Librarians in Rock Bands and Directors Playing TennisIf Marketing Matters to Libraries, “Sales” Does Too


If I worked at a library and the library director said she was going to take a half a day off and play tennis with the university heads, I would say “great.” I would understand that my director is looking out for the library. She is doing her part to get her bosses to open their minds and their checkbooks. The library director may have a terrible serve, but she may “return” to the library with a new piece of information or commitment. Relationships are key market research moments.

The Director’s relationships may not seem to have anything to do with marketing but they are closely tied. If you think your library has no salespeople, you are mistaken. Anyone in a position to deal with users or funders is in a position to prompt them to use or fund a new service. The way forward is getting to know the specific world someone lives in, and offering him or her the right solution. Getting to Yes is part of the library director's world.

Library directors can share what they know about the priorities of the city or college, not in terms of any lofty official documents, but what the actual people running it have to say. This information sharing, in which the heads of libraries move beyond a staffing need-to-know policy to a must-know policy. Give librarians a stake in the success and have them think about what they can do to support you (as the lead persuader of funders). This can mean suggesting service tweaks, adding stats to reports, bundling services or classes into a neat package, or changing the names of events or classes. Librarians can ask themselves how their marketing efforts could help the director reach their goals.

The Sales Gap

Marketing may get new visitors to the front desk in search of a new service, who then require librarian intervention to start using it. For example: if there is a social media promotion sign on the info desk, that one librarian or communications person put there, any staff member should be prepared to explain and encourage participation. I encountered this situation myself, and when I asked,   was told that the promotion was "just a thing." The librarian’s lack of knowledge was a missed opportunity to gain a new customer for a new service. In other words, the information gap between the marketing and the sales (librarian) can render marketing useless. User awareness changes but behavior does not.

Strumming a Fat E-major Chord

There are many ways to encourage staff to utilize personal relationships to enhance library viability. Let's try an example of a staff member who is on the front lines rather than the director. If he tells the director that he is taking a few hours off to go rehearse with a student rock band, the director should say, “great.” The director finds someone to fill in and asks the librarian to report back. Learning what is on the minds of the community counts as market research. No report, no more music.

Social Media Relationships

Relationships come from digital relationships too. Librarians also build relationships on social media, but not just on their feed. Taking 30 minutes a day on social media is not unrealistic, nor is it only for the "social media person" at the library. They can spread the library presence to a community Facebook page. This is also great market research. If there is a collective need expressed in an online group then a service can be designed to meet that need. If there is an event, the library staff can show up. Librarians are experts in their own interests and obsessions. This expertise. lends credibility to their posts on various Facebook pages. Remember, you want to connect with people that are close enough to use your library. A post could be about suggesting books or events about a subject interest. It is not “a call to action” alone or social spamming. These suggested opportunities for interaction come in the context of sharing legitimate knowledge.

If you can’t convince your director to let you play hooky in a band during the work hours, report back on your weekend conversations. If you meet someone at the party and tell them what you do, what is their reaction. Do you use our library, why and why not? Even better an open-ended question like “what do you think about libraries?” Pew reports on libraries – which librarians love for their rigor -  may say that mobile technology matters, and librarians may build a marketing program around it. But that doesn’t tell the real story of your community. What do your users say about mobile and what apps are their favorites?

Part of the work deliverables of a librarian can be a report on what they are hearing in the field, plus any news about the audience that may be published. For example, what is the hot place or activity on campus? What are the strains on a local community? All this, of course, is a market-focused (by which I also mean marketing-focused) strategy that looks outward for opportunities and not inward for operations. The price tag here is the time and energy of the staff. Are you willing to spend an hour of the week finding some piece of information from the field or in conversation that you can bring back to a manager meeting?

The mandate set out by the ALAs Libraries Transforming Communities and the accompanying Libraries Transform ad campaign are to create and trumpet outward-facing libraries. A library-wide practice of bringing in new information from outside – market research - is half the battle in marketing. Your day-to-day may focus on the day-to-day administration, creation of services, or running events. However, going the extra mile to integrate with your community and work campus or city relationships will bring in new ideas and knowledge that will make services and content more imaginative and effective.


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