Marketing the library

Is a library a business? Public libraries are an arm of local government. Academic libraries are part of a larger college or university. It used to be easy to say that libraries are not businesses and shouldn’t be run like one. Now, it’s not. With so many people–including local government officials and academic administrators–not understanding what the modern has become, libraries need marketing campaigns to survive.

I do not subscribe to the notion that libraries ought to be run like businesses, largely because businesses exist to make a profit for their owners and shareholders. A good marketing campaign, on the other hand, can be used as a means to more than one end.

Stores market in order to get shoppers to come in and buy things. That’s what makes the profit. If no one shops at the store, it goes out of business. The owners and employees all lose out. Libraries offer services and, well, products that stores can’t. Without patrons coming in to use these services and products, the government or academic officials over the library are likely to cut funding or even shut them down. Everybody loses out.
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poster marketing the library

American Library Association poster from World War One.

Have you noticed posters with the phrase @ the Library?The American Library Association hopes so. It designed and printed those posters as part of its nationwide marketing campaign. The slogan may be fairly recent, but the association has promoted libraries with posters for more than a century.

Local libraries also market, or ought to. I hate to say this, but in our market-driven economy each library has become a brand. It needs to call attention to that brand and make it attractive.

A library’s web page projects an image of its brand.Is it attractive? Does it have the kind of information potential patrons are looking for? Is it easy to use? The library’s facilities also project an image of the brand? Does the library look attractive? When it puts up displays, are they eye-catching and entertaining as well as informative? Can patrons easily see what the library has to offer them? Are the librarians and other staff visible and helpful?

Stores and other businesses pay a lot for TV and print ads. The American Library Association has probably paid a bundle for all those@ the Library posters. Individual libraries may not have the resources for an advertising campaign, but marketing is more than advertising.

If you notice your library buying new furniture or rearranging parts of its facility, it is trying to make the library experience better for its patrons. And perhaps it is also doing it to enhance its brand, in other words, doing it in part for marketing. A library not attuned to projecting its brand as something of value faces the danger of being shut down. It has certainly happened to corporate libraries.
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Marketing the library — 2 Comments

  1. True it would be best if the Libraries could somehow ‘market’ there ability to provide information and recreational reading, movies, audio and access to the Internet for those who don’t or can’t afford it.

    Wrong that libraries have been shut down because of bad or no marketing.

    Public, Corporate, and University branch libraries have been shut down because of mergers and acquisitions, loss of support from cities or constituents, and needed changes in University policies…NONE of this has anything to do with libraries unable to market themselves, but mostly about money; who has it and who has to pay off the cost of debt, just as the Federal government has/will be required to do.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Paul. I may have overstated something, but I think you have, too.

      I know of one case where a corporation shut down an archive to cut costs and later regretted it. The archivist had done nothing to inform the higher-ups the value of the services she performed.

      I don’t have any statistics right at hand, but I know that when politicians–especially at the local level–have proposed cuts in popular programs, public pressure has managed to make them back off at least some times. A library marketing campaign can remind politicians (etc.) the value of library services, and it can keep the library in public view in order to inspire pressure if necessary.

      Can it prevent closure of libraries or drastic budget cuts? No. Can good marketing, bad marketing, or no marketing make a difference when a library is threatened? I think so.

      Is it mostly about money? No quarrel there!

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