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Sep 25

The M word in focus

Been thinking a lot lately about the dreaded M word – one that often makes librarians apprehensive and quickly pointing it out as someone else’s job.   I used to believe it myself, but can honestly say that it is no longer true.

Maspalomas, Canary Islands

Maspalomas, Canary Islands

The M word is marketing.  Libraries have called it many other things, including outreach, community engagement and more.  Why is it dreaded?  I can think of several reasons including that it reminds people of shonky salespeople (who would want that sort of reputation?), because cold calling people is awkward and uncomfortable and because often librarians are introverted.  Not that these are bad things necessarily.  Can you think of other reasons why it affects library staff so negatively?

Anyway, I have been thinking about this for a while. I have been try to look at my job from an object point of view , looking at why and how I am doing things, not just what. Then this morning I read a blog post Outreach is (un)Dead at In the library with the leadpipe.  It expressed some of what I had been thinking about and is worth a read.

I am responsible for my library’s website and in the whole my daily work includes updating blogs, slideshows and other elements of virtual services.  We have several blogs and the ones I post to either review titles in our collection and/or share news about the library and its services or things happening in our community. The slideshows do the same. So I spend a proportion of my work day directly marketing.

It goes further than that though. In my interactions with customers, I find myself marketing.  Do you know about the library website?  I love that author, have you tried this one?  (on noting what they are borrowing) Did you know that we have this event coming?

And it goes further again.  I said on Facebook (via Twitter) the other day, that I was taking my kids to the library.  A Facebook friend replied that they didn’t think that was too exciting.  The conversation went back and forth for a bit and by the end of it, she was asking me for the details of our storytimes and which would be best for her child.

Marketing is becoming second nature now and its great that it is. We have so much great stuff at the library, collections, services and events and we should be talking them up every chance we get, whether its in person, in print, display or online.  It never ceases to amaze me that even well established library members are not always aware of the breadth of things that we offer – so we should continually be raising their awareness as well as reaching out to others not yet making use of their local library.

Why that is needed, is not necessarily our fault alone.  We can do more to promote  our libraries to our users and to potential users – but we are restricted by limited space, time and budgets, so we can’t do as much as could be done. On the otherhand, our users can have tunnel vision when they visit the library and not see beyond what they are focused on.

So I guess the next thing is for us to get serious about marketing as part of every library staff member’s job description and find ways within our work and our libraries, to promote everything we do and offer.  Its awesome stuff, its free and its relevant.  And it doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable process, it can be as simple as having a friendly conversation.

Marketing for me is no longer the M word – its a key part of my work and I am looking forward to doing a better job of  it.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Marketing and Libraries – check out the M-Word blog, Marketing at the Library Success wiki and of course your local library associations and organisations.

6 comments

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  1. Paul Hayton

    I couldn’t agree more with your views.

    The M word is a core part of my day to day role too.

    Just lke you I do a very similar role at the library that I work at and my role is based in our marketing team!

  2. Michelle McLean

    Mine is based in Information Services, but with close ties to Marketing and input to and from IT. Works really well.

  3. Janine Kimberley

    Great article Michelle, and so true, we as staff members need to interact with our customers more. I can remember as a patron having Ocksana recommend The Kite Runner to me many years before it was “the book everyone had to read” and Monique and I being the only ones at a Book Chat session where she said she thought she got more out of it than I did!! Isn’t that what working in a library is all about, to try and get people excited about what there is to offer.
    I know, I chat to patron’s about what they are borrowing – its all about building up a rapport with your customers. Oh dear there is my sales and marketing background coming out!!
    I know that as a patron and now a staff member I am constantly amazed about what we have to offer, and how lucky I am to know about these things. You are definitely on to something here. Keep going.

  4. harps

    I know, I know! My boss recently mused that maybe I should be supevised by our marketing co-ordinator, since that’s what I spend a fair bit of my time doing. Websites and blogs and tweeets and Facebook pages are all marketing platforms – something that I’m sure some Council IT departments haven’t quite figured out yet.

    It can take a bit of training though. Not everyone’s a natural at it. Some of us have taken years to be comfortable with it. Online, you need creative people with some technical and geeky skils (blows own trumpet).

  5. Steph

    Very thought-provoking! It’s true that all library staff should be actively promoting library resources, and events through engaging with patrons or employing social media tools. It’s also important that the library be marketed not only to present and prospective patrons (preschool storytime!), but to those who fund libraries, whether they be your local council(s), university/school or government department. Making these people understand the true value of libraries aids in ongoing financial support.

  6. Mei

    Thanks for this post. Coincidentally, we just had a lecture on marketing in libraries. I agree with what you said – libraries tend to market differently compared to mainstream commercial marketing and I don’t think it is difficult nor frightening marketing our libraries. We’re not hard selling or using aggressive sales techniques because everything libraries has to offer (well, the majority) is FREE!

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