Lizz Jennings reviews a concise and practical guide to marketing library e-resources which offers the busy professional a structured approach to planning a successful campaign.
Marketing Your Electronic Resources immediately strikes the reader as a very practical book. With wide margins for notes and easy reference, a large section giving examples of best practice, and the main text extending over just 100 pages, this book is designed for busy practitioners. For many librarians tasked with marketing, this kind of work forms a small part of the whole of their role and this short, practical guide is pitched very much at this type of reader. It is not sector-specific, although many of the examples are drawn from public and academic libraries.
As an e-resources librarian, I work much more with the resources than the customer, and I was a little sceptical that I could apply what I was reading to my own role. However, I was heartened by the introduction which placed the roots of this book firmly in the library assessment field, as the authors met following a presentation by Kennedy at a library assessment conference. This gave me high hopes for an evidence-based book and I was not disappointed.
The introduction makes the aims of the book clear, and outlines many of the reasons why electronic resources need to be promoted in libraries. Electronic resources can be somewhat hidden when patrons are faced with all the online information available to them. Moreover, when libraries spend a large proportion of their budget on them, it is only logical to ensure that users are able to select and use resources that are the perfect fit for their needs from all the available options. In my view, librarians are the ideal guides. What is also emphasised in this book is that it is important to know what the specific reason for marketing is in your own library as this will form the basis for any other decisions taken through the rest of the marketing process. This process is framed as a collaboration between the marketing team and the rest of the library’s staff, as well as a collaboration with the library’s users. This is an important perspective which colours the tone of the whole book: at the core of any promotional activity should be a deep understanding of the community the library serves, its information needs and its behaviours.
Chapter One describes marketing as like shopping - if you go in without a shopping list, you’ll most likely be distracted by the cookies aisle! This analogy was carried through just enough to remind you of why the rather daunting list of steps in a marketing plan was necessary. For example, it outlines clearly and sensibly the use of usage and cost data in knowing ‘what you already have in your pantry’  and how you can ensure your library is sending out consistent messages to customers (‘thank you for shopping at Kmart"), where the marketing of e-resources becomes embedded in the library’s culture. It also reminds us that running promotional activities with no sense of purpose or a clear goal in mind is just so much noise: consultation and measurement can help to focus events, which should be aiming to differentiate resources in the users’ mind. The authors describe how librarians create value for their users when they empower them to make use of e-resources, and emphasise that the process is a long-term one, with marketing teams being assembled for as much as five years at a time.
Chapter Two sets out the structure of a marketing plan and is key to making the most of the rest of the book. Each component is explained, and it is made abundantly clear that this isn't so much a written plan as a cyclical process, complete with a diagram that shows the steps in a circle, which seems a little superfluous. It is also very unclear at this point whether they are talking about a single resource or a whole collection, a confusion which eases as you read further and find that this is actually an irrelevant concern. They give clear examples to explain each part of the plan, all based on real marketing done by real libraries, a technique used throughout the book, which gives it a real sense of being grounded in practice rather than pure theory. As well as existing practice, they give ideas and questions designed to encourage a new marketing team to consider other options to the obvious choices. The section about SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats) analyses is enhanced by a list of relevant questions to answer which would help guide the process to cover all angles. Consideration of market research techniques and methods of communication leave the reader feeling keen to know more about their audience, while the focus on collaboration with users and colleagues leaves you feeling that this is not about bombarding people with promotional material, but working together to get the best from your resources. Again, the evidence-based approach shows through with clear reasons for ensuring the plan is budgeted for in detail. The chapter ends with an annotated list of recommended reading on market research methods, so that interest in a particular method does not detract from the flow of the book.
Chapter Three is the real meat of this book, and takes the approach of using examples from the marketing plans at the back of the book to illustrate the many different ways in which each aspect of the plan can be applied, as well as things to avoid. Some of the plans are rather complex and it is encouraging that the authors recommend starting simple while you learn the process, and taking the best ideas from the examples. The book then takes a rather long detour through Kennedy's personal research interest: the methods of communication used by various libraries. This isn't irrelevant in itself; on the contrary, it is useful to know which methods are used, but the list is provided in alphabetical order with the four categories listed in the main text - this would have been much clearer as a categorised table instead. There are also graphic representations of the frequency of use which require some considerable effort to understand, followed by a breakdown by sector. The content isn't lacking interest per se, but this section really breaks the flow of the chapter, and could have been significantly streamlined to make it as user-friendly as the rest of the work. However, the section on School and Special Libraries provides insights about stakeholder engagement which are not really covered elsewhere. The authors then return to their usual style, giving details of time-managing the marketing plan and a hefty dose of realism about what will happen if you miss an activity out of your reckoning. They cover both quantitative and qualitative ideas for measuring the success of the plan against the initial goals. They also encourage the reader to ensure assessment is a core part of the process rather than an afterthought as it will inform future plans, and will avoid the repetition of less effective approaches. They finish with a reminder that giving users a positive feeling about e-resources and building their confidence is good for everyone, and the marketing should fill everyone with enthusiasm for the library and its resources.
The fourth chapter gives guidance for writing up the marketing plan and makes it clear that the audience will determine what kind of report should be written. It also gives clear instructions on how to make the case presented in the executive summary persuasive, which is important in ensuring that senior management support the plan. Examples of measures other libraries have used show how the outcomes relate to the goals, and examples from all areas of the report are included with emphasis on recognising when to use a particular approach.
Chapter Five is concerned with assessing the plan, but begins with a very helpful section on assessing the quality of the access provided to e-resources via the library Web site. Although not directly related to the plan itself, it is critical to the success of any e-resource marketing plan to ensure that users are not going to be disappointed by the end-result. The authors emphasise that collaboration with colleagues and users to ascertain whether problems with a resource represent a barrier to use is vital to ensuring your marketing efforts are appropriately directed - a quirky resource may be better served by a training programme than a flyer. Fault report forms provide a surprising form of marketing, but can prove a means of opening dialogue with patrons even if it begins on a negative note. This all centres on the issue of trust, and whether users see the library as a source of frustration or a place where they are empowered to become confident users of the resources that are most useful to them. This section seems slightly out of place here, and might have been worth a chapter in itself earlier in the book as it relates so closely to the early parts of the planning process. The chapter continues with more information on assessing the plan itself, with a good set of questions to ask to ensure the plan achieves its goals. This is followed by an excellent rubric for those who like more concrete methods of assessment, and could provide for ongoing analysis and comparisons between several cycles of marketing. Assessment is also set in the context of demonstrating value for money, and ensuring that the people funding the marketing can see the impact that money has had. The authors end the chapter with a consideration of the ethics of marketing, which was a little unexpected, but actually was an aspect that was very important to ensuring that marketing does not damage the library’s relationship with its users.
The final chapter gives readers a chance to reflect on the plan and reward themselves with cake if it has been implemented! This part of the book largely consists of questions to ask oneself about each aspect of the plan. As well as personal development, this process helps guide future cycles of marketing. Successful campaigns can be reused for cyclical customer groups, such as new starters, as well as for annual events. The book finishes by making the point that marketing is about making the value of the library evident to all.
Overall, this book is a really useful, practical and evidence-based approach to the topic, which can be read quickly and applied effectively in any kind of library as the authors’ method is extremely flexible. Aside from the inclusion of too much detail about communication methods in Chapter Three, and the Web site assessment section being too far removed from the earlier stages of planning where it would have sat more comfortably, this book has few weaknesses, and will suit any marketing team looking to get its own campaigns off to a flying start.
- Marie R. Kennedy and Cheryl LaGuardia. Marketing Your Library’s Electronic Resources: A how-to-do-it manual. London: Facet Publishing. http://www.facetpublishing.co.uk/title.php?id=9429
Web site: http://www.bath.ac.uk/library/
Lizz Jennings joined the University of Bath Library as the Information Librarian for E-Resources in 2008 and chartered shortly afterwards. Her background has taken in workplace, public and prison libraries, but her current interests include usage statistics, wikis for e-resources and resource discovery. Lizz has recently achieved an MSc in Information Management from The Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. She is also an active member of the CILIP Career Development Group, and currently chairs the CILIP South West Members Network.