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Steve Lopez Shares the Story of 'The Soloist' in the Closing General Session

Lopez on the stage at the Closing General Session. (Any guesses as to which publisher sponsored his appearance?)

Lopez on the stage at the Closing General Session. (Guess which publisher sponsored his appearance?)

When my alarm went off at 6:15 a.m. on the last day of the conference, I was sorry that I’d agreed to cover the Closing General Session that started at 8. But when Steve Lopez finished talking shortly after 9, I was sorry that his presentation was over. Wow.

Like many others, I know Steve Lopez’ name as that of a newspaper columnist. Now people are getting familiar with him as author of The Soloist, a book that was recently turned into a movie. It’s the true story of how Lopez stumbled across a homeless man who was playing a grungy violin on the streets of Los Angles – and playing it amazingly well, especially considering it only had 2 of its 4 strings. Intrigued and thinking this might make a good column for the LA Times, he approached the man, which completely startled him. Thus began an uneasy, unconventional relationship that has continued for more than 4 years since. Those who have read the book or seen the movie know the rest of the story. Those who haven’t are really missing something.

Lopez had a easy-going speaking style. He related to librarians by saying that he got married inside the Philadelphia Free Library. He also complimented Philly’s library for its One Book, One City treatment of The Soloist, saying the system organized 120 events around it, some of which he appeared at. He urged others who wanted to know how to do great One Book programs to look to the Free Library as an example.

He also revealed that his son had graduated with an M.L.S. a year ago and was still looking for a job. He threatened the audience that he wouldn’t leave until one member agreed to retire or leave the profession so his son could finally get a job and get off his father’s payroll. After these laugh lines, Lopez got down to the business of telling a very serious story.

Ever the journalist, Lopez explained that it was often hard finding fodder for columns on a continuous basis. He likened being a columnist to “having a pet monster that’s always hungry.” Hence, when he first saw the downtrodden violinist playing on the street, he wanted to find an angle to write about. He soon realized that this man, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, had a lot inside of him but that he wouldn’t let it out easily (if ever) because he was mentally ill. But he was also an outstanding, classically trained musician. The intrigue, as well as the hunger for a great story, kept Lopez coming back to help Ayers “get back on track,” as Ayers called it. It took a couple of months before the writer had learned and substantiated enough to get his first column out of the story, but people connected with it immediately. Lopez went on to write more over the years and to use Ayers’ plight to bring the problems of the homeless and the mentally ill to light, asking people at City Hall, “How can you let this go on just a few blocks away?”

A long line of librarians wound around the hallway waiting for Lopez to sign copies of 'The Soloist.'

A long line of librarians wound around the hallway waiting for Lopez (far right) to sign copies of 'The Soloist.'

When Lopez finished telling the story that had awed the audience, he took a few questions before making his way into the lobby area to sign copies of The Soloist. His publisher, Penguin, generously gave everyone the copies for free, and it must’ve taken Lopez well over an hour to finish signing for the hundreds of people in the queue. What a perfect example of using a powerful human story to reach people and to make them want to read. I wonder what stories lurk near your own libraries that you could tell to your public?

~Kathy Dempsey, editor, Marketing Library Services newsletter

Advocacy Guru Stephanie Vance

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The Association of College & Research Libraries (better known as ACRL) held its President’s Program in the Hilton Chicago on Monday afternoon. After awards fanfare, the program turned to the topic of Advocacy in Today’s Environment. It involved a panel (what doesn’t anymore?), but the real attraction was Stephanie Vance from Advocacy Associates LLC.

During the time I spent there (this being ALA, I couldn’t stay for the entire 4-hour event) focused on legislative advocacy. (And whenever you have time to digest it, ACRL’s full legislative agenda is online.) Vance talked about how government regulations are part of almost everything we come in contact with every day. (Listening to the radio? FCC. Sitting in a structure? building codes.) However, legislators are very accessible, you just have to know how to communicate with them and be willing to do it on their terms.

Time with legislators (or, more often, their staffers) is short and precious, so you must prepare your talking points ahead of time, boil them down to a specific, actionable message, and deliver it in a way that will get through. Realize what influences legislators: relationships, personal stories, media reports, their constituents.

One thing that Vance, an excellent and funny presenter, explained was the difference between advocacy and lobbying. Many people are not allowed to lobby because of the jobs they hold, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t help. Advocacy, Vance said, is a fancy word for educating people about topics (not talking about specific legislation). Lobbying, on the other hand, is asking someone to support or oppose a certain piece of legislation.

Vance went through exercises where the audience crafted and delivered messages intended to influence policymakers. That seemed to keep attendees interested and engaged through a long session about a complicated, but very important, topic. If you ever get a chance to hear her talk about this, go for it!

P.S.: check out her book, Citizens in Action.

 ~Kathy Dempsey, editor, Marketing Library Services newsletter

Good Advice from the Media Man

The very animated Dave Baum practiced what he preached to keep his talk interesting and entertaining.

The very animated Dave Baum practiced what he preached to keep his talk interesting and entertaining.

The Sunday afternoon Media Relations Training was a worthwhile event for any library employee who wanted to know more about how to get the media’s attention, score some coverage, and deliver their messages as clearly as possible. I’d seen speaker Dave Baum before, but enjoyed listening to him again. Baum has been reporting and interpreting news and sports on radio, on TV, and in print for more than 40 years, and his experience sure shows. (You can hear him now on Internet Talk Radio.)

Baum delivered way more information than I could fit into any blog post, but I’ll share some highlights of his advice here. When talking to reporters:

  • Never think you can actually say anything off the record. “If you don’t want to see it, read it, or hear it, don’t say it.”
  • If the media is reporting on bad news from your library (crime, porn, etc.), don’t try to dodge the matter. Instead, “Prepare up front for the stuff you don’t want to get asked about” so you can speak carefully about it. Honestly acknowledge the problem and tell the reporter what you’re doing to solve it.
  • Never say “no comment” – that implies guilt.
  • You need to be animated and appear happy when you’re interviewed. The truth is that, after a quick interview, viewers may not remember just what you said, but they’ll take away an impression of whether you were likeable.
  • When you’re on TV, you absolutely have to smile at some point. As Baum exclaimed several times, “I wanna see teeth!”
  • Deliver your message via stories. Reporters absolutely love stories. “Storify it!”
  • Before you’re even interviewed, know exactly what’s most important to get across. What’s your main message? (repeat it a few times.) What’s the take-away? (what should listeners remember or act upon?)

Baum also answered the age-old question about how to get reporters’ attention and time. What can you do to get them to pick up your press releases or stories? Even with the many changes in media over the years, this answer remains the same: Nothing works better than developing good old-fashioned business relationships.

~Kathy Dempsey

Editor, Marketing Library Services newsletter

The Swap & Shop Always Draws a Crowd!

The crowd lined up around the corner waiting for the Swap & Shop to open.

The crowd lined up around the corner waiting for the Swap & Shop to open.

The annual Swap & Shop is where savvy marketers go to get examples of what their colleagues have been producing as far as brochures, annual reports, giveaways, and other promotional products. It’s also the site of the Swap’s Best of Show awards as well as a place to meet those marketing listserv buddies in person.

This shows just some of the PR Masterpieces that were on display to help others learn about good PR materials.

This shows just some of the PR Masterpieces that were on display to help others learn about good PR materials.

This year’s theme was PR Masterpieces, and plenty works were on display. This year’s Swap drew more than 800 attendees in the 2.5 hours it was open in the back of the exhibit hall. Library marketing is alive and well!

~Kathy Dempsey

editor, Marketing Library Services and Swap participant

Once the Opening General Session Got Underway…

 

ALA President Jim Rettig Officially Opened the Conference on Saturday Evening.

ALA President Jim Rettig Officially Opened the Conference on Saturday Evening.

 

 

Once the Opening session got down to business, ALA President Jim Rettig took the stage. He mentioned a number of initiatives of this year’s show, including Friday’s Unconference, 10 Grassroots programs, and the Text an Ambassador Q&A service. He spoke fondly of Dr. E. J. Josey, who recently passed away, saying he “acted as librarians’ conscience.” Rettig also mentioned the launch of the “@yourlibrary” site for the public. Rettig bestowed a few awards, the most notable being recently deceased ALA champion Judith Krug being named an Honorary Member.

After this shorter-than-usual awards portion of the program, Rettig introduced the keynote speaker, Christie Hefner, who ran her father’s Playboy Enterprises for many years. Hefner opened by saying that Chicago is her hometown, and that she had worked with ALA and the Freedom to Read Foundation for years. She also mentioned Judith Krug, saying she was “blessed to have had her as a friend.”

Hefner then launched into her talk about how time has transformed brands, societal norms, women’s rights, the media, television, and more. She offered a few juicy facts, such as these:

  • Today, there are more people working for woman-owned companies than for Fortune 500 companies.
  • The top 10 jobs we’ll need in 5 years are jobs that probably didn’t exist 5 years ago.

 

Christie Hefner talks about social transformation.

Christie Hefner talks about social transformation.

As we know, “mass media” has transformed into “personal media.” And she asked, what does privacy mean in this new world, where information is being shared in ways that many people don’t even realize? Individual freedom, Hefner declared, needs to coexist with privacy.

I enjoyed one of her last statements about the ideals of freedom and privacy: They may not be universally applied, but they are universally aspired to.

When Hefner finished and Rettig dismissed the crowd, it was only 6:30. The session was scheduled to go until 7 p.m., and this was the first time I can recall it being over this early. I also noted the absence of lengthy award presentations and life retrospectives at the beginning, and the fact that this was the smallest crowd I can remember ever seeing at an Opening General Session. I’m not sure how much of this shift was by design. I wonder whether ALA might someday make this important but impersonal event more palatable by live-streaming it to headquarters hotels and posting it on its website. The big TV-type cameras are already there, filming it to project onto the huge screens so everyone can see the stage. IMHO, it wouldn’t hurt to let people who chose to somehow watch it from more comfortable surroundings. Maybe this would be another way to make mass media into personalized media.

~Kathy Dempsey

Editor, Marketing Library Services newsletter

As the Opening General Session Began…

The stage glowed before the Opening General Session began.

The stage glowed before the Opening General Session began.

I got to the Opening General Session early and was met by a stage that was more dramatic than it had been in years past. A wavy background had colors projected on it, and it was glowing an eerie red at first.
 Then at promptly 5:30, when the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus took the stage to welcome the attendees with a few songs, the multi-colored background matched their multi-colored shirts.
~Kathy Dempsey
Editor, Marketing Library Services newsletter
A bright and welcoming stage!

A bright and welcoming stage!