Today is National Libraries Day, an annual event to celebrate library services and the essential work paid library/information staff do every day.
(via Paul Stainthorp on Flickr)
My first memory of a library is taking part in the Summer Reading Challenge at my local public library. I had a library card from a young age and used the library semi-regularly for most of my childhood. I was an avid reader but not an avid library user. I don’t have vivid memories of Matilda-esque escapades in the library. It wasn’t a sanctuary. The public library was (and still is) a nice place to visit to borrow a few books, quickly use the internet and read a paper but it never had a pivotal role in my childhood. It doesn’t have a pivotal role in my life now. I use it as semi-regularly as I used it when I was a child.
I’ve also never desperately life-depends-on-it needed an ambulance and paramedics; a hospital bed; or a fire engine and fire crew. Does this mean that noone else has? No. Should we cut these services seeing as most of us have never really needed them? No. Should we encourage nursing volunteers? Volunteer-led schools? No. Once we’ve stopped needing a school or university library should we stop caring whether it stays open or not? No.
My point is, is that its very easy to dismiss libraries as nice luxuries that have never impacted greatly on anyone’s life. And that is very easy to do if the majority of people do not know what libraries do and what value and impact they have on many people’s lives. This is the point #NLD13. To showcase public, school, college, health, university and organisational libraries; the work they do; and to celebrate the staff that provide a valuable service to their users.
Whether they directly impact my life or not (some do, some never will), it’s essential that libraries are not seen as easy targets for cuts; that the general public appreciates how important they all are (not just public ones); and that those with power realise the long-term damage they are doing by replacing paid trained staff with volunteers or getting rid of library services completely because what doesn’t immediately impact one person could be a lifeline to others.
Posted by Lesley Firth on February 9, 2013
At the end of November last year I attended the Libraries for Nursing Winter study day Marketing your library service with limited time and limited budget. I was really pleased to be able to attend for free (thanks to the committee’s bursary) and came away with plenty of ideas and enthusiasm for marketing my library service.
Our trainer was Terry Kendrick. He was engaging and explained concepts simply (a lot of the day was spent with me going “oh yeah!” in my head as I realised how clear and straightforward his ideas were).
So, what is marketing?
“It is not how good your service is, it is how good people think it is.”
Marketing is not the same as promotion. Too many people make the mistake of thinking that creating and distributing promotional materials is marketing. However, this should always be the last thing you do after you’ve done your marketing. The whole point of marketing is to make people ready for your service by making them want or need it because they see the value in it. Libraries need to create clear and unambiguous value for users. We need to forget what services we have and instead think about what they do.
Libraries need to know their users inside out. This means that we can get the right message to the right people as and when they need it. Marketing strategies need to be planned thoroughly based on our knowledge of our users and messages need to be delivered just before users need our services.
Terry asked us what it would take for us as professionals to stop and listen to someone selling us a new product. This was a valuable exercise as it made us appreciate how selling the library service can be viewed negatively by users. We think we’re informing users of our great services and that they are obviously engaged with our message. But unless we offer added value; a time saver; a personalised product; something better than similar resources they already use; or accessible and user friendly services they may not be listening. The quality of any message always beats its quantity. Every time a user receives a message that they don’t need and therefore think is irrelevant to them they will eventually stop opening messages and (worse) stop thinking of the library as a place or service that can help them.
Terry was insistent that the only way users will be interested in our library services is if we explicitly detail the value of them. Library resources are interesting but not as interesting as helping someone do their job or study better. Libraries need to be part of a solution rather than part of an information overload problem. Many users think more information will slow them down; instead they want small amounts which are relevant to their immediate need. Spoon feeding is exactly where the value is added by libraries. Users should always get more back than what they put into the activity or relationship. User want to know if the service is worth the effort of them going; do they help them achieve important things; is the library’s offer compellingly different to other approaches?
We should segment our marketing because different user groups consider value to be different things so a personalised offer is essential. This should be based on the knowledge we have developed of the specific user group. Offering too much and overloading users with “stuff” may create a situation where users don’t use anything because they’re overwhelmed with too much choice. But encouraging them to make their own choices may result in users choosing nothing because they don’t have enough information. It’s important to get the balance right. Never draw attention to services or resources that you can’t show the immediate value of otherwise it looks superfluous and may be prone to cuts.
Getting the message out
Inform existing users of the value of a service with a friendly tone and persuade those that aren’t users with a more formal tone. If your library doesn’t appear in the news channels of your organisation this either means nothing is happening or your service’s impact gets forgotten easily. Try to keep the library at the forefront of users minds by purposefully looking for regular information and distributing with an “I came across this and thought you might be interested” tone.
Ultimately we have to be more interested in our users and what they need than trying to get users interested in services or resources that they may not want or need now (or possible ever).
A big thank you to Terry Kendrick for delivering such an interesting session and to the Libraries for Nursing committee for sponsoring my attendance at the study day.
Posted by Lesley Firth on February 8, 2013