Little effort, big return

20 06 2007

Library marketing doesn’t have to be about spending thousands of dollars on traditional advertisements. An effective campaign can be accomplished with even the most meager of budgets.  What really counts in marketing is results – meeting whatever your goal is for that marketing effort. And if that can be accomplished on a shoestring, then all the better.

Sometimes, I think, it’s easy to get lost pondering the great big X – the marketing campaign (handled by professionals of course) of our dreams, with print, media, and internet ads that would encourage users to make use of library resources.  A campaign doesn’t have to be a finished product before you begin implementing it. It doesn’t even need to include any “traditional” marketing. All you need to know is who your users are, and what the library can do for them.

Ha-ha…not so easy, right?  Well, maybe I’m being a little simplistic, but here’s one thing that I bet all your users have in common – they like to be appreciated. From that, we can also infer that they like to feel special, that they like to be catered to, to feel that their needs are being addressed.  So how do you take that vague idea and turn it into something concrete your library can do?  You do what Susan B. Ardis of the UT Engineering Library does.  Her patrons are engineers and scientists. They like to feel special…that they’re being appreciated…same as your patrons, right? So here’s how Susan caters to their needs, while simultaneously promoting the library from both a usage and future-fundraising front:

  • Buying books written by your patrons – Every time a UT Engineering or Science professor or a UT PhD publishes a book, Susan buys a copy of it. She then sends a congratulatory note to the engineer/scientist thanking them for all their hard work and telling them what an asset the book will be to the collection. The thing is, Susan was going to buy the book anyway! But she doesn’t miss out on the opportunity to compliment her patrons, nor does she miss out on the chance to remind them about the library and all it can do to help those in the field.   And since engineers “show their appreciation with their pocketbooks” this has been a very successful funding-seeking tool for the libraries.   She even puts a bookplate in each book saying that the title was purchased in honor of John Doe, PhD.
  • Buying books in a professor’s name – Every year, Susan sends out letters to each engineering and science faculty member reminding them that the library has allocated $5,000 to each of them to recommend books that should be added to the collection.  Where did she get this extra money? She doesn’t have it of course! Any book that a professor recommends was probably slated to be purchased anyway, and the funds will come out of the usual acquisitions budget.  But by generously offering so much funding, and sincerely asking for user-input for the collection, Susan again reaches out to her patrons to remind them of how important they are, and what the library can do for them.
  • A Sidewalk Billboard – For about $100, Susan purchased a commercial-quality water-weighted and water-proof sidewalk sign. The sign has a printed insert with library information, including recent reference questions asked of the librarians. This is really clever, because Susan only puts the question…not the answer. Engineers and scientists are problem-solvers. They don’t like to see a question without an answer… so they’re intrigued by these questions (some of them quite bizarre) and will now connect “the library” with finding the answer to that problem.

These ideas are very specific to the type of library Susan Ardis runs, and the materials she gathers and the individuals she serves. So how can you take these ideas and turn them into something magic (and practically free!) for your own library? How about…

  • Buy books, music, magazines, movies, and software produced by people in your community…and then tell them about it! Don’t miss out on that opportunity to connect.
  • Contact experts in your community and “give them a budget” for recommended additions to the library’s holdings in their area of expertise.
  • Offer a similar “budget” to every member of your community. The fact is, most people won’t take you up on it (they haven’t at Susan’s library). But you’ll still be asking people for their input and possibly getting some valuable data about user needs.  From the user end, a $50 or $100 budget per patron for recommending new acquisitions sounds like the library is essentially giving them money to buy books/music/movies.  Pretty slick, huh?

What about you? What little things has your library done that have reaped big rewards?

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