January 01, 2006

Reference Librarians as Pitchmen?

We got a Ronco Turkey Oven for Christmas. A librarian friend pointed me to the 2000 New Yorker profile of Ron Popeil, Mr. Ronco and inventor of the Ronco Turkey Oven, among other things.

The article is fascinating, but what struck me was Malcom Gladwell’s description of the pitch:

“You have to explain the invention to customers-not once or twice but three or four times, with a different twist each time. You have to show them exactly how it works and why it works, and make them follow your hands as you chop liver with it, and then tell them precisely how it fits into their routine, and, finally, sell them on the paradoxical fact that, revolutionary as the gadget is, it's not at all hard to use.”

Gladwell then talks about a handy invention called a video cassette recorder which was supposed to help us watch TV on our schedule, not the networks’. However, Gladwell argues that the VCR never was widely used for that purpose. Why?

“That's because the VCR was never pitched: no one ever explained the gadget to American consumers-not once or twice but three or four times-and no one showed them exactly how it worked or how it would fit into their routine, and no pair of hands guided them through every step of the process.”

Which makes me think about library databases: do we pitch them to our patrons? Do we explain not once or twice but three or four times, slightly differently each time, how to use InfoTrac / LexisNexis / Academic Search Premier? Do we demonstrate how these databases fit into patron’s (search) routines, and, despite their great power, how easy they are to use?

Should we think of ourselves as database pitchmen?

“THE PITCHMAN; Ron Popeil and the conquest of the American kitchen”
The New Yorker, October 30, 2000, ANNALS OF ENTERPRISE
by Malcom Gladwell
Pg. 64, 8162 words. Available in LexisNexis, and in the 2002 edition of “The Best Business Stories of the Year”
Also available on Gladwell’s site gladwell dot com (pdf available, too).