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Marketing your library to the Net Generation

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What is marketing?

In Elizabeth Kostova's retelling of the Dracula story, The Historian, librarians from various parts of the world become infected with vampire blood as a way of luring them to the master vampire's lair in the depths of Eastern Europe. Gruesome, but the story emphasizes the role of the librarian as custodian of knowledge, gatekeeper to a vast treasure house of books.

Today's librarian, however, will be as much a custodian of DVDs and electronic databases (depending on the type of library), and the library itself more of a gateway to electronic resources than a physical collection. What is more, today's Dracula is spared the task of hunting out librarians: he can sit at his computer and type into Google.

Both public and academic libraries are losing out to search engines and to online book stores. At the same time, libraries are no longer (along with all other public service institutions) in a position where they have guaranteed funding. They may well see their budgets decreasing while having to offer new services, for example in the UK, public libraries have been given a central role in lifelong learning, social inclusion, and education in information and communication technologies.

For some, marketing is about selling and making profits, but marketing is much more than this. Philip Kotler, the great marketing guru, defines marketing as being about genuine customer value, and social change and added value for not-for-profit organizations (Helinsky, 2007). John B. McKitterick, president of General Electric in the 1950s, saw marketing as a "customer-oriented and integrated system", which, as Mi and Nesta (2006) point out, is almost a definition of library services. More recently, marketing has been described as:

"An organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders".
(Peter Fisk, Marketing Genius)

A true marketing attitude is focused on the customers and their needs rather than the product. Everything is derived from the customer: the product needs to fit their requirements and be communicated to them where they are, and in a way that they will understand.

A good library, then, will need to understand its users and provide services which will enhance their studies, business and leisure. But what are the characteristics of today's user, and particularly those of the Net Generation?