Escaping the Echo Chamber: event review

Meghan Jones, SLA Europe member and assistant electronic systems librarian at the King’s Fund, has written a review of SLA Europe’s Echo Chamber event. A recording of the event will be available as a podcast shortly.

Marketing Libraries Outside the Echo Chamber was held at the City Business Library and featured Laura Woods, Ned Potter, Bethan Ruddock and Jo Anderson talking to us about how and why we need to get out of the echo chamber as librarians.

Originally the line up was scheduled so that Laura and Ned would present their talk on the concept of the Echo Chamber, followed by Bethan and Jo’s case study on the Voices for the Library campaign. However, due to what sounded like a nightmare of a journey, Ned was unable to join us on time and so Bethan and Jo went first, starting off with a brief intro to what the Echo Chamber was and how it applied to us as a profession.

They explained what Voices for the Library is – a neutral space for discussion and a collection of positive stories about libraries, primarily organised by collaboration online via social media. They went on to tell us what they’re doing as an group, which included reaching out to the press, getting Unison to send out an email to over 40,000 of their members about the campaign and managing to escape the echo chamber by involvement of friends and family on Facebook and other sources.

Jo and Bethan also explained some of the barriers they faced – the lack of actual face time together as a group, the lack of time (this is on top of their respective full time jobs) and money and the decisions they have to make about retaining their neutral status and how that also impacts time and money.

They finished off by explaining what they planned to do next, which included Jo attending a Women’s Institute AGM the following morning as the WI were tabling a resolution to stand for public libraries.

Then Laura bravely took to the stage, still sans Ned, to launch into their presentation, even though she hadn’t really prepped to do the whole thing on her own! Thankfully, Ned arrived about ten minutes later to pull his share. Really, do go watch the presentation on Prezi and do listen to the audio when the SLA Europe podcast is released.

The talk started out with what the Echo Chamber is in regards to libraries and library promotion: we talk about good ideas and get reinforcement for them but only to other library professionals, not out to the people who actually need to know about them.

Laura then talked about why it’s important to escape the echo chamber: people don’t understand libraries, we’re easy targets for cuts and there are a lot of avenues for library sceptics to get their views out and we need to counteract that.

The concept started in an echo chamber, which is to say, ideas were originally crowdsourced on twitter from other info professionals and they’re well aware that change will not happen overnight but that it needs to happen – if we don’t advocate, we will lose.

Some of the suggestions were things like: run a survey for only negative feedback – tricky but def. worth it if you ask me!; get users to be our library champions (as Voices of the Library do); match and reflect back users language to them and many others. Laura also mentioned the ‘chocolate problem’ which is how to market something that everyone knows about, examples of this were Cadbury’s drumming gorilla; it had nothing to do with chocolate but it got people talking about Cadbury’s and their products.

Ned took over for failures: Seth Godin, Newsnight, the KPMG report – all of which had massive audiences that our rage/responses/correct facts did not reach because they were just bouncing round and round the echo chamber of social media and info professional blogs. Then Laura came back with some of our successes, including a librarian on the stage at TEDx Columbus and Phil Bradley’s repeat appearances on Radio 5.

They finished off with strategies, which my hastily typed notes boiled down to: Do or die, ask because all people can say is No, remember we love libraries, fake it till you make it, get on other people’s radars and move out of your comfort zone.

It was also mentioned that things like library policies should be reviewed – the factors that required them may no longer be major points anymore and as a result, the policies may in fact be actively working against us.

And finally, we need to be the ones writing our own narratives and not letting others, especially those who do not like us, do the honours.

All in all it was an extremely enjoyable event, marvellously hosted for us by the City Business Library – many thanks to the two members of staff on duty and of course to SLA Europe and the speakers.

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