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.