Local action for national impact: some closing thoughts on “Geek the Library”

Sharon Streams

Geek the Library event

I recently came across an excerpt from John Palfrey’s book, BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google, in which he made passing reference to Geek the Library as a “clever online campaign.” Although the shout-out was certainly nice to read, the description gave me pause. The online piece of the campaign was only one small facet of the project. Truly, the vast majority of the activity and the outcomes happened at the grass roots, in nearly 1,800 communities across 48 US states.

One campaign, thousands of stories

A search for “geek the library” will produce pages of blog posts spanning several years from excited public libraries and state libraries as they launched their campaigns, photos on Flickr and Facebook that capture the scenes from those activities, hundreds of local news stories about Geek-related community events and ballot success stories. Search results will also point to recent winners of LJ’s Best Small Library in America award who cite their Geek the Library campaign as an early impetus for their library transformation and local success.

You see, Geek the Library was not so much about advocating for libraries through a central platform and voice; it was about cultivating a constellation of hundreds of awareness campaigns led by local libraries in their communities that, when viewed together, have led to national-scale impact. The foundational concept of Geek the Library is to foster meaningful, personalized connections between library staff and individual community members, which is something that would not be possible to do online.

Thousands of stories…with a collective impact

The six-year project officially ended last year. We recently shuttered the geekthelibrary.org website, keeping the Facebook page to continue to collect and showcase library stories to more than 56,000 followers around the world. But, I thank John Palfrey’s comments for waking me up to the fact that with our focus having been on working with the participating libraries, we had not been talking about the impact of Geek the Library to the larger library community. With that in mind, we have put together a short summary of the project to give you a more complete picture of its purpose, methods, results, and—perhaps most important—the learning from it. I hope you will give the report a read and that it will spark discussion and inspiration in your library.

Speaking of inspiration, over the course of the project we could not resist calling some of the participants “Geek Superstars.” These were the libraries whose staff, leadership and community members took the campaign concept and ran with it in exciting and inventive directions. To give you a taste, watch this video, “Power of the Personal Touch” from James V. Brown Library in Williamsport, Pennsylvania:

and this one from Herrick District Library in Holland, Michigan:

Finally, I encourage you to take advantage of the Advocacy in Action section on WebJunction.org, where we have collected resources from Geek the Library that can guide your library through a local awareness campaign of your own devising.