Promoting Special Library Services
21 April 1999
Table of Contents
What Is Promotion?
How To Get Started
What Are The Options?
Library- and Organization-Produced Materials
Special Programs and Events
Newspapers, Radio, and Television
Word of Mouth
What Happens After Promotion?
Examples of Successful Special Library Promotion
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.
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
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
5. Who is responsible for performing for promotion?
(Weingard, 114-116; Edsall, 5-14; Powers)
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)
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
2. Flyers or company-wide e-mails
3. Reading lists and bibliographies
5. Annual reports
8. Schedules, calendars and directories
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
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.
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)
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
6. Provide quality information services. (Sherman,
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,
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
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.”http://informationoutlook.com/feb/stricker.html
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.
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,
12. Weingand, Darlene E. Marketing/Planning
Library and Information Services. Littleton, Colorado: Libraries
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