July 2008

I’m a little behind in my reading so I’m recommending a post that’s about a week old…please go over to Designing Better Libraries and check out Taking the Slow But Steady Path to That “Aha” Moment. Author StevenB discusses the fact that there are rarely “quick fixes” to problems, and that libraries need to make time to see where they’ve been, figure out where they need to go, and see what new resources might be out there to help them get there.

I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but that sounds a whole lot like strategic and marketing plans to me.


The New York Times is running a piece on whether Americans are still reading. You can get the first installment here:

Rich, Motoko. Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading? New York Times, July 27, 2008.

Of course the article comes to the usual conclusions: Americans aren’t reading as much PoP as they used to – and young Americans are eschewing POP for the Internet almost entirely.


What the article didn’t assert was that Americans, young or old, are reading less than they did, say, 10 years ago, or 20, or 30. There have always been readers, and there have always been people who don’t read. There have always been kids who have gone to the library (or whose parents took them there) and there have been kids who have spent their free time doing something else – like playing. Some of those children grew up to read, and some of them didn’t.

Format: so formats are changing. Time for me to go out on a limb here: big deal.  I don’t care. PoP, audiobooks, DVDs, anime and graphic novels – libraries are in the business of providing information, and I’m happy to do that in whatever format my patrons want. I doubt it spells the end of libraries. Did the monks sit arround worrying that because of this new thing called printing, people just weren’t borrowing papyrus the way they used to?

Finally – to give this a marketing hook – different people consume information differently during the course of their lives. Doing marketing research to find out what patrons want and need and to try to provide it to them is the kind of marketing we need to do. As long as we do it, I think we’ll be okay.

I’m interested in knowing about any market research projects you all know about or are involved in:

What kind of research did you do? (Focus groups, surveys – web-based, paper, other? – patron observation, environmental scanning, etc.)

Did you make any changes in offerings or service based on the results?

What was the result of those changes, positive or negative? (increased circ of a collection, increased support of the library or a service, etc.)

Post a comment or email me, and if you email me privately, let me know if I can reference your email in a future post. Thanks!

It’s been a couple of months since we started our proactive campaign of asking new registrants if they wanted to subscribe to our electronic library newsletter. We’ve added about two hundred names since we began, and today I took a look at statistics for this year.

In July, we had 34% or recipients open the newsletter. This is exactly in the middle of where we’ve been for the year, when click rates have averaged between 30% and 40%. So we haven’t gained in percentages, but we now have 34% of 300 subscribers versus 34% of 100 subscribers.

Still waiting to see if this translates to increased usage of the services we’re plugging….

So we started with the basics: what is marketing?

And according to our textbook (MKTG: Student Edition, by Lamb, Hair, McDaniel, Thompson South-Western, 2008, p. 3), marketing is “an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating, and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders.”

I’ve seen some pretty hot debates on other blogs about whether marketing is appropriate for libraries. And I think I understand a lot of the reasons why we “hate” marketing: we hate the hard sell, the inappropriate product placement, the inappropriate products! — and the sheer idiocy of much of the communication, aka advertising, that we see all around us.

And yet, I think this is a great definition to guide us in how we manage our libraries. Think about it:

  • We need to genuinely create value in what we offer our patrons, what will really help enhance their lives – not just give them what we think they should have because it’s the new hot think we heard about at a seminar, or insist on maintaining something they don’t want because “you can’t be a real library if you don’t have ___________”
  • We need to get the word out to our patrons that we’ve got what they want. As much as we’d like to believe people will walk through our doors because they should, the fact is there’s a lot of competition for their time and attention and we have to get our there and let them know what we have to offer
  • We need to deliver products of value, which relates back to the first bullet point: while our intentions are for the best, we often end up offering things not because we’re focusing on our patrons first, but for our own reasons – we want to be cutting edge, we think all good libraries should be offering it, etc.
  • We need to manage our customer relationships – look at our policies and procedures and make sure they enhance our mission, and that policies that were written who knows how many years ago are still enhancing the goals and objectives we have today
  • We need to benefit the stakeholders. Taxpayers work hard for the dollars that support us, and they deserve the best value we can give them for their money.

Libraries should market. Libraries need to market. It’s our job.

We began our campaign to increase registration and circulation in our two downloadable audiobook collections (ListenNJ and netLibrary) in the middle of May. So far we have publicized the service on our electronic bulletin board above the circ desk, and offered classes on the two services.

The classes didn’t attract many attendees.  We did, however, increase our registration numbers, which had never been more than 12 in a month, to 36 in May and 26 in June.

I was hoping that would translate into greater circ in June, but it really didn’t – we did hit a high of 144 circs for the two services combined, but that’s still just eight higher than last month, and about 20 higher than our average for the rest of this year.

For the next couple of months we’ll concentrate on revamping the service’s web page and reaching out to those already registered, to see if some one-to-one contact can improve circulation.