by Bridget Bittman
When I tell people that I am a marketing professional for libraries, many ask why I’m in a field that is quickly becoming irrelevant or extinct due to ereaders, ebooks, and other burgeoning technologies. Some even ask why do libraries need marketing?
I am always ready with a quick answer. This is a pivotal time to market libraries because of all these changing technologies. As library marketers, it’s crucial that we redefine what our libraries do for the community. It’s important to tell the public that we’re not simply a building that holds books and has librarians who are hell bent on keeping everyone quiet. This is where we become the cheerleaders for libraries. We spread the word loud and clear that libraries are relevant and even more important to our communities today.
Libraries serve as community centers (sometimes virtual), bringing people of all ages together for programs including movies, storytimes, educational programs, art displays, and entertainment. Where else can you learn how to cook with herbs, create a paper bag puppet, setup an email account, and pick up your federal tax forms? And even though it’s hard to compete with Google, we have a dedicated staff of professionals who are available, dependable, and accurate in answering all types of questions and will refer you to the best source for all of your needs.
How will we accomplish redefining and marketing libraries? Did you notice that I said we. I have the privilege of serving as a full-time library cheerleader. Not everyone who promotes libraries is able to dedicate 40 hours a week to marketing their library. That’s where teamwork comes into play. Each and every one of your employees, board members, Friends of the Library members, presenters, and customers can help you market your library. You just need to make sure that everyone has the proper message to promote your library.
Make sure that the next time your library has staff training, you’re on the agenda with a marketing message to promote to your employees. I’ve found that Microsoft Word Powerpoint slide shows and a big dose of enthusiasm work great at encouraging employees to spread the good word. While at La Grange Public Library, I modified a presentation from the Chicago Public Library on Marketing Across the Desk with their permission and presented it at an inservice staff training day. I adapted the message to fit with La Grange Public Library’s needs at the time and used fun photos of employees and patrons to sell the idea that everyone in the library is part of the marketing team. It worked pretty well! I recruited quite a few library cheerleaders along the way at La Grange Public Library, as well as Tinley Park Public Library.
There’s not one particular thing that will result in excellent marketing to our communities. It’s a complex mixture of word-of-mouth marketing (that’s where your employees and customers come in!), great print pieces such as quarterly newsletters, posters, and brochures, local media coverage, email marketing, social media connections, and employee engagement. I’ve also found that attending chambers of commerce meetings, talking to senior groups, and appearing on community cable shows can be very helpful in promoting our library to the community.
We have a clear mission as library marketers, whether you work part time or full time. We need to step up to the plate with enthusiasm and lead the cheer for today’s libraries through our marketing efforts!
Photo used with permission of Avondale Library, branch of Birmingham Public Library, Birmingham, AL.
Bridget Bittman is head cheerleader and public information specialist for the Orland Park Public Library. She has marketed libraries for the past five years and worked in public relations for more than 20 years for a variety of government and non-profit organizations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.