October 15, 2017

Tales From the Field: Marketing Multnomah County Library

The LJ Directors Summit is still reverberating through the library world. One of the things for me about that experience was the opportunity to find other like-minded library marketers. One of them is Jeremy Graybill, the marketing and communications director at Multnomah County Library.

Today I spent time with Jeremy over the phone talking about his experience, which I thought you would enjoy.

Jeremy has been in his position at Multnomah nearly a year now. He came to the library from a marketing/communications role at an environmental nonprofit. Here’s our q & a:

What are your observations coming into the library world?

Libraries share the same issue as many nonprofits, which is a pathological need to be humble. As I am out on ride-alongs with our outreach service folks, I am moved by the deep joy on the faces of the elderly people whom our folks are helping. I want to capture that experience and tell that story to others, but our people say, with true modesty, “we don’t want to toot our own horn.”

How is marketing accepted at your library?

Our library has a lot of understanding and appreciation of what marketing can do. This is a reflection of the leadership of our director, who is visionary, supportive and forward thinking. She understands that branding is critical to our success.

We are in a great time for libraries and to being doing what we are doing from a marketing point of view.

Looking ahead in your position what do you hope to accomplish?

Long term we want to look at our branding. Currently our logo is a reflection of our county identity. As such, we share the same identity as the health department and the dog catcher. We want to build a strong visual identity that reflects the distinctive work of the library.

Also, we are falling behind on our mobile capacity – both for the power tech-savvy community as well as the underserved of our community who use phones for texting and so on.

And, in my role, my job is to ensure great and favorable media coverage, helping local reporters develop stories about what we are doing: choosing and crafting stories that we want to have covered and that support what the library is doing beyond books.

I understand you are beginning customer research.

We are working on a market analysis to better understand our library users. It has been a long time since the library has asked, “who are we serving and what do they think about us?” We want to better understand what the public expects, how do they perceive us, what is our value to them. Sure we circulate 22 million items, but what does that really mean?

We are also doing a census data overlay to help us understand where we are going to grow and how.

Like many other organizations, libraries often operate under assumptions rather than data. Our observational data clouds perception. Our biggest user group is an archetype who reserve books on line and use self check. They often have no interaction with our staff. If you aren’t careful you may never see that person and fail to count them in your observations.  

What challenges do you see in the future?

Relevance. We can’t afford to assume that we will always be here. So many people understandably love libraries and cannot comprehend that these institutions may not survive. But we must continue to provide a value that can’t be found elsewhere – or we will become irrelevant.  We can’t afford to rest on our laurels or assume that, during this time of change, people will always see the value of a library.

The same-old-same-old isn’t going to win the day through these rapid paths of change.

What’s on the docket for your 2011?

Politics – our local levy expires in June 2012 and it constitutes 66% of our funding. We have a lot of preparation and planning  that we’ll be doing.

What one piece of advice would you give to others doing marketing for libraries?

Treat it like a business and put the customer first. Understand that marketing is a core business service and key to an organization’s success. Craft your marketing strategy around what people want, not what we think they want.

Final thoughts?

This is an incredible time. I’ve modeled my career and my personal life around making our world a better place for all of us. There is nothing I’d rather be doing.

Contact Jeremy at jeremyg@multcolib.org



Alison Circle About Alison Circle

Alison Circle is director of marketing communications for Columbus Metropolitan Library. Previously she was an Account Director at Jack Morton Worldwide, a global branding agency, and her primary client was Target Stores. Prior to that she was the National Marketing Director for Minnesota Public Radio and "A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor." She has advanced degrees in English and Fine Arts, and is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant.