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.


Jocelyn Harmon writes Marketing for Nonprofits, and we’ve been blogging back and forth about life, the universe, and libraries.

She recently put up a post called Don’t Market Like a Librarian, detailing her close encounters of the shushing kind of her childhood libraries and imploring librarians to change our ways. Now, we all know that the shushing librarian is juuuuust a little bit dated (even if Nancy Pearl, bless her, lent her image to the famous action figure), but Jocelyn’s got me thinking again about the nature of the holy grail of target audiences: the dreaded non-user. Are they the folks who encountered one too many real-life action figures during their formative years, and have sworn off us forever?

Jocelyn’s post talks about being guides to information instead of gatekeepers, using email and social media to communicate with patrons, and inspiring patrons to love and learn about information. We all know most of us have that and more to offer, but we’re not getting the message out to the important people like Jocelyn who were turned off by a library that in most cases, thankfully, no longer exists.

How do we reach the prodigal users?

This is a first: this is a rant. I had pretty much vowed not to use this forum to rant, and it will be a rant on topic, but it’s still a rant.

I’m a member of another group which includes a subgroup for people involved in marketing for nonprofits. The site lists everyone’s avatars, so I clicked one at random. Got a lady who specializes in helping nonprofits market themselves.

I clicked on her blog. A couple of posts down, she’s just loving a service called Bookswim – it’s Netflix for books, with plans that will set your patron taxpayers back between $220 and $360 per person per year to get a fraction (just books, none of the other great stuff we all offer) of what they’re already paying taxes for. Add a moderate Netflix subscription to this, and our taxpayers could be paying $450 or more in usage fees just because they don’t use their library.

(Okay, maybe they subscribe to Netflix and Bookswim and use their public library, but I doubt it.

Let me be clear: I’m not mad at my fellow group member. I guess Bookswim seems like a good deal, although as someone intimately involved with libraries, it doesn’t to me.

I’m just…discouraged. And jealous. How the hell does Bookswim manage to reach the people I can’t reach? The people who, in this day and age and economic times, shouldn’t be paying for the same service twice?


Okay, I didn’t chronicle my Introduction to Marketing class the way I thought I would. To be honest, I think it’s because it’s an intro course and it’s not being conducted in a way which stimulates discussion: it’s all definitions and facts-as-the-textbook-sees-them. It’s left me a little frustrated, as I’d hoped for discussions relating to real-world situations between busy working people ecking out a few hours for some pertinent continuing education.

Oh well. I’m the type of person who appreciates the community setting of a classroom in focusing my own thoughts on a topic, so I’m getting a lot out of it from that perspective. I also feel that we throw around marketing and marketing-related terms a lot, and this at least has helped me get my vocabulary straight!

For the record, we’ve covered The Overview, Strategic Planning, Marketing and Social Responsibility, Global Marketing, Consumer Decision Making, Business Marketing, Segmentation, and Product Concepts, and will try to get through Developing and Managing Products, Nonprofit Marketing, and Customer Relationship Management before class ends next week.

It’s given me some things to think about, and I’m hoping Consumer Relations will be more interesting next semester.

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.

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.