Student Snippets A Window Into The Daily Life & Thoughts of SLIS Students

Here Comes the Sales Pitch

Alexandra Bernson

If American libraries and archives were a business, I might just be their best salesman.

Not that I’m a particularly good salesman and not that I’m actually making any money for it.  But I find myself talking about libraries and archives all the time to total strangers, so much so that often it feels like I’m stuck in the middle of a cold call. As a second-year student gradually pushing her way through to glorious graduation in May, my life has centered around learning about and working in libraries and archives for over a year.  In that year, I’ve learned that libraries and archives have the worst marketing and public relations teams on the planet and absolutely no one has any idea what a librarian really does or what libraries offer.  Further, the word “archivist” usually inspires quizzical looks that I’d like to document in a series of photographic portraits for future exhibition at the BPL.  Other than the shhing, sexy librarian stereotype, the world of library and information science is virtually unknown to popular society.

Thankfully, most of the people I’ve met are curious.  As soon as I get into an Uber and the driver asks, “So what do you do?” after a few moments of semi-awkward silence, I ready my pro-library pitch.  I’ve gotten into it with chatty men on the subway (“Wait, how do you say it again? ‘Activist’?”), random people at bars (“Wow, you break like every librarian stereotype I know.” “Because I’m not an old lady with a bun?” “Well, yeah.”), with friends (“Wait, you have to know HTML? But I thought you were a library student!”) and even my uncle’s friends at a recent family gathering (I’d include a quote here but mostly I received more of those quizzical looks I mentioned before).  So many people have no idea that libraries have eBooks let alone vast databases that they can use to find that rare, reliable information that they’re looking for online, or that librarians and archivists are digitizing a bunch of really neat objects for anyone and everyone to access online.


Why is it that this profession is so bad at marketing themselves?  How effective is the reorganization of libraries into fuller community centers if no one realizes that this change is happening and what new services these changes bring?  How else can we share what we have with our communities, whether they are specific to our local populations or diverse academic fields?  Must we be limited to cute but slightly desperate YouTube videos of librarians singing rewritten versions of pop songs?

Outreach must be considered essential part of librarianship for we upcoming librarians and archivists.  It cannot be an afterthought.  It cannot be less than top priority. 

But even though I haven’t gotten that degree just yet, I’ll be spreading the word through every Uber driver in the greater Boston area.