Libraries are Horrible at Marketing

The Results Are In and They Aren’t Good: Library Marketing” caught my eye a few weeks ago and it has been bouncing around in my head ever since.  The article reports on a marketing survey about how public libraries market themselves, effectiveness of marketing initiatives, and engagement within their communities. 

The results aren’t pretty.

The results clearly indicate there’s a disconnect; a canyon between what should be happening and what is happening within the marketing schemas of public libraries. In an era when the value of libraries are under scrutiny and library budgets are under siege it is essential that libraries communicate their value to users as well as non-users. A failed marketing practice is failed communication.”

While this article is specifically about public libraries, I can’t help but read it with medical librarian eyes.  I found myself nodding and talking back to the computer screen like a crazy librarian hopped up on caffeine.  I just kept thinking that medical libraries are probably just as bad or worse. 

How many institutions make it difficult to send out targeted emails to user groups?  How many institutions have decent front pages or information pages on their Intranet or Internet sites that employees actually read to stay informed?  How many of these same institutions only fill that information up with the institution’s marketing information and don’t allow departments (such as the library) post information? 

How many medical libraries rely on the website to post news?  The article clearly states that libraries don’t feel this is the most effective way to reach people.

Not only do we do a crummy job of marketing to our own users, we surely aren’t reaching non users.  I found an interesting article the other day, “Exploring factors in non-use of hospital library resources by healthcare personnel.” (Library Management. Vol 34. No. 1/2, 2013. pp.105-127.)  The study found out that the hospital libraries did a poor job of getting their message out.  Many people didn’t know there was a library, thought it was only for doctors or didn’t think it had information to help them. Those that knew about the library were misinformed at what exactly was in the library. 

After reading those articles my mind kept thinking, we have a serious uphill trek to make and we are wearing roller skates for it. 

I don’t have the answers but I know there are others who have ideas that have worked (and didn’t work) and might be willing to share them in the comments section.  Perhaps somebody can share how they can email large groups of people without falling afoul of the institution’s rules on mass emails.  Additionally, somebody might be able to share ways of getting their message out to people who may not think the library is for them like secretaries, nutritionists, social workers, etc.  How do you get your online message read? Where besides the library website do you post them?  Finally, one small plea… if you are using Facebook or Twitter to reach users please have engagement numbers beyond “Likes” in addition to your strategies.  I am tired of hearing about librarians who say they have a million “likes” on their Facebook page but nobody besides librarians are posting on their wall.  One way communication isn’t communication and isn’t engaging users.  That is no different than posting a flyer about library classes in the library staff break room.

4 thoughts on “Libraries are Horrible at Marketing”

  1. Some of our activities that encompass the issues of reaching non-users and emailing out:
    1. One of our Librarians attends the morning tea at orientation for new employees, and chats to people
    2. We have started subject specialist roles for a couple of areas, which involves getting out to meetings, having a specifc current awareness bulletin etc. The Librarian for mental health has been very busy ever since, and half the people she’s helping are new users.
    3. We produce a current awareness bulletin weekly. We email notification of the new bulletin placed on our intranet page. This goes to over 200 ‘depratment heads’ as well as 80 people who choose to subscribe to the notification. I entice reading by including topics in the email, sometimes including something intriguing, such as ‘really scary invisible gorilla’ or ‘fecal transplant’. I used to be be able to see page link stats, but IT took that way :(

    4. We have two meeting rooms. Groups coming in for meetings include non-clinical staff who have never been here before – raises awareness.

    5. We use Athens for remote user authentication. This includes the ability to email account holders, so we can use that to promote new services. As the emails are externally generated, no issues with emailing over 500 at one time

  2. Okay, I’ll bite.

    With the email thing, my answer is email every single person individually. Same email, different name at the top, sent to each person. I’ve started doing this and the difference in response rate is HUGE. And it really doesn’t take that long, in the grand scheme of things. We spend hours and hours preparing all our services, but baulk at the idea of spending half an hour sending an email. But if email is a primary method of communication, then knowingly doing it ineffectively (NO ONE likes mass emails, it’s not a Health-sector specific thing) is madness. Individual emails take ages, but this is the kind of thing it’s worth using our time FOR. The response rate is better, people reply, relationships are built.

    Which brings me onto how else to engage people who don’t think the library is for them – WOMM (word of mouth marketing). You need champions for each area – satisfied customers who will spread the word among their peers. If you can get bosses on side, they can even talk about using the library as commitment to evidence based practice. You need to give them messages to spread and tools with which to spread it. Make the process exlicit and clear.

    The other thing is to make sure you’re always talking in terms of benefits, not features – whatever your method of communication. So for harassed overworked health professionals, make the point that you can save them time by providing service X, so they can get home to their kids faster.

    There’s a case-study in the Library Marketing Toolkit book, from a librarian who works with social workers and a lot of remote users – I think (and I’m not just saying this!) you’d find it useful…

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