This chapter discusses the research process and questions every library professional should answer in order to develop solid marketing goals that will help gain a deeper understanding of the needs of any library organization and the unique community it serves. It outlines how to build a marketing plan that will do more than promote a product or service, it will build awareness of the library in a way no single approach can.
When I tell people I market libraries for a living, it is often met with a declaration of: “I didn’t know you could market a library?” Or with a sense of confusion: “Why does a library need a marketer?” Why indeed? Everybody loves the library, right? At this point in the conversation, I do a little spontaneous market research and ask the question: “What purpose does the library serve in your community?” A library enthusiast will wax nostalgic, weaving a tale of libraries of their past or bypass the library completely and talk of their love of books. They may answer with a tale of reverence, and an appreciation for an institution that guards knowledge and history, speaking of the library as more of an archive than an active, essential foundation for a thriving community. I am also all too familiar with the more dreaded responses: “Libraries are “irrelevant.” “I read on my tablet.” Or, my favorite, “Why do we need libraries when we have Google?”
Of course, the millions of people who use a library every day know its value, but even many them do not understand everything the library does. When libraries are funded by their communities and every dollar is being stretched to provide the best possible service, is it responsible to put funds and other valuable resources into marketing?
Absolutely. Libraries are changing as quickly as the world is; it would be irresponsible not to.
Somewhere along the way the message of why libraries exist fell away, and libraries let the message of what they are become about a product: books. The tools libraries use to serve their communities are varied and change more rapidly than they have been able to communicate. As a result, our communities are losing touch with the true value of the library. Libraries are not now—nor have they ever been—about a product, the buildings, or even the librarian. If libraries continue to communicate their value as a product to be offered, they will fail. Technology is rapidly changing. The moment you succeed in connecting the public to a message about the next big thing the library has embraced, it slips away and becomes something else.
Who knows a good story better than the library? It is time to tell the library’s story. What do libraries stand for? In order to deliver a powerful message that connects to the emotional core of why libraries are and will always be essential, we need to understand better than anyone why we do what we do. It is our responsibility to make sure the people who invest in libraries for the future of their communities see the value in their investment."