Marketing for Libraries

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Marketing in libraries, especially academic libraries, can be a rather controversial topic. However it is important that libraries creatively and successfully advertise their services and programs. Below are three important topics in marketing libraries from an academic library perspective.

Services to Market[edit]

In order to survive in an increasingly competitive market academic libraries must promote the many helpful, and unique goods and services they have to offer. Many patrons may not realize all of the newer services now available in the library, such as remote access to reference help, and electronic databases. Patrons may also not fully understand the value in traditional reference services, especially now that the Internet has opened the doors to so much more information, both great and terrible, that must be evaluated and waded through. Other great, but lesser known services such as interlibrary loans, information literacy classes, and instructions should also be marketed to students and faculty alike in order to increase the use, and awareness of the value the academic library gives to its campus. Included in this section are resources that address the many services that the academic library has to offer, and also ways in which the library can implement marketing strategies to best promote them.

Challenges and Opportunities in Marketing[edit]

One of the main challenges facing academic libraries is decreasing funding. Like every other university department, libraries do not have the funds to do everything they would like to do. While this makes finding resources more difficult, shrinking budgets also mean that academic libraries cannot neglect marketing. When the budget is being allocated, libraries are competing against needs for university classroom and lab space, faculty, staff, and student services (Spalding & Wang, 2006). The library can no longer assume that administrators, faculty, and students are aware of the valuable services and products available.

With the growth of the Web, academic libraries no longer have a monopoly; the idea of the internet as a substitute to the library is attractive to both students and cash-strapped administrators (Wolpert, 1998). And compared to search engines that use highly developed algorithms to help searchers despite poorly constructed queries, users rank libraries poorly in terms of convenience and ease of use. For most, the cost of the product is too high, although in terms of time and effort rather than cash (Wisniewski & Fichter, 2007).

Specialized audiences also provide challenges for academic libraries. Distance learning is rapidly growing, and these students do not have access to the stacks, on-campus databases, or physical reference desk. Libraries must determine how to serve this audience while maintaining "brand identity" (Wolpert, 1998). At the opposite end of the spectrum are international students who come to the university to study. These students face language barriers, cultural difference, and a new teaching style. They also have little or no experience with the academic library and the services available (Mu, 2006). In all instances, academic libraries are faced with the challenge of making their services visible; one of the biggest challenges is tailoring awareness and marketing efforts to meet the needs of diverse groups of patrons.

Marketing Resources[edit]

As academic institutions become aware of the pressing need to promote library services more efficiently and effectively, the examination of marketing strategies and application to library settings have become key factors. To initiate a public relations campaign, Germain (2000) introduces the concept of forming a committee that includes members of the different target audiences. The committee would focus on information needs analysis, strategy planning, implementation of outreach programs, and evaluation of efforts.

Identifying specific target audiences within the larger user base reemphasizes the reality that an academic library serves diverse types of clientele (Helton & Esrock, 1998). Further, identifying the special needs that are particular to specific groups helps to narrow the focus on marketing strategies to better impact the target audience. For example, the information needs and challenges specific to international students differ greatly from needs of graduate students (Mu, 2006), necessitating different forms of promoting library services.

In addition, Wisniewski and Fichter (2007) emphasize the need to pick a target resource to promote. They also suggest utilizing a 12 month marketing calendar, underscore the use of visuals, and stress, “Don’t promote a thing; promote a benefit” (p. 55). Davis-Kahl demonstrates various marketing plans to jumpstart the process.

The following includes a brief summary of several marketing tips compiled from the above sources:

Target audiences

• Students, faculty, university administration, library administration, and potential donors.

• Student subgroups - incoming freshmen, other undergraduate students, graduate students, and international students.

Locations to market the library

• Dining halls, office cafeterias, dorms, local coffee shops, faculty lounges, library wall space, academic lectures, student health center, international student center, etc.

• Academic institution’s home page

• Library’s home page

Promotional and Publicity Ideas

• Mouse pads, table tents, postcards, brochures, bookmarks, newsletters, door hangers, bumper stickers, library survival kits, etc.

Collaborate With These People

• Resident assistants, faculty secretaries, deans, faculty members, student services, student organizations, other academic departments (such as the business or athletics departments), etc.

Key Websites and Resources

• ALA’s @ your library Campaign for America’s Libraries website at [1].

• Academic and Research Library Campaign website at [2].

• OhioLINK’s Idea Gallery – a collection of promotional and publicity materials at [3].

• Creating a Marketing Plan for your Academic and Research Library at [4].


Davis-Kahl, S., Duke, L., & Tucker, T. (2004). Creating a marketing plan for your academic and research library (ppt). Retrieved November 1, 2007, from [5]

Germain, C.A. (2000). 99 ways to get those feet in the door. College & Research Libraries News, 61(2). Retrieved November 1, 2007, from database.

Helton, R., & Esrock, S. (1998). Positioning and marketing academic libraries to students. Marketing Library Services. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from [6]

Mu, C. Marketing academic library resources and information services to international students.

OhioLINK (n.d.). Idea gallery. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from [7]

Spalding, H. H., & Wang, J. (2006). Marketing academic libraries in USA: Challenges and opportunities. Chinese Librarianship: an International Electronic Journal, 22. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from [8]

The New Media Consortium (NMC) (2006). Horizon report 2007. Horizon Project Emerging Technologies Initiative. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from [9]

Welch, J. M. (2005). The electronic welcome mat: The academic library web site as a marketing and public relations tool. Journal of Academic Libraries 31(3). Retrieved November 1, 2007, from database.

Wisniewski, J. & Fichter, D. (2007). Electronic resources won't sell themselves: Marketing tips. Online, (31)1, p54-57. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from database.

Wolpert, A. (1998). Services to remote users: Marketing the library’s role. Library Trends. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from [10]

Internal Links[edit]

academic libraries