Category Archives: Marketing

Holistic Advocacy, or The Case of the Annoyingly-Optimistic Librarian

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Courtney Block, Instruction, Reference, and User Engagement Librarian at Indiana University Southeast.

Storytellers. It’s what all professional librarians end up being in addition to our other specific roles or niches. But it’s not something they really prepare you for when you’re getting your MLS. There might be an occasional class, lecture, or even an entire course on public relations, managing, or marketing – but how often did anyone discuss how to be the library’s best storyteller? And how often did they discuss the perils and pitfalls of getting everyone in your library to be enthusiastic about storytelling?

I should probably point out that I’m not talking about tot-time. The kind of storytelling I’m talking about is advocacy. Pure, unadulterated, non-stop, advocacy. As librarians, we are all too familiar with the constant need to promote, market, advocate for, and tell our story. We are always highlighting the many services and resources we offer. We are always responding to the perpetual, “I had no idea libraries (fill in the blank here)” comments. And we are always making the case for the continued need for libraries in society.

The ways in which we tell our stories are often not grandiose. Which is fine – they don’t need to be. For example, perhaps we advocate via email with colleagues about information literacy, or explain to family and friends at social events that we can indeed help them find information on that topic, or perhaps we even market the latest database, tool, resource, or service to our local newspapers.

Advocacy comes naturally to the professional librarian. At least it does for me. Perhaps this is because I started my professional library career in public libraries, where I interacted with patrons and answered questions on a daily basis, or perhaps it’s because I’m currently the User Engagement Librarian at my organization. I’d like to think, though, that as librarians we have a natural tendency to advocate for our profession and the many contributions it provides to people and society. I like to think we’re just wired that way.

It seems like I’m making advocacy seem so easy, doesn’t it? One of the things we quickly learn about advocacy is that it’s tiring. Sometimes I just don’t have it in me to advocate for or explain one more thing for the day. So while it may be a natural tendency, it’s easy to get burnt out on advocacy – and fast.

That’s where system-wide storytelling support comes in. Getting each person in your organization to commit to being a storyteller themselves is necessary not only for alleviating your advocacy burnout, but also for enhancing your library’s user experience and enhancing the perception of the library to your stakeholders – be they members of the public or university administrators.

Consider this: front line staff who are initial points-of-contact for users are often not librarians. They might be student workers, professional support staff, clerks, or even pages. And while they may be very skilled and proficient at their jobs, they simply might not view each interaction as an opportunity for advocacy. I don’t mean to imply that staff run through a list of services and statistics each time they interact with a user. Rather, I’m arguing that there should be collaboration between professional librarians and all library workers to engage in advocacy efforts at every point of user interaction. Getting buy-in from all staff regarding the atmosphere you would like to promote is key to ensuring memorable user experiences.

It’s one of the things I try to do at my library, and it means engaging in continuous conversations with staff about what librarianship means. And to me, that means enhancing the user experience at every possible moment. During a time in which information literacy skills seem sorely lacking and the future of the IMLS is uncertain, engaging in collaborative advocacy efforts can help ensure that we don’t seem passive. In fact, it will display to patrons that every library worker carries within them a little spark of the spirit of librarianship.

I’m sure it seems like I might be painting another conveniently rosy picture. I know getting system-wide buy in for this might be a daunting task. Not all staff will be as impassioned as I am about being all “carpe diem” for advocacy. Perhaps not even all staff will be receptive to listening to my ideas – territorial issues abound, after all, in any organization. What I try to keep in mind during these conversations, though, is being open to staff ideas and suggestions on any and all library-related issues. I also try to investigate what the library means to them, and to use their own paradigm as a starting point to investigate how the user experience can be enhanced from their point-of-view.

The point I’m trying to make is that each point-of-contact is an opportunity to make or break someone’s perception of the library. And the best way to ensure positive user experience is to try and get all employees engaged in the same spirit of librarianship that is harbored by those of us who are impassioned (if sometimes overzealous). Holistic advocacy is what we’re shooting for.

Advocacy has implications for all libraries, but there are some special considerations for the academic library. Libraries ensconced on a college campus have opportunities and obligations to collaborate with other university departments as well as campus administrators. At a college or university, the library’s director is not the stopping-point for decisions that can be made regarding space or budget. This is not to say that visions and ideas between administration and librarians won’t mesh or that they won’t work together – I’m not saying that at all. I’m simply positing that advocacy is key in getting campus administrators to see and believe in that sense of librarianship, and the best way to achieve this is to get as many folks on board as possible, regardless of rank, title, or position. Not only will the quality of user experience be enhanced, but if the time comes for changes to be made or suggested by campus administrators, perhaps a robust advocacy strategy will ensure the best possible outcome.

I might view the role of advocacy through rose-colored glasses, but that’s okay. I don’t mind being viewed as that annoyingly-optimistic librarian, so long as you give me five minutes of your time.

Make it Work!: Starting a Makerspace in an Academic Library Phase 2

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Hannah Pope, Emerging Technologies Librarian at Appalachian State University.

As anyone who has gone through the steps of creating a new library space knows, it can be a long process. Once the space is identified and the equipment has been purchased, then comes the hard part – actually pulling it all together.

The makerspace at my library opened on January 31st after a frantic couple of weeks in which my team and I worked practically non-stop. I’m going to take a second to brag about my colleagues, both librarians and staff, who were amazing through the whole process. The space never would have looked anywhere close to ready without them! We held a soft opening for the library a little before the official opening, which served as both a thank you as well as an introduction to the new services. One of the most important aspects of opening a makerspace, or really any library space, is getting the support of the people who will work there every day. Publicity is always a factor in opening a new space, and having the library staff on board will translate to a higher degree of support around the campus as a whole. Here are a couple of ways that our library worked to promote the space:

Host an Event!

Creating a grand opening is one of the best ways to not only publicize the makerspace, but also provide an educational opportunity for patrons. When opening your makerspace, giving an opportunity for the machines to be explored by students, faculty, and staff is invaluable. Patrons become more familiar with the space, and it can spark ideas for how they can incorporate certain machines into their projects. Our makerspace is on the lower level of the library, and not immediately visible to people regularly flowing in and out. By hosting a grand opening, we worked to get students down to the new space and tried to alleviate some of the library anxiety that can occur when trying to find a new area.

Incentivizing the Masses

Our opening was over the course of three days, and we created a variety of incentives to check out the space. Besides providing food, there were also a couple of activities that patrons could do, including learning about basic circuits by creating LED Throwies, and making school specific stickers on the vinyl cutter. We also held a prize drawing in exchange for the patrons filling out a makerspace survey. This was a great way for us to collect some initial data while bringing in more visitors, and we gave away a 3Doodler 3D printing pen. In addition, we are also running a month long name/logo contest, with the winner’s design being used for our advertising, and they will win a small 3D printer! The opening was a success, and it drummed up a lot of interest in makerspaces on campus. If creating your own makerspace, definitely consider using the grand opening as a way to do campus outreach in a fun and engaging way!

Initial Educational Opportunities

While the opening was a success, there was a lot more than just putting up physical machines that went into creating the makerspace. In order to make the library into a place of knowledge creation, the makerspace needed to have a very distinct educational element. I attempted to create this by making use of both LibGuides and signage. The makerspace was divided into sections which had complimentary technology. Signs were then created with information that would both jump start projects as well as highlight safety concerns. These colorful signs made the space both educational and aesthetically pleasing. Because the makerspace in my library was created using an already available space and limited budget, it was important to pick and choose exactly what that money could be spent on. For our initial opening, we focused more on machines as opposed to furniture and aesthetics, so including the signage brightened the space. The signs also directed users to the LibGuides if they wanted more information about a piece of equipment, or how to get started. This combination of signs and online material makes it easy for users to begin creating and learning quickly.

Although the makerspace has only been open for a few weeks at this point, and has limited hours due to staffing constraints, it has been a success. We have had many students, faculty and staff come to the space to explore and learn a new machine. The University has already added the space to tours for potential new faculty hires. The positive response has been both exciting and daunting – now we just have to deal with keeping up with demand!

Lengthening Our (Out)reach

I’ve written before about the faculty workshops we offer at my library. When we started to expand our offerings a few years ago we thought it would be a good opportunity both to promote our resources for faculty as well as engage in some general library outreach. While we’re a small college library we do have resources for faculty research and scholarship, often more than our faculty realize (especially if they’ve come from graduate work at a large research university). And it worked for a while — our workshops met with a reasonable amount of of success and were well attended.

Lately attendance has dropped off, and there could be any number of reasons for this. One is that there are simply more events on campus these days, more possible ways to spend those periods of free time. I’m at a commuter college and we have a club hour once a week, and it’s incredible how much goes on during that 90 minute block (for both faculty and students). We’ve tried a few different days and times for scheduling but inevitably I get a handful of emails after the fact from faculty who wanted to come to the workshop but just couldn’t fit it into their busy schedules.

Another possibility is content exhaustion: while we’ve refreshed the topics we cover in our faculty workshops, it’s possible that we may be beginning to exhaust the number of faculty who are interested in the workshop content we’re offering. There are a few workshops that remain popular and a few that stubbornly, disappointingly don’t. It’s probably time for us to reevaluate our workshop content and either refocus or consider how to better market the underperformers.

Recently we’ve started to consider a faculty workshop menu: a choose your own topic combo from our range of subjects. I know many libraries have tried this method for promoting information literacy instruction for students. We plan to create a menu and then communicate directly with individual departments, offering to schedule a workshop with the components they choose at a time that’s convenient for them (perhaps a department meeting?). We might even target multiple related disciplines, for example, the allied health departments.

A quick web search didn’t return examples of other libraries marketing their workshops to faculty menu-style. Has anyone tried this method for faculty outreach? What other successful strategies have you used to market library workshops to faculty?

The Distributed Library: Our Two-Year Experiment

This month’s post in our series of guest academic librarian bloggers is from Erin Dorney, Outreach Librarian at Millersville University, Pennsylvania. She also blogs at Library Scenester.

Last week, a small fire* forced all faculty, staff, and library users out of our nine-floor building for about an hour. As I stood the requisite 50 feet away and watched four trucks full of firefighters lug fans, ladders and various pointed objects inside, my colleague posed an interesting question:

“Wow…where are all these students going to go during the renovation?”

As I looked around us at hundreds of students standing in the lawn – laptops unplugged but open in hand, juggling cups of coffee, fingers flying over cell phones and cameras snapping shots of the flashing red lights – I shivered with excitement. It was great to see a visual reminder of who my colleagues and I work to serve: the users. Okay, maybe excitement laced with fear as well, but the good kind of fear – the stuff that drives you forward.

I am about to embark on my first journey into a daunting academic library renovation project. When I interviewed for my position as Outreach Librarian at Millersville University during the spring of 2008 (straight out of graduate school from Syracuse University), the search committee asked me how I would design a marketing campaign to provide awareness to students and faculty before and during a renovation. Little did I know that those interview scenarios were true!

I tried to catch your attention with the fire opening (no one likes the idea of books burning, right?), but if that didn’t do the trick maybe this will: During our upcoming renovation, the majority of our 350,000 physical items will be going into storage. Offsite. With no retrieval. For a period of two years.

Are you listening now?

With a building that is over 40 years old, the Millersville University Library will be gutted and completely renovated starting in the fall of 2011. Everyone currently working in the building will be relocated to other spaces on campus (and we’ll be testing out embedding librarians in different academic buildings). As the role of academic libraries has changed significantly, our facilities are in dire need of a makeover. The new building will provide students with the staples of the academic library space: natural lighting, flexible furniture, secure spaces, programming areas, exhibit space, physical accessibility, ubiquitous technology, 24-hour public areas, a café and more. Thus far, no one has complained about what the new library will look like. Instead, I spend most of my time calming fears about the transition period – the two years when our current building will be under construction, with most of the print books boxed up and out of sight.

There are so many questions, and I’ll be the first to admit that we don’t have all of the answers about how this will play out. I can assure you that we are committed to meeting the research needs of current and future Millersville students. Over the past few years we have been building our electronic book collection and focusing on article databases that will make scholarship available to students no matter where they (or we) are located. Our mutual dependencies with other libraries for things like ILL will become more important. However, the services that we currently offer will continue to be offered during the construction period.

We are also committed to being as transparent as possible about our decision making process and have been inviting student feedback through our renovation website and the creation of a library student advisory board. My goal is no surprises… or, rather, only pleasant ones.

Beyond the impact on students, this renovation project has major implications for other institutions of higher education. What happens when the physical library goes away for a little while? Or, what happens when the library’s resources are distributed around the campus, or move towards electronic access more quickly than anyone anticipated? People have asked me if I’m afraid that this is the end of the academic library, wondering if we will become irrelevant during the two years we’re out of the building. My response? I guess it’s possible, but only if I sit on my hands for the next two years. Instead, I’ll be out integrating the library into campus, infiltrating academic buildings, increasing thought-provoking programming, and providing top-notch service to the campus community so that when we do come back into the new library, we bring everyone along with us. In my world, you can probably have a library without printed books. You can’t really have a library without people.

This is an opportunity for us to put libraries out there, to challenge ideas of what a library can and should be. If you are interested in learning more about the project, I invite you to visit our Renovation Website, where the most up-to-date information is posted. I welcome any comments and questions – have you dealt with a major library renovation? How is communication handled within your library? Tips or lessons learned?

* in a heating vent, no worries!

Is There A Social Media Librarian In Your Library’s Future

Academic libraries are leveraging social networks to increase opportunities to connect with students and faculty. Facebook or Twitter are the primary social media tools used for this purpose, but others are exploring how geo-location sites may play into a social strategy. It’s not clear how academic libraries are tackling these new methods of marketing and promoting services and resources. Is oversight for social media accounts and activity assigned to a single librarian? Is the same staff member who oversees marketing and PR taking on social networking? Are all library workers empowered to contribute to the effort? We know little about how social media responsibilities are handled, but it’s unlikely that any academic library has yet to create a dedicated Social Media Librarian position – although whenever I say something like this in a post before the end of the day there’s a comment along the lines of “No you’re wrong – we have a Social Media Librarian here”. With Facebook reaching its 500 millionth member and Twitter members tweeting over 50 million times per day these behemoths can’t be ignored. Corporate America certainly isn’t ignoring them.

Two trends point to a growing interest in taking social network marketing quite seriously. First, many companies that market to consumers are rushing to create positions for social media officers – and that’s at a time when no one is even quite sure what someone in this position even does or what qualifies someone for such a position. But who’s waiting to figure all that out? Not companies like Sears, Petco, Ford, Pepsi and many others. Second, MBA programs are adding courses in social media to provide students with the skills needed to get jobs as social media officers or at least help their future employers create social media strategies. According to the article these courses “focus on thinking broadly about social media, not just Facebook and Twitter. Topics include the underlying psychological and sociological foundations of social media and the metrics and measurement tools for gauging the effectiveness of social media campaigns. Students are required to participate in social media marketing projects for big brands.”

An important point made in these articles is that someone who is merely a user of or participant in social media is not the same as someone who truly understands how to use it in a business or marketing context. Just because you tweet all day and watch lots of YouTube video doesn’t mean that you know how to turn social media into proactive tools for getting consumers excited about your organization and what it offers. For businesses social media is all about influencing purchase decisions. How does that translate to an academic library environment? One way in which academic librarians might become better at using social media to influence library use decisions is to become more adept at using the tools to get user community members to do the work for us – by sharing the word about the library with their friends. That’s what happens when your user community members share your library video with their friends – but you have to know how to get that started. Another is to pay more attention to what is happening in the world of business to learn how companies are leveraging social media. Having said that, I always like to remind my colleagues that saying we should pay attention to what corporations are doing is not a statement that libraries are businesses and should be run like one. Some good ideas emerge from the world of business, and we should pay attention when they do.

Does librarianship, like the MBA programs, need to provide more opportunity for LIS students to gain these skills, and if so how should it happen? I still lean on the side of not dedicating entire courses to social networking and media tools. There are too few courses LIS students get to take, and they can learn about the mechanics of social networking tools on their own time. Perhaps what is needed is a course dedicated to library marketing and promotion. Marketing and promotion appear to be the primary reasons to use social media in the context of library operations. If that’s the case we should be educating LIS students how to leverage social networking and media tools to create more library awareness and to get the community to spread the word. That seems like a sensible way to introduce these increasingly important skills for the Social Media Librarian.