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Marketing your library – Instalment 2

Developing a plan, starting small and building momentum

Getting started is often the most difficult part of any project. Deciding where to jump in and how can be the most difficult questions to answer. But marketing doesn't have to be hard or costly. There are many ways to get started that cost very little money or are even free. Whether you've decided to start marketing your library on your own or have been told to start a marketing programme by your boss, I have some simple ideas and guidelines that can get you started.


Keep in mind that the main goals of library marketing are awareness and education. Both these goal can be accomplished by two different library marketing strategies that often work in concert, general and specific marketing. General is like ALA's read posters featuring celebrities and "@ your library" programme. These programmes promote all libraries and reading in a general way. Specific library marketing focuses on targeting a specific user group with a specific resource or service that your library offers. Using more specific and targeted marketing is a fantastic way to get started and test out your ideas, and I'll tell you why. Not everybody needs to know about everything.

On an academic campus, for instance, the English department is probably not interested in the newest chemistry database. Different user populations have different interests, and by focusing on specific resources for specific groups, you can make the information you send out both pertinent and relevant and users, hopefully, won't see library communications as just more junk mail (more on communicating in a future column). Starting with a small specific user population and a targeted resource allows you to start on a small scale and provides a better opportunity for success. You can't win the whole world all at once!


First, pick a resource or service and target a user group. Targeting requires a bit more effort on your part, but the payoff can be worth it and can help you create a loyal client base who will read your communications, attend your events, and spread your news. By using targeted and specific marketing, you show your user that you are paying attention to what they use and need and are interested in them. Build small pockets of fans first!

Second, you want to make sure you can follow through on what you’ve promised in your marketing campaign. The very best marketing plans can get folks into the library or the library website, but it is service that keeps them coming back for more. A marketing effort without the follow through of delivery on what you’ve promised is fluff and a waste of time. In fact, a marketing campaign with no substance behind it can be very damaging. Negative news travels faster, further, and louder than positive news and stays with you longer. However, a strategic and focused marketing plan that has clear goals and resources for delivering on promises can be a powerful tool for any kind of library anywhere. It's also important to follow up with people. Don’t be afraid to ask people what could be better or what could make something more useful.

Examples and advice

OK! So, how do you apply all this? Well, it is pretty simple. Let's look at a resource. When I was a government documents coordinator at a medium sized public liberal arts college, I had a pretty neat collection of maps that no one really knew existed. To publicize the collection, I did a few simple things just to see if it would make any difference. The first thing I did was to think about who used maps. Historians and geographers use maps. So, I e-mailed the history and geography department a short and lively e-mail letting them know we had some historical maps. They never came in, but an outdoor education professor who had talked to a history professor at a party did come in and check out topographic maps because the history professor told him about my e-mail!

Here is another example. In 2004 the assistant archivist where I worked wanted to create a display for Archives Weeks; the theme was "Mapping past to future". I was thrilled and offered to help with the only requirement being that the government documents maps and atlases we used have the Federal Depository Library Program logo on them. She agreed and we made a fantastic display that highlighted the college archives as well as the government documents collection.

Both of these examples cost me nothing at all but a little time and effort. You can also offer to speak to groups about library resources and services and create a web page where people can fill out a form to request a speaker. If you have a liaison area, look for dates that are meaningful to that group. For instance, here at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB), I always try and take a bowl of candy to the School of Nursing during National Nurses' Week. This costs me less than ten dollars and generates goodwill. It shows them I think of them and they are on my radar. Another thing we have done at UAB is order generic business cards for the reference desk with the reference desk number and e-mail address. By giving these out, we extend the reference interview, give the patron something tangible they can tape to their computer monitor, and, hopefully, show we care. Simple things like magnets and pens with e-mail and web addresses can also be a small inexpensive way to reach out to people.

Use your imagination! Every encounter is a marketing opportunity, and the best and cheapest in person marketing is a warm smile. Don't get discouraged. It takes time to build a programme and see results. For instance, at my previous position the outreach librarian created the "Destressed Café". During finals week we set up a table with coffee and doughnuts. We did this for two or three years and no one said a word. The coffee and doughnuts always disappeared but nothing was really said ... until that librarian resigned and the Destressed Café got overlooked. Our students, community patrons, and faculty had come to expect it and missed it when it was gone. They came into the library looking for it!!! Consistency and repetition will make an impact. Get started and stay patient and positive. If you build it, they will come! And once you get started, others will want to join in and if you don't have administrative support you soon will.