As soon as you start library school (or maybe before) people will ask you— “Why?” Besides asking why you specifically are going to grad school to get your MLS they will ask questions like: “Why does a librarian need a master’s degree to check out books to people?” or “Why do we even need libraries?”
If you are a first year student or a veteran librarian you better have a good answer at the ready—you are representing libraries and the profession to the “outside” world with your answer. We can echo reasons to employ librarians on this blog all day long— but the people who need to understand the worth of libraries and librarianship don’t read this blog or any library blog and they may not even go to the library.
Step one in changing their mind is to have impactful, well thought out talking points for these situations. Because an “Um….I like books and um….it’s not just the Dewey Decimal System” kind of answer isn’t going to cut it. A great way to be prepared for impromptu conversations about libraries is to develop an elevator speech. An elevator speech is a quick pitch (about as long as an elevator ride) that sums up why a product, service, idea, or institution is worth the listeners time, money or patronage. On The ‘M’ Word – Marketing Libraries blog Kathy Dempsey shared a success story in which a library t-shirt and an elevator speech made a guy rethink his stance on libraries. Dempsey’s experience is a perfect example of why we all need to be prepared to talk up libraries whether it’s at the reference desk, on Twitter, or at the grocery store.
In the Bloomberg Business Week article, The Perfect (Elevator) Pitch, Aileen Pincus provides a very brief and informative process for developing an elevator speech. The article also links to an instructional slide show on elevator speeches. I would definitely recommend checking out both resources to jumpstart your speech writing.
Keep the following tips in mind as you work on your elevator speech:
- There are a lot of hot button library issues—have separate elevator talking points for as many as possible. Also, be prepared to jump from topic to topic while still keeping your overall interactions brief. You may need to talk about LIS education, eBooks, and digital literacy all at once—but you still may only have a couple of minutes of attention from your listener.
- The Bloomberg Business Week slide show “Crafting an Effective ‘Elevator Pitch'” urges the reader to “Be Specific” and “Know Your Target.” By knowing your target you can provide relevant examples that will be meaningful to them specifically. For instance, for years I’ve urged my grandmother to use the library to borrow the books she likes to read. When I do, she tells me about her system of buying books from the used book store. My library pitch has gone in one ear and out the other with her. Last weekend I told her that libraries offer free internet access. This got her attention. Libraries do a lot of different things for a lot of different people. Figure out what will impact your listener and be sure to touch on that.
- Make notes for yourself after you give your elevator speech. Evaluate what went well and what didn’t after each interaction. Less than stellar library conversations are learning opportunities. Make notes on what you wish you’d said so that you’ll be prepared to discuss those items with clarity the next time they come up. If there are questions or comments that stumped you, find a way to address them in your pitch.
You aren’t going to graduate from library school and automatically know how to talk about libraries. A good library elevator speech is a process—it takes work. So why not start now?