Article: Working with campus marketing classes to improve reference visibility

This article* describes how a library worked with marketing classes at Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU) to improve students’ interest in using reference services. This gave the opportunity for students to engage in a real-world problem, while meeting the academic needs of the course and providing the library with ideas as to how they could improve the visibility and usefulness of the service. Some key points from the article for me were:

  • the Library only specified two questions, the students generated the bulk of the survey questions
  • the survey results confirmed that the students love the library facility but fail to use its resources, specifically the reference desk to the fullest
  • students tended to be technology savvy, time poor, and unwilling to ask for assistance
  • students used Google as their main resource, and would ask peers and lecturers for help, but were unlikely to ask librarians
  •  the words “reference” and “information” were meaningless to students

Students provided recommendations for improving reference services, which were then considered by the librarians. As a result of this project:

  • a secondary sign was added to the “Information desk” sign – a large yellow “help” button
  • an instant messaging (IM) service was initiated (apparently marketing students “strongly advocated” this – Meebo was eventually chosen)
  • promotional materials were developed for the IM service and for the email reference service
  • walk-in workshops on specific topics were suggested by students, but were not pursued as they had failed to attract student interest in the past. As an alternative the library did decide to work on relationships with student groups – a “handful” of these scheduled time on sessions to improve research skills
  • the seating arrangements of the student assistant/librarian at the reference desk was reversed, with the librarian taking the front and center seat and the student assistant moving to the back

The article notes that the number of reference transactions jumped as a result of the changes, but overall “aggregate numbers continued to trend downward, though less dramatically”.

A second round of marketing class/library collaboration was undertaken with students developing marketing plans for the library. Ultimately this was considered less useful than the original collaboration as “the suggestions did not fit for the image that we wanted to portray and were not as appropriate for the real world as they seemed on paper”.  Of the suggestions that did fit, one was the adoption of a  standardised visual identifier (which eventually replaced the help button), that was used in a consistent manner across the website, on handouts etc. This identifier – the “AskeAmes” logo was created by a graphic design student.

I’m wondering now if there would be scope for something like this at the university I work at. I’d be very interested to hear if anyone else has undertaken similar collaborations.

Spotted on the M Word – Marketing Libraries blog

* Duke, L. M., & MacDonald, J. B. (2009). Working with campus marketing classes to improve reference service visibility. Marketing Library Services, 23(6). Retrieved from http://www.infotoday.com/mls/nov09/Duke_MacDonald.shtml

Marketing – the last profession to be invited into the library world

So begin’s Alison Circle’s post on Marketing as strategy, not a poster. For me this is a critically important blog posting, as it highlights what Circle considers to be a fundamental confusion in libraries between marketing and promotion. For Circle, marketing is:

a high level strategy, not the tactics that give life to that strategy

and as such it involves:

  • market research to know as much as possible about current and potential customers
  • analysing customer needs – what can be met and critically what can’t be met
  • identification and analysis of the competition
  • a focus on the four Ps – product, price, position and promotion

For me this sort of focus is exactly what has been missing as I’ve sat through numerous conference presentations that have highlighted again and again the challenges that face libraries, but have resulted in very little or no discussion on the strategy of how we will meet these challenges. Clearly we need to promote libraries and what we do, but where is our strategy that gives us a foundation to that – that gives us a framework to focus our limited budgets and resources? 

This then is what has led me to study marketing and to consider it in relation to libraries – because I suspect there aren’t enough of us in the library profession that know enough about marketing.

So here are a few questions I’ve got for starters:

  • do we follow and understand the major societal and consumer trends and how they will impact on us as librarians?
  • we survey our customers but do we just find out what we already know, or do we gather information that can actually help us make decisions about service delivery?
  • are we really honest about what needs we can and can’t meet? Are we honest and brave enough to concede there are some needs we can’t meet and there is little point in wooing certain groups of customers?
  • do we know who are competitors are and do we keep track of what they are up to?
  • do we have a good idea of how we should plan for future services – specifically how will the information seeking behaviours of generation Y, Z and C evolve? Are we aware of any longitudinal studies in place to look at this?