I had the opportunity to attend a Certified Public Library Administrator (CPLA) course a couple of days ago – one of the ALA courses to take library administrators to the next level. This one was Effective Marketing: How to Sell Your Story.

The presenter was great. I’m not going to say who he was because the rest of this isn’t going to be flattering, and it had nothing to do with him – he did what he could with the ALA-mandated curriculum.  But this course was why I just want to hit my head against the wall when I think of training for librarians by librarians.

The first day was marketing basics: why market, some places to help you do community and demographic research, a little about strategic planning, a little about competition. The second day – the whole day – was writing a marketing plan. We started with the summary, we listed our planning group, did our SWOT analysis, listed our perceived customer needs, challenges, goals and measurable objectives….

Are you still with me?

So at break I turn to another librarian at my table and say, “You know, this is good, but I wish there was more about ‘telling your story’ in this presentation.” And she responds, “Well, that’s really advocacy, isn’t it?”

Whack. Whack. Whack.

The title of the presentation was How to sell your story! And we didn’t talk about it! We so didn’t talk about it that after two days this person had no flipping idea what telling your story means in terms of marketing! The story Apple tells with its products, its stores, its crazy CEO, ferheavens’ sake. The story Scions tell. Rob Walker. Seth Godin.  Pretty much any marketing book you’ve been able to pick up off the shelves of your library for the last couple of years is all about how everything you do and every encounter a customer has with every aspect of your organization, from your place to your product to your people, tells your story and it has to be authentic.

That’s what we were promised by the title and publicity for this seminar. And we got ‘how to do a marketing plan.’ So much for authenticity.


I’ve been reading a little of everything that can be considered “marketing,” including a few books and articles that discuss branding . In New Jersey The New Jersey Library Association commissioned a survey called Libraries Matter which indicates that in New Jersey, at least, people really love their libraries. We have “a good brand.”

I’ve been wondering, though, if one of the problems that we have with branding and trying to market libraries is that while we all have libraries, everyone has different libraries. I cringe every time I’m watching public television and they say at the end of the program, “You can get these resources at your public library!” because who knows whether those books are actually at the public library or not? Libraries aren’t a franchise. The idea of “library” that I carry in my head from my childhood isn’t the idea of “library” that I have from working where I do, and those two are different from the idea of “library” that I’d have if my library experience was colored by the community where I live.

My point is that people may have had experience with a type of library that didn’t work for them, so they’ll naturally assume that no libraries will work for them. You either like Starbucks or you don’t. You either use libraries or you don’t.

How do we overcome this?