Remapping the Intellectual Capital

By J.F. McKenna

Grant McCracken’s story was ever so brief, taking not much more than two minutes to read. But its value was found not in its length but in its content. And that is a trait common among most good stories.

In his Harvard Business Review blog, McCracken told how his local library had reinvented itself, how it had reassessed its low-tech assets and had remarketed them to an increasingly high-tech community. 

McCracken recalled his days as a seven-year-old patron of a Vancouver public library, a “dumpy, public architecture that was in fact a house of many mansions, a place of possibility, a portal.”

“The dominance of radio, TV, and Hollywood threatened libraries with irrelevance, and now the rise of the Internet, smart phones, and ebooks, threaten them with eclipse,” wrote McCracken, an anthropologist and MIT research affiliate. “So libraries are struggling. What can they do in the face of skeptics who say, ‘Print! Why, in God’s name, do we need print? Let the library go the way of the bookstore. Disintermediation is inevitable.’”

“Disintermediation” is a $2 expression (now inflation-adjusted) for dismissing the middleman. It’s a clinical, arm’s-length identification, like “reduction in workforce.” When you ion-ize something, it is intended to take the actual sting out of what’s actually happening. Of course, it never does—except for those in charge of the ions. Even though its pedigree stretches back to the days of the Ancient Library of Alexandria, McCracken’s “place of possibilities” had been yet another candidate for disintermediation.

That is, until it reassessed and reinvented its assets.

“My now-local library came up with a lovely idea, ” wrote McCracken, author of the soon-to-be-released Culturematic: How Reality TV, John Cheever, a Pie Lab, Julia Child, Fantasy Football . . . Will Help You Create and Execute Breakthrough Ideas . “They sent out a message to local children. What do you think your stuffed animal friends would do if they spent the night at the library? Bring them to our Stuffed Animal Sleepover and find out! We start with a special Sleepytime storytime for your furry friends, then tuck them in for the night. Overnight, the librarians will keep watch and take photos of everything your stuffed animals do. Come in the next day to pick them up and see what they were up to.

Like the soldiers in the children’s classic Stone Soup, the library created magic with the seemingly commonplace, the building itself. More important, it made the first valuable marketing connection with its next generation of patrons.

Naturally, McCracken’s library must still provide all the other assets desired by users, including videos, ebooks and professional staff guidance. But it has successfully reintegrated a valuable traditional asset into the brand it calls the Public Library. In effect, it is remapping itself as the community’s intellectual capital.

J.F. McKenna is a veteran business journalist and communications specialist. Reach him at .   



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