You Built It, But Will They Come?

Libraries do an amazing job of building collections, gathering resources, and developing programs for the people in their communities. Today, libraries offer everything from story times for children to video production equipment for teens to job searching and computer classes for adults. We might spend a lot of time and effort to offer wide ranging learning opportunities and experiences for our communities, but a librarian’s time and effort don’t always translate to community members’ attendance and participation. Why don’t more people show up for our programs or utilize our great resources? Oftentimes, the missing piece of the puzzle is marketing.

The reality for libraries today is that, though it’s something we’ve always had to think about at least to some degree, marketing has become more important than ever. Entertainment, educational, and cultural opportunities abound in physical and virtual spaces, and the library is no longer the only player in the game. Additionally, funding sources have become more scarce, and competition for them more fierce as local governments experience diminishing incomes and/or increasing expenses. Marketing is critical for libraries to demonstrate their value to their funding authorities, and the more people we can get to participate in our activities and utilize our resources, the more valuable we appear.

So what’s the secret? How can libraries maximize their marketing efforts? What’s the best way to get the attention of the people in the community we’re trying to reach?

There may not be a magic bullet, but there is help out there. Last month, WebJunction offered a webinar entitled “Marketing Libraries: What the Not-for-Profits Can Learn from the Lots-of-Profits.” The webinar was presented by Ned Porter, librarian at the University of York in the UK, and author of the Library Marketing Toolkit. In the presentation, Porter outlines eight steps to thinking like a library marketer, incorporating lessons libraries can learn from how for-profit businesses approach their marketing campaigns.

Porter stresses that the purpose of marketing for libraries is to engage people so they understand who you are and what you do, and what it’s worth to them. We’ve always been fairly good at the who and what of the library itself, but where libraries are often lacking in their marketing efforts is in explaining to people what’s in it for them. The key, according to Porter, is to come up with really simple marketing messages, to tweak them for different audiences, and to deliver them on different platforms on an ongoing basis.

The one-hour archived session for “Marketing Libraries: What the Not-for-Profits Can Learn from the Lots-of-Profits” is available from WebJunction here. It’s definitely a great resource to help libraries revamp and revitalize their marketing efforts. We’ve all probably experienced the disappointment of putting together a really great program, only to have one or two people, or maybe no one show up, despite our best efforts to get the word out. This webinar will help point you in the right direction for your future marketing efforts, whether you’re a full-time library marketer, or a solo librarian.

For additional information, there’s a great Library Marketing Toolkit website, and the print version of this resource is also available for checkout through the North Dakota State Library. Additionally for North Dakota libraries, our public awareness and field services staff are always available to help with everything from getting the word out about a program to launching a full-scale, all-out marketing campaign.

You may never be able to conjure library users out of thin air, and you’ll probably never see huge crowds magically emerge from a corn field next to your library’s front door, but with some effort and a shift in strategy, you can definitely see your future marketing efforts pay off.

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