For centuries, libraries were the only place you could go to gather large amounts of information, but the internet age, with Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, and other sites, has changed that. The other thing true of libraries traditionally is they’ve almost always had to operate on a limited budget, at least the public ones. Now, for the first time libraries must compete for business and so they’ve had to learn a few new tricks. A library in Arkansas recently tried a new tactic … a billboard that read: “Spoiler Alert! Dumbledore dies on page 596.” Not really much of a spoiler since the book had been out for years and was one from the popular Harry Potter series, but it got people talking.
The good news is that librarians bring a couple of marketing skills with them. They are creative and data-driven. Their limitations come in the form of money, time, and professional expertise. They often have the knowledge or access to it, but not the practical application experience when it comes to various tasks. Libraries’ marketing game plan used to be with pamphlets or bookmarks placed inside borrowed books and periodicals. Since people don’t visit the libraries as much, those won’t work with many patrons.
Engaging the Community
Some ideas that may work well for events or workshop training and skill-building programs could be teaching tech skills, basic information about working on the internet, or using various programs that may be used in most workplaces such as Word, Excel, or Google Drive suite. Programs might also teach about using social media or e-newsletter productions. But getting the word out may still be an issue. If there is public transit, that might be a good place to display information, such as on the side of a bus or posters in and around subways.
For those looking into the most popular hobby on the internet — genealogy — most libraries have access to census records, and various programs to research and catalog researcher’s findings. They can use public records to determine popular subject matter checked out locally and focus training, as well as new books and magazines on those topics. A recent survey using that information found that one of the fastest growing group of users of public library services is adult Latinos. Once the community needs are determined…
It’s Time for Strategy
Put together a planning community and start discussing the information so decisions can be made to find the best ways to reach patrons in the community. Creating collections and programs for the community to enjoy is great, but there needs to be an effective way of getting information about those collections, etc. to the public. The same marketing genius team that came up with the billboard idea also found that a local popular bar and grill needed drink coasters. He found a way for the library to provide them using twists on book titles such as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Parlor,” and “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Malfunction.” At the bottom was the library’s website information.
A recent study showed that though most libraries agree that a marketing campaign increases the public’s awareness of their services, less than 20% of them actually have a plan in place and only 11% of them are up-to-date or current. The other problem is that librarians are not trained in marketing. It is not generally taught as part of the curriculum for those getting a degree or certificate in library sciences in the US. There is a book, however, that can help with that, written by Kathy Dempsey called The Accidental Library Marketer. That helps librarians learn the basics of library marketing.
Many library marketing experts have banded together to create a marketing toolkit. Speaking of that, Jeff Julian, director of the ALA Public Awareness Office, said: “I always talk about the campaign in three ways: that it can be used for awareness, it can be used for impact, and it can be used to illustrate value. This is a plug-and-play marketing campaign. If you don’t have a marketing department, if you don’t even have a marketing person, which is the reality for a lot of libraries, this campaign is ready to go.”
What Small Enterprises Can Learn
First, know the strengths within your organization – and the things you lack. Find resources that can be used easily to cover the shortfalls. Brainstorm ideas and strategies that can bring people to your product or service and look for new ways to implement your information. Even after you have found lots of ideas, keep looking. Then, find people and organizations that you can work with, either in partnership or as sponsors or donors to increase your outreach. Wash, rinse, repeat…