Promoting Special Library Services

Aimee Berry
21 April 1999

Table of Contents

  Section                                               Title                                            Page

 1                                                                   What Is Promotion?                                                  3

 2                                                                        Why Promote?                                                      3

 3                                                                     How To Get Started                                                4

 4                                                                    What Are The Options?                                           5

 4a                                                 Library- and Organization-Produced Materials                      6

 4b                                                                              Exhibits                                                         7

 4c                                                               Special Programs and Events                                     8

 4d                                                           Newspapers, Radio, and Television                               9

 4e                                                                         Word of Mouth                                                  9

 5                                                              What Happens After Promotion?                                 10

6                                                                               Conclusions                                                    11

7                                                    Examples of Successful Special Library Promotion                11

8                                                                                Bibliography                                                  12

            Section 1.  What is Promotion?

 First of all, it is important to realize that promotion is part of the larger marketing plan. Many people think that marketing and promotion are one and the same, but this is not the case.  Promotion serves no purpose on its own, so if there is not  already a marketing plan for the library or information center, refer to the chapter on developing a marketing program before proceeding any further.  Promotion involves four different elements, all with the purpose of facilitating communication between the library and its target market:

1. Public relations: letting people know the library’s message and telling people what the library has to offer them;

2. Advertising: paid publicity;

3. Incentives: take-aways or free or special services;

4. Atmospherics: the library or information center’s ambiance and environment. (Weingard, 110-112; Sherman, 4)

             Section 2.  Why Promote?

Why bother promoting?  What about the whole “if you build it, they will come” idea? Promotion is based on the assumption that people won’t know what the library has to offer them unless they are told.  The librarian may wonder why no one is coming into the library to use the fantastic (and fantastically expensive) new database, journal, or collection of books.  The librarian may wonder why the library only gets one reference question per week.  The librarian may wonder why, when they meet another employee of their institution and introduce themselves as the librarian, they say, “We have a library?”  And when the library closes, the librarian may still be wondering why.  The answer is promotion, or a lack thereof.  How will people know about new acquisitions if they’re not told somehow?  How will people know that the library exists to serve them, if no one bothers to make the library a known entity?  How can the library survive if no one uses it and there is no justification for its existence?  Promote, promote, promote!  Make everyone aware of the library.  Make the library indispensable.

            Section 3.  How To Get Started

Long before beginning to develop a promotion plan, there are several things that are necessary.  The most important thing that is necessary is top management support, because promotion must be included in the library’s budget and integrated into the library’s planning process.  (Weingand, 114)  Without management support for promotion, there will likely be no funding set aside for it, and therefore it will very difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish.  The purpose of the promotion plan must be defined.  Why is the library engaging in promotion?  This question should be answered by referring to the library and organization’s goals and objectives or mission statement.  The purpose ofpromoting the library should be because you are trying to fulfill your mission. Questions must then be asked and answered about what, why, to whom, and how you will communicate:

1. What is to be communicated?  What is the message?

2. Why?  (This goes back to the mission statement and the organization’s goals and objectives.)

3. Who is to be the receiver of the message?  What is the audience?  (This should be determined during development of the marketing plan.)

4. What media or channels should be used to communicate the message?

5. Who is responsible for performing for promotion? (Weingard, 114-116; Edsall, 5-14; Powers)

            Section 4.  What Are The Options?

Deciding which medium to use for promotion is probably the hardest decision to make in the whole promotion process, simply because there are so many options.  In fact, imagination is the only limiting factor!  (Ok, and budget!)  Questions that need to be kept in mind when deciding what medium or channel to use to reach your market include:

1. Will it reach the target market?

2. Will the market be receptive to the message?

3. Can the organization develop or create the type of media to carry the message?

4. Can the organization afford the cost?

5. Can the selected media get the message out in a timely manner?

6. Is there any possibility that the choice or media would have negative consequences?  (Weingand, 114-116)

            Section 4a.  Library- and Organization-Produced Materials

The following vehicles of promotion, though they may not be appropriate for all special libraries,  are an example of materials that can be produced by the library itself or the parent organization:

1. Brochures

2. Flyers or company-wide e-mails

3. Reading lists and bibliographies

4. Newsletters

5. Annual reports


7. Posters

8. Schedules, calendars and directories

9. Videos

10. Webpages (Edsall, 71; Leerburger, 25-36; Brown)

When deciding to use a printed medium, such as a newsletter or the organization’s annual report, several questions need to be kept in mind:

1. To whom is the medium distributed?

2. How will it be distributed?

3. What is the expected length of time it will be usable?

4. What printing method will be used?

5. What size will the print run be? (Edsall, 80)

                   Section 4b.  Exhibits

Depending upon the type of special library, exhibits may be an excellent medium of promotion, especially for those libraries who also serve external users (such as a historical society or museum library).   The following checklist should be kept in mind when using an exhibit to promote the library:

1. Have you communicated important, factual information?

2. Have you emphasize the significant?

3. Are all the facts accurate?

4. Have you said too much?

5. Have you used the best possible visual materials?

6. Is the design too cluttered? (Edsell, 108)

Other major considerations to keep in mind when doing an exhibit are exhibit costs (for example, do the items require special case?), insurance (especially for borrowed items), and security systems. (Leerburger, 45-47)

            Section 4c.  Special Programs and Events

The following are examples of special programs and events that can be offered by the special library (again depending upon what type of organization the library is in):

1. Special guest speakers or presentations to selected groups within the company

2. Open house or information fairs that exhibit services to all interested staff

3. Library orientation for new employees

4. Special training for employees, including seminars that educate customers on the center’s services                 (Leerburger, 104-107; Ribbler; Brown)

            Section 4d.  Newspapers, Radio, and Television

Not all special libraries will find it appropriate or necessary to utilize the mediums of promotion.  However, for some types of special libraries, they can be very successful and helpful.  For example, a local historical society library can advertise its upcoming genealogy workshop in the newspaper and reach a wide audience.  One consideration to keep in mind here, though, is that these channels of promotion will cost money.

             Section 4e.  Word of Mouth

Word of mouth is by far the cheapest, most effective means of promotion any kind of library can hope for.  It is important, therefore, that users have a positive experience in the library.  This can be achieved by observing a few simple rules:

1. Always be polite and courteous

2. Try to have convenient hours

3. Don’t forget small conveniences, like having scratch paper and pencils handy for forgetful users

4. Make the library client-centered

5. Know the users, and try to anticipate their information needs

6. Provide quality information services. (Sherman, 152-158; Powers)

                 Section 5.  What Happens After Promotion?

Promotion is not something that a library does once and then never has to do again.  Promotion is a continuous process.  Before promotion is repeated, however, it must be evaluated to determine its success.  If a new service was promoted, yet no one came in to use it, then something needs to be changed before promotion occurs again. Keep statistics, even if very basic ones, on how many people come into the library and use the services.  This should give the library an idea about the success rate of the promotion.  If the first effort at promotion did not succeed as anticipated, try another method.  A continuous promotion program should be developed, ideally to be handled by a person whose major responsibility will be promotion. (Sherman, 177-193)

              Section 6.  Conclusions

Special libraries have many of the same marketing and promotional needs as other libraries.  However, special libraries often have a more narrowly defined community of users, and they often must compete with other departments for funding and outside sources of information for users.  In this respect, successful promotion is all the more vital in a special library.  Bringing people into the library to use its services is necessary for a special library’s survival. (Leerburger, 91-111; Brown)

            Section 7.  Examples of Successful Special Library Promotion

 The following examples are all corporate libraries, but the strategies used can also be taken advantage of by other kinds of special libraries:

1. McGraw-Hill, Inc.:  distributes a monthly bibliography of recently received materials to key corporate personnel

2. Exxon:  produces a semi-monthly publication; video tape orientation for new employees; brochures explaining databases

3. Seattle-First National Banks:  quarterly report; annual usage questionnaire; talks at staff meetings; slide presentations; articles, and announcements in bank’s newsletter and magazine

4. General Foods:  brochure of FAQs to new employees; film orientation; articles and bibliographic information in company’s newsletter; table of contents photocopying and distribution; displays

5. Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc.:  computer network; newsletters; brochures; demonstrations (Leerburger, 105-106)

              Section 8.  Bibliography

1. Brown, Suzan A.  “Marketing the corporate information center for success.”  In Online, July-Aug. 1997, v. 21, n. 4, p. 74.

2. de Stricker, Ulla.  “Marketing with a Captial S:  Strategic Planning for Knowledge Based Services.”

3. Edsall, Marian S.  Library Promotion Handbook.  Phoenix, Arizona:   Oryx Press, 1980.

4. Leerburger, Benedict A.  Marketing the Library.  White Plains, New   York:  Knowledge Industry Publications, Inc., 1982.

5. Mount, Ellis.  Special Libraries and Information Centers:  An Introductory Text.  Washington, D.C.:  Special Libraries   Association, 1995.

6. Orava, Hilkka.  “Marketing is an Attitude of Mind.”

7. Powers, Janet E.  “Marketing in the special library environment.”   In Library Trends, Winter 1995, v. 43, n. 3, p. 478.

8. Ribbler, Judith.  “Delivering Solutions for the knowledge economy.”   In Online, Sept.-Oct. 1996, v. 20, n. 5, p. 12.

9. Sherman, Steve.  ABC’s of Library Promotion, 3rd ed.  Metuchen, New   Jersey:  The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1992.

10. Webber, Sheila.  “Marketing library and information services.”

11. Webber, Sheila.  “Promoting information on the Internet.”

12. Weingand, Darlene E.  Marketing/Planning Library and Information Services.  Littleton, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, 1987.
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