March 21, 2018

It’s About Time! Marketing Your Library’s Electronic Resources | Not Dead Yet

If you had told me when I was a newbie librarian a lot of years ago that I’d be co-authoring a book someday that had “marketing” in the title I would have (a) laughed and (b) told you “no way.” I didn’t see that in my future at all.

Then 35 years passed. In the interim electronic resources came along, I got interested in them, started to review them, and they became part of my daily work and life. A big part. Next I became interested in library assessment, since it, too, started to form a large part of my library life (beginning with work on focus groups). When I attended the 2010 ARL Assessment Conference in Baltimore (which turns out to be the best library conference I’ve ever attended), I heard Marie Kennedy speak, her presentation entitled, “Cycling Through: Paths Libraries Take to Marketing Electronic Resources.” Not surprisingly, the room was packed, and also not surprisingly, what Marie said was taken down word for word by that audience.

At the end of her presentation, Marie took questions, and I asked her whether she had ever thought about writing a book on the presentation topic. She said she hadn’t—up to that point. So we talked, corresponded, and collaborated, and the result of that collaboration has just been published: Marketing Your Library’s Electronic Resources: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians (ALA Neal-Schuman). It was a collaboration from which I learned a lot, because Marie was the expert here, being the Serials and Electronic Resources Librarian at the William H. Hannon Library of the Loyola Marymount University.

I don’t think this book would have had an audience when I was first a librarian. Marketing was never discussed in any of my library classes, which made some sense at the time since we (libraries) were about the only places available for research and information sources (except for those incredibly expensive print encyclopedias that families who could afford them bought for their kids’ use—encyclopedias that went out of date in a matter of months).

Now, of course, you and I are faced with omnipresent competitors (Google, Wikipedia, social media, et al) that our users turn to—as a first resort, at least. Combined with that competition we’re faced with decreasing funds and an increasing expectation of accountability and resource justification. We know our value to researchers, but what can we do to come up with the data and beautiful stories we need to have and to make available to the governments/schools/library boards/universities/research institutes that fund and administer us?

We can market ourselves much more effectively and efficiently than in the past; we can also assess those efforts and adjust them accordingly on an ongoing, routine basis. And since the electronic resources to which we subscribe are some of the library’s biggest budget line items, marketing them aggressively can only be a good thing.

I’m finding that my newer colleagues are extremely open and receptive to the idea of marketing for libraries, and I suspect that may be because they routinely create and promote online marketing presences for themselves (Twitter, Facebook, online portfolios). Making good use of their skills with online tools to market the libraries in which they’re working is a natural extension of their professional lives, and it heartens me to find that newer-generation librarians are not shy about marketing themselves. Nor are they afraid of the term “marketing”—my take on this? It’s about time.

Teaching the concepts and processes of marketing still seems to be a pretty new area for library schools to address. A cursory Google search found just a couple listings of LIS courses on marketing, and in several marketing was an ancillary focus, rather than the focal point of the course. Here are a couple of examples:

The School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
INLS 701: Information Retrieval Search Strategies
Investigates information retrieval techniques and strategies from the world of electronic information sources, including commercial and Internet databases and search engines.  Processes for evaluating, selecting and deploying end user information retrieval tools are explored including user needs analysis, contract negotiation, marketing and user education.

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Library and Information Science
S604: Marketing for Libraries
Application of marketing concepts, techniques, and technologies for all library types. Emphasis on matching library users with services through information, education, persuasion, and partnerships. Topics: planning, audience analysis, needs assessment, market analysis, goal-setting, message design, public relations, publicity, promotion, advocacy, assessment and evaluation, internal and external communication, and change theory.

Frankly, I’d like to take that IUPUI/SLIS course myself. It is an online course. And I would love to hear from anyone who’s taken a library school marketing course and what you got out of it.

My wholehearted thanks to Marie Kennedy for a wonderful collaboration experience! Market on!

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Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980s, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early '90s (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.

Facts Matter: Information Literacy for the Real World
Libraries and news organizations are joining forces in a variety of ways to promote news literacy, create innovative community programming, and help patrons/students identify misinformation. This online course will teach you how to partner with local news organizations to promote news literacy through a range of programs—including a citizen journalism hub at your library.


  1. Anne Cerstvik Nolan says:

    Do you have any suggestions for creating buy-in from Library Administration on the issue of marketing? We already do marketing in many ways, but some marketing just plain takes a budget, and it isn’t always easy to make that understood. Libraries should have a budget for marketing and PR, and a body (part-time would be fine) associated with that budget is even better. LIbrarians would find it very helpful to work with someone who has experience with marketing and promotion who could help them develop the skills they need. We already ask so much of our librarians as they struggle to build collections, do outreach, participate professionally, teach, work on projects with faculty, etc. Sharing their expertise on resources with someone who knows what to do with that info and how to market it would really be a win-win for the Library and the users. But it is always a really tough sell because it doesn’t have tangible, immediate results in the way that a new reading room or study center does. Thoughts?

    • Hi Anne — good to hear from you! Long time no see!

      To answer your question: I first have to ask you a question back: you noted that you’re doing some marketing already — do you have any data or success stories from that? I’d keep track of whatever you can and use it in proposing more marketing (and a budget for marketing). Re: a body for marketing — y’know, rather than having one person designated as “the marketing person,” I’d suggest a group (you don’t have to call it a committee — I believe in small task forces rather than committees — and try to involve as many people within your organization in marketing, maybe by having rolling membership on the task force (or whatever you call it) and / or having “marketing projects” that you involve a variety of stakeholders in. From what I’ve experienced, people come out for marketing efforts — sometimes it works better if you call them user engagement (for those who eschew the word “marketing”) projects. The bottom line, of course, is that if your administration doesn’t believe in marketing, or is not willing to use a little money for it, you’re not going to be able to do much. You might also try to do some “pilot” marketing with one-time, small funds and collect data and user quotes to help you make a case for continued funding. Might any of that work for you?

      Hope this is helpful, and again — great to hear from you. Thanks for writing!
      Best wishes,

    • Good answer from Cheryl. I’d like to add that you can use not only your own success, but that of others, to help convince admins. Find libraries similar to yours in size & population served, and see what they’ve achieved with marketing. Build a case to present. Don’t make it just your feelings against theirs; use evidence. Prove ROI.

      There are also great case studies out there (from Gates, Geek the Library, Marketing Library Services, etc.) for you to share.

      True marketing ( can have amazing and tangible results, even if they’re not immediate. It’s not a short-term game, it’s a continuing job, just like collection development. And it’s vital if you want your library to keep its funding.

      I just got my review copy of Cheryl & Marie’s book in the mail, and I’m looking forward to digging into it!

  2. Margaret Driscoll says:

    As a recent graduate of San Jose State SLIS, I’d like to add their course (online) to the list of grad schools addressing marketing. I did not take it, but would have if they allowed additional credits to be taken after attaining the degree!

    LIBR 283. Marketing of Information Products and Services
    Applications of marketing concepts to library and information services. Market analysis, use surveys, market targeting and introduction of services will be featured.

    • Dear Margaret,

      Thanks for bringing the SJSU course to my (and others’) attention! It’s very good to see that library schools are using the “M” word, and teaching about it, too. Hope to see even more of these courses offered — and I’m wondering how many continuing ed. courses / workshops LIS schools are offering for those of us out on the library lines already. I know Simmons GSLIS offered one recently ( and one of the required texts for it was Kathy Dempsey’s book, The Accidental Library Marketer (and thanks very much for adding to the answer to Anne, above, Kathy!).

      Thanks again, Margaret,