Analysis of Information Needs

By Tracey Booth



Table of Contents

I. Introduction

  1. Marketing and User Needs
  2. Why Information Assessment Is Needed
  3. Steps to Understand Information Needs
  4. The Outer Environment
  5. The Internal Environment
  6. Understanding User Needs
  7. Information Needs Assessment as the Basis of the Marketing Plan
  8. Bibliography



Traditionally, libraries have been in existence traditionally to provide information. In this "information revolution" of the Internet, inexpensive and easily attainable information, and attention-grabbing presentation, how is the library able to remain an important and valued resource (Weingand, 1)? One answer is marketing. Libraries will have to market their resources and services so that their users will understand that the library is designed for their particular needs and capabilities. In order to do this, the library must understand who are their users and what are their information needs. Then a plan to respond to these needs can be created.

This chapter will explain how to identify the information needs of the library user by examining both the organization and the user, and why these needs can be used as a basis for developing an effective marketing plan and strategy.


Marketing and User Needs

Most libraries have not traditionally marketed their products or services because they have felt there is a basic human need for information (Johnson,1). They have tried to convince individuals to use library resources because they were inherently good for them. Rather, libraries should be examining themselves and their relationships with users (Smith, 2). Philip Kotler, in Strategic Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations (1991), states that "a customer orientation toward marketing holds that success will come to that organization that best determines the perceptions, needs, and wants of target markets and satisfies them through the design, communication, pricing, and delivery of appropriate and competitively viable offerings." Learning what is important to the users is the starting point for any marketing plan.


Why Information Assessment Is Needed

Assessing the information needs of the organization and library users is essential in determining the role and the value of the library. The library may be providing exactly the information or service requested by users, but unless they perceive that this information is exactly what they need and that they will benefit from an interaction with the library, they will most likely not even go to the library. Understanding the organization and the users will identify what parts of the service or which resources are valued most by particular individual users (Cram, 7). Information professionals need to recognize what is needed and the VALUE of what is needed (Powers, 10). The value of information, then, will depend on how closely it is perceived to influence the ability to reach both organizational and personal goals and objectives (Kennedy ,42).


Steps to Understand Information Needs

In beginning the process of understanding what the information needs are, first look to the inner and outer environment of the organization. This will bring questions such as: What is our business? Who is the customer? What does the customer value (Catt, 2)? Some of the marketing literature calls this process a "marketing audit." Kotler defines this as a "comprehensive, systematic, independent, and periodic examination of an organization’s marketing environment, objectives, strategies, activities, with a view of determining problem areas and opportunities and recommending a plan of action." The audit also includes an examination of the library’s internal environment, its strengths, weaknesses, and present practices (Kotler 1982). In order to understand the entire environment of the library, this combination of external information expertise with the internal information management environment is essential (Kennedy, 43).


The Outer Environment

According to H.S. White, a special library "exists to support and enhance the mission of the organization in which it is housed" (Powers, 1). The outer environment of the organization consists of what surrounds the library—the organization, the industry, and the world. It includes the mission, goals, objectives, underlying philosophy, and messages of the organization (Powers, 2). What is the company’s vision? How does it want others to see it (Kennedy, 42)?

These are some areas to consider, mainly from Darlene Weingand.

  1. Demographics. What are the attributes of the organization in terms of population, age, gender, educational background, income, employment, and so forth?
  2. Geography. What constitutes the physical landscape, climate, and other physical attributes?
  3. Economics. What is the overall fiscal health of the organization? What major businesses/industries are presently in place or about to leave or enter the organization? What is the current climate for business and growth?
  4. Technology. What hardware do members of the organization presently own or plan to purchase? What is the status of satellites or computer networks? What does the organization make of different technologies? How does it communicate internally and externally?
  5. Competition. What agencies, businesses, vendors, organizations, or individuals provide similar products to those offered by the organization? What areas of possible cooperation exist?
  6. Politics. What federal, state, or local laws or regulations affect the company or its products? What are related lobbying groups and how were they successful or unsuccessful? Are any types of public funds used or available for use?
  7. Corporate Culture. What are the perceptions and attitudes about internal commitment, trust and supportiveness, communication channels, staffing patterns, and decision structures? What are the customs, lifestyles, and achievements of the organization?
  8. Sociology and Psychology. Who are the individuals and groups comprising the target markets? What are their preferences and biases? What are the social patterns? How do members of the organization behave under different sets of circumstances or levels of stress? Can probable behavior be anticipated? Where is the power in the organization and how does it flow?


The Internal Environment

This is a close look at the library itself. This includes an analysis of the library’s objectives, strategies, activities, and resources (human, fiscal, and physical).

Robert Muir recommends considering the following:

  1. Objectives. What is the purpose of the library? What is the library’s role in the corporation?
  2. Organizational Management. Who in the corporation understands the current and future purpose and function of a library? Is current management committed to supporting the library? What departmental contacts does the library have in the corporation? What types of projects have been completed over the last several years? Who pays for these projects and in what amounts? Who approves the projects that have been completed?
  3. Staffing. Who is in charge? What are current staffing levels? Are they adequate for meeting current needs and services? What specialties are possessed individually and collectively? How many staff work directly with customers? What training and staff development programs are in place?
  4. Technology. What are the library’s equipment and software needs? What is currently in place in the library? What is used and what is not used?
  5. Projects. What are some activities that are currently being performed as part of the library services both in satisfying need and in marketing capabilities? How long has it been since the library updated or made a client list? Are the benefits the library offers being communicated effectively and widely? What activities is the library currently using, including personal touches, print and media materials, public relations, and networking? Does the library offer an integrated approach combining business and technical information?
  6. Core strengths. What are the strengths of the library—its core competencies? Can the library act as a facilitator and promoter to bring groups together? Is the staff well trained in electronic information searching? Has the library developed strategic relationships with other libraries? What are the library’s information and transfer capabilities? Does the library regularly fax or e-mail information to customers?
  7. Weaknesses. What support and funding has the library received to date? Does the library have a history of successfully completing projects for customers on time and on budget? Has the library been operating in a revenue-expense-balanced mode, meaning that the library has had sufficient operating funds to cover both operating costs and to generate additional opportunities in the future?
  8. Competition. Where do managers and management within the corporation get their information? Is it from internal documents? How many requests does the library have from outside interests? What type of information? Has the library regularly satisfied such information requests and/or has the library had sufficient knowledge to refer staff and management when such requests have been made? Are there new competitors on the horizon? What agencies, businesses, vendors, organizations, or individuals provide similar products to those offered by the library? Does the library have adequate information about their arrival and impact? Does the library have specific plans to deal with them? Will the library’s market shrink, or expand, because of them?
  9. Image. What is the image of the library within the corporation as a source of information for human resources, R&D, marketing, and management? What is the reputation of the library outside the corporation with regards to the same type of questions? What has been the library’s history and interaction with staff and management? What other library and R&D organizations provide expert resources to the library’s customers?
  10. Profit and Loss Review. Generate a minimum three-year examination of revenue and expense sources. Does the library receive grants from management (is it purely overhead) or does the library recover costs from providing services? If so, how much, and what is the library’s earnings to expense ratio of the revenues or incomes the library receives from providing services to the expenses the library incurs? What is it going to take to recover all operating costs?
  11. Financial Resources. Does the library have adequate resources to operate at current level? Can the library accommodate growth? Is the library using operating funds wisely? What are the library’s expenses—personnel, consultants, contractors, marketing, capital and equipment investment, and depreciation? Where are most of the expenses concentrated? Is the library running in a deficit or profit mode?


A note must be made that environmental analyses should be performed on a regular basis. This will ensure trends and changes are recognized throughout organizational and environmental change. The analysis should be a chance for library staff and organizational management and employees to communicate with each other about information and goals. This gives the library an image of working with, listening, and responding to the organization; of building a shared vision for impacting the culture of the organization (Powers, 3). It will also highlight which groups are not being served or are not aware of the library (Weingand, 6).

While environmental analysis provides many benefits, extraordinary library service and programs and an effective marketing plan can only come with the addition of an analysis of the individual needs and perceptions of users.


Understanding User Needs

The best way to understand the needs of the library users is to listen to their requests and to get to know them as individuals. Librarians tend to provide customers with information or services that THEY think is needed or in a convenient format. Instead, real needs rather than perceived needs should be recognized and accommodated. Recognize the client as an individual and offer customized services based on individual information needs. Customers only care about getting the results they think are most useful and economical for them today (Catt, 3). Finding out what user priorities and agenda are will get the library attention; promoting the things loved and valued by librarians will not (Powers, 2).

Stakeholders are good to start with because they are responsible for funding, backing, and positive word of mouth. They can include friends, political groups, suppliers, employees, board members, corporate management, and other libraries’ staff (Cram, 6). Not only knowing who they are but also "their levels of influence and how each may politically, socially, or economically affect the library’s operations, functions, and future plans" is also relevant (Cram, 6).


How to get all of this information?!

Most of the important information will come from interaction within the organization. Some techniques for digging out environmental and user information include:

  1. Begin with existing information such as annual reports, information from state, regional, and local planning agencies, and the local press
  2. Carefully prepare questions to ask in interviews, in telephone, print, group surveys, or in focus groups (Cavill,1).
  1. Develop customer reports cards or quick response cards for a service.
  2. Use informal approaches such as e-mail discussions or personal conversations (de Stricker, 4).
  3. Set up one-on-one sessions to observe an individual’s use of a current product (de Stricker, 5).
  4. Use the critical incident technique. Ask an individual about a recent information need and how the need was filled. Include questions such as how long did the individual have to wait for results or what was the cost of the information, if any.
  5. Do market research. Read and keep up with professional, trade, and business publications and journals, electronic bulletin boards/mailing lists, and the activities and meetings of organizations and clubs (Cram, 8). This will provide industry trend information and buzzwords. It can also help to determine what makes a customer want to use or buy services and what types of marketing users will respond to best (Kassel, 2).
  6. Segment users. This can be helpful when determining why someone may use one service over another or what benefits they derive from the services offered (Cram, 7).


When developing these techniques, the following questions and suggestions may be useful:


  1. Are there staff who never use the library? If so, why?
  2. Are there staff using the library in a very static way, staff who seek citations only rather than subject queries? (Powers ,5)
  3. What have the customers expressed an interest in receiving? (Catt, 2)
  4. How are we doing and how can we get better?
  5. Laura Cram suggests the following:

Diane Tobin Johnson recommends evaluating both product and process from the vantage point of the customer by asking:

Ulla de Stricker recommends these questions:

Each of these techniques or a combination of them probe for ideas about new products and services and evaluate existing ones. They reveal the customer’s perception of the quality of service and provide suggestions for how to increase positive attitudes and awareness of that service (Cram, 7). If such data retrieval is performed on a regular basis it will not only collect the most timely information but also become perceived as a normal business activity and eliminate a potential threat to the status quo (Catt, 5).


Information Needs Assessment as the Basis of the Marketing Plan

Studying the information needs of users and the organization not only helps to direct library services and programs, but also to determine how to plan for marketing these resources. Assessment will ensure that the needs of the user are the library’s highest priority, and that the library remains relevant to the objectives of the parent organization (Cavill, 5). Once user needs have been established, the library can begin to communicate back to users about the library’s response to these needs through the marketing plan (Weingand, 2).

Janet Powers cites the following as benefits to such planning in marketing:


She adds that special libraries can use marketing as a tool to define and transmit their image, philosophy, and mission within the organizational culture to create a dynamic process of information exchange (Powers, 2). This, then, can help to ensure that the library remains a permanent and influential part of its organization throughout environmental and institutional changes.



Catt, Martha E. "The Olympic training field for planning quality library services." Library Trends, Wntr 1995 v43 n3.

Cavill, Pat. "Marketing Plan Worksheet." Available online at:

Cram, Laura. "The marketing audit: baseline for action." Library Trends, Wntr 1995 v43 n3.

Hammond, John. "Marketing Program." Available online at:

Johnson, Diane Tobin. "Focus on the library customer: revelation, revolution, or redundancy?" Library Trends, Wntr 1995 v43 n3.

Kassel, Amelia. "How to write a marketing plan." Marketing Library Services June 1999 v13 n5. Available online at:

Kennedy, Mary Lee. "Positioning strategic information: partnering for the information age." In Marketing Matters: An SLA Information Kit 1997. Washington: Special Libraries Association, 1997.

Kotler, P. Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations, 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1982.

Kotler, P. and Andraesen, A.R. Strategic Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations, 4th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1987.

Muir, Robert L. "Marketing your library or information service to business." Online July 1993 v17 n4.

Powers, Janet E. "Marketing in the special library environment." Library Trends, Wntr 1995 v43 n3.

Smith, Duncan. "Practice as a marketing tool: four case studies." Library Trends, Wntr 1995 v43 n3.

de Stricker, Ulla. "Marketing with a capital S: strategic planning for knowledge based services." Information Outlook 2 (no. 2), February 1998. Available online at:

Weingand, Darlene E. "Preparing for the millennium: the case for using marketing strategies." Library Trends, Wntr 1995 v43 n3.