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?