Librarians and marketers have not been traditionally good bedfellows. In the library world marketing is viewed as at best flamboyant add-on and not core to the real and important work of information management; at its worse it is associated with the tricks of a salesman selling to people things that they do not need. Academic librarians especially do not have a good record of marketing their services. This stems from the traditional view that in the academia libraries have captive audiences: “the students need to use the library to get their degree, right?” Wrong. Now it is much easier to get that degree than it was when many of were students and the information, admittedly sometimes of dubious quality, is nevertheless available everywhere.
I strongly believe in the urgent need to market library collections and services within the parent organizations, including academic institutions. I believe that this is necessary in the digital world in order to ensure the survival and growth of the libraries and information services. It should be coming from a strong conviction that libraries exist to enhance the communities they serve, adding value to the lives of the people and organizations who are their users. Librarians need to realize that marketing has to do with informing and helping, rather than selling. The difference between marketing and selling is more than semantic. Selling focuses on the needs of the seller, marketing on the needs of the buyer, customer, library user. Much needs to be done in the academic library sector to embrace these ideas.
I recently became involved accidentally in marketing our library resources by creating these simple pamphlets: Find Yourself at the Library Quick Guide to Print Collections Electronic Resources Intro in response to the need for information about the services we offer repeatedly expressed by our library patrons at the library main service desk. These pamphlets originated as lists of services our library offers that I prepared for our newly-hired part-time library assistants to help them learn quickly about our library resources. But as I was putting these lists together, I realized how much our library actually has to offer. I was discovering things that I didn’t know we had and services I didn’t know my colleagues were providing. I was very proud of our library and I was proudly informing our patrons about how they can enrich themselves with these resources. I was not selling – I was providing information.