We have books and computers: libraries and the importance of marketing
This paper discusses the importance of including marketing skills in the library science curriculum. Marketing is becoming increasingly important to help libraries promote the value of their services in an age where many people turn to computers and the Internet as their primary sources of information. Despite the many benefits marketing can bring to libraries, many librarians fail to implement marketing strategies. One of the most significant obstacles is that most librarians graduate without ever taking a course on marketing. This paper explains the importance of incorporating marketing into the curriculum and describes the possible components of a marketing course for librarians. The concluding argument is that library schools must include marketing courses to fully prepare students to adapt and promote their libraries in a fast-changing, technologically-driven society.
Marketing has never traditionally been thought of as essential to librarianship. Nevertheless, a librarian who is able to market the library can withstand many of the problems libraries have faced and will continue to face, such as lack of funding, decreased circulation, and not being considered a valuable resource in the community. Marketing skills are quickly moving from being merely beneficial to becoming indispensable. Computer technology is largely responsible for this change. Accessing, downloading, and spreading information is constantly becoming faster, cheaper, more convenient, and more universally available. While the Internet is not a good substitute for the library, people will turn to their computers instead of their libraries if they do not realize that libraries can fulfill their information needs. In order to maintain the library's relevance in the digital age, libraries must use marketing techniques to convince the public of the enduring value of library products and services.
An overview of basic marketing principles demonstrates that these principles have the potential to greatly improve library services if librarians are taught to use them. According to Kies (1987), basic marketing principles include: understanding public opinion, defining one's product, knowing the target audience, knowing how to communicate and promote, seeking and using feedback, and the continually evaluating of marketing and public relations goals and methods. All of these principles are applicable to libraries. For example, knowing the target audience is essential for selecting books that patrons will want to read. If books are purchased without considering patrons' needs and wants, the books are likely to sit on the shelves while the patrons seek out another resource that stocks the books that they are looking for. Likewise, if books are purchased with patrons' interests clearly in mind but are never displayed or promoted, patrons may be unaware that the library has these materials available. It is important to point out that, like businesses, libraries must also continually apply marketing strategies to the library. This is not just to be done in "hard times" such as when trying to avoid potential budget cuts (Kies, 1987, p. 37).
The concept of marketing in libraries is not merely a modern trend. Marketing in libraries was advocated as early as 1876 when Samuel Swet Green urged librarians to use public relations in the form of enhanced services to increase use of the library. Enhanced services included increased responsiveness to patron inquiries, increased hours of operation, and support for interlibrary loan services. Green felt that active communication with library users would result in the library achieving an elevated status in the community as a valuable resource. Also, librarians would have a clearer idea how to develop their collections in accordance with their patrons interests by regularly talking to their patrons (Kies, 1987, p. 18). In the early twentieth century, librarian John Cotton Dana actively promoted library use by marketing the library to the public and especially to people of influence within the community. His accomplishments include establishing the United States' first children's room in a public library, developing an apprenticeship program to train staff, and collecting foreign language materials of the languages spoken in his community. He also personally visited prominent community members, published a monthly library newsletter, and allowed the library to be a meeting place for local clubs. Marketing libraries clearly has a historical basis and a modern purpose; it should not be considered alien to libraries or to the library science curriculum (Steadley, 2003). In recent times, marketing and librarianship have been linked through the efforts of the American Library Association (ALA). The ALA launched the Campaign for America's Libraries in 2001 to deal with the problems that libraries are currently facing. This campaign involves over 20,000 libraries across the country and over 30 countries around the world. The campaign is founded on three premises: While libraries are popular, they are often taken for granted. While libraries are ubiquitous, they are not often visible. And, While libraries are unique, they are facing new challenges (American Library Association, 2007). The campaign's intention is to help all different types of libraries work toward reaching out to their users. The Web site for the campaign is a great resource for those who are curious about library marketing but are unsure where to begin. The site offers sample press materials, press releases, tips, ways to recognize National Library Week, photos, and videos. All of this material is available for free (American Library Association, 2007). Through this campaign, the ALA encourages librarians to market their libraries and provides guidance for integrating marketing into librarianship.
According to Rubin (2004), there were 50 accredited programs for earning a master's degree in Library and Information Science in the United States as of 2004 (p. 545-550). A review of these programs' course offerings in 2007 revealed that only 15 programs include courses specifically about marketing concepts and public relations in libraries. Although all library schools have a list of core classes, not one mandates a course on marketing. Four schools offer core classes which have marketing components, but most classes that include marketing are for library management, public libraries, and librarians seeking nontraditional library jobs such as information specialist or information manager for a business or corporation. According to Harmon (2002),
Overall then, marketing topics in contemporary LIS curricula appear to be increasingly present, and a much stronger marketing consciousness has emerged. But true paradigmatic change is not yet apparent. For the most part, technological, system-centric, institutional, and other professional provider concerns continue to dominate LIS curriculum thinking. (p. 72-73)Although marketing concepts have been introduced to the curriculum throughout the twentieth century, the dominant emphasis remains on core traditional skills such as cataloging and reference.
Based on the above figures, one can safely assume that the majority of graduates from library schools will never be required to take a course in marketing. There is no guarantee that most students will elect to take such courses. Will library science graduates be equipped to market their libraries to the public in the face of ever-present budget shortages and the looming threat of irrelevance brought about by the growth of the Internet? To adequately prepare library students to promote and advocate for their libraries, all schools offering degrees in library science should offer a marketing course. If such a course is not required, then all schools should incorporate units on marketing into their required courses.
The inclusion of marketing in the library science curriculum is appropriate when one considers marketing as a natural extension of what librarians always do. Libraries are fundamentally user-centered; their goal is to provide the best possible service to patrons. Marketing is one of the preeminent ways to assess how well libraries are succeeding at that goal and how materials and services could be improved upon. In fact, Gupta and Jambhekar (2002) state, "Satisfying the customer is the primary concern in the marketing process. Users will only come back for more service if they are satisfied; if they are not, they will find a different resource." Accordingly, all the things that librarians do to help patrons, such as updating the Web site regularly, making sure all the computers are in working order, answering patrons' reference questions, or developing a reading program for children can be considered marketing in that these activities promote the library's services and improve the librarys image. Also, marketing can take any number of forms, such as distributing flyers advertising the library, soliciting patron feedback, or offering a new service. It does not mean barraging patrons with unwanted e-mails or pop-up advertisements. On the contrary, a simple assessment of the library from the patron's perspective to determine its user-friendliness is a significant step towards improving library service and, therefore, marketing that service (Stover, 2006). "A common theme in marketing is focusing on the four P's:" product, price, place, and promotion. Although these are talked about in all marketing situations, they certainly apply to organizations like libraries (Owens, 2002, p. 11). Products are the programs and services offered by libraries. Service is particularly important for libraries since, as Leisner (1995) points out, service is what will satisfy a customer and motivate that customer to speak well of the library. Price is the cost to customers and to organizations to have these products available. Since most libraries are nonprofit organizations, patrons do not directly pay for library services. Nevertheless, all libraries must be aware of how cost-effective their products and services are so that they can budget accordingly and raise funding if necessary. "Place refers to how the products and patrons are connected" (Owens, 2002, p. 11). For libraries, the concept of place is evolving to include the online services libraries are integrating into their catalogs. Technology's influence is increasingly altering the physical space of libraries, most of which have added computer stations and Internet access while doing away with traditional card catalogs. Technology is also enabling libraries to be increasingly present online, offering Web sites, online catalogs, and virtual reference services. Leisner (1995) writes, "Today and in the future the place of the library will be anywhere it is needed." With many core library services such as catalogs and reference moving into the online environment, libraries are increasing their presence and availability beyond their physical boundaries and traditional hours of operation. People no longer have to physically visit the library to meet their information needs when many of the library's resources can be accessed from any computer connected to the Internet. "Promotion refers to communicating with patrons and identifying and responding to patron needs" (Owens, 2002, p. 11). An overview of product, price, place, promotion, and how they relate to libraries is important for the understanding of marketing in the library setting and should be included in library science curriculum.
One of the essential components of marketing is planning; therefore, marketing courses should discuss forming and executing marketing plans. As with basic marketing principles and the four P's, marketing plans can be beneficially adapted to library settings. There are many different marketing plans, but most contain similar elements such as those found in the Hensley-Schoppmeyer model of strategic planning (Caballero, 2002). In this model, the first step is to position the architects. This involves designating the people who will do the planning and what their specific roles and interactions will be. Next is scanning the environment. This refers to assessing the library's mission, its strengths and weaknesses, what it can stand to gain, and what it might lose to competitors. The third step is analyzing strategic options. This step should answer questions such as: What can change? and What are the available opportunities? After this comes accepting the agenda. Planners should prioritize the steps needed to launch their marketing project and seek approval for the project. "The final step is implementing the strategic plan by following the steps previously outlined in the agenda" (Caballero, 2002, pg. 39-40).
According to a substantial amount of marketing literature, an additional step in implementing a marketing plan is evaluating its success or failure. "Evaluation can be done via informal discussions with patrons, monitoring press about the library or responses to library press releases, installing a suggestion box, or by soliciting feedback in the form of surveys" (Kies, 1987, p. 57-70). One simple, but effective survey has a picture of a patron standing before a librarian asking, "I need some information. Will you help me?" The librarian has an empty speech bubble coming out of her mouth. "The survey asks patrons to fill in what they think the librarian will say, then list their occupation, gender, approximate age, whether they use the library frequently, and when their last library visit was" (Kies, 1987, p. 136). Another evaluation technique involves monitoring the library's statistics. "Examples of library statistics include circulation, income and expenditures, registered patrons, sources of funding, volume and nature of information services used, and use of out-of-library services" (Kies, 1987, p. 139-140).
Market segmentation is another basic marketing technique which is very relevant for libraries and essential for providing good service to patrons because it is the key to identifying one's target audience. Eileen Elliot de Saez (2002) defines market segmentation:
Essentially, segmentation is the division of the library or information centre's market into smaller, more manageable, groups that have like characteristics. Marketing mixes can be fine tuned to serve the needs of these groups or segments and marketing communications targeted more precisely. The practice of segmenting markets leads to better use of resources since those resources can be targeted with maximum effectiveness. (p. 115)Therefore, library courses should discuss the importance of market segmentation. An increasing number of businesses have been personalizing or customizing their services instead of adopting a one-size-fits-all mentality. "This can even be done for libraries, which tend to offer a broad range of products and services" (de Saez, 2002, p. 115). By covering market segmentation as part of library science coursework, students will be better prepared to customize library services to appeal to current patrons and attract new ones. For example, if the library finds that it attracts mostly children and senior citizens but few teenagers, perhaps it should display its young adult books more prominently, or organize a program that would appeal to adolescents.
An understanding of market segmentation can also help libraries organize and define the characteristics of their patrons. Simkin (2000) provides list of traditional divisions that libraries would find helpful. Simkin (2000) divided segmentation variables into customer characteristics and product-related. Listed under customer characteristics are demographics, socio-economics, geographic location, and lifestyle. Listed under product-related are purchase behavior, purchase occasion, benefits sought, consumption behavior, and attitude to product (Simkin, 2000). In addition to Simkin's list, libraries can consider geodemographic segmentation and psychographic segmentation (de Saez, 2002). "Geodemographic segmentation is based on the principle that people who live in certain neighborhoods and types of housing are likely to be similar to one another in terms of economic and social lifestyle" (de Saez, 2002, p. 120). Libraries can use this principle to study their communities in order to make well-informed generalizations about their customer base. "Psychographic segmentation involves reaching out to people's physiological and social needs, which can mean everything from making people feel a sense of belonging while in the library to providing a place to sit comfortably" (de Saez, 2002, p. 123-126). In conducting market segmentation, it is also important to consider customer bases beyond the physical community by reaching out to people online. De Saez (2002) recommends segmenting the Internet population into various customer categories because their needs are often unique. She writes, "Internet users are characterized by 'itchy finger syndrome'- an overwhelming desire to click on a mouse at least once every 15 seconds so that interactive Web sites, bulletin boards and chat and e-mail facilities are important to them" (p. 117). Possible categories for Internet users include hobbyists, home users, knowledge traders, academic buffs, and technology buffs (de Saez, 2002, p. 117). As these categories indicate, there are multiple ways to organize and describe diverse populations. If library science courses include an overview of market segmentation and its various uses, graduates will be able to adapt this technique to their unique libraries and patron populations.
In order to be able to use market segmentation, library students must learn how to conduct market research. Market research helps librarians learn more about their customer base, enabling them to identify markets and formulate a marketing campaign that is responsive to the wants and needs of their patrons. One of the most basic and effective ways to conduct market research is simply to keep track of various records in the library. Transaction logs, circulation records, and common themes or questions encountered in reference interviews can yield insight into what patrons are looking for when they come to the library. Tools like user surveys and suggestion boxes can also be used to gather information to create marketing campaigns (Kassel, 1999). Eileen Elliot de Saez (2002) also recommends mystery shoppers, a technique in which someone posing as a patron evaluates the service provided by the library and reports his or her experience to management (p. 180). All of these techniques are relatively simple to implement and can yield much useful information about patrons' expectations and experiences of libraries. However, if library students are unaware of the importance of market research and the potential ease with which it can be conducted, they may never take this first vital step towards creating a marketing campaign in their libraries.
An indispensable element of successful marketing campaigns is advertising. Of course librarians consider the library to be indispensable but, does the community at large? Library students should be aware of the purpose and importance of advertising as a way to ensure that people are informed about the library on a regular basis. Advertising has many other benefits as well, such as increasing patron use of the library, earning positive media coverage, and attracting additional funding. An example of a successful advertising campaign was conducted at the St. Louis Public Library, which noticed a number of positive changes as a result of their campaign. Through the use of advertising, they attracted people who were not frequent library users to their events. One third of these people commented that they heard about the event via electronic advertisements. Also, the library increased its visibility within the community. In particular, patrons informed staff about advertisements they had seen outside the library and found humorous. In addition to the positive response received from patrons, the library was able to cultivate a positive relationship with the media by communicating with local media outlets. This relationship resulted in impressive returns on investments when the investments St. Louis Public Library made in paid advertising were matched and then surpassed by coverage obtained for free. Once the library became a media buyer, media outlets began donating public service announcements on behalf of the library. In six months, the library paid for $50,000 dollars worth of advertising, but the estimated value of the coverage the library received from stations and journals was $264,000 (Holt, 2000).
The St. Louis Public Library's substantial budget allowed for bus cards on city buses, advertisements on radio stations, and newspaper advertisements (Holt, 2000). However, a large budget is not necessary for successful advertising. Stuhlman (2003) writes, "Advertise like a business. You don't need TV ads, but you do need to hit people in multiple ways. Post signs, tell patrons, and send mailings. Do whatever it takes to get the message out to people." Other less expensive forms of advertising include the use of displays such as new materials or local artwork. If the library has developed a new service, prominently display a sign that informs users of the service and invites them to find out more about it. Brochures can be made available throughout the library. Libraries can consider mailing brochures and newsletters if the budget allows for it, or materials can be sent via e-mail or listservs. Giveaways are always appealing. These can be as simple as bookmarks printed with the library's logo, contact information, and hours of operation (Stuhlman, 2003). Library students do not necessarily need to master all these forms of advertising. However, library courses should cover the concept of advertising in order to provide students with ideas and frameworks they can adapt to their specific libraries.
Another effective means of advertising library services is creating and maintaining a compelling and informative Web site. Therefore, it is important to teach Web site-building skills in the library science curriculum. Such skills are increasingly important in a society where a majority of people turn to the Internet for information. One way to add value to a library's Web site is to allow visitors to bookmark the site. Posting a bookmark button on the site is helpful. The site is more likely to get bookmarked by visitors if it has something unique and interesting to offer, such as a video of a recent poetry reading at the library, the list of summer reading books for the towns schools, or interesting facts about the library's local community or history. Allowing visitors to re-post or pass along the information that they find on the site is another important feature, because this allows the Web site's content to spread to a broader audience.
In addition to allowing visitors to pass along information, libraries can consider allowing them to contribute information via social media marketing techniques. Fichter (2007) writes,
Social media marketing offers you the opportunity to engage your community in new ways and to turn strangers into fans. Fans are your online salespeople who promote your library and its services. If your fans love you and your services, they'll spread the word.A library Web site which makes it simple for people to spread the word by posting information, passing along information, or tagging the site will attract a wider audience than a static Web site with nothing interactive to offer. People are accustomed to sites that will allow them to influence content, such as Amazon.com and Wikipedia (Fichter, 2007). Therefore, library schools should strive to produce students who are able to add value to a library's Web site and promote a library's presence online.
All of the considerations involved in successfully implementing marketing techniques in libraries can seem daunting to new librarians. Therefore, library science courses should make students aware of the many resources available for librarians looking to find out more about marketing or get ideas for a campaign. Librarians need not make their own way in the marketing world without support. One such resource is the publication Marketing Library Services. This newsletter, which is published eight times a year by Information Today, Inc., provides case studies, how-to guides, book reviews, and innovative ideas The ALA also has a variety of resources available, including a calendar of events that libraries could choose to promote and graphics libraries could download to create their own publications. WebJunction, an online community for library staff to learn about current trends, take online courses, and discuss their problems and ideas, has a section devoted to marketing which offers tips for promoting libraries via press releases, public service announcements, and outreach campaigns (Niederlander, 2003).
More support for librarians seeking to learn about marketing techniques is available via the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA). RUSA is a division of ALA dedicated to promoting excellence in library services and resources. As part of its professional development initiative, RUSA has developed a five-week online course on marketing for libraries. The first week seeks to define marketing and discuss its role in libraries. The second week introduces students to the creation of a marketing plan and determining marketing mix. Week three covers market research and incorporating this research into a plan. Week four teaches students how to evaluate their marketing efforts. In the final week, students have to submit their own marketing plan which focuses on the needs of their libraries (Vicha, 2006). This course is an inexpensive option for librarians who want to learn more about marketing. It can also serve as a guide for developing a basic marketing course for library students.
According to Levitt, industries fail because they focus on their products instead of focusing on their markets and expanding those markets. These industries get left behind in the wake of change, such as technological change, because they failed to adapt (Hawcroft, 1998). Certainly libraries that fail to adapt could find themselves in this position if technological advancement and societal change renders their services irrelevant to their customers. The use of marketing to create and promote services that patrons will value is essential to preventing this outcome. All librarians must be prepared to use marketing strategies in their libraries. They will need both an understanding of marketing and the knowledge to effectively integrate marketing skills and techniques with their products and services. As the training ground for future librarians, library schools have an obligation to ensure that graduates entering the library profession are adequately prepared for this reality. Graduates will need a basic understanding of the definition of marketing, its relevance to the past and its importance for the future, basic marketing concepts and strategies, the adaptation of these strategies to library usage, and the various resources that can be consulted to help formulate a compelling and influential marketing campaign. Schools currently fail to provide adequate training in these topics. This is a serious omission and one that could be very damaging to libraries if it is not remedied.
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Sarah Giuliano is a graduate student at Southern Connecticut State University pursuing a masters degree in library science. She has previously completed a bachelors degree in music with a minor in history at Seton Hall University. Sarah plans on graduating in May of 2009.
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