18 May 2021

If you hear the term “marketing,” does your mind jump to Madison Avenue types like Don Draper? Or do you start thinking about what’s on your grocery list? Maybe something in between? Here in Libraryland, the species known as "Ipsum bibliothecarii" (marketing librarian) has only recently evolved. We still don’t know a lot about them, and just when we think we have them figured out, they surprise us.

My official title is “Marketing and Events Coordinator.” A decade ago, that phrase might have been written off as a word salad, but more and more we see libraries devoting anywhere from a single position to an entire department to marketing, public relations, and, yes, advertising. Graphic design, social media savvy, computing skills, and a strong grasp of language and nuance are just a few of the skills necessary for being a library marketer. Photography, photo editing, and audio and video production skills are a bonus. However, the most important tool to have in your toolbox is the ability to capture the attention of the public.

Every day, we have a thousand things vying for our attention – family, work, school, streaming video, podcasts, TV, Netflix, the kids’ extracurricular activities, plus all the household responsibilities. The mental bandwidth of the average person is limited. It is a wonder we get anything done. As a library marketer, the last thing you want is for your message to be just another piece of static that flies past your patron/donor/community partner/stakeholder (or potential patron/donor/community partner/stakeholder). Whether we like it or not, as library marketers, we are competing for the attention of the public right alongside the latest movie, the newest brand of toothpaste, the gallery opening, or whatever it is that sparks the interest of the public. The library is not a traditional advertiser, in the most common sense of the word, but maybe we should be.

Last summer, the Barbara Bush branch of the Harris County Public Library in Texas created a YouTube video to let patrons know they were offering curbside pickup. There were any number of ways they could have gone with this short video – a simple, step-by-step instructional, a digital slideshow with lovely music, or smiling librarians demonstrating the service. Instead, they filmed a one-minute commercial starring the reincarnation of a used car salesman, Curbside Larry. That simple video was so striking and memorable that here I am, still talking about it nine months later. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. It’s worth it, I promise!

The point is this: we are all responsible for promoting our libraries every day, whether we have the word “marketing” in our job title or not. Additionally, quality is always going to be better than quantity. You can get away with only doing a few things as long as they are memorable. Find that thing that will capture your audience’s attention, then do it and do it well. If you are not sure where to start, sign up for a free marketing newsletter or two. Adweek has one that looks at all aspects of marketing, and by creating a free account you can read a limited number of articles on their website for free each month. Reading their daily newsletter for a couple of weeks will give you a good idea of what is trending in the advertising world and may spark ideas of your own to capture that zeitgeist for your library.

Other sources of inspiration, closer to the library world (beyond combing the My Library Is . . . site!), can be found in places like Angela Hursh’s SuperLibraryMarketing.com website or her Library Marketing Show on YouTube, Facebook groups like the Library Marketing Book Club which reads traditional marketing books and discusses how best to adapt the recommendations for Libraryland, and conferences like the Library Marketing Communications Conference, held every November. Just today they announced that the 2021 conference would again be virtual, making it easily accessible for a wider audience. Finally, do a search through L2 (or whatever online consortium your system may be part of) to find library marketing networking groups. If you can’t seem to find one, consider starting one of your own with other nearby library systems. Being able to discuss tactics and ideas or plan joint events and programs may breathe life into a stagnant or non-existent marketing plan.

Being a library marketer does not require a background in advertising but it does require creative thinking, a willingness to experiment and take risks, the ability to learn from both success and failure, and sometimes just a pinch of insanity.