Vol. 13 No. 8 • December 1999
Cover Story •
Marketing the Services In a Government Library
by Alison M. Keyes
I lead a team of five, which includes myself, a second librarian, two
library technicians, and one library aide. All of us are GCI employees,
and together we provide research and information services to approximately
800 staff members of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in our area.
We also provide technical EPA information to the general public in our
region. Our geographic reach includes three time zones and covers the states
of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. There is also one satellite library,
which we support with cataloging and an annual visit.
Creating the Marketing Plan
When I joined the library, there was an overall awareness that marketing was a necessary thing, but there was no concrete plan in place. Creating a marketing plan meant that I needed to review the mission statement for the library, examine who our customers were, identify marketing tools and strategies, and delineate a timeline for performing the marketing tasks. Finally, I needed to have a goal in mind, and to be able to measure my progress toward that goal.
One of the first items to address was updating the mission statement. Previously, it was very task oriented, but now it is customer oriented and is nonspecific in terms of the technologies used to achieve the ends. Our new statement reads, “The Library mission is to anticipate and meet the information needs of the Region 10 EPA Staff and to provide public access to EPA technical information for Region 10 residents.”
As for our customers, the largest group is the technical scientists within the EPA, such as wetlands specialists, air quality scientists, and aquatic toxicologists. These people need highly technical scientific literature. Next are EPA staff members who are responsible for implementing and enforcing regulations. The type of information they need deals more with business and industry. Our EPA customers include staff economists, the public relations department, and administrative support staff. Our final customer sector is the public at large within the region.
We have a wide range of library technologies available to deliver information to our customers. We have stand-alone CD-ROMs located at a workstation in the library and networked CD-ROMs available to EPA staff throughout the region via the local area network. We have bibliographic databases and full-text databases available that we subscribe to via the Web, and we have a library home page complete with access to the National EPA Web-based online catalog.
I have many marketing tools I can use to promote information services, including posters, fliers, presentations, announcements posted on the Region 10 EPA intranet, and personal word-of-mouth. Unusually, I am not permitted to send out general e-mail announcements to all EPA staff to promote upcoming library events. This restriction was implemented during the past year throughout the region (not just to contractors), and has been a real challenge to overcome. It makes it especially difficult to reach people, because not all EPA staffers use the intranet but all staffers do use their e-mail.
Our marketing timeline is designed to ensure an even distribution of
marketing events over the year and to reach out to potential customers
regularly. It also complies with contract requirements. I’ll briefly outline
it here, then I’ll discuss an example of each type of marketing event and
explain how the impact of the event shows up in the usage statistics for
that particular library technology. Quarterly, we prepare a formal presentation
for EPA staff, each of which covers a different library Internet subscription
or CD-ROM. Quarterly, we also participate in other EPA staff meetings,
where my presentation is only a portion of a larger meeting. (I am present
only during the library portion of the meeting.) Monthly, we prepare an
electronic Library Newsletter, which is posted onto the Region 10 intranet,
and is accompanied by a New Book List. Also monthly, at a minimum, I give
staff reference training on the library products and services, since marketing
in our library is intrinsically connected to reference service. Finally,
on a daily basis, I try to prepare for any “mini marketing moments” that
might come along.
Measuring Progress Toward Goals
In the past fiscal year (which in the EPA runs from October through September), my goal was to increase overall library usage by 10 percent compared to the previous year. I decided to measure overall library usage by recording the combined number of library reference questions and walk-in library customers, the number of items circulated, the number of database searches performed in support of reference questions, and the number of documents obtained from external sources for EPA staff.
The key mechanisms that we have to measure the usage of our various library technologies are the log files that count each use of a CD-ROM on the LAN CD tower, library home page counter statistics, usage statistics provided by our Web subscription vendors, and also statistics extracted from our automated library system. The importance of being able to track usage is so great that we require that data be provided to us and we will not subscribe to a Web-based service if we cannot get usage feedback from its provider.
Such measures of library services are one side of demonstrating the
use and value of library services to the EPA. Other measures are also used,
but are not quantifiable in the same way that technology usage can be measured.
Marketing Events Through the Year
Quarterly Marketing Events for Web-Based Services: These services have been marketed by a combination of formal presentations and face-to-face interaction. This is an area where the product, though of very high quality, appears to be diluted by the sheer fact of having to share the Internet environment (as opposed to the LAN-based CD-ROMs). The library has made formal presentations on three of its Web-based services over the past year: Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, Elsevier’s ScienceDirect, and Northern Light. What we find is that there is an increase in use after a presentation, but that this drops off again quite rapidly. It is difficult for patrons to remember to use these services, and this is an area in which we have not yet solved the marketing challenge. One exception has been the Environmental Health Information Service on the Web, which patrons have been using at a rate of 540 hits per month in the first 3 months. It remains to be seen how steady this usage will be.
Quarterly Presentation of Library Services at Meetings: Some face-to-face interactions at the reference desk can influence patrons to invite a librarian to make a presentation as part of another unit’s meeting. For instance, after doing a demonstration of the American Business Information (ABI) CD-ROM to an individual patron, the patron then invited the library to make a presentation as part of that group’s next meeting. We did so, customizing the presentation to meet the exact needs of this particular group, and preparing a handout to go with the presentation. Many questions were answered for the group and the benefits and possible uses of the CD-ROM were explained. After this presentation, the usage data for the ABI CD-ROM showed an increase of 200 percent, from an average of 36 uses per month before the presentation to an average of 93 uses per month after the presentation.
Monthly Reference Staff Training: All the marketing in the world will not help if the library staff is not also trained in the products that can serve various information needs. Therefore, parallel with all the presentations made outside of the library, training is given to library staff so that they are fully prepared to answer questions that arise after a marketing event or to suggest library products that can appropriately answer reference questions.
Our library has a fully staffed reference desk, and some of the best marketing opportunities present themselves during face-to-face interactions between librarians and individual customers at this point of service. As part of the reference interview, we can determine what a patron is really looking for and what resources could meet this need. For example, a patron came to the library, ostensibly to ask whether we could do an interlibrary loan for a CD-ROM. Further probing by the librarian revealed that she was looking for a specific CD that she’d heard about called “Pest Bank.” She was overjoyed to learn that the library not only had it, but that it was available on her desktop via the LAN. We spent an intense half-hour going over how to install the CD-ROM, how to search it, how to print and save records, dates of data validation, and so on. The patron then returned to her work area to share this with her immediate colleagues. Data on usage of the CD-ROM jumped sharply immediately after this interaction, from an average of 6 uses per month up to 39 uses per month. The usage data have remained steadily higher since then, indicating that this one, sustained reference and marketing interaction has had a lasting effect. This result can be achieved because the library staff members are all knowledgeable about the technologies available to EPA.
Monthly Newsletter on the Library Home Page: This marketing tool is an electronic version of a newsletter that formerly appeared in print. I include the monthly New Books List, key Internet sites, highlights of library services or products, and examples of recent reference questions. We do not have a way to track individual page use, though we do track the number of hits to the entire library home page site. We can see the impact of the Library Newsletter and New Books List by examining circulation statistics, tracked each week by our library’s automated system. These show increased circulation during the week following the release of the Library Newsletter and New Book List. Over 51 weeks, the average weekly circulation in the week following release of the newsletter and book list is 43 checkouts compared to 33 in other weeks, an increase of 30 percent.
Other Marketing Tools: I prepare and conduct regular library tours for new employees. To draw attendees, these tours are announced at new staff orientations, on colorful posters, and via announcements placed on the EPA intranet. The tours are given quarterly, and we find that people who attend the tours become steady library users.
I personally use a lot of what I call “mini marketing moments.” I always
keep a 20-second message in my head to answer all those by-the-coffee-machine
or in-the-elevator casual questions like “How’s it going?” I try to tailor
the message to the people if I know them, and use their names. Often I
initiate the “How’s it going?” question, and find that it can open up an
opportunity to suggest an appropriate library service, or to give them
a call back later. My messages can touch on recent technical topics we’ve
researched, or an upcoming training opportunity, or perhaps a new section
of our library home page. Whatever the message, I am professional and approachable
and am always trying to connect with people.
Marketing Does Increase Usage at the Environmental
In the big picture, have all the pieces of the marketing plan lead to an overall increase in the usage of library services? The answer is a resounding Yes! The difference in results from fiscal year 1998 and 1999 are great: Reference requests (questions and walk-in customers combined) increased by 20 percent, circulation of materials increased 20 percent, database searches conducted by library staff for reference support increased 19 percent, and the number of requests for external documents (through interlibrary loans and document delivery services) from EPA staff increased a massive 77 percent.
I truly believe that marketing in a government agency library can be done successfully. In my type of role as a government contractor, it takes perseverance and lots of networking and following through. For major marketing events, I, as a contractor, cannot contact a division directly, but rather I must be tasked to give a presentation by my EPA contract manager. This involves some extra steps: Presentations must be approved in advance, and the contacts and setup must be established before the event can go forward. Additional time is needed for the planning process, but the end results pay off, as evidenced by the statistics above. I also believe that the contractor role makes the informal marketing steps even more vital—excellent service at the reference desk combined with mini marketing moments and professional attitudes help to smooth the way to a positive presentation opportunity.
Marketing is an ongoing function in my library. The task continues at
all times, and changes as my customers, technologies, and information environment
change. I have updated my marketing plan for the 2000 fiscal year, and
will be looking for increases in our Web subscriptions and increases in
library usage by the general public, as well as more overall library usage
again. Marketing is fundamental to libraries. It’s exciting to plan and
execute and satisfying to see in measurable, positive results.
Alison M. Keyes works for GCI Information Services and is the supervisory librarian at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 Library in Seattle. She has an M.L.S. from the University of Washington and is the immediate past president of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Special Libraries Association. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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