This is the first in a series of articles in which Nancy Dowd will examine the results of an exclusive survey of library professionals from more than 400 public libraries across the U.S. on public library marketing. The survey was sponsored by the NoveList division of EBSCO Publishing.
This marketing survey’s purpose was to gain information about how public libraries market themselves, the effectiveness of marketing initiatives undertaken by the library, and the resulting engagement within their communities. The results clearly indicate there’s a disconnect; a canyon between what should be happening and what is happening within the marketing schemas of public libraries. In an era when the value of libraries are under scrutiny and library budgets are under siege it is essential that libraries communicate their value to users as well as non-users. A failed marketing practice is failed communication.
The majority of the 471 individuals who responded were public library directors and managers. When asked about the marketing and communications channels their library used to sustain a presence in their communities, the usual contenders were ranked the highest—library website, printed materials in the library, the local newspaper and social media. However, when asked to relay how effective these channels were felt to be, the percentages dropped astonishingly low. For example, 95 percent of libraries surveyed reported using their website as an outlet for communication and engagement with their community; only 14 percent of participating libraries felt their website was the most effective means of reaching out to patrons. In a more extreme example, 86 percent of libraries utilize social media as a marketing tool, but only 4 percent reported it as the most effective tool.
The canyon widens as we dig deeper into the rest of the data collected by the survey. Only 19 percent of respondents reported having a marketing plan within their library, with 52 percent reporting that they need one. With over half of participants recording their need for a cohesive marketing plan, it’s no wonder that only 32 percent of libraries rate their marketing as effective. When you view this data in conjunction with 77 percent of respondents completely agreeing that library marketing increases overall community awareness of the library, one simple fact emerges; we need to build a bridge across this widening canyon.
As we delve deeper into the results of the survey, interesting insights are unearthed but further questions are raised. In the coming months, I’ll be addressing these questions; digesting the raw data provided by the survey; and uncovering solutions relevant to the challenges facing libraries and librarians in the modern era.