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11th National Library Technicians Conference

Marketing in libraries in the 2000s: Why do we bother?

Kym Corfield North Point Institute of TAFE

Library marketing and promotion has often meant new books displays, Library and Book Week promotions and sometimes other innovative publicity campaigns like Nestle' Write around Australia. If you don't have a marketing or publicity department in your organisation, then the budget for these promotions is usually meagre and you quickly find out if there are any creative bones in your body. Often you will have a life-saving colleague that can quickly whip up a poster or ten while papier-macheing balloons for piñatas.

This of course, is all happening while you are continuing to offer professional library services to your clients, doing your desk and reference desk duties and the rest of your work, which keep the library functioning.

Why then do you do it? Do your managers foist these extra duties upon you? Is it something you enjoy doing? Does it lift the library profile with your internal and external clients?

The answer to these questions is YES! YES! YES! But luckily there are some of us who believe that the marketing of your library service reaps rewards and will continue to do so. As organisations become more budget conscious, services like the library need to be recognised as necessary to the strategic function. How do you achieve this recognition of the worth of the library service? You market your library efficiently and often and in as many different ways as possible!

What is marketing? Marketing has been described as the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing and promotion and distribution of ideas, goods and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organisational objectives.

What does that mean? It means simply, for a library, creating products that meet our client's information needs and then planning ways of informing our clients of these products and services. The emphasis in this description is placed on planning and executing and that the whole exercise is a process that creates exchanges. For library staff it is an exchange of service to our clients and that service could be merely giving directions to a particular part of the collection or training the client to use information products. What do the library staff receive in this process of exchange? We get a sense of satisfaction as a reward for efficiently meeting our client's information needs.

Levitt (1995) outlined the difference between marketing and selling as selling focusing on the needs of the seller and marketing on the needs of the buyer. Selling is preoccupied with the seller's need to convert his product into cash: marketing with the idea of satisfying the needs of the customer by means of the product. It has been identified by Stanton, Miller and Layton (1994) that by developing an effective marketing program, a non-profit organization can increase its chances of satisfactorily serving stakeholder and client markets and also improving the overall efficiency of its operations.

Marketing in my view is a mindset. I recently emailed all of the North Point Institute of TAFE Library staff and asked them to try a simple exercise with me. The exercise involved trying for one week to think of our students and staff as customers rather than as students and teachers. I was trying to encourage the staff to act more like a business I suppose, rather than as a government department. It is hard for some library staff to think in the terms of clients or customers and products, but this is the environment we find ourselves in, as we compete with other information sources for our client's attention.

I do agree with the marketing gurus who propose the four P's of marketing, product, place, price, promotion and even the fifth P, people, as described by Lee Welch (1999) in her book titled The Other 51 Weeks: A Marketing Handbook For Librarians. By the way, here's a marketing tip for Lee, when writing a book for libraries, try to avoid segmenting your market by titling a book For Librarians. In my experience the marketing function is one often undertaken and driven by library technicians and librarians alike.

Marketing in libraries has gone beyond special days and book displays. The value of marketing your library's products and services has been recognised and now we as library staff need to develop and formalise our marketing strategies. We need to give the marketing function a priority within our other library duties. Sell the idea to your manager and other staff by aligning your strategies to your organisation's strategic function and business plan. Putting it all down on paper gives your marketing ideas credibility and helps keep them focused.

If you think of marketing as a mindset rather than as a separate library function then you are more likely to be successful in your goal of positioning the library within your organisation or within your target client group.

You do need to recognise your own value, before others will recognise it. Focus on your libraries' strengths and work on your weaknesses. These strengths in your library are your greatest product to market to your consumers.

Why do we do it?
Imagine this scenario. You work in a busy library with efficient and friendly library staff and satisfied clients. But are they satisfied? How do you know? Are your clients aware of all your services and resources? Have they other needs and wants that you don't even know about? Have you been providing the same reliable services and products to your customers without fail? Are you meeting your client's information needs or are they going somewhere else for additional help?

When a customer has a reference query, don't just show them the required resource, use this time to inform them about some other information products. Use this opportunity to extend your customer's knowledge of library services and products to enhance and or increase their library use.

According to Kotler (2001) marketing is the art of helping your customer become better off. Marketing your library can change the nightmare scenario of an adequate library service, to an informed, innovative dream library environment that focuses on your customer's needs.

How is this possible? My marketing odyssey!
I can hear you saying to yourself that as a library technician you don't have the authority or support from your manager to undertake this kind of transformation. If there is no one who is currently marketing your library service in a planned manner then there is no reason why you can't put some basic marketing strategies into practice. I'd like to give you a snapshot of my journey into the world of marketing progressing to my current role as team leader of the marketing team at North Point Libraries.

In Mount Isa I worked in a public library with a really enthusiastic team who performed minor yearly miracles for Children's Book Week and Australian Library Week. We also had a nice foyer area where community groups would do displays on topical issues and such. There was a schedule of in-house displays for various special days and events that was a rostered duty on rotation for all library staff.

Thinking back, our marketing efforts were quite varied. I was also involved in library tours for children and adults and for the first time was given the opportunity to inform prospective clients of what a library could offer. This was my first exposure to the promotion part of the marketing mix but I didn't identify it as such at the time.

I never actually considered marketing as a huge part of my library work until I co-ordinated the regional Nestle Write Around Australia competition in partnership with a colleague. We had sold the idea to our City Librarian with promises of increased membership and loan statistics; free publicity for our library and we could do it as part of our library duties. Never have I said such a dumb thing! For months this project took over our lives, but in a very rewarding, if exhausting way.

With help from the national co-ordinating group, we organised the promotion, logistics and publicity of the children's writing competition in our fairly remote region of northwest Queensland. It was my designated job to chauffeur our visiting author around our city during her stay, which included the School of the Air talkback program, the local radio station and to many formal and informal appointments.

Our poor visiting author, Jenny Wagner had recently broken her leg prior to her trip and was a little worse for wear but managed the task brilliantly with my help, of course. After the event, I was cajoled into an on-air ABC national radio interview about the competition's outcomes and highlights. A first meeting with publicity that I'll not easily forget.

After returning to Brisbane and to the TAFE environment, I was lucky enough to meet a colleague who introduced me to the world of no-cost, high-return, non-profit service marketing. In this academic library I became involved in marketing the parent organisation as well as the library, with a role at Open Days and Orientation Weeks. I watched in awe as we created wondrous displays and inspiring marketing campaigns to woo our students and staff into the college and the library. Sponsorship became our buzzword and nothing was too hard or beyond our simple yet effective marketing capabilities.

When I secured my current permanent position I saw an opportunity to bring some of my experience in marketing to this new environment. The North Point library staff were enthusiastic and skilled and best of all responsive to my many good ideas on marketing our services, products and ourselves. I kept in touch with my mentor at my previous library and was invited to be part of a network of TAFE library staff that were interested in marketing, networking and sharing ideas.

This successful team, the South East Qld TAFE Libraries Marketing group, went ahead and developed and produced with sponsorship, the Librarians 2000 Calendar. I entered one of my colleagues as a calendar girl and was able to launch the calendar within our local library and college community, which successfully raised the library's profile with media publicity. The marketing group is currently in hiatus due to work commitments, but looks like being kick started again later this year.

I quickly discovered that to make the library of value to our internal clients, the library staff needed to be part of the activities of the parent organisation. Once the infiltration began, so could the indoctrination. In our Institute there is hardly a committee or working party that doesn't have a library staff member involved. We started to make that 'information connection' with our own college staff. These staff had no idea of the kinds of services and resources that were available to them in their on-site libraries.

It was also identified that the faculty staff were a target market that were not being considered in our marketing efforts, and to change this I tried to develop strategies to promote the library that were faculty focused including special days to reflect course content. In partnership with some Community and Human Services students, in 1999, I secured a grant to hold Mental Health Week activities in the library. These activities included lunchtime talks from professionals, on-campus lunchtime activities, displays and competitions.

The focus of the promotion was to inform our student and staff community of the importance of recognising that mental health is an important issue to be addressed. The whole project was used as an assessment for the students, including outcomes of project management, grant submission and evaluation. The students and I learnt a lot along the way and became good friends in combat. Things I learnt from this project include how hard it is to convince your Finance department that they can find a code for grant monies in their scheme of things, after you've received the cheque!

Some marketing ideas
I firmly believe you need a marketing team to be the driving force behind your marketing strategies and to keep the marketing focus in the loop, if you like. This team needs to be constantly planting the marketing seeds in the minds of the library staff and nurturing their growth into mature strategies. Every new library project or product needs to have it's marketing addressed and outlined as per your marketing plan.

Writing a marketing plan need not be a daunting task for a library technician as there are many good texts that can guide you through the steps. When I wrote the first draft of the North Point Institute of TAFE marketing plan in 1999, I used many helpful guidelines.

The key elements of a marketing strategy as identified by Coote (1994) are:

  • Find out who your customers are and what are their needs and wants
  • Identify your library's strengths, weaknesses and opportunities
  • Look at your competition
  • Understand the difference between your library and the competition
  • Develop an action plan which draws on the above

Once written, the marketing plan should be an ever-evolving document that addresses new client markets and new products as they are identified. It should be evaluated and updated at least every two years, more often if necessary, as the library environment changes. We at North Point are currently examining our marketing plan again to address the needs of remote users as online learning becomes a priority within our parent organisation, a TAFE Institute.

Besant (2000) tells us that a study of Australian special libraries showed that very few libraries write a formal marketing plan and that the most commonly used element of marketing adopted in libraries is promotion. Promotion is just one part of the marketing process.

If you have a marketing department within your parent organisation get to know them well and use their professional expertise when possible, if not to perform tasks, then to lend their expert knowledge to your idea. Write your press release and get them to edit it but look closely at the finished product and retain that knowledge for next time. Also try to be involved in the wider scope of marketing strategies of your parent organisation so you can learn new strategies for product promotion. This is a great way to find out what is possible within your organisation and what resources and sources are available to you when developing a marketing strategy.

I am also a believer in the statement-If you build them coffee and cake, they will come. We at North Point constantly use food and drink to encourage internal clients to come to the library. Dworkin (2001) recently described a strategy in use in some U S corporate libraries, called the monthly Coffee Schmooze. It creates an atmosphere of ideas exchange; question and answer on an informal basis and creates a chance for the library to showcase its products.

Identified outcomes for the library include raised awareness and use of services by internal clients and refreshing the memory of current clients. This get together creates that 'information connection' of making the library more personal to its users.

Apparently the library also organises a series of 'High Tea Talks' that explore and highlight library issues that affect the company like electronic copyright, new information technologies and knowledge management. These talks, Dworkin (2001) identified, lead to lively discussion and have elevated the library image as a place that challenges and feeds employees' intellect.

Any strategy that brings internal or external clients into your library environment is a good one. The challenge is what you achieve as a result of these opportunities. Carpenter (1998) said that word of mouth is the most important marketing tool in existence. It has been estimated that dissatisfied customers tell 22 people that they are not happy, yet satisfied customers share this information with only eight. The numbers are against us but we will just have to work harder to satisfy our customers.

Another way of getting your library 'out there' is through your publications, for internal and external clients. If your organisation has a staff newsletter, try to contribute library information regularly. At North Point we also use the student newsletter to spread library information about changes to or the introduction of new services or products. We have designed, in conjunction with our Institute marketing department, a template for library guides etc. so that a consistent format is achieved and is recognisable as 'library' by clients. This is a branding exercise that reaps rewards.

Fialkoff (2000) proposed that libraries are not good at marketing to the 'unpatron', as students and the public look to the Internet for their quick reference queries. She believes that if the Internet is the client's information medium of choice, then libraries must maximise their use of it to market their services. This can be achieved by developing online resources like subject guides, lists and pathfinders to help these online clients find relevant information.

Information literacy programs, formerly known in their past life as user education programs, are also a great way to market the library's services and products. I use these training sessions as opportunities to sell other information resources and services that are available to customers. I have also found that once the client has made the 'information connection' with a trainer, they are more likely to ask questions about other services. It's that often discussed topic in reference to identifying a client's information needs-I don't know yet what I need to know! I say let me tell you what you will need to know!

The strategies for marketing your library that I've explored with you today are all simple yet effective starting points for you to think about. Library technicians can embark on the marketing odyssey gaining valuable experience and skills along their journey that add value to the library.

Develop a marketing plan and then constantly update it, as your customer's needs change. Examine your target market and develop products that meet their information needs. Use promotion as a marketing tool to tell people about your fabulous services and products.

I would add another P to Product, Place, Price, Promotion and People. I'd add Persistence. Keep trying! If one marketing strategy doesn't bring results, try something else, but try to encourage all of your library staff to get that 'marketing mindset'. Try to make your customers 'better off' by using effective marketing strategies to sell your information products.

The retiring Queensland State Librarian Des Stephens recently said 'libraries will always be about knowledge but rather than being a passive place where people might wander in, you actively go out and seek people to come into your libraries'. He went on to say that libraries should be running programs that are about debate, controversy and new ideas. I'm all for that!

Marketing does reap rewards for the library; it is fun and can be hard work, scary and exciting. If you have a supportive team it can be worked in amongst your other library duties, but you may have to market your marketing strategies firstly to your colleagues, before starting on your customers.

Make the most of your marketing opportunities; it's worth the bother.

Besant, L X (2000) Libraries need relationship marketing. Information outlook, March 2000. [Online] via Accessed 13 June 2001

Carpenter, B (1998) Your attention, please! Marketing today's libraries. Computers in libraries, vol.18, no.8. [Online] via Internet Explorer Accessed 8 July 1999.

Coote, H (1994) How to market your library service effectively. Aslib: London.

Dworkin, K D (2001) Library marketing: eight ways to get unconventionally creative. Online, vol.25, no.1, Jan/Feb 2001, pp52-54. [Online] via Accessed 28 March 2001

Fialkoff, F (2000) Capturing the 'unpatron'. Library Journal, Fall 2000, p2. [Online] via Ebscohost. Accessed 28th March 2001

Levitt, J (1995) Marketing myopia. In Marketing classics: a selection of influential articles. 8th edn. Eds. B M Enis, K K Cox and M P Mokwa. Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Powell, S (2001) Spotlight on Kotler. [Online] via Accessed 16 March 2001.

Stanton, W J, Miller, K E and Layton, R A (1994) Marketing in non-profit organisations. In Fundamentals of marketing. 3rd Australian edn. McGraw Hill: Sydney.

Stephens, D (2001) The Courier-Mail. Saturday, 12 May, p8.

Welch, L (1999) The other 51 weeks. Centre for Information Studies: Wagga Wagga.

I hold an Associate Diploma of Applied Science (Library Technology) from Edith Cowan University and am in the last year of a BA LIS from Charles Sturt University. I have worked in several TAFE libraries and a public library in Queensland since graduating in 1995. I have held a library technician position at North Point Institute of TAFE for four years and am the team leader of the marketing team and co-ordinate and deliver information literacy skills training at all North Point libraries.

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