10 December 2011

On marketing the library service

Two years ago my colleague at that time, Peter Barr, and I started a project: to develop marketing of the college library in the way which would embrace both traditional and emerging media; all should have connected and worked together. Before that, the library produced a lot of helpsheets, guides and leaflets; it also had a well developed presence on Moodle and the college website. It was first in the college to set up a Facebook page even though Facebook was banned on the college network PCs. However, our marketing activities were disjoint: content for each media was prepared separately, often – occasionally and by different people.

My thinking was broadly prompted by the Guardian which was the first major newspaper in Britain to move away from publishing online the texts that as the rule had already appeared in the paper edition. Very early the Guardian adopted a multi-platform approach: as soon as the content is ready it is pushed to all available media, edited and re-packaged respectively.

I was looking for a solution which would allow convenient storage and sharing of the content. I tried Google Docs for online subject guides and didn’t like it. A blog seemed a more versatile option. I started with the wordpress.com, a free and somewhat limited web service. When it became clear that the choice was correct, I asked my IT colleagues to install a full version of WordPress on the college server; their support was invaluable and made the transition painless – WordPress has excellent import/export functionality.

I have come across many library blogs authored by one person. In our case, it would certainly be against the spirit of the project: library marketing should be the concern of the whole team. It should conduce collaboration and development of skills within the team, in addition to an obvious aim of promoting the service to its users.

Soon after the blog went online, I embarked on encouragement and training my colleagues. My message was: even smallest developments in the library deserved to be blogged about. The whole team had a go: publicising new e-book acquisitions, changes in opening hours, inviting learners to user education sessions, uploading new helpsheets and more. Blogging was a steep learning curve for some, but there was also a lot of pride in achieving it. An important development occurred when our user education working group (four people preparing inductions and information skills sessions) started using the blog for publicising their activities. Very soon the blog was full of not only news, but also support content – helpsheets etc. – we all could refer to.

When users get to the blog to check out a new magazine or database advertised, they are presented with other options: lists of academic skills sessions available from the library, ILT/ICT equipment for staff to borrow, helpsheets on Inspire and Sconul schemes and e-resources provided by local public libraries.

WordPress allows some pages and posts to be password protected. It is handy if they are linked to the content which can be shared with certain users only. For example, our subject guide for Access students contains a link to a streamed film from the library collection. Students could get the password for that page from their course page on Moodle.

A blog on its own would be ineffective – very few people, at least in FE, read them. A blog content, however, is easy to link to other media. In our case, as soon as a new post appears on the blog, its headline is featured on the library’s Moodle page (for that, a Remote RSS Feeds block is used). If appropriate, the headline is also posted to the Library’s Facebook page; it is done manually, but it rarely takes more than a minute. Each blog post consistently gets about twenty clicks from Facebook alone.

Also manually some posts are highlighted on the extranet dashboard which is the first the college staff see when they login into the college network.

It is very handy to point out to a blog post when replying to email enquiries. Posts and pages can be classified by subject and tagged; WordPress allows hyperlinking all posts with the same subject or tag, so it is possible to point our users to “More about e-books” where they will find all the content related to that topic.

Instead of multiplying pages on the college website, we are gradually moving to just a single landing page with all the links to either services like the online catalogue, or pages and posts on the blog, e.g. about e-books, Athens access, referencing etc.

In addition to contributing to collaborative working in the team, the blog allows us to ensure accuracy of our content: in the most of cases we have to make amendments only once, on the blog.

WordPress may not be the best place for storing large attachments. It is very capable of displaying images and video, but I prefer Dropbox for storing all my PDF files and PowerPoint presentations. Its Public folder allows sharing the content without unnecessary barriers. In fact, we don’t use Moodle.

The blog was very handy when we decided to produce an annual report. It was librarians’ third attempt: we never had enough time or imagination to make it meaningful to ourselves, our users, as well as management. On that occasion, we used the blog: it had dozens of posts which, when re-packaged, gave a clear picture – not so much figures and numbers, as attractive stories. And many useful images had already been on the blog too!

Among other things, blogging has helped us to realise that almost anything can present a marketing opportunity. One of the most discussed posts was on stock withdrawal: why the library discarded almost a quarter of its books in just one summer. For us it was an occasion to highlight how much observation and thinking goes in such seemingly unremarkable events, and how much impact this might have. Consequently, we managed to steer an interest in information seeking behaviour among some tutors.

User education is especially valuable for marketing the library service. I was wrong assuming that learners and tutors knew that the library was a place to get help with searching Google, working out licencing puzzles or taming panic from referencing. Each new poster and blog post brings few more enquiries. Our learners and tutors are more likely to go to the library web pages for advice on referencing, than asking for help with finding a book. The blog pops in again and again in my information skills sessions, one-to-ones and conversations with tutors and staff. I can’t even think now how I managed all that without one place, which has everything.

There are comparatively easy ways to create a wow effect associated with the library. My colleague, Deborah Cairns, spent few days working on an online version of a library induction for which she used Prezi. The result was very impressive: I used it routinely on auto-play on a big screen while waiting for learners for information skills sessions. Many were mesmerised by transitions and animation, and that was one of the very first impressions of the library they were exposed to.

No doubts, marketing must be an integral part of the library service, not an add-on to the core business. Kerry York, a librarian from a neighbour college, observed very well: we, the library, are the only department which has to market ourselves continuously to explain what we do and what value we add to the college offer.

No comments:

Post a Comment