Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ask Marian

On a recent visit to Cornell University I saw this sign in the engineering school library: "Librarians—the ultimate search engine."  ... followed by the exhortation to "ask a librarian." I could only stare. It was like a scribbled note from an earlier century, from a people so distant that they must have been living in a black-and-white world and cooking extinct animals. 

"Ask a librarian"—such a quaint notion.

"Ask about a new typewriter," the sign might have said. Or this: "Get space in our college of taxidermy."

I walked a step or two away and came back and stared some more. Maybe this was a history exhibit. Perhaps that sign—"Ask a librarian"—was found rolled up in a bottle, having been tossed into the sea by a race of people who once walked the earth and valued physical books, loved the feel of printed paper, were calmed by the sound of pages being turned in a hushed hall, and enjoyed the hunt through a library's "stacks" for surprising troves of knowledge. 

I started off to my meeting... wondering: What would I ask a librarian anyway? Would I ask if she or he missed the sound of hoof-beats on cobbled streets? Would I ask about life before telephones? 

I walked on and rounded a corner. It came to me—what I wanted to know... I would ask the librarian how—in the many centuries before search engines—one ever found any answers.



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Anonymous said...

I wonder if a librarian would have this much spam.

Anonymous said...

Feel good about yourself after dissing librarians, eh?

Too bad brand strategy consultants can't be bothered to moderate spammy comments on their blog.

Anonymous said...

...really? You really don't see how a librarian might have an in-depth knowledge of their collection, might be able to help you not just find the book you're looking for, but figure out which book you need in the first place? You don't see how a librarian might be able to interpret a vague question and guide you to a number of resources that can help answer that question? You don't see how familiarity with a collection in general and experience addressing exactly the kinds of problems one goes to the library in order to solve might be useful? Computerized search engines, while fantastic, are only useful if you already know what you need. If you always do know exactly what book you need and only need to find it, good for you! That doesn't mean librarians are out-dated and irrelevant. That just means you already have the familiarity and experience with the system necessarily to serve your needs. Funnily enough, that kind of person is not the kind of person that sign would have been targeting. Please, try not to dismiss so flippantly a truly vital career simply because it isn't useful to you at that point in time.

Tim McClennen said...

From a St. John's student, concerning whether you are who our college ought to hire for this marketing task.

This post seems to suggest that people who "...valued physical books, loved the feel of printed paper, were calmed by the sound of pages being turned in a hushed hall..." are extinct. The thing is: such people are NOT extinct, they are our target audience. How can you hire a marketing professional who believes that your target audience is extinct? Would Ford hire a marketing professional who believed that no one alive today actually wants to be in control of the vehicle which is transporting them?

And, of course, the creator of that poster was quite aware that a computer search engine can pull in more results in less time than any librarian past or present. What no search engine can yet do is pull in results for terms synonymous with the entered term. Or tell you that if you are interested in one topic, that you might be interested in *this* list of others. Or tell you about the quality or validity of any given result. Therefore, I can assume that the author of this blog believes: that every person already knows what they will benefit from reading, and does not need recommendations there, or if they are seeking recommendations that they don't care about the qualifications of the person supplying them; that all results (all possible things to read) are equally valid and worthwhile. Both of these are precisely the opposite of the program. The program is all about being told what to read by someone who's qualifications to know which books are important are impeccable. The program is also all about the idea that some books are Great, while others are good. How can a computer hardware manufacturer hire a marketing professional who says "No one needs technology which is more powerful than merely sufficient do accomplish the tasks which they already give it." You can not hire someone who fundamentally misunderstands what you are selling, or who does not believe in it.

Agree with the administration that the college needs to improve our marketing, but you have done very little to convince me that you are the man for the job, and some to convince me that you aren't.

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