Library Marketing and Outreach

Hello readers! Regardless of what type of library in which you are currently working or hope to be employed, one of the crucial skills of a modern librarian is marketing. As much as we fervent librarians would like to believe that if only we offer programming that is exciting and innovative we will attract the masses, sometimes further strategies are necessary. Outreach and promotion can generally be placed under the umbrella of marketing. Though most libraries are, in fact, non-profits, sometimes the best approach is to treat the library like a business – you are “selling” your library’s services to potential users. 

According to a recent Pew Research Center study  ,”29% of adults ages 50 and older have not read a book in the past year, compared with 23% of adults under 50.” Out of adults aged 18-49, 23% of adults have no read a book in the past year. Of those with a high school education or below, 40% reported not having read a book in the past year. These are pretty staggering numbers, especially since the survey encompassed those who had not read a book in whole nor in part.

In recent years, public libraries specifically have made great strides in establishing themselves as essentially community centers, with far more to offer users than merely books for recreational enjoyment or information retrieval. Catering to the evolving needs of library users plays a critical role in keeping libraries as a whole relevant to a culture deeply entrenched in technology. Still, conveying the vast appeal of the library as an institution for learning, enrichment, and personal growth has involved thoroughly innovative tactics.

Some libraries have even substantiated the need for this role by creating positions with titles such as “Outreach Librarian” or “Marketing Librarian.” Due to the fact that few library science degree-holders have a marketing background librarians for these positions are often hired due to experience or an undergrad degree in such areas as graphic design, PR, or business.

A free report from Library Journal published in 2012 surveyed 471 libraries in order to gain insight into library marketing and outreach methods. While  “77% of respondents completely agree that library marketing increases overall community awareness of the library” but surprisingly, only 20 percent surveyed reported having a marketing plan in place, while 16 percent are in the process of establishing one. Libraries overwhelmingly recognize a need to expand their audience and subsequently their services.

Library marketing can involve a plethora of components, including but not limited to library signage within the library or outside it, social media, flyers, newsletters, word of mouth, features in a local newspaper, e-newsletters, and blogs. Using these methods, libraries are able to promote hours of operation, program offerings, special highlights (a certain database, for instance), new acquisitions (books, technology), photos from community events, policies, readers’ advisory, and more.

Not only does marketing and outreach increase community awareness of all the library has to offer, it also bridges age and cultural gaps across a technological divide by addressing various interest levels. Effective marketing can lead to increased circulations, program attendance, and even library funding. The more people you are able to reach within the library’s surrounding community, the more the library is able to establish itself as a much-needed institution for that specific community.

While larger libraries may create a new position to adapt to these new needs, many libraries have added the responsibilities of marketing and outreach to the list of hats librarians must wear. 88 percent of those surveyed have “staff members take on marketing duties in addition to other responsibilities,” compared to the 20 percent of those surveyed who have created a position dedicated to such tasks.

A simple Google search does deliver a considerable amount of job vacancies with the title of “Marketing Librarian” or “Outreach Librarian” or even “Community Relations Librarian.” If you pride yourself on creative problem-solving and consider yourself a solid library advocate, perhaps these types of positions are ones you’d like to explore in more depth.

For some library marketing examples, check out Super Library Marketing, American Libraries Magazine’s article “Inspirational Library Marketing” or this article from Public Libraries Online.