A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Marketing 101 with Trenton Smiley

by on March 25, 2016

While public libraries are constantly transforming themselves to meet the changing informational and entertainment needs of the community, many people still have an old fashioned-view idea of what libraries have to offer. Why is this? Libraries are so much more than books. Today’s libraries have cutting-edge technology, dynamic programming, and knowledgeable staff, yet so many people seem to be unaware of how libraries have changed over the years. Trenton Smiley, Marketing and Communications Director at Capital Area District Libraries (CADL), says, “One of the most common mistakes libraries make is allowing others to define them. Although libraries have evolved, there are still many stereotypes and misperceptions among the pool of potential patrons. If the public isn’t educated about your library, it can negatively impact growth, as well as further perpetuate the misinformation.” A successful marketing strategy can help libraries connect with their community and find an audience for the materials and services that they are trying to promote. PL Online asked Smiley, recipient of the John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award, to give us some insight into the world of marketing and how a good marketing plan can benefit public libraries.

Public Libraries Online: Give a quick marketing lesson. What is the difference between marketing and advertising?

Trenton Smiley: Marketing is an overarching process of identifying and engaging the targeted audience(s) with the goal of creating a desired exchange or outcome. For an exchange to occur, both parties have to have something of value for each other. One of the most important exchanges for libraries is to sign up for a library card. The fact that the card is free or library services are already paid for through taxes doesn’t automatically make it more desirable to a potential patron. As library marketers we must communicate how our services add value to the lifestyle of the potential patron. Of course, the value to the library is a new user and supporter. Advertising and publicity are the promotional elements of a marketing strategy.

PLO: What are some easy things that libraries that don’t have a marketing/publicity department can do to increase their visibility in the community?

TS: Perhaps the easiest way to increase visibility in the community is to become a content provider. Many libraries already create content for social media posts, blogs, and newsletters. This great information can easily be shared on media sites that are always looking for content. Newsletters for school districts and other community organizations are also good outlets for your content. Working with the media has worked great for CADL receiving a great deal of support, including anchors and DJs recording and airing promos for free. The librarians write weekly columns for some of the local newspapers, while placement is sometimes hit or miss, a great deal of information still reaches the public.

PLO: What are some of the most successful marketing campaigns that you have been involved with at your library?

TS: I am always proud of the work that CADL does to create awareness of its summer reading programs. Although the “Everything right here” campaign is just beginning, I am very encouraged so far on how it’s unveiling.

PLO: What is peer-to-peer marketing and how could libraries potentially use it to reach a younger audience?

TS: It’s a new strategy being tested at CADL to target teens. Since this is a hard audience to connect with through regular marketing and outreach efforts, CADL is working with high school athletes to help market services to their peers. In addition to being a sponsor of their teams, CADL is working to get the athletes signed up for library cards, featured in special ads and conducting clinics for younger kids. CADL also hopes to garner information from them in the hopes of finding ways to better market to their peers.

PLO: What new trends are you seeing in library marketing?

TS: In the past, many libraries depended on traditional media (print, TV and radio) as the primary method to get information out to the communities. Studies, including CADL’s own research, point to digital marketing as the most effective method to communicate with the communities. While I still buy some traditional media, a great deal of the budget is allocated to digital.

PLO: What is the difference between an outward vs. inward approach to marketing?

TS: Throughout my career I have found that a great deal of time and resources are used to market programs to current users. While some services were marketed too, it was never to the degree as programs. The term “outward” refers to the importance of getting outside the walls of the library in order to connect with those non-users, which is a tough task but necessary in growing the base.

PLO: How can libraries begin to establish their brand?

TS: The term “library” is already a strong brand name. The goal is to redefine in your community. The library needs to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, as well as the needs of the community. Then, identify what niche it will fit. Positioning the library as a unique provider of particular services that connect with both users and non-users. Your advertisements, programming, and service model must all play off each other. If you don’t want to be known as just a place for kids, then the programming and ads need to reinforce that fact. Also, attach your library to partners and events that help evolve your brand or promise.


Trent Smiley, “Marketing with a Smile,” PowerPoint presentation for Library Conference 2015.

Capital Area District Libraries (CADL)

Everything Right Here Spot (Featuring Taylor Taylor),” audioBoom , audio file, 0:30, January 11, 2016.

2016 Grammys (Featuring Taylor Swift & Capital Area District Libraries),” YouTube video, 0:15, posted by “cadlvideos,” January 25, 2016.

Celebrate Black History Month at Capital Area District Libraries,” YouTube video, 0:30, posted by “cadlvideos,” January 28, 2016.

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