What librarians can learn from weather channel people

A day in March I had the pleasure of visiting Columbia University Libraries in New York and at lunch the conversation with the great Columbia folks somehow turned to the expansion of weather related stories on TV.

Do you remember the days when the weather was just a short section in the end of the news block? Those days are long gone. In Denmark we don’t have separate weather channels but weather has always been a permanent block on the news – a block that has been growing dramatically over the years.

I remember when I was a kid and we only had one TV channel: the weather always came last on the news and it was just a brief overview of the next 5 days of weather. These days the 10 pm news on upcoming Danish election, Boko Horam massacre in Nigeria and drowning immigrants in the Mediterranean is getting some serious completion from pollen numbers, low pressure wind streams and cumulus clouds. What happened?

First of all the weather somehow concerns us all so even though we can’t do that much about it – it’s a thing we all have in common so I guess that gives the weather channel people an upper hand. But this still doesn’t explains the radical expansion of the weather section.I believe it’s because they are good story tellers. A few examples:

Exhibit 1: The naming of weather phenomenons. It’s perfectly ok to name massive weather destructive phenomenons like Hurricane Katrina and Hugo but in recent years every little storm (at least in Denmark) has been given a name for absolutely no reason but to create a story. Sure, the storm Bodil knocked over my bike and Allan move the doghouse at my parents place two feeds but still – why giving it a name? If those storms would have remained nameless they would have been long forgotten.

Exhibit 2: Making a drama. Being allergic to pollen is no fun at all but it’s not Ebola. Somehow weather people manage to talk about increasing pollen numbers as it’s The Plague raging over the country. They do interviews with suffering pollen allergic people with tears in there eyes and give us scientific background facts (I actually like that part). And don’t get them started on one of before mentioned storms – they treat that like it’s The Apocalypse.

Exhibit 3: Breaking news and live reporting. Inflation has struck the breaking news concept. It seems like there has to be a handful of breaking news stories every day and the weather is getting there share. If there is the slightest chance the water will break the dikes you’ll find a dozen weather reporters in rain coats on the pier. Just them brave souls, the seagulls and the nature.

“As you can see here is a lot of water” – being a weather reporter is an action-packed job 

So well done weather channel folks. I bow in respect. Even though your stories annoys me you managed to tell some stories with impact and conquer TV terrain from important world news and my beloved sports.

What can librarians learn from this?

In Denmark public libraries has been victims of budget cuts as long as I can remember. Libraries has been closing and librarians has been let go. And that in times were the public in every poll show great appreciation of the libraries and many studies points out that libraries creates value to the local community and economic growth to the society. Academic libraries has not been doing much better.

Obvious there is many reasons for this sad picture but I think one of them is that we are not always the best story tellers. Or maybe we tell the wrong stories. Like the weather people are fighting for TV time with the news, the sports and the economy section the library is fighting cultural institutions, sports clubs and other community based institution for public funds. And in Denmark we are losing that battle these days. Here is a reason why: A while back I saw a story on TV about self service terminals in libraries. The angle of the story was budget cuts on libraries and they used the entrance of self service terminals as an example of this – exit librarian, enter machine. They interviewed a woman who said that “she missed the librarian that could help her check out books…”. But the self service terminals didn’t enter the libraries due to budget cuts. They entered the library to free time so skilled librarians could use more time on core library tasks like information retrieval, supporting information literacy, connecting community with cultural experiences (public) or students and faculty members with digital tools (academic). Why did we not manage to tell that story? Why did we not have the impact to shape the story so it showed that the librarian is not only a person who check out books?

We need to find those great core stories and values of the library, reshape them to 2015 and speak out loud – on both local, national and global level. And we will win like the weather people have won on TV. Obvious library organizations plays a big part in this but every librarian in every library should everyday, anywhere be able to tell a good story.

So start telling. And do it loud.

Jen Carfango  3
Librarians! Look at this – it’s a picture of success



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