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Wednesday
Mar022011

Are you speaking where people are listening?

Email is for old people--literally.

Email use dropped 59 percent among users aged 12-17, as well as 8 percent overall, according to ComScore's 2010 Digital Year in Review. Users between 18-54 are also using email less, though among those 55 and older, email actually saw an upswing. Huffington Post, March 2, 2011

One of the very first articles I got published was about the importance of librarians creating a good communication program. In 1992's Using Planning and Reporting to Build Program Support (The Book Report, May 1992), I suggested*:

Few educators outside our own profession really seem to know what we should do, what we can do, and what we actually do.  I believe it is because library media specialists tend to neglect the “ends” of the job:  planning and reporting.  A formal, systematic procedure for media program planning and reporting can effectively increase staff and administrative support, and should be given a very high priority among the myriad of building level media professional’s tasks. ...

My public relation efforts center around three reporting tools:  a bi-monthly principal’s report, a monthly faculty newsletter, and a regular column in the school district’s monthly newspaper.  While each of these “publications” has a different audience and different focus, I often address common topics that relate back to my program goals or year’s objectives.  While a yearly evaluation with the principal or a yearly report to the advisory committee could suffice, monthly or bi-monthly reports keep media activities visible throughout the year.  These writings reach a wider audience: the entire staff and the community, not just the administration and the selected library/media committee.

Oh for the simple days of what seemed like a single means of communication - the printed newsletter. Those of us who were "tech savvy" created our newsletters in a word processor or desktop publishing program, adding headlines and clip art. (I still think that Alice Yucht's idea of creating a 'toilet paper" by taping the library newsletter to the back of bathroom stall doors is the best way of disseminating print materials.)

Soon the more progressive librarians recognized that e-mail was even more effective in sending newsletters and that's what most of us have done for the last 15 years or so. But as the study in the opening quote suggests, perhaps we need to rethink our communication strategies - especially with our students and younger parents and teachers. To actually go where students and parents are reading, listening and viewing.

Here are some new avenues for information dissemination. One convenient thing is that once a message is created, it can be spread in many ways.  

  • A Facebook Fan Page is easy to create if you have a personal Facebook page. With "fans" limited access to the rest of your (probably debauched) Facebook account, this is a safe and pretty effective way to reach those who ONLY seem to use social networking for communication.
  • Blog with an RSS feed may be more effective than a regular website. The interactivity of a blog will be appealing to those who like to respond to ideas. I've always thought Francie Harris's Gargoyles Loose in the Library is the model for this medium of communication.
  • Twitter is popular among a certain segment of Internet users. The 140 characters are about enough to alert readers of an event or to provide a link to more substantial information posted somewhere else. Maybe 140 characters is just enough inform your staff and students about the latest books and resources available in your library.
  • Text, e-mail, voice message blasts may be possible in your district. Our PR department is the master of sending these things out so if you have some exciting news for parents, this may be the most effective means of information. Check with your PR department or student information system manager.
  • GoogleApps for Education has a wonderful tool called GoogleGroups that makes sending and archiving e-mails to larger groups really simple.
  • While I am all about the written word, clever librarians tell their stories in ways that reach visual. auditory learners. I was blown away by Buffy Hamilton's year end report she creates with Animoto. Wow! Do you post library videos on YouTube or TeacherTube and/or make podcasts. As long as people are walking around with things stuck in their ears, they may as well be listening to something cool about the library.

I am not convinced that e-mail is as dead as some might suggest. Nor am I convinced of the longevity of some of these other communication media. But I do know this: Librarians HAVE to have regular and formal communication strategy for students, teachers, principals and parents. People have to know (and value) what we do in order to advocate for us. Libraries in concept only are easy to cut.

What have you found effective in communicating with those who could advocate for you?

 * For you younger readers, I translated this from the original written in Old English.

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Reader Comments (9)

In our most recent printed school newsletter I provided information about new books for parents via a QR code! I don't know how many parents scanned it, but it was something to try. Getting some feedback is my next step. :-)

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCheri Dobbs

Hi Cheri,

Not owning a smartphone that reads QR codes, I am behind the curve on this technology. I would be really interested in how this works for you. (I am in the process of writing a column and would give you full credit for the idea!)

Doug

March 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

FWIW, I discovered the "toilet paper" newsletter idea while visiting a community college somewhere in the Midwest back in the 1980's, so I really shouldn't get credit for inventing it!

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteralice yucht

Hi Alice,

Too late - you're stuck with the credit since I heard it from you. The people in the midwest probably heard it from somebody in New Jersey.

Hope you are doing well.

Doug

March 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Doug,

Just recently I went back to creating a print newsletter, but am also now posting it on our school library website. Now if I could just text every teacher with a link to a mobile friendly newsletter, I could achieve the trifecta!

In an effort to share our monthly and annual reports with the community, I have begun posting those on our library website also.

I rarely send mass emails to the entire faculty and staff, but I will email departments when I find something I feel would benefit them. My own email box fills too rapidly and I don't want faculty members to just start deleting everything I send.

Another way I try to reach our faculty is to put important news tidbits in an eye catching flyer that I post in a sign holder on the counter in the teacher mail room.

You've got me thinking here (as usual)! I'm going to create a QR code for the library website and post it in the mail room first thing Monday morning. Probably a good 75% of the faculty won't know what it is, but it should at least make them curious!

March 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFran Bullington

Hi Fran,

Great ideas - thanks for sharing them. The idea of using multiple means of conveying the same information/message is an important one.

Doug

March 6, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I was very intrigued by your post and it definitely gave me some ideas about how to communicate with parents besides using the mundane print source newsletter. Using Facebook, Twitter, and texting messaging would be ideal in the world that we live in today but what about those parents who do not have computers or internet access at home? How would you go about getting the information to them besides using the newsletters? As a teacher, I would really enjoy using Facebook and text messaging to communicate with parents but the obstacle of limited or no internet access hinders me from doing this.

March 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany Nguyen

Hi Tiffany,

I appreciate your concern for parents who may not have Internet access. This is why we need to continue to communicate using a variety of media. My guess is that very few parents in most schools don't have email access either at home or at work. And I would guess even a larger percent have phones capable of receiving text messages.

Doug

March 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Thanks for your suggestion and you are correct, there probably are few parents who don't have internet or email access. Using a variety of media as those you have mentioned is something that I will keep in mind to possible use in the future. Thanks!!!

March 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany Nguyen

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