Recently, I’ve discovered I’ve made a rookie mistake. When I moved from public school to private school, I was astounded by my budget! It was easily fifteen times what I had as the sole librarian to a PreK-3 70% poverty school. Lured by the thought that “budget” means “worth”, the habit of always advocating, always marketing rusted to a complete stop. Why spend time advocating to an administration that obviously ‘valued’ the library. Why market to a faculty that were in and out of the library space every day? Look at the money! Like I said, Rookie Mistake.
Due to a diverse set of reasons, in my area (and possibly yours) there is now more competition for students and parents than may have existed before. In my state, Massachusetts, our public schools overall are considered to have excellent public schools. Charter schools can drain off pupils not only from public schools but private ones as well. The area may be experiencing a shortage of appropriate aged children as a communities’ character changes and evolves. In the end, the private school is a business, albeit an educational non-profit. If you as the librarian (either single or department) are not consistently showing your department’s worth, the river of riches may start slowing to a trickle.
To help counteract my lack of advocacy and marketing, I recently read two excellent books on marketing for librarians:
Building a Buzz : Libraries & Word of Mouth Marketing by Peggy Barber and Linda Wallace (ISBN 978-0-8389-1011-5, 2010); and Bite-Sized Marketing : Realistic Solutions for the Overworked Librarian by Nancy Dowd, Mary Evangeliste and Jonathan Silberman (ISBN 978-0-8389-1000-9, 2010). While both books focus on public libraries, most
of what they say can be adapted for private school libraries. “Wait! Shouldn’t I really be focusing on advocacy?” When I was in library school (2007!), I created a wiki pointing out the benefits of marketing over advocacy Libraries in the digital age : Ridding ourselves of advocacy – Laying Claim to marketing. While I have mellowed some and agree that there is a place for advocacy, it is marketing that keeps our presence in front of the administration, faculty, students and parents – all very important stakeholders.
Both books give excellent suggestions on getting a marketing program started for your library. Good marketing is about organization, focus and consistency. Researching your community as well as performing a SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) for your library forms the bedrock of information to build an effective marketing approach. Your marketing program doesn’t need to be complex. In fact, simple and memorable is much better! Everyone loves a story – can you make a compelling story for your library? Make that story memorable – and don’t forget to include a call for action. Start out with your big picture communication goals and break it down into several doable, measurable objectives.
I started small. I was bothered that I spent a lot of time trying to get the great books that I bought for the library into the hands of students. Looking at our school day, how could I get the message that the library had a stream of new books coming in during the school year? Using the information from the above books, I realized that I had a captive audience right before our morning meetings. I was able to create an auto-advancing slideshow by using Google slides that played on the screen before the morning meeting commenced.
I would run these slide shows for several mornings before changing them and occasionally point the slide show out during morning announcements. While I wish I could say that new books started to fly off the shelf, I can’t. But my new books did start moving, which is more than I could say before the slide shows started. While that may have been my primary intent, a secondary benefit occurred. My head of school commented on how nice the slide show was and thought it was a great idea. That was a two birds with one stone moment.
This summer I’m working on more marketing moves. No, not media buys or a banner in the sky. Rather, I’ll be working on bathroom posters, basic fact-sheets, copy for weekly “Did You Know” emails to the faculty and scripts for Literacy Tips shorts . By the end of next school year, I want the faculty to understand that collaborating with their librarian adds depth to their teaching. The library’s message is “The Library and You : Partners in Teaching”. For the students I want the message to be “Find what you need at the Library”. Ultimately these messages hopefully will create a message for my administration, “Fully Fund the Library!”
By the way, I have often found some of the best ideas from my fellow librarians. Please feel free to join the conversation by replying to this post with some of your best marketing and advocacy ideas!