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Never Shut Up About the Awesome Programs at the Library!

by on December 27, 2018

Recently, my library hosted a ‘Business Before Breakfast’ event with our local Chamber of Commerce. I spent all morning showcasing our databases, quoting how much money we saved our patrons, and talking about the programs and spaces that the library made available to the community. In every conversation that I had with event attendees, they all said the same thing, “I didn’t know that the library had/did that!” In fact, if I had had a dollar for every time I heard it, I would have made more money than the breakfast cost to put on. Libraries are integral to their community and provide a wide array of services, so why are so many patrons in the dark? Librarians are trained educators whose programs build a variety of literacies, but if people do not know about the programs and resources, they will not use them.

While earning my Masters in Library Science, I was exposed to many new topics including statistics, research methods, and information cycles, but nothing touched on marketing. I asked all of the other librarians at my branch who had earned their MLS – 12 participants – and discovered that only 8% had an actual marketing class. 25% said marketing was a part of some of the courses offered, but they did not take them. Over 65% had no access to marketing during school and 40% of those said that they see marketing as an important aspect of librarianship. I acknowledge that this is a small sampling of librarians, but I think there is a case to be made that librarians are not trained to market their services, which is why people do not know about them.

Is it reasonable to expect librarians to pursue marketing? Marketing is its own degree that takes about four years to obtain at the bachelor level. This would mean that either a librarian would come into the profession with marketing as their bachelor’s degree or they would have to acquire another four-year degree to catch up. When I was directing a small rural branch I met many one-librarian/one-full-time staff libraries. One librarian who does the budget, the programs, develops the collection, writes grants, performs outreach, and markets the services of the library. This is an unrealistic model to expect librarians to personally acquire every skill needed to float a library

How can we fix this problem? Well, at my Business Before Breakfast event, and all the other events that I attend, I talk about the library. I talk about the stats I just compiled. I talk about the programs we offer. I talk about which databases I use, when, and what for. I talk about grants that I have earned. Talk is cheap and word of mouth is the best way to build a following; so I talk. I tell my daughter about our databases for her school project. I tell the patron struggling with formatting her Word document about our free Gale courses. I talk to fellow Chamber members about how libraries aren’t really about books but about connecting people with information and building relationships. This is a strategy that any and every librarian should employ. I guarantee that you are changing peoples’ lives every day with the work that you do. I assure you that no matter who comes to your program or what question they have at the desk, they could use another service from the library; they just don’t know it yet.

Leave a comment


  1. Kathy Dempsey says:

    Dec 27, 2018

    The research I did for my book, The Accidental Library Marketer, also found that very few library schools offer marketing courses, and few people graduate prepared to do effective marketing and promotion.
    However, it’s not true that you need another 4-year degree. There are various ways to learn the craft, and you can learn a little, then implement that; learn a bit more, then implement more strategies. Tools, publications, and trainers are out there waiting to help — administrators need to devote a little staff time and money to allow people to learn.
    “Never shutting up” is one way to go, but there are better ways out there for those who want to learn — and those lessons are vital to keeping today’s libraries funded and running.

  2. Gina says:

    Jan 7, 2019

    I thought the same thing, Kathy, about the 4-year degree. I do agree, though, that we need more opportunities to learn about marketing. Thanks!

  3. Tina Stewart says:

    Feb 1, 2019

    Marketing needs to be given more attention in library schools and at state and national conferences. In addition, I would like to see more support top down from state agencies, networks, etc to assist smaller libraries with getting out the message in an effective way that will communicates our value. We are a medium sized library in Wilmington, Massachusetts and have a Marketing Librarian on staff, a position that was created in 2013. This person’s primary responsibility is marketing and related duties whereas in most libraries this is often a secondary responsibility. Again, the focus needs to be adjusted and given more emphasis at all levels.

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