“Lousy marketing?” We can fix that!

The latest Pew study, Library Services in the Digital Age, is fantastic news for libraries. People like us, people use our services, and people want to know how we can help them next. And because the study came from Pew, it’s has already begun to get extended press coverage further sharing the results.

But not all the news was positive. Reading down to the what users would like to see from libraries reveals a number of services many libraries already offer but were unknown by the public. Publishers Weekly summed it up best: “Libraries: Good Value, Lousy Marketing.”

Marketing is making people realize that an action is in their best interest, not ours. This often brings about a clash of values — ours (as librarians) versus those of our users. Our focus needs to be what’s in it for our users, not why we love a service. David Lee King put a library spin on Seth Godin’s post from last weekend by asking whether what we do in libraries is interesting to us or interesting to our users. While those items may sometimes overlap, it’s likely there is a gap in our perception versus how interesting something really is to non-librarians.

In academic libraries, this often plays out in how we market our research assistance services. Making these services appeal to users requires strong communication and messaging strategies that too often are overlooked in favor of library jargon and hints of ALA standards that show all too well how we as librarians can view ourselves in the research process. Marketing is making people realize that an action is in their best interest, not ours. Our services, such as research assistance, can benefit from a closer look at our audience and their values.

This is ultimately about the students and what they need and believe. Sure, librarians can help you learn a lot about different resources, but is that what students are looking for? Do these messages appeal to what students value during finals time, for example, when the goal is get it done, and get it done fast?

Finals time is a natural communications point for academic libraries, and we need to take advantage of that. What the end of the semester gives us is an opportunity as reference librarians to show off our competitive edge. I will help you find your mandated five scholarly articles for your final paper in half the time. Less time searching online means more time for other activities.

Our marketing needs to address the primary concern of being able to get everything done. Librarians’ ability to meet its goal of enriching learning is dependent on making its services fit students’ needs and expectations, and helping students complete their work better and faster will make them more likely to take advantage of the library’s expertise.

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