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February 08, 2004

Google Answers, vs, Librarians.

j writes about why we should not turn to the Google Answers service instead of using a Librarian.

First let me say that I think that there are many, many ways that a live Librarian can provide a better quality, more valuable, service than online programs like GA. And I think this will be true for a long time to come.

But some of j's arguments don't ring true to me.

She says, "Promoting Google Answers isn't a good start for librarians. Google Answers competes directly with librarians and libraries and the services they provide."

I think that's the wrong argument.

That's basically what Hollywood and the RIAA have been saying about new ways of distrubuting entertainment. But competition is good, and in the long run it will produce new things that are more valuable to everyone.

I'm really just a dilettante on this, I haven't thought as deeply about library matters as people like j, but I think she really puts her finger on the heart of the matter when she says that librarians must market themselves better. But not just in the area of "promotion" which is what most people think of as marketing.

Librarians will benefit from applying the whole universe of marketing tools. For example:

  • Always be learning what your customers want and need. Especially as it changes.
  • Understand what your product really is, and watch for unsuspected customers.
  • Figure out what attracts customers to your products, even if that "feature" is not really the most valuable one. They'll figure it out after they start using.
  • Don't get hooked on any particular way of packaging and delivering your product.
  • Always be aware of the ways that people get information about products like yours. You can only get the word out if you know where they are looking.
  • Don't be blinded as to who all your customers really are. Even if they aren't the people you feel it's your mission to serve. To oversimplify, anyone who gives you money, or something of value, is a customer.
  • Devise and collect metrics that accurately and persuasively illustrate the value of your product, to your customers.
  • Then go back and repeat all these steps, indefinitely.

One last thought on this.

Very possibly I'm not giving j and librarians enough credit here, but I suspect that they may mostly consider that the users of their services -- book borrowers, reference library users, etc, -- are their main customer base.

But librarians should also consider that the institutions that provide their funding -- schools, municipalites, grantmakers -- are also very important customers. Librarians should think about the product that they provide to these customers as well, and develop messages and positioning, that persuades them to continue "purchasing" the product that you provide to them.

Posted by jghiii at February 8, 2004 12:29 PM
Posted by: MGA on February 9, 2004 07:53 AM

Yes, some very basic rulles of customer appreciation apply here. The problem with that may be that typically a library is a "funded orgination" with little to no direct customer feedback principles (Does Marian the librarian worry 'cause she just lost a sale?) and instead relies on bureaucrazy principles (being rules followers rather than problem solvers). So if Google expands their service and it spells the death of libraries, doesn't that mean the libraries weren't doing their jobs?

Posted by: Frac on February 14, 2004 12:26 PM

I've never met a librarian, public or educational, that promoted, suggested, or offered their services as a source for answers. Without exception, they promote themselves as someone that straightens magazines and tells the kids to be quiet.

I am not surprised people turn to services like Google Answers. If I have a question, "ask a librarian" is not my first thought. It's their responsiblity to change that.

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