OK, so I’m not a marketing expert by any stretch of the imagination. But I know that we need some serious marketing PR stuff to go on at my library. We have very low reference desk usage stats. I think part of it might be the population (over 50% military) but a lot of it is an educational issue. I have so many students who come to the desk embarassed or apologetic, as if they are somehow keeping me from my real work. And I always tell them, “I’m here to help. This is my job.” And maybe that gets through to the people who come to the desk, but what about those who never do because they think their question is stupid or because they actually have no idea what one does at a reference desk? Also, we just started providing IM Reference six to ten hours each weekday, and I want to get the word out about that. I had announcements put up on the school’s Intranet/e-mail portal and on the online graduate program’s portal, and I plan to put up a sign at the reference desk. I also put up a page on our Web site that explains the service. I figure since we’re launching this new service, it’s a perfect time to do some marketing about that and about what services we can offer at the reference desk (i.e. research help, help using databases, etc.). So I’m seeking input from the library community about what sort of things I can do to better market our services to students.
Here’s what I’ve thought about doing so far:
- PSAs on the campus radio station
- I could make bookmarks that could be handed out to every student who takes out a book and I could place them at the reference and circulation desks too. The bookmarks could tell students about how they can get help with their research at the reference desk and how they can now reach the reference desk through IM. Mind you, these bookmarks would not be fancy and I’d probably have to use my B&W printer to create them, but it’s better than nothing.
- Maybe I could put some notices up by the public access computers (not sure how keen my colleagues would be on that)
- I plan to talk to the folks at the Learning Support Center because they can market our services to the students they work with.
But I know there’s a lot more I can do that I just haven’t thought of. So if you’ve done similar marketing campaigns at your library or just have some good ideas, please comment on this post or e-mail me. Just keep in mind when you make suggestions that I will be the only person doing these things and that I don’t have a “marketing budget.” But I do have a lot of enthusiasm and a real desire to help our students here.
Is there a cafeteria on campus where most students eat? Does it allow little table tents advertising campus events on the tables? You can make those by printing out a flyer, folding it into a triangle, and taping the bottom flaps together.
Make a podcast or a separate blog with the ‘strangest research question of the week’. Might get people to listen just out of curiosity, but also gives them ideas of what kind of things can be asked. Sort of ‘break the ice’ in a one way conversation. For the blog, link directly to the library catalog entry of the book, you mentioned or looked at.
Hope this helps,
How much control do you have over the library home page?
That white space on the right rail under the hours is just crying out for you to do something fun and creative.
At my library, we are planning a PR campaign with photos of our students and the tag line “Living at the Library.” We are a residential college and many of our students spend long hours at the library. We are going to recruit ten or twenty to have their photos taken at their favorite spots (carrells, stacks, whatever) in the library, get them to say a few words about the library, give ’em an inexpensive Dover Thrift Classic book for their trouble, and get them to sign a release to make it legal to use their image.
For you, the tag line could be “Ask the librarians–they helped me!” Get a photo of the student at the ref desk or at their home computer using IM or whatever. Then get their own words telling how they couldn’t find any sources for that sociology paper until the nice lady at the desk kicked some JSTOR ass for them. Put the photo, student’s name, and tagline on the home page and have it link to a longer story with more info.
We haven’t actually done this yet, so there may be problems I can’t foresee (maybe students don’t want to see their own face on the library web page?). And I think the students and stories have to be real, not marketing BS.
Let me know if you try it!
Also, we have done what TangognaT suggests with the table tents. A word to the wise: test the geometry and stability of your little triangles before you print a zillion–it might look fine, but flatten out or tip over if you don’t get the proportions right.
I don’t know how easy it would be, but you might also consider ways to get more students into the library. (Rather than advertising services to those who already come into the library…..I do like the radio idea). For example, at the school I attended, the freshman English classes always included one class at the library. A librarian would give us a tour of the building, show us how to do some searches in the catalog, and would explain about the Reference desk and the ILL service. (This talk/tour could be modified to highlight new services being offered by the library too.) This gave me a good first step in understanding the basics of how the library worked and how I could use it. If you can’t get a “library day” into the curriculum, perhaps offering library tours a few times a week (with librarians and library staff taking turns leading the tours) might be an option? Students might feel less intimidated about asking “remedial” questions if they are in small groups in a “this is how the library works” context. Remember that many college freshmen may not have had to use the library much, if at all, in their high-school careers.
Thanks for asking this question – it’s something I’ve been thinking about as well.
As far as marketing in general goes, you may want to check out
I do have a few suggestions with regard to marketing the IM service, though I think the ones you’ve come up with are great.
* magnets. They have our phone numbers and our (virtual reference) URL on them, and they disappear quickly.
* URL redirect. Since you’re using IM, I’m not sure if this would be quite as effective – students only need to remember a screenname, right? We’re still using a web-based chat product, though, and rather than give them the actual URI, I got our IT people to set up a redirect (so people just need to remember ask.emich.edu).
* link to VR in the catalog. I cannot recommend this marketing method enough. Two women from MA gave a presentation at VRD2004 about putting a link to their VR service in their catalog. The use of their virtual reference service shot up. We put a link to our service into our catalog last January, and the increase in use was impressive.
You might also try business cards, and tear-off flyers (of the sort that people usually use to advertise that they’re selling their car or looking for a roommate).
A few ideas:
1) Change “Reference Desk” signs to “Information Desk” signs – many patrons don’t know what “reference” means, but “information desks” are ubiquitous
2) Post “Information Desk” and “Questions? We’re happy to help!” signs at or near eye-level
3) Add a news post to your library website about your new “Information Desk”
4) Wear “Questions? Ask Me!” buttons
5) Look up frequently, scan the room, and smile
6) Walk out from behind the Information Desk and walk around the library with a smile; ask random or apparently needful patrons “Are you finding everything you need?” – others will overhear you and may stop you as you pass by, or come up to the Information Desk
7) If your Information Desk doesn’t have a chair/wheelchair-level counter, add one & place a chair in front of it
8) Offer candy and/or freebies at the Information Desk
9) Place flowers, a plant, or a mascot of some sort at the Information Desk
10) Find out where your patrons do go for information, and emulate or piggyback on that source
11) Post Information Desk staff photographs elsewhere in the library and on the library website, with short bios and the message “Questions? Ask Me!”
12) Ask those patrons who do approach the Information Desk to fill out a very short survey to gain insight into what spurred and facilitated this interaction
I am afraid my comment does not involve any suggestions, but I’m impressed with what many of the previous commenters have recommended.
I never, ever, ever asked a question of a reference librarian in college. I think the only people at the library I ever talked to were the folks at the Reserve desk. I routinely skipped any class session that met in the library for a “here’s how to use the library” tour, because I figured I was a smart person who already knew how to use the library.
Now that I’ve been to library school, I regret all of these things immensely. Rarely does a week go by when I don’t think of a way a librarian could have helped me with something I was working on. But part of the problem was that, like the students Meredith talks about, I really didn’t think the librarians were there to help me. I didn’t know you could ask them questions. I’m fascinated by the work that so many of you in academic libraries are doing to try to get over those impressions and barriers, and I’ll look forward to reading about how they work out.
If you’re college still has a hard-copy school newspaper, then you might consider sending out a press release. As you probably know, you put Contact Person:…, Date, and FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE up in the right-hand corner (unless your letterhead stationary already has a contact person listed on it). Even if the newspaper prints the news article, no one will read it unless it has an optical magnet. So, you would want to include a picture like, maybe a black-and-white shot of the reference librarian staff. Of course, you put the most important information in the first paragraph, the next most important information in the second paragraph, ect. (This makes it easy for the newspaper people to edit the news article to fit whatever space they have available.) By the way, I’m just a library patron, and I always feel like I’m imposing on a reference librarian when I ask a question–not that it stops me from asking.
I’d suggest that students are already inundated with messaging, branding, and “important notices,”so I suggest keeping it simple and unobtrusive. We dish out pencils and bookmarks, for example. I’m a big fan of the bookmarks, and have designed some to complement our Documents Web site. These things are not very e-fancy, but they appear effective. Amanda’s tips above are excellent.
Some of this costs money, but Antony Brewerton showcased some fabulous ideas at the OCLC Symposioum at Midwinter.
Here is the link to the post on litablog by your truely: http://litablog.org/?p=194
And the MP3 of the talk from OCLC: http://www.oclc.org/community/
Antony used marketing that caught the attention of the students and focused on what students need as opposed to what we can give them. (They are often the same thing in diffrerent terms)
I went to Norwich so I can understnd some of the difficulty you are facing. I was astounded by the number of students who didn’t go to the library when I was a work study student there. It was a favorite place for freshmen to hide and sleep or escape from the Cadre. I think some of it has to do with being intimidated by the library itself ( it can seem overwhelming) and also just the laziness of the students. I remember fellow classmates would complain about what a pain it was to use the various reference materials,(this was before the internet!) and you are correct…they never sought help. I think some of the staff back then were a bit stuffy as well. Perhaps you could post fliers on the dorm bulletin boards. Check with the Cadre in the military dorms…they are pretty picky about what goes up on their bulletin boards. I was a member of the Cadre for I. Company, and I personally encouraged my freshmen to go to the library and seek assistance when they needed it. Especially when grades came out. You could also post something in the various student lounges, by snack machines, and in the snack bar. The barber shop would work also. I remember staring out into space waiting to get my head shaved. Anyway, good luck. Say hi to the ladies for me! JH ‘94
This thought is based on an assumption, so please pardon if you are already doing this or have considered it, but:
I wouldn’t worry too much about the particular hours you are offering the im reference service – it’s good to include on longer things, but on shorter pieces of info, I think you can just focus on your im name and repeat that ad naseum. Since us youngsters are so used to im, we are also so used to our friends leaving us away messages. So you can make your away message include what hours you’ll be there – but also suggest that users ‘leave a question’ so you can im them back when you come online. Sometimes im is synchronous, but sometimes it works more like email, with people leaving each other messages when they are away.
Wow! Thank you all for so many great suggestions! There are some that really hadn’t occurred to me, but that I think will be PERFECT for our library. I put “marketing the reference desk” on the agenda for our public services meeting next week and I plan to synthesize many of these suggestions into the discussion. 🙂 THANKS AGAIN!!!
It appears that your university is on Facebook…don’t underestimate the power of a few well-placed ads there as well. I’ll guarantee you that Facebook gets more hits per day than any aspect of your .edu site.
Just one of a couple of ideas that I had vis a vis Facebook I blogged about.
Why not try linking to the library from your university’s Wikipedia entry?
Lisa, very good idea and something I can do right now! 🙂
My academic library is in the midst of an environmental scanning project, and I’m working with the public services team. I’m excited that the first recommendation on our report will be MARKET, MARKET, MARKET!!! Soooo crucial for libraries, especially academic. We discovered from talking with students that they didn’t know about many of our resources!
All the ideas here are wonderful, inexpensive, and potentially very effective. Meredith, if it’s okay with you, I’m going to pass on the link to this blog entry to the marketing and public services folks at my library.
One quick question … is your library (or anyone else’s) exploring the idea of student workers as library ambassadors? Thanks, everyone!
Feel free to use the blog post and suggestions in any way you’d like Lisa! And no, we haven’t thought about using our student workers as library ambassadors, but I could definitely see it as a good idea at some schools where the library workers are really involved in the day-to-say stuff at the library.