How to shush with style: Marketing at the library

A few days ago I posted at the Re:Generations blog about marketing in the lie-berry. I mentioned that a few of the sessions I attended At the OLA Superconference in February focused on this topic, and the closely related topics of outreach and communications. In particular, I was rather smitten with a session by some wicked marketing lie-berrians. I wrote over at Re:Gen that,

I attended a great session by three marketing and communications librarians from universities across Ontario (Catherine Baird, Marketing Communications and Outreach Librarian, McMaster University Library; Nancy Collins, Communications Librarian, University of Waterloo Library; Cecile Farnum, Communications Librarian, Ryerson University Libraries), who discussed effective marketing and communications strategies, successful undertakings in their libraries and how they pulled them off, and what they focus on in their work.

Having sat (rather giddily) through that session, I am now so sold on the notion of marketing in libraries: Effective marketing is also an amazing advocacy tool come budget time, and it makes stakeholders – from users to deans to whoever – so much more aware of the incredible amount of stuff academic libraries do. Having a marketing mentality forces us to think outside of our assumptions about the services and resources we provide, to make the library a truly user-centered space. I mean, if we’re going to sink all this time and effort into marketing services, events and resources, we might as well make sure we’re providing the services, events and resources students actually want.

On the topic of assumptions though, I do like some of the assumptions that seem to go without question. Assumptions like, The library is awesome and you want to be here. Or, The library is more than just a support unit for the university; rather it’s part of the core competencies of this place.

For example, during the session there was mention of the University of Guelph’s efforts to position the library as the “University Town Square”, firmly place the library at the centre of university life. Or Ryerson University Library’s “Library in your Pocket” tag — befitting for a university that has become synonymous with digital technologies and design, and getting lots of coverage about it’s innovation.

Credit to Chris Hernandez, University Advancement, Ryerson University (and thanks for letting me use these images on my blog!)

One issue that came up is the recent move by Ryerson to designate an area of their library as Silent Study Space. When I was in undergrad I required total and complete silence, which is pretty hard to come by in today’s modern academic library. Today I’m constantly asking students to be quiet or move or get of their phones because fellow students are giving them the evil eye and IMing us on Meebo to ask us to come and tell people to shuuuuush. So I listened intently about how they pulled off this change.

Rather than just make the shift to isettlement (which, let’s face it, is a rather unglamorous one that often comes about only after desperate students complain for long enough), Ryerson create a full-throttle campaign to let people know: This change is coming, it’s what students want. And they made these bee-U-tiful posters to get the word out!! The posters were created by Chris Hernandez, the Graphic Designer person in Ryerson’s University Advancement Office. (Does York have a graphic designer? I want a graphic designer! We always joke about how we make signage that nobody reads. People will READ these gorgeous signs!!). This is the type of improvement library marketing can help deliver more effectively and with less push back from students. I mean if the hipsters say it’s cool to be quiet, it’s cool.

Anyway, those are some thoughts on the issue. A few people have commented over at the Re:Gen blog, but any insights are also welcome here! And bravo to Cecile, Catherine and Nancy for a job very well done at OLA.


8 responses to “How to shush with style: Marketing at the library

  1. Hehe, I was originally going to call the post “Marketing: Not just for evil corporations anymore!” but thought better of it. 🙂

  2. That poster, and the ideas behind it are completely rad. I think it works, because having: a) believable and relate-able models is important to conveying a message to students, and b) because the quality and uniqueness of the image makes me want to read the message.
    You go Chris Hernandez!!! Woo!

  3. I think Western Libraries has similar posters, they just aren’t as slick looking. I wish there’d been a campaign like this when I was at York!

  4. What a great post! Love the poster and totally agree with what you’re saying!

    I’ve been thinking A LOT about marketing in the last few weeks. My organization has a dedicated marketing department with an entire group of staff devoted to promoting the library’s services. That sounds pretty awesome when you first hear about it. But then when you realise that not a single person in marketing is a librarian you start to FREAK OUT! I am experiencing first hand just how important it is to have that actual librarians have a say in the marketing strategy of a library.

    I have absolutely no control over how to market programs that I will be putting. I cannot start my own Facebook page related to my department because that is marketing’s job. I cannot use the organizations logo because that is marketing’s department. I cannot use certain words in advertising posters because marketing doesn’t agree with it. I could go on and on and on!

    And while I do see a benefit to having a dedicated marketing department the real key in order for it to be effective is to have the marketing department work FOR the librarians. My marketing department does not work for the librarians, rather they tell us what the current marketing goal of the library is without any consultation. It is more than a tad frustrating.

    How to advocate and gain some control is currently lost on me. How it makes sense to have people that actually do not interact with the public AT ALL and have no concept of what it means to be a librarian directing the public face of the library is beyond me. I am embarrassed at the majority of our current and past marketing campaigns and you would be hard pressed to find a librarian that disagreed with me. What you will find is that many librarians feel marketing is extremely important and support it theory – just not how it is currently set up in my organization.

    The more librarians can direct marketing the better and the more we realize just how important it is the better!

    • Hi guys,
      Sorry for the delayed reaction, BUT many thanks for commenting! Yes, I agree, it’s a very impressive campaign. And I think it relays to students that this is a real change – not just a vanity rule that will never be enforced. By investing in the marketing campaign, the library is telling students that this is a major change with clear rules. It really gets the word out about the initiative, which makes it easier to define both the space (as a silent study area), and the acceptable behaviours within that space (i.e. being quiet — an art often lost on undergraduate students).
      I’m not sure if these posters went up outside the library, but I hope they did. If an announcement like this gets eyeballs in all corners of campus, it helps to normalize the silent study space in the minds of students.
      Anyway, thanks for your thoughts guys!

  5. Thanks everyone for the wonderful feedback.
    Since the initial campaign was a success, they have updated it this winter with a new set of posters and postcards. The imagery has remained, some of the text has changed and there is now a black and white series for two more silent study floors. Large 2’x3′ posters will be visible on all floors.

    examples can be seen on my personal blog

    • Thanks for commenting, Chris! I’m glad you found my blog. The newest version of marketing images look amazing! I think postcards are a great thing… they’re easily distributed and they’re harder to ignore that posters. 🙂 Congrats on such a successful campaign, it really gets at one of the more challenging aspects of maintaining a pleasant library environment, especially around exam time.

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