After reading a College and Research Libraries News blurb about Brian Mathews, the author of Marketing Today’s Academic Library, I began to see his name all over the blogosphere. I decided it was fate and I needed to read his book. Admittedly I didn’t start reading with much enthusiasm (because the topic has plenty of coverage in libraryland), but this book is a fantastic guide to understanding basic marketing principles and should be required reading for anyone involved in library marketing efforts.
I knew I would like the guy after reading his description of “becoming ubiquitous”. As a support institution for the academic life of our students we focus so intensely on courses and assignments and lose sight of the larger institution and its life. He argues that we need to engage with the lives of our students to communicate with them effectively.
I can appreciate such an argument because I have a unique relationship with my institution. I was an undergraduate in the 1990s; later I got a job as a staff member and entered graduate school. After grad school I became a faculty member. I have been on this campus over ten years. I know the university and its challenges very well. While knowing the campus too well can have drawbacks, I’m often dismayed by the lack of campus awareness in my library. In many ways this is what Mathews is arguing for—engagement with our communities rather than just attempts to sell ourselves to the communities.
The challenge is that engaging with the community requires a lot of commitment, work, and creativity. It isn’t as simple as throwing out a new bookmark or flyer geared “for the undergraduates”. Luckily Mathews’ book provides excellent guidance for understanding our student populations and planning a user focused marketing campaign. He also provides great examples and recommendations throughout. Also I was really happy to see the chapter “Measuring Your Impact”. He gives concrete advice for the admittedly difficult part—evaluating your efforts. For example he suggests response based marketing—asking users to visit a website for “more information” – as a simple measure of a campaign’s impact. The key consideration is that he suggests multiple approaches for assessment rather than relying on one old stand-by.
One challenge for me is that a few of his examples rely on a particular understanding of the organization of the library. In his library (assumedly modeled on Georgia Tech), there are “fun” collections such as movies and music CDs. There are also video cameras, coffee shops, and much more. At my university the movies and rental video cams are housed in the Teaching and Learning Center, a separate entity from the library. The Music Library has music CDs but they are not in a browsable collection and students need special permission to take them out of the building. We have a fun reading collection that I certainly love, but I’m a geek who likes books. Needless to say we don’t have an in-house coffee shop. While this is a minor point, it may take a bit of creative thinking to relate some of his examples to your own particular setting. Just don’t get demoralized trying to live up to (what sounds like) the coolest library ever.
Additionally a committee approach to implementing his ideas would be effective but everyone would need to be on the same page (and preferably familiar with the book). I tried to convey some of his arguments in my marketing committee meeting, but it is difficult to describe his approach to people who haven’t read it. I would encourage any marketing committee to read this book as a group and have a giant brainstorming session afterwards (Brian can thank me for increasing his circulation numbers). Seriously, it would be worth the time. And considering it is a short and fun read, it won’t require a lot of effort!
Have you read Marketing Today’s Academic Library? If so, what did you think? What ideas do you have for library marketing?