Nonprofits are your friends

8 08 2007

Technically, libraries aren’t nonprofits…we’re usually government agencies, but we have a lot in common with nonprofits, too.  I haven’t spent much time looking into the advocacy offerings of the nonprofit folks because I’ve had my hands full just trying to catch up with the librarians!

But for my grant, I needed to evaluate the tools that were already out there, and I couldn’t find much in the way of Web 2.0 for library advocacy (which is good, since that’s what I’m trying to get a grant for!*) so I plugged “nonprofit” in my search box and lo and behold, I hit the motherlode! I shouldn’t be too surprised… nonprofits traditionally have even less funding than libraries, so they’ve been quicker to adopt new ways of garnering public support.

Here are a few of my favorites from the bunch…

  • Nonprofit Technology Network – their Web 2.0 category has some great stuff!
  • Net ^2 (squared) , remixing the  web for social change
  • Roots.lab, helping nonprofits leverage the social web… they have a great rundown of what the social web can do for nonprofits here

More details about the revised grant forthcoming… I just finished the draft for my class this evening.

* Please let me know if you’ve found anything out there that deals with social networking/social media for libraries in any kind of detail. I couldn’t find anything, but maybe one of you has run across something?


Lessons in Marketing

5 08 2007

Today I was reminded of how small the library online community is, and how important it is to plan for the unexpected.

My friend, Lea, and fellow co-director of the Student Association of the School of Information at UT, took some photos of a new shirt designed by a recent graduate of our program. The design is called Evolution of a Librarian:

Informationus Primatus, represented by a gorilla with a pair of reading glasses; Informationus Scriptor, represented by a medieval scholar scribbling away with a quill; Informationus Shushimus, represented by a female librarian with a bun, busily shushing patrons; and the final evolution: Informationus Professionus, represented by a young female librarian in jeans and an Antelope/information? tee (see below), carrying a laptop, a book, and listening to an ipod.

She posted the photos on her flickr page so I could grab them easily to put up on our our blog. SASI has been printing shirts for as long as anyone can remember as a way to get funding from the Graduate School Assembly (GSA) and the Student Senate, that we can turn around and sell at a small profit in order to support student activities and community-building. I had intended to get the photos up sometime this weekend (or maybe next) and then send an email out to our school’s listserv to let students know they were available and when/where they could buy them.

But this morning when I woke up and checked my RSS reader, I found that Library Stuff had linked to her photo of our newest shirt design. We had always dreamed of coming up with cool shirts that we could sell to the library/information science community at large to support our school activities, and here was opportunity staring us in the face, and I didn’t even have a site set up yet! Worse, when I tried to log on to the iSchool servers, I couldn’t gain access. I couldn’t get on to the servers until a half hour ago (finally got the support site up here at SASI Swag). But even without that, we didn’t have any way of accepting payment. We hadn’t set up a paypal account and had only ever taken cash and checks in the past. We didn’t even know what to charge for shipping.

This entire experience was a great learning process for me. Technology failed us, and we failed to plan for a big enough response to our idea. This was a small glitch, something easily fixed, but we were franticly emailing and im-ing eachother and the iSchool technology folks trying to get our site back up, and figure out what to do in the meantime.

I wonder how much worse it would be for the library who fails to make arrangements for the unanticipated… I hope I’ve learned my lesson on this front.

Too much info, wrong emphasis

3 08 2007

Part of my grant application requires that I do research to make sure I’m not repeating a project that’s already out there.  I started creating a table of all the results I found from a “library advocacy” (sans quotes) search in Google, and arranging the sites by state or region (if applicable).  As soon as I did the search, I knew I was in trouble.  3.8 million results. Tacking on the word “marketing” brought it down to 1.8 million. Clicking through, I saw a lot of the same information repeated again and again…  Best practices, talking to the press, talking to politicians, facts and figures about why libraries matter. About all the poor and disadvantaged people who depend on their services. Offerings usually follow the format of step 1, 2, 3.  And when searching journal indexes, I find even more suggestions. There are advocacy offerings for nearly every state, every major city, and from most of our organizations.  I had no idea the OCLC had a site called WebJunction, and that this site contained information on advocacy and marketing. There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there.

So why are we still talking about marketing? If it’s all out there in black and white, A, B, C… why aren’t people beating down our doors to give us money?  Why are we missing the 13-30-somethings from our libraries?

If most of these sites say the same thing, can my site really say anything different? Does a database of stock-photography and templates really make it more useful? I really don’t know the answer to that question. I’m afraid the answer is “no.”   I do know that there are people in every state who understand how important advocacy is. They try to get the word out, each in their own way, with a toolbox, a step by step guide, or a marketing campaign. Funders like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation give us money to create campaigns and train staff in advocacy… $7.7 million to the Public Library Association for training, and another $1.2 million to the OCLC to develop a nationwide advocacy network (and maybe a marketing campaign, too if there’s any money left over).

But apart from the good advice, which is all sound and traditional (and repetitive), the campaigns I’ve seen are boring and have dated graphics. But more than that…they’re depressing. I just watched a commercial (not naming names) that didn’t make me want to visit a library, it made me want to cry! Story after story of disadvantaged, downtrodden people with hard lives… People don’t want to hear about that! They don’t want to hear about hard work. They want to hear about success. They want to see themselves as successful, not as failures.  If they see the library as “that place where failures go” then they’re less likely to go there. On the funding side of the coin, politicians like to see people fulfilling the American dream (bootstraps, the works) but they’re human too. They don’t need to be shown images of people struggling, because this only reminds them of how dismally they (as politicians) have failed in other areas. They need to see people succeeding as much as your patrons.

We have some funny stuff out there…. but much of it revolves around inside jokes, like the March of the Librarians video.  That’s funny to me as a librarian, but I don’t know it would make a patron want to visit the library. Or make a funder give us more money.

Being positive is key. Knowing when to pull out the doom and gloom (stories of the downtrodden) is just as important as putting a positive spin on those benefiting from our services.

So what should I really be peddling with my project?  A real positive uplifting marketing campaign? A social-network for librarians to help them share their uplifting stories and marketing materials?  The grants I’m going after aren’t of the multi-million dollar variety, so would it be a waste? Can we have grassroots marketing from an inexpensive set of tools? Can I be the one to do it?  What makes me better than the OCLC with their million dollar grant and their professional marketing agency? I feel very Pollyanna-ish about this whole thing… the Glad Game and all that. But isn’t that what we need more of in this world? Or maybe I’m wrong?

Getting out into the community

3 08 2007

I’ve had two ideas burning a hole in my pocket for a few days now and I want to bounce them off y’all for a little feedback.

Libraries and Community Events

In every community, there are ongoing annual or semi-annual events. These may be science fairs, cook-offs, bratwurst fetsivals, city-wide garage sales, sporting events… the list goes on and on. What if libraries got in on that existing community spirit? Instead of trying to come up with new events hosted by the library, why not capitalize on events already taking place? Take the library to the people! Got a city-wide garage sale coming up? Gather up a nice selection of reference books on antiques, plus a few novels and non-fiction books in the same vein, toss them in the bookmobile, and have a librarian and a volunteer or two set up a tent… a specialized mobile library. If it’s a bratwurst festival, don’t forget to include a few polka CDs, and books on related subjects like German heritage. Take some books on gardening, natural pest control, seasonal cooking, and sustainability down to your local farmer’s market. There will probably be far too many existing community events for you to be able to afford the expense of going to all of them, but why not go to a few? Figure out which events are best represented in your collection and plan a trip to those (and on a related note, figure out why you don’t have books on the other events your community has an interest in). I admit to not knowing the logistics of something like this. I imagine you’d have to arrange the following:

  • A tent and tables for the event
  • Flyers promoting the event beforehand
  • Booth fees for registering for the event (might be waived)
  • Librarian’s time for selecting appropriate materials and researching events
  • Clerk, page, and volunteer time pulling, loading, unloading, reloading, and reshelving the books for the event.
  • How to sign people up for library cards remotely (someone might actually want to check something out!)
  • What to do if ill-weather or insects foils the event
  • Arranging the tables so there’s only one entrance/exit (so you can be watchful for anyone with sticky fingers… gosh it bugs me to even have to mention that!)
  • Anything else?

I don’t think this idea is just for Public libraries, either… Academic libraries have a need for public exposure, and specialized collections might bring in more courtesy borrowers. Like the Fine Arts Library where I work… it would be great to do some community building with the artist, musician, dance, and theatre folks in Austin (“Live Music Capital of the World”). We’ve got great resources for them to use, and maybe they’ll remember us when they’re finding a home for their artistic collections, or with monetary donations following financial success.

Libraries and Community Nonprofits

Maybe more of this goes on than I know about, but it seems like libraries could be doing more to reach out to local nonprofits (heck, even for-profits) in the community to figure out what the needs of the populations they serve are, and helping cater directly to those individuals. We have a little refugee shelter in my city for people primarily from Mexico and South America… why not send a librarian to them to help them meet their goals as an organization? I know they’re hurting for money, so books on grantwriting or seeking funding would be helpful… the people staying there have information needs too…why not get them signed up for library cards? Or have a storytime in Spanish or English for the children at the shelter? By helping these nonprofits meet the needs of their own segments of the community, you are better serving the community as a whole.

So…what do you think? Are there any glaring omissions that would make these ideas impossible to carry out? Can we do things like this? I’m asking because as a not-quite-yet-Librarian, I’ve never really worked on this side of a library before. Is this possible? I hope so…

Library Marketing Toolbox

30 07 2007

After reading about that PLA grant, I’m ready to share my project/grant proposal with all of you.

Over the next eight months, I’m going to be putting together a website called the Library Marketing Toolbox (working title). I’m going to be working with nonprofit marketing and advocacy folks, as well as some traditional marketing people to develop a set of tools to help libraries begin their own campaign of promotion. There will be four separate toolboxes on the site: advocacy, marketing, fundraising, and public relations. I would also like the site to have a social networking component, so that librarians could share their own experiences and successes as well as critique the effectiveness of the tools on the site (so they can be revised in the future). Some of the marketing-specific tools would include a database of creative-commons/open-source stock library photography for use on websites and posters, templates for flyers or pamphlets, and creative ideas for promoting the library within the community.

Since I want this project to be maintained and updated, I’m pitching a course on advocacy and marketing that would be taught at my graduate school. This course would teach future librarians about advocacy and marketing, but also give them hands-on experience in designing tools for marketing and advocacy. Students would revise and add to the toolbox website each year, and launch a marketing campaign to promote it to librarians.

The funding necessary for such a site would be minimal, since I hope to get the experts to work pro bono, but I will be writing a small grant in the hopes of possibly covering an adjunct professor’s salary.

I feel very optimistic about this project, but I will be the first to admit that I am not an expert in marketing. I only have a desire to learn, and share what I’m learning with others. I know there is a need for library advocacy tools, and even if the site has no earth-shattering revelations or cutting edge marketing campaigns, it will at least gather relevant information together in one place. My goal is to have tools that will help those just getting started create some quality marketing materials, but also to help those with the time/resources available develop a fully-realized marketing and advocacy campaign.

This is all a work in progress, and I welcome any input or criticisms you may have. Currently, the title of the site is sticking in my craw a bit. The tools that will be on the site truly encompass the idea of advocacy…but what is marketing if not advocacy? So even the title is up for slings and arrows.

Fire away.


I was just poking around on PLA’s website (why don’t they have an RSS feed!) when I found that PLA launched a Toolkit for Success at ALA annual this year. Since I didn’t go to annual, I hadn’t heard of this toolkit, which PLA charges $100 for ($90 with ALA membership).  Although I am disappointed that the name Toolkit necessitates a name change for the site I’m developing (far too similar), I believe Project M (new working title) will be a much different venture. The PLA publication sounds like a marketing manual which may be very useful, but there are many marketing manuals out there. What I’m trying to bring together are actual tools and resources that libraries can use to their benefit, and a social network to collaborate and create new marketing tools for the library community. I do plan to pick up a copy of the PLA’s Toolkit, but $90 seems a bit steep. Maybe I should write that into my grant…. 

PLA receives $7.7 million grant for advocacy training

30 07 2007

The PLA was just awarded a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation that will enable them to provide advocacy training to librarians.  Full press release here.

What a wonderful opportunity! I’m very anxious to see how they carry this out… I’d love to see their grant application to see how they’ve laid out the program.   There’s not a grantee profile up on the BMG Foundation website yet, but it looks like they had an existing desire to improve library advocacy, evidenced by this page with a dvd and brochure to help libraries get started in connecting to their communities.

If anyone knows where I could check out their grant proposal, I’d be very grateful! What an exciting time to be a public librarian.

The Big One

26 07 2007

Yesterday, I received my very own copy of Robin Hood Marketing, which I won free by being the first commenter to request a copy on Sybil’s Quality Service Marketing Blog a few weeks back (I guess the early bird does get the worm!). Thanks Katya and Sybil!

Although I initially checked the book out through ILL, I knew by page three that this was a book I wanted to write all over, so I was thrilled when the QSM Blog gave away a copy.

It will come in very handy in my huge impending multi-semester(multi-year?) project. I haven’t talked about it here yet (although it is more than relevant) because I need to organize my thoughts on it in a more logical way. The whole process is bigger than anything I’ve ever attempted before, and involves so many more people than just myself.

I’ve learned over the years that I am fairly controlling… I love it when delegation works, and I love watching my teammates succeed, but sometimes it just seems easier (and safer) to do things myself. I really have to watch myself here because I know that this could lead to overly-controlling, dominating behavior that crushes the creativity and input of others. I’m glad I was made aware of it early on while I can try and redirect those impulses in a more positive direction.

When all is said and done, this project will be about marketing, PR, advocacy, and fundraising, and it will also require marketing, PR, advocacy, and fundraising. It will involve professors, students, librarians, lobbyists, marketers, community advocacy groups, friends groups, big libraries, little libraries, and every library supporter who wants to participate. Heck, even ALA can pitch in if they want.

I’ve got to get this plan drawn up in the next 48 hours, so I’ll end the suspense then. But I’ll be needing all the help y’all are willing to give!