Marketing and Advocating for the Academic Library

I was asked to give a presentation for university faculty and staff on marketing and advocating for the library. Below are slides and my notes. This presentation was geared towards an external (non-librarian) audience.

Marketing and Advocating for the Library

I have been asked to speak about marketing and advocating for the academic library.

  • We will walk through how I define marketing and advocacy along with their similarities and differences.
  • I’ll also provide examples of how marketing and advocacy can and should be applied in an academic library context.
  • I’ll wrap up with how marketing and advocacy fits into some trends I’m seeing with libraries and higher education.

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Before we get into it, I want to share my working definitions of marketing and advocacy. The two go hand-in-hand, but there are some differences.

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Marketing

Marketing focuses on the library’s current users and also our potential users. For us here at the university, that’s primarily going to be our students, but also faculty and staff, and community users.

It’s also important to recognize different segments our community. For students: it could be undergraduates, graduate students, international students, athletes, a particular major, etc.

For faculty: It could be marketing to their needs or using them as a channel to market library services to students.

For staff: It could be marketing library services like our leisure reading collection or curriculum materials collection. Something that adds value to their university employment.

The goal: Aligning the needs of the our students, faculty, and staff to the library’s services and resources.

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Advocating

Advocating is different. It’s all about the influencers and how the library reaches out to them. It’s focused on the individuals or groups that can influence the environment to benefit the library.

In our case, this would naturally include the Provost and senior leadership, possibly the Board too. With all the changes at the university, the library needs to communicate the value we provide to the University.

Influencers are not just top leadership of a university, but it could also be student organizations like Student Senate. The people here may not even use the library (like senior leadership), but they are the ones to make decisions. That’s why we need to advocate using the data and stories we collect to prove our case for the library.

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Marketing & Advocacy

So how do marketing and advocacy go hand in hand to create a better library?

Marketing can:

  • Increase the number of users of library services and resources
  • Shape services to meet the needs and wants of users
  • Ensure the understanding of the role of the library within the institution
  • Help users to understand the unique value of the library (Google paywall vs. library databases)

Advocacy can:

  • Increase decision-makers’ understanding of the library
  • Increase decision-makers’ understanding of the benefits to the institution of a strong sustainable library
  • Support changes in policy that will add to the library’s success

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So before I talk about why marketing and advocacy are an essential part of a library staff’s work, I want to do a little activity. 

Close your eyes. Think about a library.

What’s in there? What do you see? Who do you see?

Open your eyes. Use the scrap paper to write down FIRST 5 things you think of when you hear the word “LIBRARY.”

[discussion follows]

I did a similar activity like this, but a very different audience. Last year, I was asked to give a presentation to a group of high school students who were in a pre-college program. As potential university students I thought it might be interesting to get their take on libraries. So I asked them:

When you hear the word librarian, list five things you think of.

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So what did we get? Some of the usual stereotypes: books, old lady, mean, shhhh, and glasses.

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Then I switched the question to:

List five things you think a librarian does.

Here I got: read, shelving books, checking in books, help people find materials, and doing programs for the community.

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Perception Issue

We have a perception issue in terms of what librarians do. It’s very book-centric and focused on a lot of clerical tasks. Above is one of my favorite slides:

What our parents think we do, What our friends think we do, What students think we do, WHAT WE ACTUALLY DO

Now I’m not going to draw conclusions based on working with one high school group, but it’s a little anecdote that I think is worth sharing.

To me, libraries ARE NOT ABOUT THE BOOKS, THEY ARE ABOUT THE PEOPLE – and that’s what we need to market & advocate to.

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Marketing & Advocacy

So marketing and advocacy are an essential part of an academic library staff’s work. As we’ve seen, many people have a stereotyped image of libraries based on outdated experiences. We need to update the image of libraries, librarians, and all library staff. We have a responsibility to promote our professionalism and value to everyone. This is particularly necessary in the current environment of technological change.

Decision makers routinely deal with issues like funding cuts and accountability questions and so much more that impact library services. We need to provide a quick response so that their opinions can be informed by professional advice.

Let’s face it: There is intense competition for funding and we must continue to ensure that the value of the library is well-understood and appreciated so that there is a good reason to continue funding it.

To do that, we need to back up our marketing and advocacy with data and stories. And now I’m going to talk about a few of those examples.

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Low Key Assessment

One less time intensive project that I like is from library at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. It’s a simple Post-It Note wall. It asks students:

“What do you love about the library?”

“What do you hate about the library?”

It’s an easy way for students to give feedback and an easy way for the library to listen. It keys library staff into unmet needs or services. As an assessment tool, it tells us what we’re doing well and what we could improve on. We could take the a data from the post-it notes to advocate for library improvements or resources.

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Library as a Place

In the past ten years or so, there has been a focus on promoting the Library as a Place – on a college campus, that sort of makes the library like the living room. You want to have various spaces in the library that appeals to all types of students. So collecting student data in how they use the library is essential in arguing for additional resources for library improvements.

One example I have here is from a team of researchers, mostly from Drexel University, where librarians started to taking NOT just hourly building counts, but actually SEAT counts–and recording which spaces students were using. Then they devised a heatmap to show where students were congregating. Red/orange/yellow is higher use, blue/green is lower use.

In the left example, students were using solo/pairs tables by the windows. In the right example, students were using the computer pods in the middle.

So based off of this data, library administration could go to senior leadership in proposing renovations or improvements based on space. In today’s data-driven higher ed environment, you need to use the numbers to prove your story.

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“Just in Time” Marketing

Another idea I like are these “Library Minute” videos from Arizona State University. Designed for “just in time” help, these videos market library services and resources. It’s a good way to reach current and potential users. They are short: around one minute as the title suggests. Videos can be embedded on the library’s website, their Research Guides, and can be promoted by the university or the library via social media. They have a whole list of short videos: how to access online resources, how to get materials through Interlibrary Loan, and even more complicated issues like open access.

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Kindness Audit

This is another concept I love because it’s undercover marketing to students, but it also gives you data that you can use to advocate for the library. I first heard about in a MOOC I took with Michael Stephens at San Jose State University. 

So what is it? This is an idea that I adopted here. I started with new library student workers, but I also recommend tapping the broader student body. 

I asked students to use their smartphone camera and walk through the library and take photos of:

  • Things you liked
  • Things you didn’t like
  • Things that confuse you
  • Things that surprise you

The goal: Have students assess the library’s physical space to see how “kind” it is. The students find out new things on their own as they explore the library. Library staff can use the data to improve the space.

We used the Kindness Audit data to:

  • Convert our gendered, single-stall restrooms, into gender-neutral restrooms.
  • Add more electrical outlets.
  • Create collaborative open study in the Library Classroom when not being used for a class session.
  • Liberalize the library’s food & drink policy.

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A Sense of Fun

I also think we should market social events that help change that stuffy perception of the academic library. Encourage some fun events, get students involved, and then when they actually need research help they will feel comfortable coming back. Here I’ve been involved with our welcome parties that we did for a couple of years. When I worked at my previous institution, I instituted an Edible Book Contest for National Library Week which was fun.

This past January, we hosted laser tag in the Library, which I loved:

  • Required little time and no money from the library
  • Was sponsored by Student Activities who coordinated the staffing
  • I was happy to offer up our space for the event
  • Creates goodwill among the students
  • It would have been easy to say “No” but I want to create that culture of saying yes and showing the Library off in a different light.

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Trends

So I’m a person who always like to see things on the horizon. So I want to talk a little bit about some trends I’m seeing in higher ed and how library marketing and advocacy will be key.

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Open Educational Resources

This is something that is both marketing to Faculty, and being an advocate for Students. I’m concerned about the rising cost of textbooks. Students already pay a lot for college and this doesn’t help. I think the Library should be marketing to faculty the use of open educational resources.

OERs are freely available, open licensed textbooks, media, and other digital materials that can be used in the Classroom. There is a lot of high quality content out there, it’s just making the time to search for it and figure out how it might fit into the curriculum that takes time.

The library could host a workshop with faculty in discovering and evaluating resources such as these and maybe start a pilot program where a few faculty members experiment with them in their courses.

To me OER fits squarely within the university ethos with respect to stewardship of material resources and would be beneficial for our students.

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Scholarly Communication

This one primarily affects Faculty. The cost of journals continue to rise beyond inflation each year and they are now owned by a small number of multinational publishing conglomerates which can jack up the prices. I think the library should be marketing open access journals to faculty and advocating for university support for faculty to publish in them.

I wish we could encourage faculty to consider publishing in reputable open access journals (those that provide free access online and are non-profit). However, it’s a balance because those faculty members going up for tenure want to publish in a high-profile journal and those still tend to be owned by those large scholarly publishers.

The library should develop some sort of award or prize for faculty publishing in an open access journal. We do get questions from faculty asking for help in identifying journals to publish in, so maybe some sort of workshop or brown bag is in order. But I think it’s the library’s job to promote and advocate for this.

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Experiential Learning

This involves both students and faculty. Usually the library is thought of as a one way transaction: You download a journal article or you check out a book. I would like the library to be a place where students create things. So maybe that’s a makerspace that combines art & technology skills, but I would love to connect with faculty and students on something like this.

For example: We have a 3D printer, but there’s no educational programming done. People submit their jobs to the library and we print their items. If we could design a space that is collaborative and market it to faculty and students as a place to experiment and create things and talk about what we’re doing and what we are learning, that would great. To me, that places the library in the forefront of not just being a repository of THINGS, but a place that CREATES things–and I think that sends a powerful message to campus.

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Marketing & Advocacy

So to wrap-up…

These days everyone’s attention is so segmented. The academic library cannot just expect to exist as it is. We need to reach out to our current and potential users and promote our services and resources. We also need to investigate the unmet needs of our users and figure out: WHAT ARE WE NOT DOING THAT WE SHOULD BE DOING? In doing so, it’s important for the library collect data and stories from our users to paint a picture for senior leadership. The goal is to create a funded library that serves our community of users.

A Doggone Good Time: Therapy Dogs at the Library

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the title. I know….I know…

I’ve been seeing posts and pictures recently of other library therapy dogs events. Who doesn’t like to see some doggie pics? So I thought I’d throw in my own experience:

Today was the library’s 3rd annual visit of therapy dogs (technically they’re outreach dogs–dogs that have passed their canine good citizenship test). It’s something that the students eagerly look forward to (and now come expect!) as fall semester Final Exams begin. We had 16 dogs with us today and several hundred students.

It’s a great way to put a different face on the academic library: to show students we care about their mental well-being. We want them relaxed for Final Exams. We want to relieve those jitters for a little while. This gives them an opportunity to take a break from studying if for just a bit.

I blogged about the broader topic last spring – De-Stressing for Student Finals –  and a colleague and I gave a presentation on marketing and outreach activities such as this last year: Creating an Engaging Library: Marketing from the Group Up.

For the library it costs little money. The local kennel club participants volunteer their time for free. Our marketing is via the library website, Facebook, and Twitter. We spent some money printing posters. It’s also important to be in contact with your parent organization’s risk management person to make sure the appropriate paperwork and insurance forms are filled out. Otherwise, it’s a pretty easy event to handle.

Concerns about noise and allergies? Although that’s definitely a legitimate concern, we’ve heard very little comment. We’re lucky in that our library is 7 floors. For us, it boils down to this: The event takes up 1 floor for 2 hours on 1 day a year. You have to balance the reward with the consequences. For us, the reward is overwhelming: This is an event that students look forward to. Students are lined up on the floor waiting to see the dogs as they come into the building. Want to see more? Check out these pics:

Can I Quote You On That? Social Media Guidelines & Library Patrons

I’m taking the HyperlibMOOC class this fall. It’s been a fun experience: far exceeding my expectations with stimulating discussions, lectures, activities, and side conversations.

Currently, I’m working on a social media guidelines assignment for class. Browsing around the web for examples of other library social media policies, I stumbled on to one which I won’t call out by name. Their policy states:

“We reserve the right to use your comments in promotional materials, to use your stories to show others what makes [insert library name] unique and extraordinary.”

Is this standard boiler plate language? If so, what exactly does it mean?

  • Would retweeting a comment such as: Got my assignment done! This library rocks! count as part of this?

I do that at my library without really thinking about it. To me, it’s part of the ethos of Twitter.

Or, might I see your Twitter post or Facebook comment incorporated into promotional materials for the library? Like an advertisement or poster. That I have a problem with. I’m not part of tin-foil hate brigade when it comes to privacy, but I do expect a certain base amount of protection and I bristle at things that come across as pure advertising.

Let’s say I posted something on the library’s Facebook page and then saw it captured and featured on large plasma displays in the library:

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THAT would bug me. Without my permission? No.

I’m not exactly sure I have an answer for what IS the dividing line in terms of social media and privacy. It often seems rather fluid.

As a librarian and as a professional, I’ve always felt it was just the “right” thing to do to ASK people for their permission to use comments in advertisements and promotions. We’re inviting people to “friend” and “follow” us, I’d rather not risk that friendship just for an advertisement.

What do you think…Am I way off-base here? Is the library a business like anything else? Should we be mining our patrons’ comments and posts for our benefit without asking? Let me know!

Postcards & Therapy Dogs: De-Stressing for Student Finals

It’s that time of year: Final Exams. To help de-stress students at my academic library, we usually plan some activities to help students relax and have a little fun too.

Yesterday I tweeted a postcard that my library is giving students to send back home to assure mom and dad that they’re studying for final exams. It proved popular! At last count, it was re-tweeted 37 times and favorited 31 times.

Final Exams postcard for students to send back home.

Final Exams postcard for students to send back home.

Library Postcards

So, how did the postcard idea come about? It’s all about partnerships. Our library director, Paula Ganyard (@ganyardp), who had read an article about a similar idea, approached our university’s marketing people–they thought it was a great idea. A graphics intern in their department designed two postcards for us to give to students.

For printing and postage, the partnership continues: the library, along with the university’s advancement office (the money people!) split the cost. Now before you think we’re spending money on postcards as opposed to books and databases, we’re not. We have a small amount of funds that can be used for outreach projects such as this. As academic libraries do more outreach, having money to do things outside of the normal “library” realm becomes more important.

So, what do we see as the “worth” in doing something like this? Our library director thinks it’s something fun and different for today’s college students. Used to communicating electronically, the postcard idea is a fun, retro way to connect with mom and dad. Building on this, it’s also great way for the library to connect with parents, promote the university’s new brand, and promote the library as Wisconsin Library of the Year. But it all ties back to the students: we hope that the small things we do add to students’ overall college experience, helps to retain them, and creates a fun memory for their library and their campus.

Therapy Dogs

In addition to the postcard idea, we try to do one “big” event for Final Exams each semester. For Fall Final Exams in December, we bring in therapy dogs–which has become one of our most talked about events.

One of our librarians belongs to a local kennel club. Their dogs have all passed the “canine good citizenship” test and do outreach at schools, nursing homes, and now our academic library. On the day of the event, we block off a two hour time span on one of library floors and invite anywhere from 12-15 therapy dogs.  Response from students has been through the roof, as evidenced in social media posts (here, here, here, and here). We even made the local TV news:

UWGB students use dogs to escape exams

The therapy dog visit demonstrates the library’s commitment to not only the academic needs of students, but to their general mental and behavioral well-being. It gives students a moment to relax, recalibrate, and re-energize before the next big exam.

Complaints about allergies and noise have been minor. I think of it this way: it’s one day of the year, for two hours, limited to one floor of the library, and highly publicized. We also try to hold it right BEFORE final exams begin, to avoid any major disruptions. Also: if you want to do therapy dogs, don’t forget to check on liability/insurance issues. We had do some paperwork!

For more photos of our “furry” library friends, check out the UW-Green Bay’s Cofrin Library Flickr set.

The therapy dogs and other outreach activities we do are covered in a presentation I did with my colleague Renee Ettinger at the Wisconsin Library Association Conference in October 2012.

Include “Passive” Activities, Too

Besides postcards and therapy dogs, we also try to have a variety of “passive” activities: coloring, board games, easy crafts, etc. Anything to take students’ minds of Finals…if just for a bit.

I’m interested in hearing about what other academic libraries do for Final Exams. Let me know and leave a comment!

Edible Books Redux

Last year I blogged about hosting an Edible Book Festival – it’s a great way to get your community to think about books and reading in a different light. You’re also asking your community to contribute and show off their talents. And who doesn’t like some cake? I love the cleverness and creativity associated with this event. You can even promote it with fun tag lines such as:

It’s time to cook the books!

Did you ever want to eat your own words?

Yesterday, my library held its 2nd annual Edible Book Fest to coincide with National Library Week. This year we did a few things differently. We changed some of the prize categories. This year we did:

We also relied on “celebrity” judges to pick the winners for each of the categories–with the exception of “People’s Choice.” Last year, we spent too much time trying to tally up the winners, so we let our community vote for “People’s Choice” and then only had to tally up votes for one category – this streamlined things for us.

Take a look at some of our edible entries:

Creating an Engaging Library: Marketing from the Ground Up

My colleague Renee Ettinger & I presented at the Wisconsin Library Association Annual Conference in La Crosse last week. What a fun experience interacting with other librarians from around the state!

Our presentation – Creating an Engaging Library: Marketing from the Ground Up – covered our library’s events for our university community, examined our marketing efforts and how they have evolved, spotlighted our social media activities, and how we collaborate with students and other campus groups for marketing and event planning.

Here’s the description of our session presentation:

Libraries can’t afford for marketing to be an afterthought. It’s a way to connect with your community, campus and school. Join UW-Green Bay librarians as they discuss how their library built a comprehensive marketing plan, utilized the talent of students, experts, partnered with stakeholders and designed popular events for its patrons. The end goal? Creating a vibrant and engaging environment. The session will wrap up with a lightning round, where you will be invited to share your ideas and experiences with marketing. We hope to see you there!

Below is a link to our presentation from Slideshare:

We also referenced several videos in our presentation:

If you have some great marketing ideas or cool library events you’d like to share, let me know!

Books, Food & Fun: Hosting an Edible Book Festival

Yesterday, my library hosted its first Edible Book Festival. With minimal planning and volunteers, we pulled it off. Traditionally, libraries hold an Edible Book Festival on or around April 1, to honor Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of Physiologie du gout (The Physiology of Taste), who is generally regarded as an early “foodie”. My library held its event today to honor our 40th anniversary.

If you’ve never planned an Edible Book Festival before, it’s easy to do and it’s a great way to get your community, school, or university involved. Here are a few pointers if you are interested in planning such an event.

  • Look around online for some examples and inspiration: Start with the International Edible Book Festival website. Here are a few libraries and organizations that have hosted an edible book event:
  • Determine categories for the event such as: Best Individual Entry, Best Group Entry, Best in Show, “Punniest,” Most Likely to Be Eaten
  • Help answer the question, What is an Edible Book? by providing an explanation:
    • “Edible books can look like a book in form and shape, be inspired by a book or author, can be a pun of a book title, can refer to a book character, reproduce a book cover, or just have something to do with books in general.”
    • Help people visualize what an edible book can be made from: “Entries may be made from anything that is edible (cake, bread, crackers, Jell-o, fruit, vegetables, candy, etc.) as long as it can sit out for an hour or two without melting, turning bad, or getting scary.”
  • Promotion: Use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to promote the event. We also created a campus flyer and got a story in our university’s daily email announcement.
  • Reach out to local groups that might be interested in the event (elementary, middle & high schools, restaurants, culinary schools, libraries).
  • We created a Libguide that displayed information for people that might be interested in the event.
  • Some libraries collect an entry fee (e.g., $2.00 for individual entries, $5.00 for group entries) and donate the proceeds to a local soup kitchen, food pantry, or charity.
  • Some institutions may have to seek a waiver from their parent organization for serving food.
  • Create an entry form (paper or electronic). Ask for: entry type (individual or group), contact info, title of entry, book/title/author that inspired the entry, special needs (like space, electricity, etc…), and whether or not the entrant plans to bring along a copy of the book that inspired the creation (otherwise the library should plan to get a copy).
  • On the entry form, emphasize the need for safe food handling practices and that the entrants should bring a utensil to cut/carve their creation.
  • Create placards for each of the entrants with the book title, name, etc…
  • Have utensils, cups, and plates for the day of the event.
  • On the day of the event: have entrants bring their creations at least 30 minutes to 1 hour beforehand, to allow for set-up.
  • Leave some time for judging. We had ballots printed up and used a popular vote methods. Other libraries use guest “judges.”
  • Arrange for certificates and prizes (if funding allows).
  • Announce the winners and “eat” the books.
  • We even got a shout-out on the local news.
Our Iceberg is Melting Punch

Our Iceberg is Melting Punch – my entry for our Edible Book Festival