Wouldn’t a digital library be cool?
Yes, and wouldn’t a million dollars also be cool. Or an indoor pool. Or a kitchen stocked with professionally trained chefs. As librarians, we’re full of transformative ideas. Unfortunately, a great many of these wither on the vine, not because they lack value, but simply because we’re not exactly sure how to pitch them. Digital library initiatives are no different.
Steven Bell’s recent Library Journal article on idea-pitching reminded me of being a first-year teacher in a small rural community in the Mississippi Delta. While there, I had the unique challenge of beginning each one of my 8 classes by trying to sell my students on the day’s topic. This was usually a 5 minute elevator speech to elicit buy-in from them for the remaining 45 minutes, which would be the most engaging and enlightening experience of their short lives! This, to be sure, often fell flat or just failed utterly:
Me: “Today we’re going to be talking about the musical roots of rapper David Banner, which stemmed from right here in the Mississippi Delta.” I play a song with a sampled line from a blues tune and then play the blues tune.
Student #1: “That’s old people music!” After that the class proceeds to play drums on their desks with fists and pencils, despite my dismayed pleas for quiet and order.
Me: “But this is so cool,” I continue with increasing desperation, “this music started right here in your backyard. David Banner isn’t possible without Mississippi Blues!”
Student #2: “Man this class is boring.”
Student #3: “Yeah what time is this over?”
Me: Red-faced and ready to usher in martial law…..
Time after time I misjudged my students’ interests, paying too much attention to what I thought was interesting and worthwhile, not thinking about what my audience was going to stick around for. I have to say that there’s no better way to build pitch-confidence than to get eaten alive by middle-schoolers on a daily basis for an entire year.
Interestingly (and unfortunately), I’ve noticed that the case is often the same when pitching a digitization program. The inability to achieve buy-in for a digitization initiative from a director, a local board, a funding agency, or other staff members often stops a worthwhile digitization program dead in its tracks. In this post, I wanted to provide a quick tutorial on some things that can help you to create a successful pitch for resourcing a new or existing digitization program.
Seeing is believing
In order to get collaborators, you need to be passionate; without passion, there’s literally no possibility of moving the project forward. The second piece is to communicate that passion to others, and one of the best ways to do that is to have something real in your hands to show. Find five to ten valuable pieces of the collection (assuming the materials aren’t too fragile to be handled), find a scanner—even if it’s not the best in the world—digitize them, and get them onto the web or into the library catalog. Many digital library software vendors (including Auto-Graphics) have a trial version of the software that you can use for this purpose.
Seeing something in the flesh will reinforce your own vision and provide you with something concrete to show potential supporters. (See also our previous post on Agile Digitization).
This is just one idea for improving your chances for a successful digital library pitch. In our next post, I’ll discuss a couple other ways to motivate decision-makers and other library staff members to stand behind your digitization program.