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Marketing your library – Instalment 4

The art of communication: fishing with a big net

Developing and implementing a comprehensive communication strategy is an important component of any marketing plan and often an area that can grow wildly out of control. Communicating with diverse groups is an art as well as a skill. People receive hundreds of thousands of advertisements through every medium imaginable everyday, the majority of which goes right into the trash. So, for libraries, with limited budgets, developing an effective as well as efficient communication strategy to advertise their services and resources is an integral part of creating a robust marketing plan.

Casting the net

With so many flyers and ads going into the trash, why should librarians spend the time to make and distribute them, whether in print or electronic format? Why not just concentrate on creating displays, acquiring new resources and developing services? Well, think of it this way: a communication strategy is like fishing with a big net instead of a cane pole. You increase your odds of catching something by casting information out into crowds. While everything that librarians do is important, if we do not tell people about those things, it is like we are sitting on the shore waiting for the fish to come to us.

Effective use of a variety of communication methods is a proactive way to introduce people, who may have never been in a library before, to the services and resources offered. A regular flow of information from the library also creates visibility and keeps the library on the minds of the recipients, whether they are part of the library's user base already or a potential new user. Also, hopefully, all this advertising will generate some of the best communication you can hope for – a word of mouth recommendation from a library user!

The right bait for the right fish

In a real sense, the art of advertising is creating just enough of a tease to get the fish curious enough to bite. And, in today's wired world, there are virtually unlimited numbers of ways to get the word out about your library. However, before you start sending out mass emails, you need to really think about your target audience, what you are trying to promote, and the best medium, or combination of mediums, to get your message out to the public. All these things can be broad and general or narrow and specific, but you need to decide which before you start creating materials. For instance, a library newsletter is a great way to keep an established user base in touch with library events and resources, but it may not be the best method to tell potential new users about a specific resource. Local physicians, for example, may not have time to read through a newsletter, but they may appreciate a flyer or pamphlet about a new medical database. They may even allow you to put flyers and pamphlets about resources like PubMed in their waiting areas. Here is another example: many public and community college libraries have collections and resources on automotive topics. Mechanics at local garages may appreciate a flyer outlining those resources and an offer to help from a local librarian. On college campuses, however, e-mail is often the easiest, fastest, and most common method of getting the word out. I also like to put colorful flyers in student lounges and outside the cafeteria.

Customizing lures

Actually creating the materials to distribute can often be the most fun part of the process. While I'll encourage you to be creative and do not be afraid to use humour, there are some "best practices" that you may want to keep in mind. First, keep the amount of text appropriate to the type of publication. For instance, flyers are usually colourful and eye catching with very little text to read and absorb. Pamphlets will have more information but still should not have any unnecessary text. Use pictures and white space to your advantage. Make whatever you create easy to read, meaning the font is not too small and the layout is clear and clean. You do not want to force the reader to struggle to read your information. One way to do this in longer publications is to use "chunking". Chunking is where you lump a lot of information into small manageable chunks of data using bulleted lists or different colored text boxes for instance.

Another important thing to remember is that you can communicate too much. No one likes to be spammed, so creating a consistent flow of information without over burdening your audience with a deluge of paper or e-mail is important. What you want to create is something they will look forward to receiving every week, two weeks or month. Making sure your materials are error free is also very important. If you are not a good proofreader, like me, then get a colleague or friend to look over what you have created. Finally, be sure to include contact information on everything you make, and if you are advertising an event or display, make sure you put an end date on the materials.

Much like in fishing, patience and persistence is often rewarded in library marketing.


  • Post flyers at popular hang outs and busy intersections.
  • Include the library's website on everything!
  • Always include contact information with a "for more help contact your local library" message.
  • Keep it short and to the point.

Check out this article for more:"Libraries need relationship marketing" by Larry X. Besant and Deborah Sharp (Information Outlook, March 2000, pp. 17-22).