This is the talk that goes w/ the PowerPoint – words bolded (and sometimes in parentheses) refer to the items on the PowerPoint
Slide 1 Find your market!
Hi everyone! I’m Justine Shaffner, the Public Library Market Coordinator at BCR. Prior to starting at BCR, I spent eleven years as a Reference Librarian and then the Head of Adult Services at a branch of a large public
library district. But before getting my MLS, I worked in business for a number of years. When I started
working in Reference, I found that because I had a lot of work experience before going into libraries, I often had
very different ideas about how to promote library services. And since most of you are trying to attract
customers who aren’t librarians, you may find some of these tactics useful too, especially if you’re in a public
Slide 2 Why…
Why Market? This may seem pretty obvious, but marketing and advocacy seem to be recent priorities in
libraries, especially at the front line level. In actuality, we’ve all been marketing for years – think of how often you tell someone about a library service or item that you think would interest them - we just didn’t label it “marketing.”
In any case, we should promote the library to show that our services are still relevant in this fast paced electronic world. And to show that we are taking a proactive approach by letting people know how we can help
them, and that we want to respond to their needs. The public often thinks that people in libraries sit around and
read books all day and that it’s an easy, low stress job that anyone can do, so we need to let them know how
much effort we put into trying to meet their needs (hard working) – it’s just good PR for the profession.
Marketing also provides a chance to get input (feedback) from our service areas on what they think we should
do, have and be instead of just making assumptions. And it can let us solicit and generate support for the library which is very helpful when facing budget cuts or a vote.
Despite the doomsayers who cite declining reference statistics to argue that the library is no longer necessary
because everything is on the Internet, most of us are busier than ever before. But, the types of questions we’re
answering have changed since the advent of the web, and answering them doesn’t always require an MLS. We
know it’s vital to have professional Reference Librarians on staff, but if we want library funders and managers
to value us too, we need to show how important the MLS education is to the library. Doing our share of
promotion and using innovative strategies and programs to bring new customers to the library (and to bring the
library to them) will demonstrate that.
Slide 3 Efficiencies…
My talk today will cover three steps that should enable you to market your library more extensively and
effectively. First you need to free up some time so that you can take on these new duties – in other words, be as efficient as possible. Then you need to promote your services and materials to a captive audience, those in the library already. And finally you need to get out (outreach) into the community and talk to users and non users
there – so you can discover why they don’t use the library, what would make them use the library, what’s
important to them and how they think. Knowing how they think may be most important of all as it helps you
couch your promotional materials in terms that will catch their interest and also lets you understand their needs
– just like a reference interview does.
Slide 4 Efficiency aka…
Shrinking staff and increasing patronage mean Reference Librarians need to be as efficient and effective as
possible. Training paraprofessionals to handle routine questions can free up librarians’ time. This allows us to seek out questions we can answer, but are never asked and lets us get out into the community to discover the
expectations and needs of local businesses and residents.
Before I go further, let me just address the issue of training paraprofessionals to work with you at the Reference
Desk. Many of you already work with assistants and know the plusses and pitfalls. Sometimes they are
wonderful and know even more about technology or specific genres than you do. Sometimes customers leave
unsatisfied because the assistant didn’t do the reference interview properly, or frustrated them by taking too
long finding answers. But, realize that if you don’t take the initiative to do this now, it may be done for you,
and you might not like the results (accept the inevitable).
Many libraries have already streamlined operations by eliminating some clerical responsibilities with self
check and automated check in. They use vendors for collection development, processing and cataloging. Staff
who handled those tasks are probably being reduced by attrition, but in the meantime, may have free time, and
management often decides they can help (or God forbid) replace the reference staff (staff repurposing). Their
lower salaries can make that a very attractive idea.
Well, you can use their help. By allowing them to answer routine questions, help with programming, weeding
and your technology you can remove the repetitious non-professional aspects of your job and ensure that your
position keeps evolving. If you take charge of this staff repurposing, you’ll be able to have some say in the process. So decide what they can do so you can write a job description that will eliminate the need to
interview unsuitable staff who are just looking for a change. Be clear about the type of skills and personality
you are looking for (outgoing, cheerful, helpful, curious, eager to learn). Yes, you’ll train them, but they’ll need an aptitude for this type of work, and they’ll need to work closely and accept direction from you. Encourage
staff that you think have the necessary talents to apply for the position, then be a part of the interviewing and
Slide 5 Paras
I promise you, that you’ll be much more satisfied with the results if you are involved than if it is forced on you
and they are trained by someone who doesn’t work the Reference Desk. By designing the training and supervising the process you can make sure the training covers areas that don’t need your expertise. We decided that materials suggestions (RA), directional and procedural questions and helping patrons w/ equipment and
computers (tech) were areas we could train paras to excel in. We also made sure to speak to them about
librarian philosophies (e.g. confidentiality, that patrons would think they are librarians, never say “No” or “We can’t”…). I’d tell them to treat everyone as if they were a waitress and wanted a big tip – that way they knew I’d expect them to approach people and be solicitous to everyone.
Include a practicum so they have a chance to put what they’ve learned into practice. Assign mentors so they have someone to discuss the training with and so they get used to asking librarians questions and referring
things to them.
The ideal situation here is for librarians to do the actual training, but if you can’t, be sure to give a lot of input so it is helpful. If you supervise the paras, it makes the process easier, but even if you don’t, you can certainly
give their supervisor feedback on their work.
If you’ve already using self-check, you might want to consider going to a single service desk as this puts more
bodies at one location and is more convenient for the patrons. You’ve probably been stumped by patrons who
ask Circ questions at the Reference Desk, and this way, your paras will be right there to answer them. It’s not good customer service to send people elsewhere for answers.
Slide 6 In library promotion - get away
Now that you have more help at the desk, you can carve out some free time for marketing efforts. The first
thing to try is to create chances for patron interactions. I didn’t wait at the Reference Desk for them to come to
me with questions. I get bored easily, and so after a few minutes of no questions at the desk, I’d go out (get
away from the desk) and troll the stacks w/ a tablet computer seeing if anyone needed help. If they did, great
I’d help them, if not, I’d just tell them to please come ask if they needed anything. BTW, remember to check
that patrons at the PACs are getting what they need – in my experience, they would have questions 40% of the time. One caveat about roving – keep your distance so the patron doesn’t think you’re trying to check for porn on their computer screen, or see the title of that book on kleptomania that they are browsing.
But, I’d also pick up on what people say, are and do (be observant). If I saw a parent helping a child with a school report, I’d mention that Student Resource Center Gold has lots of great articles that they could use for
that report and that they could get it online 24/7 w/ their library card and give them a bookmark that showed
them how to access it. If someone was looking at large type books, I’d mention our huge audio CD collection and playaways. If they were looking through the books about dressing game, I’d mention our upcoming program on hunter safety. If a new mother came in, I’d mention our Baby Lapsits. The patron pawing through
the ratty old print Consumer Reports would hear about the online edition. Any one using the small business
books was told about the free classes and one-on-one consultations the SBDC offered.
I had all of the database bookmarks on a rack at our desk so I could easily give them out when I was talking
them up to customers, but we also put holders for promotional materials all around the library. Downloadable
books were advertised by the audios and children’s programs by the Parenting collection. Test database
bookmarks reduced the number of GED books that were stolen. I put info on the Culturgrams database by the
kid’s country books and the adult travel books. And Chilton’s Automotive database bookmarks eased the
frustration levels of customers trying to find advice on repairing their cars. Advertisers buy space in
publications that target the correct market, and you should do this too.
And people don’t have to show an immediate need. I told almost every student I worked with about Homework
Help figuring that even if they don’t have a use for it right now, they or one of their friends might need it in the
future. As we closed for the evening, I’d announce over the loudspeaker that anyone needing help after hours could access a librarian anytime by linking to AskColorado – the statewide virtual reference service from our website. Let your imagination fly.
I know all this may seem a bit pushy, but any page can tell you that there are tons of patrons in the library who
are very confused and wouldn’t think of asking a librarian for help – most of the time they just ask the shelvers – which really isn’t their best option. Many people seem to feel that their question isn’t important enough to get
help from you and honestly are really grateful you offered and will come to you later. I always told them that
their questions were job security for me.
Any staff or volunteers who have dealings with the public should be aware of all your services. They don’t need to know how to use the databases or the details of your SBDC classes, but if you keep them informed, they
can pique the patron’s curiosity and direct them to you. Use the staff web page, all staff meetings or send
(regular reminders) weekly emails letting staff know about the basics of a new service, database or item type.
Remember that for many of us an example is most illuminating (use stories). You can tell someone that they can find marketing information in a database, or you can tell them that Sunny D’s takeaway used Reference
USA to promote their new store by getting a list of all the households within delivery range and sending them
coupons worth five dollars off their first order. This promotion caused their gross sales to go up 45% over the
next month. Which statement do you think demonstrates best how to use that database?
Marketing is everyone’s responsibility. Patrons chat with library staff all the time – and most of us live and
have friends in the communities we work in. Any conversation can open an opportunity to promote your
library’s services – how often have you been asked reference questions in the grocery store?
Slide 7 In library promotion - school
Hand selling your services and databases is a great way to show people how convenient the library is and how
much it has to offer, but there are larger audiences right in your library that you can tap. Story times are loaded
with busy parents who often have older kids in school and would love to hear about resources for them, or that
you have video games they can rent for free. Anytime you speak to a group, remember to talk up your services
and hand out information about them. School tours are a great opportunity to remind students they have online options for research.
Another in-library opportunity is in your meeting rooms. At my old library, we had a meeting room policy that
users had to sign. It stated that if they want to use the room for free, their group must agree to allow a librarian
to make a short presentation. Mom’s clubs, HOAs, book clubs, leads groups, teachers, civic groups and support groups all need to hear about the information your library can provide. As a courtesy, we’d contact the person
who made the meeting room reservation and let them know that we’d be speaking to them for the first five
minutes of their meeting. We’d then choose appropriate resources to highlight (e.g. for the leads groups we’d
discuss how they could easily get marketing information from home and leave business database bookmarks for
them. We’d show them some print marketing sources and maybe touch on how much money they could save
by getting a library card – even though we were mainly promoting our marketing sources, they were often
delighted to realize they could get their DVDs or their favorite music CDs from the library). Follow this
strategy for library programs too. Just remember to consider your audience so that the databases and other
services you promote will be relevant to them.
And here’s a marketing ploy that can be a real eye opener for residents in these tough economic times (library
value calculator). Put a ROI calculator on your website so people can see exactly how much the library is
saving them. Or better yet, take a tip from Safeway and link it to your self check, so each time they check out
patrons see exactly how much they saved that day.
Slide 8 Outreach - train
(get out of the library) But you need to get out into the community and talk to people so you’ll know about local issues and can provide relief for them. Are there problems w/ latchkey kids? A bad RE market? Haw can
you alleviate these problems? If there’s a plant closing, offer your facilities and services for resume review,
retraining, job seeking, computer skills – if that’s too much for you to do alone, partner w/ the unemployment
office. And help find a new business to occupy the building being abandoned. I was impressed that a library in
a rural area taught (train) government employees email and the internet – sounds like a good way to make sure you’re appreciated by those who set your budget. Write columns or blogs about services you want to promote or showcasing how you’ve helped the community. If you have free time on a local (media stations) cable or radio station, consider promoting the library there. But remember to tell stories and avoid library terms – rather than just saying you have computer classes or databases, say “we can teach you how to email your
grandchildren” or “you can practice taking the GMATs online.” or “we helped company xyz start a new
business and now they employ 75 residents” (give specific examples) And ask for feedback – continually remind people it’s your library, tell us how we can make it better!
Think outside the box. One of my favorite library marketing stories is about a librarian with a tablet computer
going to the train station at morning rush hour to answer commuter’s questions. Commuter areas are also a great place to install automated book lending systems like Contra Costa PL did at a BART station in the SF area
(offsite lending). And stop doing so many in-library surveys. Those people are already using you. Try doing
offsite surveys in grocery stores or football games to find out how you can entice non users into the library.
Not only will you get valuable information, but just being present w/ a sign is good PR for the library.
Slide 9 – Outreach - direct
We also created the Business@your service program, which is basically the direct mail approach. We felt that
it was important to show businesses how much the library is worth, especially as they often pay
disproportionately more taxes, don’t use the library much and are quite concerned about the bottom line and
might vote against increases in library funding. We started with new businesses and sent a personalized form
letter to six per week. The letter discussed library databases, programs, alliances and materials that could help
small business owners grow their businesses through marketing, business intelligence, business planning and
financing… and the letter asked if we could schedule an appointment to meet with them to discuss and
demonstrate these resources. If we hadn’t heard from them within a week, we’d make a follow up phone call to
make sure the letter didn’t go astray.
If you are a bit horrified at this salesman style approach just remember - you aren’t trying to sell them anything, you’re just making them aware of services and materials they already (bought it) pay for so that they can get a great return on their tax dollars. And the numbers attest to this. With direct marketing, salesmen have about a
3% chance of a reply. We achieved a much higher rate of return as 17% of the businesses we contacted set up
meetings with us.
It’s important to be prepared for these appointments. The librarian who meets with them should have some
knowledge of business. Don’t go expecting them to have questions – rather, come prepared to demonstrate your resources’ usefulness by giving them intelligence on their particular industry or with examples of how
other businesses have used marketing resources from the library in their promotional efforts. If you have
economic gardening databases where only the librarian can search for bid opportunities or industry trends,
because there is just one seat or you get the info on CD, do a sample search that would be of interest to them
and offer to run it for them weekly.
You can expand this direct mail concept for businesses to meeting with community groups, church groups
and other local groups that don’t use your meeting rooms, though sometimes it’s a little harder to know who to
send the letter to or who to call… Information on your materials and databases for religious study, health and
parenting will be welcomed by assisted living communities, PTOs and bible study groups.