Few years ago my college colleagues and I spend some time thinking on effective marketing for the college library. One of the bottlenecks identified was the lack of meaningful communication with the college managers and key stakeholders. The library has much to showcase and the college – to be proud of that, but the venues for speaking about our contribution to the college successes are extremely limited within the institution almost solely focused on measuring learners’ progression.
As any other college service or team, the library produces its annual self-assessment report which is then incorporated into the departmental/directorial SAR; at that stage it is probably archived. The college librarian’s line manager is the one who sees the document and, hopefully, makes some conclusions out of it; then its content is virtually lost for the college.
To address the problem, we have decided that something more accessible that the standard SAR is needed. We thought that telling stories as well as providing numerical data in a visual form would be the right choice. Images too!
The first annual library report, 2010/11, was produced by Cara Clarke, systems librarian, and myself. Though a modest twelve-page publication, it would not be possible without a year of preparation, mostly – in the form of the library blog, http://nwhclibrary.wordpress.com/. Recalling all the worthwhile events and retelling their stories would be an impossible task for non-writers and not-diary keepers. The blog is used as the key element of the library marketing, as an open depository of anything the library generates: stats, good advice, announcements, event reports, reflections and even humorous sketches. It is neither hidden, nor promoted on its own; instead, its content is used, re-used and pushed through other communication channels – extranet, Facebook, Twitter, emails. For the annual report, blog posts were reworded and many images reused. I used Microsoft Word to design the report – it has sufficient functionality to produce an attractive document. It was printed in full colour on the newly introduced to the college MFDs (multi-functional devices; we call them printers or photocopiers interchangeably of course). Additional copies can be printed in minutes if needed.
The report was sent to all the managers in the college and the members of staff with whom the library had worked on various projects. Also, anyone mentioned in the report received it too. On top of that, our external partners from JISC, partner universities and similar was sent the document. The immediate explicit feedback from within the college was modest, but over the time, on different occasions, I learnt that people had read the report or at least were aware of, incl. those managers with whom I had never had a reason to touch on the library business at all, but who are the key decision-makers in various situations. The external feedback was abundant and very positive which created another marketing opportunity for the library. We also printed the report out and displayed it in a busy area of the library for the whole year. It drew attention of both learners and college staff. The link to the downloadable copy was placed to the library webpage.
This year library report, 2011/12, was produced on 16 pages at the end summer (available in PDF from http://db.tt/tlkY2ljb). In addition to usual stats (number of loans, kind of loans, number of students attended library sessions etc.), it has stories on introducing iPads and off-site video streaming service, involvement into sustainability work and promotion of copyright compliance, on adding blogging to the mix of skills taught by librarians, books the library published last year and highlighting the sessions the library staff contributed with to the college’s staff conference. I am about to send the report to the colleagues at schools the college is associated with – to see if it may give them insights on how we might work closer together.
An annual report can be a helpful marketing tool for the library service – as part of the marketing mix. Is requires collecting useful content and evidence all year around, but it doesn’t take much time to prepare it eventually. Certain skills are necessary: proficiency with MS Word, an eye for good design, good writing skills and ability to see the product through the eyes of the “consumer”. This doesn’t have to be done by the college librarian, though his/her involvement would be indispensable, perhaps. The whole process is invaluable – exciting and insightful, and the end product can be used for internal and external marketing of the library service, for building relationships with partner institutions and for enhancing your own reputation.
* Published in the CoLRiC (Council for Learning Resources in Colleges) Newsletter, March 2013.