Professional Reads: ‘The Library Marketing Toolkit’

Didn’t think marketing applies to you? Think again! In ‘The Library Marketing Toolkit’ Ned Potter describes the vital role that library staff play in creating and maintaining a positive experience for   library users.   We all think we know how to promote services – “We have X number of databases!”  “We have tons of E-books!” “We have helpful Subject Librarians!” – all of this is great, but what does it mean to the user? When you’re working on the service desk try looking at things from their perspective:

Staff member (enthusiastically): “We have X number of databases that you could use to help with your essay!”

User: (staring blankly): What’s a database? Ah, forget it.  I’m going home to watch Pointless.

Potter points out that if, for example, a user doesn’t know what a database is or how they can help them, telling them how many we have won’t mean a thing.  By all means we should be promoting the resources we provide, but when directing students to them it doesn’t hurt to ask if they’ve used them before.  This way, we avoid patronising those who know their stuff but we create the opportunity to ‘reach out’ to those who, quite honestly, haven’t got a clue. And who doesn’t remember how that felt?

In addition to avoiding assumptions about our users, Potter states that we need to consider how we can convince them that they’re better off using our services than going elsewhere.  He argues thatwe need to keep in mind that the majority of people are on a journey from A to B and that their focus is on getting there quickly. We need to show them how the library can play a role in that.  An analogy he uses is that of runners in a race grabbing cups of juice as they pass a refreshment station – if the juice wasn’t being held out to them, they’d be unlikely to stop for it.  So when working on the service or enquiry desks we have the perfect opportunity to ‘hold out the juice’.  This is when we show users just how easy it is to access our e-resources, or when we explain that Google is great, but our databases can access so much that Google can’t.  We should also make them aware of Subject Librarians but rather than simply mentioning them, we should talk them up as experts in their field, making Subject Librarians the go-to people users automatically approach when they need specialist help.  I could go on, but the point is, we have a lot of opportunities to connect with our users in a way that is meaningful to them and we should be exploiting these wherever possible.

Having said all of that, Potter points out there is little point in doing all of the above if this happens the next time the user comes to the desk:

User:  “Hello, can you help me to find this book please?”

Staff member: Waves arm in general direction of book collection.  Grunts. Updates Twitter status.

Exchanges such as this have the power to completely alter a user’s perception of the service despite all the hard work of the person on the desk before you who practically broke into song when showing them how to access an e-book.  Potter mentions that a negative experience is far more likely to be remembered – and passed on – than a positive one.  He refers to football terminology here to remind us that ‘you’re only ever as good as your last game.’  Face-to-face interactions are a huge, HUGE part of the library brand; we can spend endless time and money on library identifiers and promotional campaigns to create a recognizable service but all of this is wasted if it doesn’t carry over into the actual experience of using the library.

So keep the above in mind when going about your day-to-day.  Whereas previously you might have felt that marketing was purely the responsibility of a bustling office somewhere in the College Building, Ned Potter’s insights should have swiftly altered your perceptions.  But don’t take our word for it – check it out for yourself – we have a brand new copy of The Library Marketing Toolkit in the library.  The description above only covers a small portion of the book, so there’s a lot more to learn.   Should the book inspire you, why not ask your line manager or the SDG about the development opportunities available to improve your customer service skills?  CPD25 also offer the occasional course on marketing, so if you fancy dipping your toes into this, keep an eye on their website.

Potter, N. (2012) The Library Marketing Toolkit London: Facet Publishing.

2 thoughts on “Professional Reads: ‘The Library Marketing Toolkit’

  1. On the marathon runners’ juice stop analogy again it’s interesting that a lot of thought, planning and resources go into a marketing campaign like the “library loves” initiative whereas what students often want is information and resources at the point of need.

    I don’t doubt that a promotional campaign has its purpose but I sometimes wonder if we library staff can build up a head of steam about a sudden influx of new resources (which we’re grateful for, of course) and are apt to put across a “look at our nice new shiny databases” type of message when it’s not necessarily made clear to a student why they might be able to benefit from this. I sometimes think we assume students understand library language a lot better than is actually the case.

    As Clare says we also ought to try and ward off negative comments about what we might consider more mundane parts of our service and not just concentrate our efforts on the flashy new stuff. If a student is looking for a book and can’t find it because there’s a backlog of shelving or the shelves are in bad order then that too equates to failure on our part and yes a negative experience does soon get passed on to others.

    Be interested to hear other people’s views…

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