An Interview with Mark Aaron Polger, Co-editor of Marketing Libraries Journal


Why did you become a librarian and what do you like about the career of librarianship?
I became a librarian in 2000. I love playing detective and teaching people how to “find stuff” and critically evaluate what is high quality and what is junky.

Assuming Information Literacy (InfoLit) was your first stab at librarianship how did the marketing issue become important to you?
Marketing information literacy takes time. It requires buy-in which can take years. It is much more than creating a brochure and flyers. I would target specific departments and attend meetings and discuss the benefits that InfoLit would have on their department and their students and the courses they are taking. I think selecting a target group to promote InfoLit to is the first step. Asking questions to learn about their needs and then developing information literacy lessons to address their needs should be the next step. Constantly tweaking your infolit lessons and classes to address your target market’s needs is key. For me, it’s making sure before, during, and after that the particular classes' needs are met. Creating the promotional material is the fun part. Asking questions and analyzing the data is the important parts that drive the marketing forward.

Why should librarians care about marketing?
We work very hard to develop extensive collections, services, resources, and we build elaborate web sites. We need to use marketing to ensure that we are properly addressing the needs of our users. Without marketing, we are working very hard, but with a blindfold.

What are the biggest competitors of libraries? 
  • Google
  • Amazon
  • Bookstores
  • SmartPhones (iPhone & Android)

 Do you get ideas from beyond the library world publications, examples for marketing?
I look at marketing in the corporate world for inspiration. I look at stores such as Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Dunkin Donuts for inspiration.

What gap is there in the writing about marketing by librarians?
 There is a gap in an academic journal devoted to marketing by libraries and librarians.

What problem does the new journal that you are co-editing solve for librarians?
The Marketing Libraries Journal is an open access peer-reviewed journal for library marketers that hopes to present marketing research examples of practical case studies that are specific to libraries. Most marketing articles focus on big business. Library marketing is different since we are not concerned with profit.  The 5 “P’s” are a little different for us.

What is the desired outcome?
To present different perspectives on how libraries and librarians incorporate marketing into their daily work and in their strategic plan.

Why should someone make it the #1 choice for their research?
It’s not the #1 priority (to do marketing in libraries) but our role is to serve library users. We need to ensure that we meet their needs, or else we are wasting our time and making our library users very dissatisfied.

A lot has been said about tactics in the library world, what about strategy? For example, if you had to choose one or two would it be marketing to freshmen, marketing in the library, social media (not just Facebook). Or?

Marketing is all about strategy. It is all about planning with a list of goals and objectives. If I were to market the library to freshmen as a strategy, I would have invited myself to meetings in student government, the residence halls, and offer services there. I would try to target all first-year college writing classes and make it mandatory for them to have a library assignment. Unfortunately, not all first-year college writing instructors are library advocates so this is why marketing is important….and this is why marketing needs to be well planned, focused, and must be strategic.

Are there any organizational issues or processes that are conducive to success in marketing?
In order to be successful, marketing is easier with buy-in, teamwork, and with $$$$$. It helps to have someone who is talented in graphic design, and before the marketing starts, it needs to be driven by data. Data drives decisions and data drives people to conduct marketing activities. Without data, it’s not marketing.
What organizational challenges related to marketing?
  • Time
  • Time to interview people or conduct focus groups
  • $$$$$
  • Graphic designer
  • An official library brand that may be distinct from the college brand/city brand (if it’s a public library)

What do you think about librarians blogging?
Blogs may replace the traditional newsletter. I think they are a great idea. I think microblogs (like Twitter) are probably better.

Can you tell me about staff commitment of time to marketing?
Most library employees have too much on their plate so they do not have enough time to engage in marketing activities or marketing strategy.

What about getting the director behind the idea of marketing?
Getting the director on board is the most important.

How do you distinguish marketing from customer service or outreach? Or do you?
Outreach is about relationship building to get library advocates. Marketing is about connecting library services and resources with library users. Outreach is an element of marketing. Customer Service is an element of marketing. Marketing is the umbrella that covers these branches (promotion, publicity, outreach, advertising, customer service).
Please site specific examples of implementations that had measurable results or were popular, at your own libraries and others that you love.

Please see: 
Using Relationship Marketing to Develop a Successful First Year Library Workshop Program (Polger, 2015).

What tips do you have for library websites?
Please see: 
Student Preferences in Library Website Vocabulary (Polger, 2011).

What are the problems and solutions for academic libraries? 
Limited resources. Limited time. We are overstretched. Marketing is not a priority for academic libraries. Academic libraries may feel that we do not have to market since students will just “come to the library” because they have to. We are no longer the monopoly. We need to get involved in marketing the library.

What do you think about involving students in creating campaigns - - social media, events, signs...? Do you have any examples?
I think asking students questions and getting data from them is very important. We also ask student employees as well. We often ask students for feedback on our marketing activities or any promotional materials before they are printed. We also ask general library users but we also like to target student employees. Student-led library tours, library ambassadors / library advocates who are students connect better with the general student population.

Can you say anything about statistics?
Statistics drives decisions. Statistics supports our activities and our marketing activities.

Can you name an idea that took risk or was cheeky?
De-Stress Event (coloring books and button making). We did not do proper market research to find out if the students really were interested. We took a risk and it was a success. We should have done background research. It could have been a failure.

What are the three things a library should never do in marketing?
  • Never start an activity without asking library users first.
  • Never think that you know what a library user wants.
  • Never end an activity without assessment at the end.

What should  they do?
  • Assessment
  • Feedback at the end
  • Take photos (if you are granted permission

What are recent trends in library marketing?
  • Create a library marketing committee.
  • Social media marketing is trendy
  • Canva as a software tool for library marketing

What can do vendors do at the discovery platform level that might help libraries market themselves or succeed?
Help us in providing local branding for our discovery platform. Help us in tailoring the colors and the overall design so it looks like it is part of our library web site.

What one thing do you want people to know about what you contribute to library land. What is your vision.
I am interested in helping to improve library users’ experiences when they enter the library building, when they interact with library web sites, library signage, library promotional material, and library spaces.


Selected Publications by Mark Aaron Polger

Polger, Mark Aaron, & Okamoto, Karen (2013). Who's Spinning the Library? Responsibilities of Academic Librarians Who Promote Library Management, 34(6/7), forthcoming.
This focuses on outlining the roles and responsibilities of librarians who are charged with marketing as part of their duties. It focuses on their duties and responsibilities.

Polger, Mark Aaron, & Stempler, Amy F. (2013). Do You See the signs?: Evaluating Language, Branding, and Design in a Library Signage Audit. Public Services Quarterly, 9(2), forthcoming.
This article focuses on best practices when developing new library signage. The articles themes are about focusing on consistency, being friendly, non-punitive, verbiage, and how to develop a consistent visual identity (i.e. a brand). I define brand as the unique identity a company or any organization possesses that sets it apart from its competition. Branding involves a logo, a consistent set of font types, colors, a mascot, a brand statement or slogan. Branding is about the recognition of a product or service through its visual identity (i.e. a catchy name, phrase, logo/picture, etc)

Polger, Mark Aaron, Okamoto, Karen (2012). Off to Market We Go: A Content Analysis of Marketing and Promotion Skills in Academic Librarian Job Ads, Library Leadership and Management, Volume 26, Issue 2, 1-20. This is a content analysis of job postings that advertise librarians who will be specialized in marketing duties for their libraries. This focuses on what employers expect of these prospective candidates.

Polger, Mark Aaron, Okamoto, Karen (2012). Selective (and Subtle) Marketing of Library Instruction. In C. Smallwood, V. Gubnitskaia, and K. Harrod (Eds.), Marketing Your Library: Tips and Tools That Work (183-191), New York: McFarland & Company. This is about the marketing process when planning information literacy classes with faculty. It addresses the “before the class”, “during the class” and “after the class” activities that relate to marketing information literacy to faculty.

Complete list of Mark Aaron Polger publications >>


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