and get feedback from comments. Sometimes the comments provide interesting ideas and can change a stream of though. Some bloggers learn about their audience through comments. “Dumb” and “smart” ideas are recognized. A weak idea many need clarification; a great idea may be promulgated to many other libraries. David Scott claims that his blog have gathered more than 200,000 views and thousands of comments. So far I have not seen as dramatic results as he claims. Last week I had about 550 views and 12 comments. Most comments appeared in the comment section of the blog and others were received via e-mail or chats. I want comments because it shows people care enough to write and it is a kind of reward. Blogs add value to the organization. For example the Illinois Library Association has a weekly e-mail newsletter with a list of blogs. Before it was shut down the North Suburban (Illinois) Library System had a page that gathered the first paragraph of library oriented blogs and linked to the whole article. This blog was linked from there.

The technology to create blogs is easy and efficient to use. This blog is being produced with Blogspot (, which is part of Google. With Blogspot’s integration with Google, one can login to once and you are logged in to them all. Wordpress ( is blog system that requires a download. They claim 12.5 million downloads. According to the site “Usage of content management systems for websites” ( Wordpress has a 12% market share of content management systems (CMS). Typepad is a third example ( Typepad charges a monthly fee that varies with the features. The software creates all the HTML code to make an attractive blog site, edit content, and allow comments.

Comments are controlled by the blogger. They may allow readers to leave comments and remove inappropriate content. I use this feature to only allow comments I approve since I have received comments in Korean that contained a hidden link to a porn site. Variant and even negative opinions may be a good thing that can add credibility by showing both sides to an issue. If the readership is passionate enough to write a comment they are reading it. Is that not the reason you are writing? Comments can be used to find out what people are thinking about the library.

Since blogs work both ways, you can monitor other blogs for comments about your library or libraries in general. Google Alerts is one way to use key words that will send you a message when the keywords are triggered. I have a Google Alert set to my name. I get an e-mail alert whenever my name appears in a web site indexed by Google. Organizations do monitor blogs. I mentioned a department at a university and within a few minutes my monitoring software showed they had read my posting. They did not send a comment.

The blog writer must be dedicated to a love of writing and communicating. Even a 400 word article (one typed page), can take a healthy amount of time. If the message is worth telling; it is worth telling it well. Some weeks I have a lot to write and some weeks I have nothing to write. I regularly read some blogs on Inside Higher Education ( While some posts may be written quickly because they are more expository than research, others could take 2 or more hours to research, write, and edit .

If you love to write or have someone at your library who does, enter the blogosphere and use the blog to spread your thoughts and learn from the readers.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Obsolete or inaccurate Information

Students frequently report that their English teacher says, "don't use the Internet or encyclopedias" for research. Sometimes I have to fight my mouth to prevent yelling and screaming at the absurdity of this limitation. This kind of of thinking is outdated. Sometimes I translate the teacher's comments to, "Don't use unreliable web sites. The Internet is just a way of communicating." Using the Internet for communication is the way we share scholarly knowledge.

Sometimes the students ask to see the scholarly journals. When I tell them they are online, they act surprised. They repeat the claim that they are not allowed to use the Internet. I tell searching data bases for articles is the way we do research today. Since the library changes so rapidly, we encourage teachers to visit the library and collaborate with us. Sometimes I wonder if the English teachers have visited not just our campus library, but any library since the day they graduated with their last degree. Teachers need to make sure their information is current. If they did not keep up with changes in the interpretation of the copyright law they would not know that a ruling made last summer effects how one may use video clips in the classroom.

Last week a newly hired English teacher did come to speak with the librarians. He wanted to give his students an assignment to help them learn to use the library -- music to our ears. I gave him advice and a link to the library introduction PowerPoint presentation. Last night he stopped by to thank us for our help. We have an ally and partner. I wish others would follow his example. [Note: As I was revising this article, another English stopped by and talked about research and library resources.]

The librarians here have been collecting questions and comments that amuse us. Here are a few --
1) My professor said not to use the Internet.
2) My professor said not to use any encyclopedias.
3) Does the library have [insert title of a book]? (They have no idea of how to even find the catalog.)
4) Can I photocopy? or Where is the photocopy machine? (The library has a huge sign pointing to the copy center.)
5) I can only use books. (When they are searching a current topic, frequently no one has written a whole book on the topic.)
6) No one told me when the book was due. (It is our routine to remind them of the date or time due due for reserve books.)

In an attempt to teach students how to evaluate web sites they are told to use sites with the upper level domains EDU, ORG, or GOV. They are told this is an indication of reliability. WRONG! The domain does not indicate anything. Anyone can get any domain. While usually EDU is means a college or university. Anyone attached to the institution can post pages to their individual web sites without anyone reviewing them. Anyone can post reliable or not reliable information. The information may be current or not.

Users need to be able to understand the bias of the web page creator. A business is going to post the best information about their business on their site. They will want to have the correct information for names and contacts. Their news releases and product information on their web site will present a favorable point or view. If you want product reviews or critical information about the company, then you will need to look elsewhere.

Blogs, press releases, news articles, scholarly articles and other materials published on the web need to be evaluated as any print materials. They may be valuable, worthless or something in between. Even this blog has a bias. I try to present information that is accurate, but it is still mostly my ideas and opinions. I tell students they need to triangulate sources and use their sehel (common sense) to figure out what is reliable and what is not. If the ideas presented don't agree with each other, the student needs to figure out what is true and what is mistaken. If they can't tell, ask for help from a teacher, librarian or other reliable source.

Assume nothing. Check to make sure you are up-to-date so that obsolete or out-dated information or practices are not shared or promulgated.

Notes: Links to changes in the interpretation of Copyright Law. These are interpretations, not changes to the text of the law.

Library of Congress Copyright Office

Exemption to prohibition on circumvention of copyright protection systems for access control technologies

Entry of the exemption in the Federal Register of Aug. 6, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Marketing and Public Relations -- 8 -- Goals

There was a time (I call Library 1.0) when the library was the main source of the storage, organization, and distribution of academic and scholarly materials The library was the “jewel” of the institution in the era of Library 1.0. When choosing a college or university students frequently used the quality of the library as one of the criteria for their decision. With the increasing amount of electronic distribution of materials, this is no longer the case. We are in the era of Library 2.0.

One commodity of education is student learning. Goals need to be created that foster learning. At the university level that means supporting and promoting research. In other schools it means using critical thinking to use the results of that research. Parents, students and the community expect education to provide a basis for the next step in education or form the basis for career placements. The students want to enhance their earning potential. Stakeholders count on institutions to demonstrate they have achieved their goals. Libraries can no longer rely on a belief in their importance; they must demonstrate and prove their role in the education process. The value of a library in the eyes of the users and stakeholders must be publicized and demonstrated through action.

A business centers its goals around a desire for revenue. Businesses exist to add value and create revenue growth for the owners. This does not mean they don’t serve their public or have lofty intentions, but rather they think of how all their actions can increase revenue, gain new customers and retain the current customers. A non-profit organization needs to question, “What is their revenue?” Monetary revenue is not a main goal, but the library still needs money to run. The library still needs to gain new customers and retain the currents ones. Exact metrics from web sites are hard to measure precisely because the metric’s description may be flawed. Does the number of visitors to the site matter or does the one written comment out weigh all the traffic numbers? The web content must match the goals of the library. If the ultimate goals include the spread of knowledge and literacy, the web site should reflect this.

Web content may be powerful or subtle. The site may include instructional materials, tool for searching, and notices of future events. One goal should be to increase the reach of the library and show the community the power of the information services. The library should demonstrate leadership in the information distribution field. Web content builds the reputation for the library. The library home page is the public face for the people who are regulars and those who will never even visit your building.

The actual goals need to be defined for each library. Here are some high level goals to build upon: 1) Be the community’s resource for information in print, non-print and electronic sources; 2) Increase literacy in the community; 3) Provide recreational reading materials; 4) Be a safe place for the free exchange of ideas and information.

Revised Sept 14, 2010. First two paragraphs were added.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Volunteers in the Library

Recently I saw the following ad for a librarian. I edited it to remove indications of the organization’s name or location. This description includes many of the skills that it takes librarians many years of training and experience to do well such as management, collection development, ordering new materials, building a collection, assisting readers in the finding of materials, keeping library users informed of new acquisitions, cataloging materials, and providing reference services.
1> Run library of 4000+ monographs, periodicals, and DVD's.
2> Create catalog records in digital catalog for new additions to collection (using Resource Mate)
3> Order books, DVD's, and periodicals that staff requests
4> Assist staff & visitors with finding books and materials
5> Check in and display incoming periodicals
6> Send out library updates to staff on new acquisitions and interesting articles
7> Assess books donations for retention value
8> Classify books in both Dewey and Elazar systems; create books labels, and shelve
9> Provide reference services as needed


MLS graduate with good organizational abilities, and interpersonal skills.

This is not a small school or non-profit organization. It is a large professionally run organization that distributed more than $130 million in grants to more than 100 agencies. One $54,850 grant went to an Israeli library for a program in language and literacy development. You should have guessed by now why I am annoyed with this agency. For all of the required professional librarian skills, this is a volunteer position. All the above activities are supposed to be accomplished in 4-8 hours per week by a volunteer not paid professional.

I’m not against volunteers. I volunteer my time for my synagogue. I contribute my expertise and time to make the community a better place. Officers volunteer and provide management and leadership many hours each week. The synagogue could not run without volunteers. I volunteer for my professional librarian groups. I use my writing, teaching, and other skills to further my profession. I am not paid for writing articles. There is a line between what I would and would not do as a volunteer. I would run volunteer a program; I would not catalog materials or build a collection without compensation. I would answer a question; I would not sit for four hours on a regular basis and help all comers with skilled reference services without compensation.

Would this organization ask a lawyer, dentist, doctor or plumber to come to the office every week without compensation?

Volunteers can be used effectively in a library program. They work with and under the direct supervision of a librarian. Susan C. Eubank, the librarian at the Denver (Colorado) Botanic Gardens, writes in the article, “Volunteers in the Helen Fowler Library at Denver Botanic Gardens” (Colorado Libraries 25:3 Fall 1999) “…the Library would not exist without volunteers. Denver Botanic Gardens is a non-profit organization that has used volunteers from the beginning and the Library continues that tradition.” Volunteers in the Library at Denver Botanic Gardens run the book sale and some of the mundane and less time dependent tasks, such as shelving, processing new books and data entry. These tasks can be done on their schedule without any pressure to do it now. Many of the volunteers are there for the long term and have been there longer than the librarian. They are strong advocates for the library within the Botanic Gardens and good for public relations within the community. The organization and the individuals benefit from the arrangement.

Kathy Ishizuka has a different point of view (“School libraries struggle with layoffs” in School Library Journal 49:2 18-19 F 2003). This article reports on the situation of schools with budgetary problems using volunteers in elementary and high school libraries. In schools without librarians there is no collaboration on assignments with faculty, no collection development, and no instruction in research skills.

Alan Jacobson, volunteer coordinator at the Oak Park (Illinois) Public Library wrote in American Libraries (“Those Who Can, Do. Those Who Can Do More, Volunteer. American Libraries v. 41:5, May 2010 p. 39-41) about how a library can use volunteers to help serve the public. He claims volunteers augment staff. In a letter, (“Reader Forum, “ American Libraries v. 41:9, September 2010 p. 7) Brenda Knutson strongly disagrees with Jacobson. She claims that articles such as Jacobson’s encouraged the Los Angeles City Council to lay off staff.

What conditions should one volunteer professional expertise? When you are member of a community or professional organization, you are helping the organization and yourself. When you help your children’s or grandchildren’s school you are contributing to the school and the education of your family. There may be good reasons to volunteer for the organization mentioned in the above ad. However, the organization should requite from within and not listserv for professional librarians. As professionals we have to promote ourselves and show information services are valuable to the organization and the community.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Marketing and Public Relations -- 7 -- Staying Connected to Your Public

New Rules for Communications Chapter 5

Staying Connected to Your Public

In Joe Marconi’s book, Public Relations the complete guide (Thomson Learning, 2004) he talks about crisis management and the need to prepare for disaster in chapter 15. I would like to rewrite his ideas as they apply to libraries. Everyday and every minute of the day one should be prepared for the usual and the unusual. Procedures should be in place for dealing with the problem patron and the emergency. During the introductory tours of the library I even point out the emergency exit. Readers should understand that emergency exits exist. Marconi warns us that in litigious society, people are quick to sue. Some people demand instant results and have little concept of the careful searching and analysis needed for scholarship.

The library (or any organization) must stay connected to its public, readers, parents, community, regulators, professional organizations, employees, and any other stakeholders or potential stakeholders.

1. Listen to the market. Pay attention to what library users are telling you and what you read about the community.

2. Learn the best practices of other libraries. Imitate their success and avoid their mistakes. Use listservs for professional groups. (Examples are AUTOCAT for catalogers and LM_Net for school librarians.)

3. Constantly create good will with everything you do. That includes smiling and treating everyone with respect. Cultivate some special allies who can be called upon if there is a challenge or crisis.

4. Let readers, employees, etc. know someone is available to address their concerns. Dealing with employee concerns helps them deal with the public better. Though few will make a formal complaint. Just knowing a process exists, will help with morale.

5. Convey in words and actions that opinions matter. Establish a record of listening. Not every opinion will be acted upon, but the process of discussion will guide the final decision.

6. Maintain communications with newsletters, press releases and other methods mentioned in previous chapters.

7. Make sure the public knows your mission and how you work toward its accomplishment. Be prepared to justify everything as fulfilling something within your mission.

8. Invite comments and be responsive to queries, questions, complaints, and complements. Respond to both those who have positive and negative input. Pay attention to what people say as you may get clues to larger problems. Solve the small problems before they grow big and unmanageable.

9. Ask or survey the readers. Look for attitudes, awareness, trends, and opportunities.

10. Don’t wait for something to break. Make contingency plans. Fix problems before they occur. Replace or service equipment before it breaks.

11. Make emergency plans. One can never predict when a natural disaster or man-made emergency will happen. Make the situation less stressful by making sure the staff know what to do in an urgent or disaster type situation. One can even pre-write some statements to be read in cases of emergency. Turn the moment into a time of control and professional action so that the library is perceived as a better organization when the situation is resolved.

12. Plan for future growth. Don’t assume that populations, ideas, service requirments, and technologies will be static.

13. Assume nothing. Just because nothing negative has filtered to you, do not assume all is well. Ask the front-line employees if they observe problems, anomalies, or challenges. Ask them about changes or potential trouble spots.

14. Think positively and put on a happy face. View it as your job to look happy. Stuff happens that is beyond your control. In the face of a challenge remain clam and in control. Remember we are in the business of doing good things and serving the public.

15. Be honest, do not mislead people. Honor promises and thank people. Once lost, trust is hard to regain. This applies to the public and employees. If the employees trust their leadership, they will do a better job of building trust with the public.

16. Constantly tell the library’s story. Tell people what you do best and make them aware of the library’s products and services. Do not wait to be found. Make sure the library has everything from excellent signage to excellent brochures and web content.