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Marketing your library – Instalment 1

Library marketing for everyone: as big as you want to be

Everybody does it. All the library association websites have pages with advice on how to do it. There are books, conferences, and research on the effects of it. So why do librarians find it so hard to promote themselves and libraries? When I graduated from the University of Tennessee's School of Information Sciences in 1997, I certainly did not see myself as a big marketer or promoter of anything. All that changed in 2001 when my library hired Kimberley Barker a fantastic librarian with a flair for marketing and promotion.

The more I became involved in library marketing and promotion, the more I began to realize its importance. I'd never really thought about how the world outside the library building perceived librarians and libraries. People don't understand the work we do. There are university professors that believe the library is obsolete because "everything is on the Internet". The misconception about the roles librarians play in the access and organization of information resources of all kinds is grossly distorted. People benefit from what we do but they don't even realize it. We are still seen as those people that just check out books.

This is compounded by the perception of librarians themselves. The age old stereotype of the mean old woman with a bun who forces everyone to be quiet still exists. We seem to intimidate people. At one event, for instance, a student said to me "I never knew librarians were so nice. I won't be afraid to come in and ask for help anymore". I couldn't believe what I was hearing! No one knew what we did and they thought we were mean! It was in that moment I realized that library marketing was as much about education as anything else. I was hooked! I've always known libraries and librarians were great and I wanted others to know it too! If we don't tell people how crucial libraries and librarians are, who will?

We are going to have to get out of the building and insert ourselves into the community at large whether it is a town, city, university, college, government agency, hospital, legal firm, museum, archives, or other user base. I know this is hard sometimes. I love being in the library surrounded by books, but most of our users don't come to the library building. However, they do make use of the electronic and virtual resources we provide. If we aren't willing to go to them, why should they bother to come to us? Now is an amazing time to be a librarian. We have so much to offer, but yet we continue to resist going "out there". I know it isn't easy. I struggle with being okay with not forcing people to come into the library building. It pains me that people don't have the time or desire to visit us in person. As much as I hate to think about it, the importance of the library building is diminishing, but that does not correlate into a diminished importance of librarians or their services. Actually, it creates a world where librarians are even more important than ever!

I know all this is scary. At least it is to me. The vast majority of librarians aren't boisterous or gregarious. It takes effort and energy to be assertive and proactive. Librarians are at a crossroads. We can hold the status quo or we can be as big as we want to be. By marketing ourselves and services, we create demand for us! And one of the best parts about marketing is it can be anything you want it to be! Marketing doesn't have to be big and expensive. Lots of small everyday things can make an impact in people's perceptions of both libraries and librarians. Big events with free food are great but so are magnets, bookmarks, logos and flyers. Sometimes marketing is just a new way of looking at things we already do. Sometimes marketing is wearing your library's t-shirt to a basketball game. Many times marketing is celebrating us. Be warned though, what you learn in my columns will not only increase your popularity but your workload too! I'll get you thinking about marketing in new and different ways.