Wednesday, 5 June 2013

If You Could Change One Thing?

A friend asked me the other day if I could change one aspect of our library service what would it be and after a bit of thinking I answered publicity and marketing... yes I know this covers quite a broad area but in my opinion publicity is not something we are brilliant at as a profession. Don’t get me wrong advocacy for the profession has taken the spotlight in the last two years, you only need to look at Twitter and websites such as Public Library News  or Voices For the Library to see the different campaigns against budget cuts in the public sector. But we are an ever evolving profession; we have to be dynamic to stay relevant whilst still delivering essential core services. Before you start worrying this is not another tirade on CILIP re-branding although I do side with the majority in the necessity that a professional body that represents information and library professionals should have both information and library in their title. This is a look at what we already do and how we can evolve our marketing strategies – both the simple solutions and the more dynamic.

As a profession I think we are very good at preaching to the converted; very good at publicising the library within library walls but how do you reach the thousands of people who walk past the door without ever venturing inside?

Social media has filled that gap in the last decade for some with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, blogging and Pinterest to name a few. Wiltshire Libraries has an online presence both on the council website and with the use of Twitter to advertise different services such as Health Matters (nurses in libraries), online resources, reservations, new titles, library events etc.  But we have to also be aware that we live in a country where 14% of the population have yet to use the internet.  There is still a digital divide in Britain and rural counties have ongoing issues with internet access and broadband strength. We have to realise that we can’t rely just on online marketing, we have to have a presence in the communities that we serve.

Simple solutions can be found, for instance most libraries in Wiltshire have notice boards on their exteriors and in the towns they are based in, but not every library has a colour printer. At the moment things can be printed at HQ and sent out but this means a delay of days. We also use local newspapers to promote events but we never advertise the core services we offer in print. Simple solutions such as leaflet drops have become a thing of the past with budgets being cut but are a simple and effective way of getting our message out there to those who feel the library has nothing for them.

You would not believe the amount of people who don’t know that it’s free to join the library or use our people’s network computers. We need to get out into the community and let people know this but with staff reductions across the service time is limited for community outreach. We don’t have the time to cultivate relationships, to approach groups that would benefit from using the library and putting to bed all the myths and stereotypes. Partnerships are such a key publicising tool but it falls to the bottom of to-do lists.  

Another simple solution: In my limited research most libraries that have a Twitter account also have an online presence in the form of a blog – these online tools work hand in hand to target potential users and share information about new developments and events. We could also promote services and future events to users through an online newsletter as we ask for email addresses as part of our registration process. Wiltshire is quite a cautious service and I understand the need for this; you don’t want to sign up for everything digital, you need to be selective but by the time online tools have been researched and justified there the fashion for them has often passed and they are no longer current.

So I think the point I’m trying to make is that we need to invest in publicity, we need to get out to our communities and make ourselves heard as the threat to our profession have become very real very fast and if we do not advertise our worth and breadth of services we are in danger of losing budgets further and in extreme cases closing libraries. We have to learn to do more with less, to economize and use the resources at our disposal to reach as many people as possible.

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