Marketing is not only about promoting a business and it is definitely not about pushing a product or a service down to someone’s throat. Especially in libraries’ case, having a marketing perspective, or more specifically a service mindset, is really effective as people need to know more about the library’s activity and they should learn more about it in a laid-back way.

To learn more about how marketing can ensure awareness of the ways the library can be helpful to the community, we’ve interviewed Kathy Dempsey, founder of Libraries Are Essential, consulting firm on library marketing, promotion, and public relation. Her work is dedicated to helping librarians and information professionals promote their value and expertise in order to gain respect and funding.

How to effectively use marketing in a library

How to use marketing in a library and make the most of it? - Libraries Are Essential

The cycle of true marketing

 1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your activity in the library world?

I’m one of those people who has always loved and used libraries since I was a child. Then as I became an adult, I saw libraries in a new light: I began to appreciate the idea of a nonprofit organization that existed to support and help anyone who wanted to learn about anything. I mean, wow—what could be better than that, right? That made me want to move from just enjoying them to actively supporting them.

My main work in that regard has been as Editor of Marketing Library Services (MLS). I’ve held that title for 23 years now! As a professional editor, I was very excited when, in 1994, I got a job at Information Today, Inc.,  a company that creates publications and conferences for libraries. Part of that involved taking charge of MLS.

Over the years of guiding the MLS newsletter, I learned so much about how librarians can (and should, I believe) work to promote all types of libraries, for many reasons. I decided to make this my specialty.

2. What represents marketing in a public library and why is it important nowadays?

One of the first and most important things I learned from reading the case studies that went into MLS is that “marketing” is not what many people think it is. Marketing is not the same as sales or telemarketing. It’s not being pushy or trying to force people to buy or use certain things.

Here is what marketing is really about:

1) Asking people what they want and need,

2) Creating products and services to fill those needs, and

3) Spreading the word effectively so people know that you have those things they want.

“True Marketing” is a service mindset, not a sales mindset.

It’s vital to make great marketing a part of public libraries’ culture now that there are so many other places that people can get information. Many people think they can do better with their mobile phones. They don’t understand that libraries offer services, events, and classes that are relevant to them. And so, too many citizens are not willing to let tax money or government funds support them.

3. There are many situations when the librarians feel that their marketing strategy is not effective. Why is that and what can they do? What is the missing link?

If you believe that simply putting up posters, and placing articles in the local news, and posting on social media is all you need to do as “marketing,” then you’re missing the big picture.

The promotional activities I just mentioned are only a small part of marketing. There are many other steps that come first. In the early 2000s, I created the Cycle of True Marketing. It’s a simple way to illustrate all of the steps that professionals recommend for effective marketing.

4. Since you are promoting the idea of a Cycle of True Marketing for libraries, can you give us more details about how it can be applied in libraries?

Do you want people to make the most of all your library has to offer? Do you want to retain, or even increase, your funding? Doing all the steps in the Cycle can help ensure all of that. The Cycle of True Marketing begins with market research and segmentation, continues with setting goals, considering your competition, writing plans, measuring results, and thereby learning what you can do better the next time you go around the cycle.

The research and the data-driven decisions you make because of that info—that’s the missing link. Discovering customers’ needs, having products and services to fulfill them, and making sure people know the library can help—that’s what ensures success. For instance, rather than guessing what programs and classes your citizens want, survey them and get some real data. That’s how you keep from creating a program that only 3 people show up to.

Of course, it’s a bit more complex, but that’s the essence of it.

5. Do you have some successful examples of libraries using this process? Can you walk us though the changes they had to make when implementing this new process?

Pointing out the many projects that have used the Cycle (knowingly or not) and explaining the changes they made would take much more space that I have in this interview. But I can point you to examples that have details.

I recommend these:

“Fayetteville’s Idea-Proposal Process Enables Better Outcomes-Based Planning”

“TADL Book Bike Connects a Library to Its Community”

In North America, the annual John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Awards process is a wonderful guide. The entry form asks for information on many of the steps in the Cycle, and the winners’ projects are excellent examples of marketing done right.

Also, the Gale / Library Journal annual Library of the Year winners often have marketing aspects, and the winners definitely study their customers in order to serve them better. Here’s the latest article.

6. Do you have any final recommendations for our readers wondering how to use marketing in a library?

  • Never guess what people want when you can ask them.
  • Think about marketing at the beginning of a project, not at the end.
  • Create mini marketing plans for every important thing you want to publicize.

There is so much more I’d like to share on the topic; I’d have to write a book! Oh, wait—I already have! So if you want more details, look up The Accidental Library Marketer. It is built around the Cycle, and also covers surveys, focus groups, planning, strategies, and much more.

Hope you enjoyed your read, so let your network know. Help them get a new perspective o how to use marketing to make the library known, too! We’ll be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!

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