Analysis of Information Needs
By Tracey Booth
Table of Contents
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.
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:
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:
When developing these techniques, the following questions and suggestions may be useful:
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:http://www.sla.org/chapter/cwcn/wwest/v1n3/cavilb13.htm
Cram, Laura. "The marketing audit: baseline for action." Library Trends, Wntr 1995 v43 n3.
Hammond, John. "Marketing Program." Available online at:http://faculty.libsci.sc.edu/bob/class/clis724/SpecialLibrariesHandbook/marketing.htm
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:http://www.infotoday.com/mls/jun99/how-to.htm
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:http://www.sla.org/pubs/serial/io/1998/feb98/stricker.html
Weingand, Darlene E. "Preparing for the millennium: the case for using marketing strategies." Library Trends, Wntr 1995 v43 n3.