Marketing in the library

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One concern that has been mentioned in many of my classes is the lack of marketing about the library. Librarians and libraries perform vital services but many people are unaware of what these services are. This affects all kinds of libraries. One professor, who also worked at a public library, felt that outside of hardcore library patrons, most members of the community had no idea that the library provides services such as free internet access, medical reference and programming.  Another professor talked about how City University of New York schools had been given a grant to create better reference resources for students. The result was a comprehensive group of online reference guides by subject and including links to encyclopedias, databases and journal articles. The problem? They weren’t being used because very few students knew they existed; including almost everyone in my class, a reference class where we should be most informed about research resources.
      As search engines and databases make it easier for users to answer reference questions on their own  the way that librarians can stay relevant is to market the amazing work that they do. But what are effective ways to do that?

  • Thinking like a business- Though librarians and libraries perform services for the public at no cost, my public library professor suggested that libraries, especially public libraries, start thinking more like a business.  He paraphrased another professor in saying libraries could increase their number of patrons by being open longer. Bookstores like Barnes and Noble are open until 9:00 PM so that customers are able to stop by after work. Most libraries however, are usually only open until 5:00 or 6:00 and paradoxically cutting library hours seems to be the first cost saving measure that many libraries take. Librarians can also meet patrons where they usually spend time, for example opening library branches in malls and other retail outlets to increase visibility in a community.
  • Embedded librarians- Where libraries in shopping malls create better visibility for public library services, embedded librarians create better visibility for academic library services. Embedded librarianship and online reference resources allow librarians to leave the library and go to places where students work, to introduce research strategies and resources. Three out of four classes I have taken in my LIS program have been at a computer lab and this is where I do most of my research for assignments. This has made me see the value in having librarians available in spaces like these, outside the traditional domain of a librarian.
  • Blogs- You do not have to look very far to find blogs written by librarians about the great work they are doing. Just take a look here. These blogs give librarians an opportunity to promote the work they are doing and share ideas with other librarians. Though librarianship is not always thought to be the flashiest of professions, blogs give us a chance to showcase the innovative work we do and advertise this to others.
  • Twitter- Beginning my LIS program, I was anti-Twitter, believing that a 140 character tweet was doing the exact opposite of what I wanted to do; encouraging patrons to read and love books. My attitude changed when all my classes stressed the importance of social media and Web 2.0 to librarians. I decided to open my own account, which gave me information about many opportunities, including the opportunity to be a Hack Library School blogger, that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. One of my favorite twitter feeds is that of the New York Public Library.  The NYPL tweets an interesting or thought provoking line from a book, well-known or obscure, with no title or author information. The link at the end of the tweet brings the user directly to the catalog where the reader can find out more information about the book and can request it to be held at any of the branch locations. These tweets recommend good books and encourage patrons to visit their physical library branch in a few short lines.

This list leaves many holes, including how to market the library to those who have never used it. Chances are users who are following library twitter accounts and reading librarian blogs are not first time library users. In our LIS programs we have the unique opportunity to share and discuss marketing idea that work in libraries, so what has worked for you?

15 replies

  1. I really liked the idea of the Geek the Library Campaign. Putting up billboards, taking out radio ads, and handing out flyers in your local community is a great way to get the word out about your services. I recently read a study that OCLC did to see if the campaign actually helped and it did!

    I also like the idea of libraries going out to farmers markets and other community events where they can also promote their services. Public libraries are pretty good at this, but academic libraries have to market themselves differently on campus. My university library recently has been trying to make connections with its students by doing fun events as a way to promote services and the idea of the library as a social space.


    • I would definitely be interested to hear more about what your university library has done. Academic libraries seems like a great place to promote the work librarians can do. I laugh when I think back on my undergraduate experience and how many research papers I wrote without really being aware that librarians could provide research help for me.


  2. After a 25-year career in marketing and communications at IBM, I’m in my last semester of SLIS at Indiana University (with Annie Pho!). The ideas suggested by cadill08 and Annie are all very good and might make a difference. Or they might not.

    I find that many librarians and library school students think of marketing as a process of pushing information at the public. Actually, successful marketing that’s done as a business would do it starts with understanding the people you seek to serve. How do they live? What do they worry about? What do they like to do? Where are they in their lives in terms of age, career and family? Understand all that and more and you’ll be ready for the second stage of marketing: Defining the needs and “wants” of the people you want to serve, and then applying that knowledge to the design and delivery of library services. Once you can make direct connections between the traits, needs and desires of your market on one hand and the characteristics of your service offerings on the other, then you’re almost ready to talk to people about what the library offers. First, make sure you plan how you’re going to measure your marketing effort so you’ll know how well it’s working.

    Like Annie, I also like the Geek the Library campaign. I think you’ll find that it works because the people behind it started with an understanding of their target audience and only then figured out what to say, how to say it and where to say it.

    There are libraries and librarians who get marketing. Topeka & Shawnee County PL and Columbus Metropolitan Library come to mind. Look at what Gina Millsap’s team in Topeka did with market-segmentation research to understand their market of active patrons as well as under-served and unserved populations — knowledge that they used to inform their strategic planning process.

    I look forward to the day — very soon, I hope — when marketing like that is being taught in library school. I think understanding marketing is at least as important as understanding information technology for librarians who want to influence the future of our profession.


    • Thank you for this thoughtful comment. I have no formal experience in marketing so it was really interesting to read your ideas about working in the field. I like the reminder to consider the traits, needs and desires of our market. I’ve noticed with things like library programming, it’s easy to assume what patrons will be interested in instead of evaluating what their needs and wants actually are. I also like the idea of marketing as a class in library school because it does seem like such an important aspect of every librarian’s job.


  3. I would caution thinking like business. Business in distress often wind up cutting on the human resource side (like hours) and spending more on marketing. Trust me, I worked at Borders and hours were one of the first things to go. Also I think that business speak and metric based thinking creep harm our profession.

    Libraries need to use a variety of tools to connect with patrons. Librarians also need to realize that the practice of marketing is more than just the tools of marketing. We need to be good at it. Thankfully, next gen librarians have brought a lot of creativity into the profession, and it’s helped libraries a lot. It’s been this effective application of marketing tools through creative authentic engagement which has really provided several rays of light for the future of libraries.

    If I had to choose one area where libraries can effectively market to patrons, its our websites. They need to be professional. Many libraries have realized this, but we need to understand that in addition to being pretty library websites need to drive patrons to our services. Amazon wouldn’t change their user interface if it didn’t drive people to different content areas. Effective web design means making sure that users become patrons.

    I also think we need to realize that we don’t need 100% penetration. One reason why librarians have been worried about marketing is that our institutions are under threat, addressing the processes and reasons behind this is the key both to reaching patrons and to preserving our institutions. Getting of Facebook was great, but librarians have been leaders in social media for almost a decade and it hasn’t helped our budgets, or our sense of professional security. Clearly marketing is part of the solution, but it’s not a silver bullet that will save us.


  4. Though it was a hard realization, I agree that libraries don’t have to focus their marketing on 100 percent of the population. Just like anything else, no matter how well a library is marketed some people just won’t be interested in what a library has to offer. It seems to be more important to reach those people who would benefit from the services of a library, but don’t know what they are. I guess it is a question of figuring out who these people are. I too am excited to see all the exciting and creative things librarians will come up with using social media and other marketing tools.


  5. I really love this! Seeing how much libraries have been ignored over the years has really upset me. Yet their services aren’t marketed and the hours are awful. I wanted to go to the library tonight, but it closed at 5. The Barnes and Noble almost across the street from the library is still open.

    I like the mall idea – but I wouldn’t want to see it carried too far. If libraries and librarians cater too much to the market we will end up losing valuable library materials to spend more on whatever the fad of the day is. It needs to be a balance between crafty marketing, and a respect for the library as a library.


  6. I have actually seen some of what is suggested here in the King County Library system in the Seattle area (actually outside of Seattle since Seattle has the Seattle Public Library system).

    In some of the malls in the area I have actually seen branch libraries (a lot of them are actually in malls that also have bookstores). Now these branches are not large, but they do have small sitting areas, computers, magazines & newspapers. I’m sure you could also get items shipped to these branches from others and put on hold for you. Going shopping at the mall? Why not pick up some library books too.

    Also KCLS has started a campaign paired with the local bus system. The ads on the buses encourage people to read while taking public transport. I really enjoy these ads since they are actually encouraging several things: taking time to read, visiting the library, and taking advantage of public transportation.


  7. Great post! I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Because the various libraries in Montreal aren’t interconnected the way they are in some cities (ie. you have to do an interlibrary loan just to borrow a book from a library the next neighbourhood over), I haven’t had much reason to go to any public library other than the one I work at. However, recently the largest library in the city, Library and Archives Quebec, hosted a massive manga exhibition and party as part of Montreal’s Nuit Blanche event (where museums, indie movie theatres, and other venues stay open all night for free). It was their first time participating, and I was so impressed. The exhibition was fantastic and it drew hundreds upon hundreds of people: They served Japanese tea, had a lecture on haikus, demonstrated Japanese calligraphy, did a puppet show on the history of Japan, served free sushi, and had a cosplay ball at the end of the night. It was a great way for the library to make itself more visible to its community.


  8. Heya this is somewhat of off topic but I
    was wanting to know if blogs use WYSIWYG
    editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.
    I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding skills so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be greatly appreciated!


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