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.

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The Accidental Library Director

If you would have told me just over a year ago that I would be a library director, hysterical laughter would be my response:

But here I am. I keep calling myself the “accidental” library director. That’s how I introduced myself with a group of new college library director peers. My husband told me to stop saying that. “You’re devaluing your worth!” or something to that effect. I can’t help it. Midwestern self-deprecation is my coping mechanism. No one should seem too self-important.

There was never a desire for a career in library leadership. Up until now, my entire 15+ year stretch as an academic librarian has been focused on information literacy, research assistance, and outreach. I got to do “fun” things like 3D printing, managing a children’s/young adult literature collection, teaching a podcasting course, and designing active learning exercises. I had the freedom to be as creative as I wanted to be.

Conversely, being library director sounded like a creativity killer: budgets, human resources, management.

But truth be told, I was inching toward leadership: I had plenty of programmatic leadership experience, and in the past few years also managed staff.

In October 2017, the interim library director at our small-ish academic library (approx. 3,400 students) resigned. We did not have a back up plan. That’s not a criticism–we just all had too many other things to do. Succession planning was not at the top of the list.

After realizing that none of the other librarians wanted to step up, I offered to. I also told the Provost that I was not interested in the job permanently. Well, you can see where that went: Accidental Library Director.

I filled the interim role for 6 months before applying for the permanent position. Even though an internal applicant, I still had to go through the full interview process: resume/cover letter, phone interview, in-person interview. And I’m glad I did: it made the process transparent and worthwhile. In May 2018, I was appointed permanent library director.

Why Didn’t I Want to Do It (at first)?

  1. I like being a front line librarian and the interactions and energy with students, faculty, and staff.
  2. We had no one trained as a #2 person who could step up to the top role.
  3. At our small-ish academic library, the library director also oversees access services (circulation, interlibrary loan, reserves) and I had absolutely no interest in that.
  4. I really enjoyed my coordination area of info lit and research assistance. My office in the Information Commons was a hub for student activity. I would miss that.
  5. I wasn’t sure I was the right person to be an effective advocate for the library with senior administration (cue imposter syndrome).

Why Did I Change My Mind?

  1. As director, I’m still a front line librarian! At a smaller institution, all of the librarians are front line. I may not be doing as much info lit as I did previously, but I have plenty of interactions. I just worked with a senior capstone English class and their outstanding research topics have energized me as reference librarian this semester.
  2. I got over my “I hate access services” feeling. We all have job duties that are not our “favorite.” You sometimes just have to suck it up. I’m backed up by an incredible circulation manager who handles a lot of day-to-day access services issues.
  3. Yeah, I did enjoy info lit over the years (and I still happily participate as library director–I just don’t have to do as much). But secretly, I was getting to the point where I could potentially see myself getting burnt out. It was time for a change. I got to re-write my “old” position description and hire a new Teaching & Learning Librarian who is off to an outstanding start!
  4. It took some non-library people to convince me to apply: a professor, a senior administrator, and a staff member to say: “Joe: You could TOTALLY do this job!” For me, I gradually realized that all of my experiences prepared me for this. My feelings transitioned from “I could do the job” to “I want to do this job.”
  5. In the interim role, I started making small changes. Then I wanted to see those changes develop. Library administration is not boring. I love collaborating with colleagues from inside and outside the library. I’m proud of the exciting things that library staff are doing. I want to promote that and work with stakeholders on carrying out the library’s mission of student success.

With that said, there is so much to learn and you can be pulled in a million different directions. It’s a big switch for me. For the first year, I’ve been doing a lot of listening: amongst library staff, students, and faculty on campus. I’ve been energized in interactions with the College Library Director Mentoring Program and some of my professional associations and by great colleagues on Twitter.

In a few months, I’ll run a follow-up post on what I’m learning. Lately, it’s been mostly HVAC issues, hah!

What is Your Leadership Style? Ask Your Colleagues!

Happy New Year! I’m currently enjoying a brief break from working on my master’s in education before classes start up again in late January. So far, I’ve completed 7 out of 11 courses!

The experience has helped fill in gaps that my master’s in library science lacked — that degree was all about library content (books, journals, databases), but surprisingly lacked anything about people. To me, libraries are *all about people* and that’s been the focus on this master’s in adult and continuing education.

This past semester, one of the courses I enrolled in was a management and leadership course. I don’t often take time to consider my leadership style. I’m a manager, but to me, any employee regardless of supervisory responsibilities can (and should!) be a leader.

Leadership Assignment

One assignment I worked on was a concept paper to examine my leadership style through the perspectives of colleagues and friends and then identify the leadership style of a “famous” person that I wish to emulate:

Use five original quotations from your friends or colleagues on how they see you as a leader: write a 3-page paper 1) describing the leadership you demonstrate in practice, and 2) compare and contrast your personal traits and characteristics with an effective public leader of choice (living or dead).

The text of paper is below.

Leadership Styles

Whenever I take a “find your leadership style” quiz, the result is usually the same: I never fall strongly into one category. So hopefully that means I bring in skills that touch upon multiple styles?

In browsing online for leadership styles, I first read Rooke and Torbert’s (2005) classification of seven leadership styles: Opportunist, Diplomat, Expert, Achiever, Individualist, Strategist, and Alchemist. I was not attracted to this classification, since several of categories indicate a leadership deficit. After doing some Googling, I found that many sites and articles reference the following common styles: Charismatic, Participative, Quiet, Servant, Situational, Transactional, and Transformative (Chen, 2006). I like this schema since it plays to people’s strengths.

Feedback from Colleagues

I wasn’t exactly sure what kinds of quotes I would get about my leadership style when I emailed my co-workers and asked professional colleagues on Facebook. I knew by me asking, I wasn’t likely to get anything critical; this is not an anonymous evaluation or performance review. I actually got “warm fuzzies” from a few of the comments.

I’ll start with the simplest:

“Have fun; it’s just work.”

This was from a current co-worker and I know where she was going with this one: As a leader in a workplace setting that is not life-and-death, I emphasize the “fun” aspect as it goes against the grain of the traditionally stuffy world of libraries. The library should be a creative and expressive place–even noisy, at times. The days of being a silent book warehouse are over. Libraries need to adapt and change.

A former student responded to my plea for quotes via a Facebook post:

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“I always felt that your leadership style suggested ‘one of us’ as opposed to ‘us vs. them.’ As an instructor, I never felt like I was assigned work, but more like I was taking part in something as a group. It was always a pleasure.”

Even before beginning the M.Ed. program, I knew my style was collaborative, but now I know the power of facilitating–I do not desire to be the sage on the stage. Each group member has something worthwhile to share, I like to build relationships with groups to tap into that.

Conversely, a former supervisor described me as:

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The part I focused on was:

“find[ing] it just as easy to do something yourself as to delegate.”

Although I have learned to delegate more in the past few years, I do have a hard time letting go. I have a picture in my head of how something should look and I can be a perfectionist in that regard. However, time has told me that reaching out to get additional perspectives is important and can help improve an idea that I already thought was “perfect.”  

A current co-worker stated:

“I would say you lead by example. You do what needs to be done, you behave in a manner which others seek to emulate, and your work ethic sets the bar for others to meet.”

This seems like common sense to me. I’m a person who likes steps and examples, so that’s my natural leadership style: modeling the way for others. In fact, that’s what frustrates me sometimes as a supervisor: If expectations and examples are laid out clearly, why do we fail?

My current supervisor focused on decision-making:

“Above all else, a leader must be able to commit to making a decision. Joe is capable of making decisive decisions, when needed, even in hectic moments.”

My first thought was, “I’m glad my boss feels that way!” because I don’t always. In my mind, I do a lot of back-and-forth when it comes to decision making (pros and cons, potential outcomes). I also feel strongly that you can also change your mind on decisions if presented with new information. I don’t call that “waffling” or “flip-flopping”: it’s adapting to changing situations.

Rachel Carson: Quiet Leadership

In regards to a leader I admire, I chose environmentalist Rachel Carson (1907-1964). Despite being able to facilitate and engage in transformation, I am, at my core, an introvert. After reading the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and watching the author’s TED talk (Cain, 2012), I started thinking about leaders who fall into the introvert category. Carson sticks out to me as a quiet leader. She did serious work that led to lasting change–much of it coming posthumously. She also didn’t seek the limelight.

Koehn (2012) describes Carson as a person “who preferred walking the Maine shoreline to stalking the corridors of power.” That is true of me: I like to get away and be outside. I want time to think about big projects before acting. Like Carson, I’m not a cage rattler, preferring to do my research and influence people with my findings. However, perhaps unlike Carson, I also recognize that a “just the facts” approach won’t work with everyone. You need to weave a story and touch both hearts and minds.  

With Carson, I’m struck by her “no complaints” lifestyle. Her family had financial difficulties putting her through college and was not able to finish her Ph.D. She cared for sick relatives, took in an orphaned family members, and had her own health problems. She often had to put aside her own work to take care of these matters. Work is important, but it’s not everything. I identify with this needed ability to be flexible with life and work.

People equate introverts with shyness. I disagree. Carson used her leadership skills to develop a wide network of associates (government, nonprofits, higher education) to help her with her groundbreaking environmental studies and stood up to the chemical lobby when needed (Koehn, 2012). I admire this ability to use quiet leadership to stand up for your convictions. Rachel Carson’s tenacity combined with modesty, preparation, and problem-solving are qualities I seek to emulate.


Post-Assignment Note

This assignment helped me see my leadership attributes through the eyes of my colleagues. It’s important to step back and see how others view you. In identifying a “famous” person whose leadership style I admire, I was attracted to Rachel Carson’s “quiet” leadership style. Perhaps predictable for a librarian, but a powerful style nonetheless.


References

Cain, S. (2012, February). Susan Cain: The power of introverts

Chen, S-S. (2006). Leadership styles and organization structural configurations. Journal of Human Resource & Adult Learning, 39-46. 

Koehn, N.F. (2012, October 27). From calm leadership, lasting change. The New York Times

Rooke, D., & Torbert, W.R. (2005). Seven transformations of leadership. Harvard Business Review, 83(4), 66-76.