The New York Public Library is doing it. And it wants you to know the past to find the future. It also wants you to know that books and technology will point the answers.

Earlier this month, NYPL’s Milstein Division staff released a movie trailer-style promotional video on YouTube. Complete with classical orchestrated sounds and Da Vinci-like suspense, the video shows the main character as he embarks on a quest to discover his past and family secrets.

Here’s an account from Milstein’s blog:

“We first see him receive Library materials from our page, Sarah,which means he filled in a call slip after consulting the Library’s catalog. Our hero then flips through the card catalog drawers. Since we no longer use the old card catalog drawers for our collections, what you will find here are three sets of indexes: one for coats of arms, one for images of passenger ships, and one of New York City illustrations.

Our hero also uses many of the Library’s visual collections and ephemera, including postcards, New York City clippings files, and the Scrapbook of Original U.S. Army Shoulder Patches. He makes a note to look for a Coroner’s Inquisition and online resources such as the Genealogy Research Tips: Breaking Through Brick Walls and Getting Past Dead Ends.”

The promo video lasts less than 2 minutes but drives home the point — that libraries hold a treasure trove waiting to be discovered  — with its musical scoring, neat editing and script.

Here’s the video:

What do you think? Cheesy, suspenseful, convincing enough?

We think it’s a brilliant marketing strategy that reaches a wide audience and gets people talking. 🙂

In the meantime, here are some other things you might not have known about the New York Public Library:

– It’s the second largest library in the United States, next to the Library of Congress.

– New York’s library system has 86 branches throughout Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx.

– Its online catalogue gets 12 million viewers a year.

– The library’s president, Anthony Marx wants to steer the institution into an increasingly digital world, “where access to information does not necessarily mean access to books”.

A few other questions to get us thinking about the relevance of libraries in today’s ebook-reading and iPad-driven world:

– who is using the library?
– what are they looking for again?
– why do they come to the library?

Marx said it right when he said:

“A lot of people come to the library because they don’t have a computer at home, or they don’t have quiet space, or they want a book,” he said. “But a lot of people come just to be in a place where other people are reading and writing and thinking. Because it’s lonely to do that by yourself.”