Girl Reading by Alfred Emile Leopold Stevens
Girl Reading by Alfred Emile Leopold Stevens

I’ve been in the library marketing business for about 18 months now. Here is what I’ve learned:

1. Never call anyone without a Library Sciences degree a “librarian.” Librarians take their degree and their expertise very seriously and some might be offended.

2. Librarians are passionate, enthusiastic people who have a deep, driving desire to help others and a curiosity for information that is unparalleled in most other businesses.

3. Most library marketing departments are struggling to showcase their wonderful organizations because of out-of-date tactics.

So there it is. In my first post on this new blog, I’m issuing a call to arms for my fellow Library marketers. There are some great examples of forward-thinking marketing happening in libraries all across the U.S. (I’m looking at you, David Lee King. Also see New York Public Library, and Troy Public Library in Michigan.) But most library marketing departments are still doing things the same way they’ve been done for the past 10-15 years. They push programs. They issue press releases. They send out monthly brochures chock full of text, listing every single branch program and story time (do you know how many story times the average library holds?? A lot!).

Libraries are failing to drive more circulation and increase program visits because they lack a marketing strategy. Without a clear-cut plan, you might as well throw spaghetti at the wall. It’s frustrating and unsatisfying and it won’t increase your circulation numbers or drive more traffic to your buildings or digital services.

Okay, so let’s address the elephant in the room. Change is hard, especially for a library system. We’re not talking about Google here. We’re talking about an organization with a long-standing tradition and a history in the community it serves. The bureaucracy in a library rivals some giant companies I know. Politics can be brutal. New ideas are hard to pitch, slow to catch on, and don’t always have the full backing of the administration or board.

Listen, I’m right there with you.  I know how hard it is.  I took this job so I could sing the praises of my favorite public Library system. I’m inspired by the work that is done here and I want everyone else to be too! It’s a dream job. But it sure is harder than I thought.

I’m lucky though-I stepped in during a monumental shift in the greater marketing world. It’s what Content Marketing Strategist Robert Rose calls “The 7th Era of Marketing: Content-Driven Customer Experiences.”  Customers are looking for value from brands (yes, your library is a brand!). They don’t want to just check out items. They want an experience and a connection to the library. They want to feel like their library has their back. We can provide that!

So here’s what I propose. Let’s change the library marketing landscape together. We’ll start small and basic. Here are our first three steps.

1. We should create a strategy-now-and stick to it! The new year is coming. It’s the perfect time to try something new. Stop creating a promotional schedule based on events. Start creating content that promotes your biggest assets-your collection and your librarians. I’m not saying we should never promote a program again. But create a strategy and promote programs that fit into the strategy. We’ll talk more about this in a future post.

2. We should become content marketing enthusiasts. We work in buildings which are piled from floor to ceiling with the tales of people, animals, and events, both real and imaginary. We are  literally surrounded by stories. Of all the industries which have tried to embrace the content marketing model, it should be easiest for us. It’s a natural fit. Our loyal customers are often super enthusiastic fans. Most brands would kill for fans like that. We should be curating their stories and turning them into customer success pieces and marketing them. Again, we’ll talk about this more in a future post.

3. We should learn from our for-profit counterparts. Do not isolate yourself in the library world. I would go so far as to tell you, library marketers, that you do not need to go to PLA or ALA. You should be attending marketing conferences like Content Marketing World and the Social Media Marketing World. You should be attending webinars and following marketing influencers. You should be reading books, white papers, listening to podcasts, and surrounding yourself with all things marketing. We should take the successes and failures that our for-profit friends have made and use them to our advantage. We won’t be able to do everything that Coca-Cola or GM or Kraft can do with their massive budgets and extensive staff. But we can scale those models and use pieces that will work for us.

We work in the best business in the U.S. Seriously, I believe that. Let’s make sure the rest of the world shares our enthusiasm. It’ll be a journey we’ll take together.

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Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.