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#253, July 1, 2005

SUBJECT INDEX to Past Issues

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Neat New Stuff I Found This Week

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My resume
Or why you might want to hire me for speaking engagements or workshops. To see outlines for previous presentations I've done, click on Handouts

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My Writings
A bibliography of my published articles and columns, with links to those available online.

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Order My Books

Net Effects: How Librarians Can Manage the Unintended Consequences of the Internet, and The Quintessential Searcher: the Wit and Wisdom of Barbara Quint.

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What IS Ex Libris?

The purpose and intended scope of this e-zine

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E-Mail Subscription?

For a combined subscription to Neat New Stuff and ExLibris, please click HERE, complete the form, and click on "subscribe." To unsubscribe, use the same form but click on "unsubscribe." To change addresses for an existing subscription, unsubscribe from that form and return to the page to enter the new address.

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Highlights from Previous Issues:

My Rules of Information

  1. Go where it is
  2. Corollary: Who Cares?
  3. The answer depends on the question
  4. Research is a multi-stage process
  5. Ask a Librarian
  6. Information is meaningless until queried by human intelligence
  7. Information can be true and still wrong
  8. Pay attention to the jokes

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Guru Interviews

  1. Tara Calishain
  2. Jenny Levine, part I
  3. Jenny Levine, Part II
  4. Reva Basch
  5. Sue Feldman
  6. Jessamyn West
  7. Debbie Abilock
  8. Kathy Schrock
  9. Greg Notess
  10. William Hann
  11. Chris Sherman
  12. Gary Price
  13. Barbara Quint
  14. Rory Litwin
  15. John Guscott
  16. Brian Smith
  17. Darlene Fichter
  18. Brenda Bailey-Hainer
  19. Walt Crawford
  20. Molly Williams
  21. Genie Tyburski
  22. Patrice McDermott
  23. Carrie Bickner
  24. Karen G. Schneider
  25. Roddy MacLeod, Part I
  26. Roddy MacLeod, Part II
  27. John Hubbard
  28. Micki McIntyre
  29. Péter Jacsó
  30. the "It's All Good" bloggers
  31. the "It's All Good" bloggers, part 2

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Cool Quotes

The collected quotes from all previous issues are at

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When and How To Search the Net

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Wanna See Your Name in Lights?

Or at least on this page, anyway? I'd like to print here your contributions as well as mine. As you've noticed, articles are brief, somewhere between 750 and 1000 words -- something to jog people's minds and get their own good ideas flowing. I'd also be happy to run other people's contributions to the regular features like Favorite Sites on _____. I'll pay you the same rate I pay me: nothing.

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Drop me a Line

Want to comment, ask questions, submit articles, or invite me to speak or do some training? Write me at: marylaine at

Visit My Other Sites

My page on all things book-related.

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How To Find Out of Print Books
Suggested strategies, resources, and finding tools.

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Best Information on the Net
bestinfo/default.htmThe directory I built for O'Keefe Library, St. Ambrose University, still my favorite pit stop on the information highway.

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My Word's Worth
an occasional column on books, words, libraries, American culture, and whatever happens to interest me.

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Book Proposal

Land of Why Not: an Appreciation of America. Proposal for an anthology of some of my best writing. An outline and sample columns are available here.

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My personal page

PRESS, PROFIT, AND PROVOCATION: Library Promotion for the Over-Educated, Part 7

by Tia Dobi

"There's a customer born every minute." - Phineas Taylor Barnum, a man who survived our bloody Civil War, personal bankruptcy, and some of the worst economic panics in American history and still became a millionaire.

I'm a copywriter. And this is my confession:

Don't believe me? Then why do most people prefer to film the conception rather than the birth?

And what do I mean by 'concept'? Well, there are many words that mean the same thing. These days, for example, the hot buzzword is 'positioning'. A product is positioned or placed (through the spoken or written word) in such a way as to appeal to the consumer.


Other terms commonly used are "Big Idea', or 'USP' (unique selling proposition: see this column's May 2005 issue, <>), maybe even 'gimmick'. Whatever it's called, it means basically the same thing. You sell the sizzle and not the steak - the concept and not the product. (The only exception to this rule is when the product is so unique or new that the product itself becomes the concept.)


Joseph Sugarman is one of America's top copywriters and entrepreneurs and the man who built several large businesses. All through the creative power of his pen. Joe calls selling the concept, not the product, "one of the most important and basic copywriting [selling] principles."

Many of you know Joe from his Blublocker Sunglasses craze. [Blublockers are the original ultra-violet ray-blocking lenses that differentiated themselves by being the first sunglasses to enhance vision sharpness.] Once, to sell a chess computer, Joe 'set up the sale' by inventing a concept using the Soviet chess champion, Anatoli Karpov. Not as a person who would endorse the product but as somebody whom Joe's company could challenge to play the unit. Indeed, that's what they did. Here's the copy in one of the successful venture's first ads:

SUBHEADLINE: Can an American chess computer beat the Soviet chess champion? A confrontation between American space-age technology and a Soviet psychological weapon.

COPY: The Soviet Union regards chess as a psychological weapon, not just a game. It is a symbol of Communism's cultural struggle with the West. So when Russian Anatoli Karpov competed against the Russian defector Victor Korchnoi, he had the entire Soviet Union's resources at his disposal, including a hypnotist and neuro-psychologist. Karpov won. And with it the worlds' undisputed chess championship. Karpov, however, has never confronted American space-age technology and in particular JS&A's new chess computer.

Of course the copy continued to talk about the challenge JS&A was making against Karpov. That was the concept. They weren't selling computers. The sale was the challenge against the Russian champion and as a consequence selling chess computers. It was taking a very staid product and giving the entire promotion a more emotional appeal. Over 20,000 units sold. No doubt about it. Concepts sell products.

If you're selling just the logical or technical features of your library's products and services be careful. You'll need a concept. You'll do much better.


I purposefully included the word 'gimmick' above because some of you have blocked vision when it comes to wanting to market. Some of you slap a 'dishonesty' label on marketing. Others have written me to say you want to promote more. Except that you're creatively blocked.

One concept can help you both.

But first, let's understand that, to 'come up with a concept' one simply has to: see things differently. And let's face it. That can be excruciatingly difficult. But if doesn't have to be. Not if you have: sucker vision.

Sucker vision isn't as messy as it sounds. What I mean is this: what could a person say about a product that would absolutely positively resonate with that individual's inner feeling tonality (or the target customers')? Sucker vision isn't wanting to be 'suckered' as in: duped. Try this word: drawn. Practicing sucker vision is an emotionally intelligent way of asking my logical brain to partner with my left brain to come up with a creative concept that maturates the feeling tone within to an outside product.

Like this. Grab one of your products and make something up about it. Pretend it could be another way or have another meaning. Move it around. Physically and mentally. Place it next to other objects. Try it next to something unrelated or that you have a hunch could be related. Photographs work really well. And since you have so much at your disposal, you could place things next to pictures of your targeted audience readily. Literally, placing your product. (Ideas can be written on plain sheets of paper and placed).


The first job of an ad agency is to look at your product in every imaginable way: frontwards, backwards, sideways, upside down, inside out. Because somewhere, right there in the product itself, lies the drama that will sell it to people who want it.

There may be 10,000 ways to bring that inherent drama to the stage. And given a world in which "me-too" products multiply like mayflies, the drama may seem that much harder to find.

It is.

But every good product has it.

And every good agency finds it.

(Please note: The "t" in tcudorp is silent.)

(This is one of my favourite advertisements that really captures the essence of today's lesson. It's a full-page ad that appeared in Advertising Age Magazine and was produced by the Leo Burnett ad agency. - TD)

You want to emote and evoke an emotion. Then you want to evaluate those emotions. Good? Not so good? Pleasure? Pain? These actions may come easily and quickly or may take more time. It really depends on how well you know and understand the product to begin with. [How well do you know your products and services?]

Then ask, "Is this true?" Is this conceivable and therefore, believable? (Right here we debunk marketing as inaccurate.) If yes, keep going at finishing that concept for your next BIG promotion. If no, how could you make it be so? How, where and in what ways can you position the product to have sucker vision?

You can have a lot of fun with sucker vision. You see, I've just turned around the normal, everyday, commonplace use of the word sucker and given it a new form. What a concept!


You know, promoter P.T. Barnum never did say, "There's a sucker born every minute." It probably stemmed from one of his many imposters. And being a sign of the times. When he was born in Bethel, Connecticut on July 5, 1810, Barnum entered a period in American history when hijinks, hoaxes, and "humbugs" were becoming popular. It was a Yankee form of recreation that helped people break from their strict Puritan past. (Let alone no entertainment afforded by TV, movies, theme parks, Ipods, cell phones, computers, internet, the Pill, etc. etc.)

Hoaxes were in the air. Usually these hoaxes were created to drum up new business for their creators. For example:

* Edgar Allan Poe promoted a famous Balloon Hoax, where he wrote journalistic reports about a manned balloon flight across the Atlantic.

* Walt Whitman wrote fictitious fan letters and reviews to promote his poetry.

* Mark Twain wrote an ad in 1874 selling passenger seats on the tail of the comet Coy Coggia - and encouraged people to contact Barnum for tickets.

* In 1855 a daring hotel operator created a "Silver Lake Serpent" to encourage people to visit Perry, New York. They did, too. All wanted to see the monstrous tourist attraction.

* In the 1870s the city of Palisade, Nevada, increased its number of tourists by becoming "the toughest town east of Chicago." People would visit Palisade to witness exciting gunfights and street brawls. What the visitors never knew was that the fights were staged. It was a hoax to increase tourist revenues.

Barnum learned that people in the 1800s often expected jokes. The public's desire to see hoaxes often interfered with their ability to recognize a good thing when it stood right in front of them.

But Barnum did not believe in cheating his customers. They were fascinated by animals, evolution, and human "curiosities" (midgets, giants, etc.) We are fascinated by space aliens, life after death, and alternative medicine. People never change; only our focus of interest does.

Barnum simply got the public's attention by being entertaining. (He entertained to get 'em in and then kept them glued to their seats by: entertaining.) Concepts are a form of: engaging entertainment.


Barnum was a master at conceptualizing. He gave the people what they wanted. His ability to 'see and place things differently' made him - and others - millions. And delighted the world.

Just one of his visions is the story of Tom Thumb. Barnum traveled to see a tiny poverty-born four-year-old boy named Charles Stratton who was shamed and pitied because of his stunted growth. Barnum renamed him Tom Thumb, taught him to sing and dance, gave him status by calling him "General," and promoted him to the world by personally introducing "General Tom Thumb" to editors of major newspapers in New York City. Barnum created America's first superstar. Stratton died, having lived a fascinating and fulfilling life for 43 years. With a tall bank account.


Barnum went after customers with a zest and zeal that few businesspeople have ever exhibited. He used every means of advertising, publicity, and technology available. He invented ways to help him achieve the goals he wanted. And he never stopped. He even managed to get his obituary published in the newspapers two days before he died, knowing the obituary of such a famous man would be treated as front-page news - and would help publicize his circus.

Barnum did all of this because he knew there was a customer born every minute and he wanted to reach those customers, just as you want to reach yours. And while you should always target your market, you also don't want to limit your scope. Your market may be bigger than you ever imagined. Barnum wore no blinders. He went after planet earth.

And guess what? There's nothing available to Barnum that's not available to you. Right now at your library. Grab a piece of paper and a pencil. Write out all the points which best describe the nature of your product and some of the strong reasons your product would appeal to your customers.

And then create a BIG concept that draws 'em in like bees to honey.

Let me know how it grows.

Tia Dobi is a copywriter and library fanatic living in Los Angeles. Reach her now at [email protected]

Previous Articles in the series:

  • Part 1
  • Part 2
  • Part 3
  • Part 4
  • Part 5
  • Part 6

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    Society says education will happen at this and that point in your life, doled out in didactic spoonfuls; libraries say learning can be lifelong and at your pace. Society says to use these textbooks and those measurements; librarianship says there are no textbooks and measurements, only the information you want and need. Society says education is to be endured through endless hours in dolorous classrooms; librarianship says reading is a joy. Do it in the library, in your home, on a streetcar, on a blanket at the beach. Read novels and histories and joke books and newspapers and People and American Scholar. Read blogs all day. Write blogs all day. Read the last page of every John Cheever story. Play podcasts backwards. Read two books a day or one a year. Go for it! Information is not a nasty-tasting medicine but a lily of the field.

    Karen Schneider in Free Range Librarian, May 29, 2005

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    You are welcome to copy and forward any of my own articles (but not those by my guest writers) for noncommercial purposes as long as you credit ExLibris and cite the permanent URL for the article. Please do NOT copy and post my articles to your own web sites, however. Instead, please copy a brief excerpt and link to the URL for the remainder of the article.

    Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
    Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999-2005.

    [Publishers may license the content for a reasonable fee.]