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.