If there are over 1 billion people on Facebook and the Twitterverse can help topple governments, then it only makes sense that libraries would also be using these two social media channels to connect with their communities, right? Well yes and no. Libraries are using social media, that’s clear. According to Library Journal’s Survey on Public Library Marketing Methods and Best Practices, 86 percent of libraries said they were using social media. The top two social media platforms used by libraries were Facebook (99 percent) and Twitter (56 percent). Pinterest is making some gains, with 30 percent of libraries reporting that they are pinning. The problem is that 48 percent of libraries surveyed said they weren’t measuring their efforts at all. While the survey didn’t ask if libraries are getting fans to interact with them, most libraries I have spoken with lately have said they were still struggling with that.
If you make one small change to the way you contextualise your marketing efforts, it can yield big results. It’s subtle but important, and here’s how to go about it.
Marketing libraries is a tough business, for all kinds of reasons. Lack of time, lack of funds, lack of other resources. The fact that public perception of what libraries actually do is about 15 years behind the reality in a lot of cases. But also the fact that there’s often a fundamental misunderstanding about what marketing should actually achieve.
Will marketing result in increased funding? According to Library Journal’s November survey, most libraries think not—unless your library is serving a population of 500K+. Then 70 percent of the participants believe marketing helped. Interestingly, the majority of those surveyed from libraries of all sizes believed marketing increased their perceived value to elected officials and the community at large. If libraries could apply the influence of advocacy to their marketing strategies, they might see an increase their funding.
New York City’s underground transit system may be the final digital frontier: on the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)’s hundreds of miles of subterranean track, Internet access is not available. But a speculative ad campaign has suggested that a Wi-Fi-free digital information exchange on the subway is possible—and could boost library readership. The one minute “Underground Library” commercial from students at the Miami Ad School promotes an as-yet nonexistent library program which would allow smartphone users to download book extracts from the New York Public Library (NYPL) during their commutes.
The Free Library of Philadelphia will launch what it calls the first virtual library at a U.S. train station on April 2. Throughout National Library Month (April), commuters will be able to download books, music, and podcasts by scanning QR codes placed on 76 advertising boards on Philly’s Suburban Station platforms.
The SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, TX, is all about bringing together different elements—technology, play, education, and branding—to create new and memorable experiences for the attendees. Last year, librarians Cindy Fisher and Andrea Davis raised the profile of the Libraries Archives and Museums (LAM) group at SXSW by organizing a conversation around #sxswLAM on Twitter and getting librarians and festival goers to sport the group’s signature zebra print. This year, the sxswLAMers wanted to think of a way to get people to really ‘interact’ with libraries during the festival. Inspired by the bicycle-powered taxis that shuttle around stranded conference goers during the festival, Fisher and Davis came up with the idea of a mobile pedicab library.
When I started my blog in 2006, I named it The ‘M’ Word, because marketing was considered to be taboo for many in the library field. While the latest survey by Library Journal would indicate the needle has moved a bit, there is little doubt that many libraries still have a long road ahead of them. In that survey, fewer than 20 percent of all libraries have a marketing plan in place, and only 11 percent report that it is up-to-date. If that number doesn’t shock you, let’s talk about what it means not to have a marketing plan.
In the U.K., patients who consult their doctor about mental health issues may be prescribed a book from the library instead of, or in addition to, medication or counseling. The plan, called Books on Prescription, will start in May. Doctor’s prescriptions will give patients immediate membership at the local library, and include recommended titles from a list of 30 compiled by nonprofit The Reading Agency. They include both medical nonfiction and feel-good fiction, according to The Independent.
Say what you will about librarians, they keep their promises and make good on their debts. So when the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) lost a Superbowl bet with the Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore, MD, SFPL Librarian Luis Herrera wasted no time keeping his end of the bargain: he recited Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” in the atrium of the SFPL Main Library wearing a Ravens jersey, and posted the results on YouTube.