Seattle Public Library defends rebranding campaign in the face of public protests

Marcellus Turner, the City Librarian at Seattle Public Library, has issued a letter responding to public criticism of the library's rebranding campaign, which I wrote about last week. Turner writes that the rebranding has...

...generated a flurry of interest and opinions from media representatives and the public. A recent exchange with a passionate Library supporter got at the heart of the concerns voiced by many around the Library’s proposed rebranding. That supporter didn’t see the need for changing the library name or brand.

Turner says this was proof that "we didn’t do a good job setting the stage for why we need to do this." He then goes on to claim that technology and changes in the publishing industry "are contributing to the decline in the circulation of print materials and an increase in digital use in libraries across the country." He admits that library leadership nationwide is in flux:

Nationally and internationally, our professional organizations are working with think tanks and agencies to understand what is happening in libraries, how our role and value can be strengthened, and how to rebrand the profession accordingly.

This hints at something that I pointed out in my earlier post: libraries around the country are devaluing the work of librarians in favor of an institutional shift to something more like community centers. Librarians argue that those declines in circulation of print materials are happening because libraries are raising fees and reducing the number of titles patrons can check out at any given time. Nationally, they say, library leadership is stripping libraries of the very things that make them special in order to prove their own point. Locally, it's certainly interesting to note that the word "librarian" appears nowhere in Turner's letter, except for his own job title.

There can be no doubt that the role of libraries in American society should change as technology changes. The internet has changed the way we access information. But a smart organization would respond to this information explosion by emphasizing the importance of its highly trained staff. Librarians can connect you with books that an Amazon algorithm simply can't. Librarians can teach you how to filter out the excessive noise of online research to help you find the information that's truly relevant. In an age of information overabundance, we need librarians more than ever. It's a shame that Turner doesn't seem to realize this.

As a response to Turner's letter, I'd encourage you to fill out the rebranding survey with the importance of librarians in mind. And I'd remind you that the next Library Board of Trustees Meeting happens at the Central Library at 5 pm on Wednesday, October 28th. That's your best opportunity to publicly speak directly to the board about what matters. Turner's letter is proof that the library hears public outcry on this matter loud and clear. Now we need to make sure they understand our message: Seattle's librarians are what makes our libraries special.