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.

No More Cruise Control: Driving Change with Students, Staff, and Space

Last month I gave a presentation at the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians conference. I love this conference!–it’s my regional peers, in a small setting, sharing creative and practical tips from their libraries.

Description of the presentation: 
Adapt or die. It’s a mantra we hear, but libraries have always been about change. The key now is to be in the driver’s seat. Librarians from Carroll University will discuss four ways they have embraced change:

1) a workflows assessment to analyze staff duties,

2) a ʺkindness auditʺ to examine barriers to library services,

3) an enhanced patron count to determine how to best utilize library space,

4) a survey to report how students use the library.

Combined, these initiatives position the library as a change maker. Learn about these practices and take the wheel to share your experiences with change, too!

 

I tend not to do the death-by-bullet point PowerPoint, so a little info may be lost outside of the presentation. What it all boils down to are four things my library has done to respond to and anticipate change. Some focus on students and improving library spaces and services, while some focus on staff duties and how to best position the library for the future.

If you have any questions about it, let me know!

 

Working with Students on the Autism Spectrum in an Academic Library

I don’t want to give away too much information on this situation, so I’m changing a few of the things to protect privacy, but here goes…

Background
I was facilitating an information literacy session for a class–a typical first-year gen ed course. My usual plan incorporates a hands-on activity (research worksheet) where students, working in groups, find different information sources on their class topic (books, ebooks, streaming films, newspapers/magazines, scholarly articles). After searching, each group shares how they found the information with their classmates. In total, the session incorporates multiple learning styles (visual, aural, and tactile).

Instead of me doing the talking, I outline what we want to accomplish during the session and point out a couple of things on the library website. Then I let the groups start their work. I walk around and visit each group to make sure they are headed in the right direction.

Issue
A group was struggling in interactions with one of their classmates.

  • A student kept asking me question after question. I love when students ask questions in info lit sessions (yes!), but the student was bogged down in technical minutiae — missing the forest through the trees — that sort of thing.
  • The student fixated on answering each question on the research worksheet and was taking very little input from other group members.
  • The student argued with the other students about the answers. The student was concerned that there were multiple avenues for determining a “correct” answer.
  • The student was verbally critical in a raised voice when help was offered to the group (e.g., “Why didn’t you show us how to do this AT THE BEGINNING!”).
  • The student also seemed sidetracked with the settings on the library laptops that were being used by the students.

I realized I *likely* (granted, just an inference on my part) had a student on the autism spectrum in class. No formal indication was communicated to me–nor should it–that is up to the individual. In typical “pro” librarian style, you just need to roll with the situation and be flexible.

My Reaction
As this was happening, I made a mental note to remain calm and supportive. The last thing I want to do to any student is be dismissive, curt, or yell back.

I focused on providing a little more in-depth step-by-step instruction with the student (e.g., “Let’s take a look at your question and see what we can find out.”). However, I did feel like I got behind schedule and the rest of the students were waiting for us to catch up–some were noticeably annoyed. It’s a difficult balancing act that we will see more of at the higher ed level.

I wish I could have facilitated the session more smoothly. I’d be interested in hearing tips and techniques from other librarians. 

Things to Keep in Mind
Individuals on the autism spectrum are all unique, but there are a few general tips to be aware of in regards to the library and information literacy:

  1. Meeting in a new location (like the Library Classroom) may disrupt the student’s routine.
  2. My “there are many ways to find the answer” research worksheet may not be structured enough for someone on the autism spectrum. I could have supplemented it by outlining a step-by-step research strategy on the chalkboard/whiteboard.
  3. Technology in the Library Classroom could be distracting or contribute to sensory overload (I typically use both laptops and touchscreen technology with students).
  4. I usually require students to work in pairs or groups for the research worksheet activity, but should recognize that if a student wishes to work independently, that is an OK option.
  5. Emphasize additional services:
    • Appointments to meet with a librarian if that’s what the student is interested in.
    • Online tutorials and the library’s online chat box that can be accessed from the comfort of home/dorm room, etc… if a face-to-face interaction is not preferred.
    • Quiet spaces are available in the library if that’s the type of space that the student is interested in utilizing.
  6. As a librarian/higher ed professional, I will readily admit to not having a lot of training in the area of working with students on the autism spectrum. Contact your university’s office of disability services to see what further support the library could provide, or to arrange for staff training opportunities.
  7. Remember, *all* students learn differently. Keep in mind the principles of Universal Design for Learning.

Further Reading

 

“How Do You Get Students Excited About Searching?”

I was talking with a professor the other day and she asked me:

How do you get students excited about searching?

It reminded me of the old quote:

Librarians like to search. Everyone else likes to find.

I really had to think about this one. Maybe it’s that word: excite? I’m a librarian and I don’t think that searching is exciting. Sure it can occasionally be a fun detective hunt. Yes, it’s sometimes serendipitous…but often it’s just tedious–nothing I would generally categorize as exciting.

As an instruction librarian, am I failure in the classroom if I don’t think it’s my job to get students excited about searching? I don’t think so. You need to be cognizant that sometimes it just boils down to the professor’s assignment. Is the assignment exciting? Or is it just busy work? I’m more than happy to collaborate with faculty on assignment ideas, but at the end of the day, it’s the professor’s job to put the assignment together.

When it comes down to my teaching: I’m passionate about connecting people with information. The act (or art?) of searching is only one small part. My job is to get students pointed in the right direction, to de-mystify the research process a little, and to show them that it CAN be done! Let’s face it: the library is often the most itimidating building on campus. I’m here to make the library and the research process a little bit more relatable to students.

I show them the tools that will be most useful, make the connection in how these tools will help them succeed with their assignment, get them thinking about HOW and WHY they’re using this information, and get them using the tools right away. My mix of teaching is practical, personable, participatory, and slightly humorous.

I’m not here to do a song and dance razzle-dazzle routine on searching for information: “Try this ONE perfect search to find EVERYTHING on your topic. Look, it’s so EASY!” Students see right through that. I don’t do the “perfect” search because that’s not what students will encounter. I’m OK playing “stump the librarian” and having the students work with me on the problem. It makes you more authentic and approachable.

I’m a realist: Will they be excited? Chances are, no. But will they think the research process seems a little more doable and will they be willing to seek help? Yes.

What do you think? Is it our job to make searching exciting? I’d love to hear your thoughts or any tips and techniques that you’ve tried.

On Being a Generalist Librarian & Not Having a 2nd Master’s

They let you work in an academic library without a second master's

After I started my first professional librarian position at an academic library in 2003, I had every good intention of getting my second master’s degree…in something.

In fact, it was required if I wanted to stay employed at my job. But then there was a lawsuit (or something to that effect) and the university – which had hired art professors with a terminal MFA and social work professors with a terminal MSW – found out that they were holding librarians to a higher standard: MLS + an additional graduate degree. The requirement was promptly dropped. So with that, coupled with no financial support from my institution to actually earn the degree, I let the second master’s slide off my radar.

You see, I’m one of those librarians who went directly from bachelor’s degree to MLS and then right to work.

And for librarians who told me a second master’s degree was essential (ABSOLUTELY essential!) to be an academic librarian? Well, I’ve never had any problems with just my MLS and I’ve been employed at four different academic libraries. Is it required at some institutions? Sure. Is it helpful for your resume? Of course it is. And for the jobs where it is required–say a subject specialist: Law Librarian, Asian Studies Librarian, etc… well, those jobs never interested me in the first place.

Why yes I am the expert

I’m a generalist librarian. A jack-of-all-trades. I know a little bit about a lot…and I’m completely OK with that. My focus has always been on reference and instruction. I love not knowing what I might get asked next. In a two-hour shift at the Reference Desk, it could be anything from Census records to British literature. Last week, I had a chat reference question about “natal homing in migratory fish.” And you know what? Even though science is not my strong suit, I did OK. Maybe I should try out for Jeopardy!.

I look at the information literacy sessions I have scheduled this semester: music, education, communication, political science, history, social work, psychology, biology, environmental science, English composition, Spanish. I don’t fear the range of subject areas. I embrace it.

That’s what I love about being a generalist librarian: the variety. From reference, to information literacy, embedding in online courses, working with non-traditional students, handling the library’s social media activities, participating in special studies with assessment and space planning: There’s always something different to do.

This has been my path. I’m not discounting subject specialists at all: We need those! We need librarians who are passionate about their subject speciality. And there’s definitely a need for subject specialists at research institutions. However, my experience has primarily been at undergraduate institutions where you wear a lot of different hats.

I no longer feel bad about not earning that second master’s degree. Priorities shift and you begin to assess what’s really important to you personally and professionally. I also like having my student loans all paid off. At this point, for me, it’s not financially prudent to sink money and time to earn an additional degree that likely wouldn’t make a hill of beans difference in the long run. Unlike others, I can put a price on education.

And then I think back to my original plan: What would my additional grad degree have been in? Certainly not history (which is my BA). Maybe an MBA or a master’s in educational technology would be helpful? Recently, a professor stopped me and asked, “So when are you getting your PhD?” I just laughed. A PhD to be a generalist librarian? No thanks.

Embedded Librarian 101: How to Get Started

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As librarians, we can’t wait for students to ask us questions. We know that! That’s why we’ve had “virtual” reference services since the early 2000’s. But it’s simply not enough to have an online presence. The key is being online where the students are. For most universities, this means the learning management system (Moodle, Blackboard, D2L, etc…). It’s where students spend their academic time. It’s where librarians need to be. It’s embedded librarianship.

How do you get started?

  • Start small. Identity a library-friendly faculty member that would be open to an embedded librarian and then expand from there.
  • Target writing emphasis courses (many universities will have these courses tagged in their course catalogs with terms such as writing emphasis, writing enhanced, writing intensive, etc…) that will likely have a research component that would require the use of library materials and resources.
  • Send an email to faculty teaching these courses at the beginning of every term (yes, it takes several reminders for it to work!).
  • Provide marketing and informational materials about embedded librarian services. We direct faculty to a LibGuide about our embedded librarian program and have developed a checklist for faculty to consult. We also provide info at faculty workshops and try to get our foot in the door at departmental meetings.
  • Work with the faculty member to identify the level of service needed: ranging from a simple discussion forum, to a tutorial/quiz module, to you as a “guest lecturer,”etc…

How do you gain access to courses in the learning management system?

  • First: get the go-ahead from the faculty member teaching the course.
  • Work with your university’s IT staff. Most can add you into courses with TA access or a “librarian” role can be created in the learning management system. I usually email our IT staff requesting access to the courses I need and I copy the faculty member on the email.
  • Recommendation: request that a secondary account for embedded librarian be added to the course  (for example, your library’s Reference Desk account) so that the courses can be checked if you’re out of the office or on vacation.

How do you set up & post information as the Embedded Librarian?

  • Create your discussion forum and add in any other learning objects that are appropriate (e.g., LibGuides, tutorials, etc.).
  • If you’re embedded for an entire term, you may want to roll out various learning objects by date as assignments/projects approach.
  • Introduce yourself in the discussion forum. Describe what you’re here to do. Add in a video to give a face to a name–creating a much more personal approach (here’s mine).
  • Give students some guidelines: “I’ll check this forum twice per day.” “When you post your question, tell me a little bit about what you’ve already tried to search for.” “If you need immediate help, try our Ask-a-Librarian service.”

How do you encourage students to ask questions?

  • Be welcoming. “If you have a question, it’s likely that some of your other classmates have the exact same question. So post it!”
  • Develop a list of “ready to go” posts. These are posts that you can drop in the forum (say once per week) to help stimulate discussion and questions.
  • Post information in a variety of mediums from PDF handouts to videos.

Where do you go from here?

  • After some initial success, you may want to target all sections of a particular course, or a sequence of courses for embedded librarian.
  • Develop some higher-level activities that can be embedded: self-paced tutorials, quizzes, etc.
  • Assess! Find out how your services were used and how they might be improved or enhanced.

“I Didn’t Know I Could Use the Library!” Meeting the Needs of Students Online

I’m at WILU 2013 – Workshop for Instruction in Library Use – a Canadian information literacy conference in Fredericton, New Brunswick: a great opportunity to network with librarians north of the border – or “south of the border” to them! I presented a session about implementing library services to online students:

“I Didn’t Know I Could Use the Library!” Meeting the Needs of Students Online

Session Description:
What do you do with students you rarely see in the library? University of Wisconsin-Green Bay has a growing online student population. Reaching these students can be challenging. Many still view the library as just a brick-and-mortar building, and not an online 24/7 resource. Librarians conducted an assessment of online students to investigate their needs. This session will focus on the assessment results and the information literacy outreach plan put into place. It will highlight several initiatives, including the embedded librarian program, faculty-librarian collaboration, marketing efforts, and learning tools geared towards online students. Based on feedback from students and faculty, an increase in reference questions, as well as high usage statistics from librarian-created tutorials and discussion boards, the outreach plan is working. Come and learn about these best practices for online learners and share your ideas, as well.

Here are some of the assessment tools, resources, guides, and tips mentioned in my presentation: