Whointheheck Is Kathy Dempsey?
I’m one of those people who can honestly say “I’ve loved libraries all my life.” I remember racing through series of popular books from my elementary school library back in Blain, Pa. During high school and college, I sought student jobs working in my schools’ libraries. And although I went to Temple University to study Journalism, my student work in the Ambler Campus Library led to getting my first full-time job there as soon as I graduated in 1986. As a “bibliographic assistant,” I processed reserves, worked at the circulation and reference desks, and was in charge of the first “laptop loaner” program, which, back in the late 1980s, was pretty progressive.
After college, I switched back and forth between library and journalism jobs. After being on staff at Temple, I worked at a couple of publishing companies in Pennsylvania (TVSM, Inc. and North American Publishing Co.).In 1992 I moved to Virginia, where I had secured a grant-funded job in the library at Shenandoah University. Later, I also worked part-time at Handley Public Library, also located in Winchester, Va. Then in 1994, my editor-friend Rochelle made me aware of Information Today, Inc. (ITI) in my home state of New Jersey. When I realized there was a publishing company that created books and magazines for libraries, I knew it was the perfect place for me. That marriage of my library and writing/editing passions cemented my career path.
I started out at Info Today (though back then it was still named Learned Information) in a dual job—editing books half the time and editing the Marketing Library Services newsletter half the time. After a year, ITI bought Computers in Libraries (the magazine and conference of the same name), so I gave up the books in favor of becoming Associate Editor of the new magazine. I kept the MLS newsletter as well. That was my new dual job for the next 13 years, editing both CIL and MLS. Over that time I worked my way up to Editor in Chief of CIL. (I had always been the sole editor of MLS.)
During this time at ITI, I also wrote for a related information-industry newspaper called Information World Review, which is based in the U.K. If you want to look up any of that early work, you’ll find most of it under my maiden name, Kathy Miller. When I married Michael in 2000, my articles and I began appearing under the name Kathy Dempsey.
At the end of 2007, I resigned from CIL for two reasons. First, I was tired of the constant barrage of changing library technology frying my brain. Second, I wanted to devote more time to the marketing side, which had become my real passion. While I had given many speeches over the years (more on marketing than on tech), in 2005 I had officially launched a small business, a consulting firm I call Libraries Are Essential. With that on solid footing in 2007, I felt safe giving up CIL, and was happy that ITI allowed me to keep editing MLS on a part-time basis. So today, I still have a dual job: From my home office, my MLS persona handles the marketing newsletter and my LAE persona does writing, consulting, and speaking. I love it!
Leaving CIL allowed some time to get into other ventures, and two book projects consumed my 2008. I proposed a marketing book of my own and began writing that early in the year. But in the spring, I took a detour to become the project editor for a unique book/DVD movie combo called ShanachieTour: A Library Road Trip Across America. It details a road trip undertaken by three Dutch library guys who drove coast-to-coast, stopping along the way to visit innovative libraries and to investigate their best practices. Working as the “LBI” (Library Bureau of Investigation), Erik, Jaap, and Geert wrote, blogged, filmed, and photographed their excellent adventure, and I helped shape all of that into a really interesting, inspiring book and movie. If you’re a library fan, you’ve gotta see it!
Early in 2008, I had also started writing a book of my own because I had so many years’ worth of library marketing and promotion knowledge and I wanted to get it all out of my head and onto paper so others could benefit from it. Once the ShanachieTour book went to press, I was able to finish my own tome, called The Accidental Library Marketer. This is part of ITI’s series of “accidental” books, which aims to fill gaps in librarians’ education. Many info pros have ended up doing tasks they were never trained for in grad school, and the books in this series help with these topics. (“Accidental” titles cover being a Webmaster, Fundraiser, Library Manager, Technology Trainer, and more.)
I’ve also given a lot of talks over the years, and you can see a partial list of them on this site. For a time, I also blogged. In 2008, Nancy Dowd, the award-winning Director of Marketing at the New Jersey State Library, invited me to contribute to her established library marketing blog, The M Word. (Yep, that M is for Marketing!)
In 2010, I was privileged enough to be part of Nancy’s NJ State Library team that won a John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award! This is one of the most-respected library marketing awards in the country (and perhaps the longest-running in the world), and it’s the thrill of a lifetime for anyone in this field.
I deeply believe that libraries are valuable in many ways. I think they’re still essential, although the reasons have changed. However, as information became more readily available to the masses, those masses saw less reasons to respect libraries. And while most libraries have become much more than information storage houses, a lot of people haven’t gotten that message. While info professionals are smart, wonderful individuals who love their work and who mean well, most of them don’t know how to effectively promote their value. Yet this is something they desperately need to do to ensure their profession’s survival. That’s why I’ve made it my mission to help librarians learn the tenets of true marketing.
As for my life outside of work—what little of it there is—I’m a tree-hugging nature lover. Although I’m a Jersey girl, I prefer the mountains over the beach. I played volleyball for about 30 years. I get revved up by listening to heavy-metal music, and I relax by watching sci-fi shows. I could spend endless hours making and playing with photographs. And of course, I love libraries. That brings my story full-circle.