Jill S. Stover is an Undergraduate Services Librarian at the James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University. Her role there is to create and promote library services for undergraduates, but she also runs the rockin’ blog Library Marketing-Thinking Outside the Book, which I found while I was doing the chapter on marketing and communications. After talking a bit by phone and email, Jill agreed to this short interview for a sidebar — something I’ll be getting back to now that I’m, well, getting back. Here’s an excerpt. (Check out Jill’s blog for more
Chrystie:How did you become interested in marketing and libraries, and what does your blog offer libraries struggling to learn about and apply marketing principles to library practice?
Jill:I began studying library marketing while in library school. At the time, I was busy making a number of useful but labor-intensive online tutorials. I thought the tutorials could be a great help to students, but I wondered if they even knew about them. I realized that librarians do such incredible work but they need to do a better job of connecting their resources with students. Marketing is the way to do that.
I started my blog because I was learning a lot about marketing but wanted a vehicle for communicating those lessons. I believed it would also be a useful service for colleagues since there wasn’t much writing on library marketing in the blogosphere at the time. I took the approach of linking business practice with library practice, not because businesses are “better” or because we should blindly mimic everything they do, but because the business literature is full of constructive models and methodologies that we should consider rather than ignore. Businesses have been strategically marketing for a long time and we can learn from the business world just as we can learn from the education and psychology worlds, for example.
Chrystie: Why do you think libraries struggle with marketing?
Jill: Librarians struggle with marketing for any number of reasons, but three stand out: First, many feel a false sense of isolation from the world of commerce as non-profit institutions. Second, there is a popular misconception that marketing only involves advertising and sales, which makes marketing merely an afterthought, or worse, irrelevant. And third, many libraries lack the financial means, time, leadership, and expertise to devote to marketing and so give up on it altogether.
Chrystie: What do you think is the most critical marketing concept/principle that we could apply towards successful community building through libraries?
Jill: Communities are not large, homogenous entities. Communities consist of groups of people with unique needs, wants, preference, traditions, interests, etc. To identify and build communities, librarians need to find and learn as much as they can about those groups. For these reasons, market segmentation is a key marketing principle for librarians to grasp. Market segmentation involves breaking up large markets into smaller ones (segments) on the basis of shared characteristics. Librarians can segment target audiences using a number of different criteria such as demographics, attitudes, and lifestyles to name a few.
Chrystie: \What’s the difference between libraries building community and integrating with our communities to make them stronger?
Jill: Librarians can approach marketing to communities in two ways: They can seek out existing communities, identify their unmet needs, and create services that fill those needs. Sometimes these communities are not highly visible, so careful market research and segmentation can help to uncover them. Librarians can also be the catalysts for forming library-centered communities. Hennepin County Public Library, for example, has done an excellent job of rallying teens around the library by gathering a group of them to create content for its Teen Links Website: (http://www.hclib.org/teens/). In cases like this, the library itself is the binding force within the community.
Chrystie: What are some examples you’ve seen of how libraries can successfully segment or target their markets in order to better assess needs, develop services, and connect/communicate effectively with their communities?
Jill: I was really touched by a story I read about the Minneapolis Public Library and its outreach to new immigrant communities including Somalis, Hmong and Latinos. (In this case, the segmentation variable was country of origin).The immigrants have specialized needs and so the library restructured its services to accommodate them. The library now offers literacy training, a multi-lingual Web site, and language learning tools. Their bookmobile also appears at community events. Staff even wear hand-crafted pouches created by Hmong immigrants as a friendly gesture. This is a terrific example of a library that strategically sought out communities it could best serve and aligned its services, and even its attitude, accordingly. Done right, marketing creates real value for people and can even be life-changing for community members.
Thank you so much to Jill for your time on this – I look forward to seeing whatever new directions you (and your blog) take on next!