What article databases have in common with prepaid funerals

This post was inspired by recent exchanges on the NZ-Libs discussion list about the usage of databases provided via EPIC. Here I have included my response, and I have included some of the ideas for promoting database resources that came through in the responses. These are just a snapshot of the good ideas that came through and it was heartening that the EPIC Governance Group signalled they were looking for any feedback on collaborative approaches to training and promotion of electronic resources. (This can be sent to paula.banks@dia.govt.nz).

To borrow an analogy from Julie Badger’s excellent article “Turning ‘cold sellers’ into ‘must haves’:  marketing unsought library products” – article databases have as much appeal as a prepaid funeral.  They represent a type of product that consumers may be unaware of, or see no need for, or even have negative attitudes towards. And Badger is talking about databases in the academic library setting – promoting article databases to the general public represents further challenges.

Let’s face it most people probably satisfice (i.e. employ “good enough” decision-making strategies) when it comes to online information – what they get (usually from Google) is good enough. So why on earth would they try to navigate EPIC (or any other article database – including those provided by academic libraries!) to find stuff out?

As Brian Mathews says, we need to stop focusing on ourselves (we’ve got these great databases!) and :

focus instead on our users (why do they need this product”?). Instead of just concocting ways of getting students to use a database or to an attend an event, we should delve into the question of why. Why should they use whatever it is that we have to offer. Why should they care? What is the benefit? Which of their needs is being fulfilled? Once we start asking these types of questions, we gain insight into the emotional and functional attributes that drive usage. After this we can begin defining the target audience, designing a meaningful and motivating message, and selecting the best delivery method p. 45**

So as that quote says what we need to do is to think carefully about the needs these products* can actually meet for people. These ideas can then be used to prepare the value messages that can then be the basis of promotional messages and activities.   Recently I was talking to Liza Fisher from Cengage about some Gale database training she had done with Puke Ariki – she had some great ideas about how you can promote these resources beyond the “blah blah database with blah number of journals and blah number of articles”. Sorry but no one cares about how many articles you can find. You need to promote WHY the databases and the alerts and the whatever are useful.

Here are some of the key themes that came through the discussion on NZ-Libs:

Staff are a key resource – get them trained and confident and they will promote the database for you

Training ideas include:

– have a “Database of the fortnight” – email questions to staff about it and get them to send their answers to their managers within a set time frame. Also provide these questions on the staff intranet so new staff can use them too.  (Wellington City Libraries)

– promote new databases by emailing staff, adding information to staff newsletters and provide training. Promote new databases to the public via blogs, public emails and eNewsletters. (Christchurch City Libraries)

– ensure that staff are aware that the content of EPIC resources is relevant to small and medium sized libraries – they are not just there for high end research. Run regular workshops so staff are confident with the resources and in demonstrating them to the public.  (Rotorua District Library – who report their strategies have resulted in a staggering 170% increase in EPIC database usage in the past year)

– “What we have found which works quite well to increase staff awareness is that I set a regular Information Query (once every 2 – 4 weeks.) The answer to the query is found in one of our subscription databases. This initiative has been strongly supported by the library manager and staff are encouraged to ‘have a go’ as part of their personal professional development. Most queries should be found within 5 minutes search so staff cannot use the excuse of ‘I didn’t have time.” There is usually a small “reward for the best answer. Solutions, giving step by step detail of how to find the answer are given, so that staff who had difficulty can follow through. This has increased staff’s confidence with the databases, as they are doing this searching at their desk without the anxiety of a customer waiting for the answer. They then get more comfortable with the databases and the search techniques so are more likely to turn to these resources for customer queries. Our database statistics have risen during the time we have been doing this”. (Kapiti Coast District Libraries)

Ideas for promoting databases to library customers

–  have  a database link on the shelf savers behind the latest reference magazine (where available) so customers realise they can access this journal themselves online. Put a database link on the bibliographic record for our print subscriptions to allow customers to click through and view these at home. Have database links on topic pages as well (Wellington City Libraries)

– don’t think about databases as databases but as packages of e-journals. Provide e-journal links on the library catalogue.  (Landcare Research)

– use promotional material provided by vendors. Work with your own parent organisation and utilise their marketing resources. (Christchurch City Libraries)

–  “Currently we are working with our Council to ensure greater knowledge of our databases. Using their marketing department we are constructing a collective identity for all our databases. Once this is done the idea is to promote library databases in community newspapers as well as the Press, radio and posters around the city and websites such as banners on “Stuff”. ” (Christchurch City Libraries)

I firmly believe that specific journal/magazine titles need to be extrapolated out of the databases and tailored to meet the individuals needs, we cannot offer them 12,000 titles and expect them to get it!  (Liza Fisher, Cengage)

If you have any other great ideas about promoting these resources feel free to add a comment – the more ideas we can share the better!

*as a marketing geek I see our service and resources as our products so shamelessly call them that 🙂

**Mathews, B. (2009). Marketing today’s academic library : a bold new approach to communicating with students. Chicago: American Library Association.

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