Vol.13 No. 1 • January/February 1999
Cover Story •
Creating Client Profiles in a Big Medical Library
by Sharon Giles and Louella Wetherbee
The library is the central campus resource for access to electronic information and provides management for the campus Web presence. Our current goals include strengthening our collection by adding carefully selected, high-quality electronic information resources in biomedicine to support research and teaching while providing user-friendly access points, both on the campus and from remote locations.
Recognizing a Need to Know
The emerging electronic information environment presents significant competitive challenges to academic medical libraries. The growth of Internet-accessible biomedical information is exploding, bringing with it an array of new information providers who are targeting the primary clientele of medical libraries—physicians, faculty members, researchers, medical students, and other health professionals.
Recognizing this new challenge, the Marketing Team at the Library of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas has initiated a 2-year effort to better identify our primary clients and to investigate their specific needs for information services. The goal of the project is to develop targeted services and products that will meet those needs.
The central aspect of the project is creating client profiles for the library's core client segments. Developing these profiles provides our team with an excellent opportunity to study the habits and behaviors of specific client segments.
Developing a New Marketing Tool
We used a variety of methods to gather profile information about our primary client segments, including focus groups, literature searching, statistical and demographic data, and staff input.
Broad staff involvement is key to developing viable profiles. Beginning with a brainstorming session, the Marketing Team analyzed the first target profile group, medical students, in terms of library use patterns, likes, dislikes, and wants. After compiling and recording the results of this session, we presented a draft profile for the medical student client segment to the entire library staff.
After a second round of staff brainstorming, we made significant changes
and additions to the categories. Team members then completed a literature
search on the library habits of medical students, reviewed earlier in-house
staff studies of medical student library use, collected pertinent library
statistics, and summarized the information in the university catalogs regarding
the programs of study for medical students. Our last step was to identify
some initial marketing strategies using our new information. After review
by other library staff, we repeated the process to create the other client
profiles. The completed profiles now reside on the library’s intranet,
where they are accessible to all library staff. The focal point of the
Web-based profiles is a Web page titled “The Clients,” with links to policies,
research, statistics, and contact information.
What’s in a Client Profile?
Our client profiles are composed of five sections: description, demographics, library use statistics, research, and marketing strategies. A profile usually contains anywhere from two to 10 pages of information in HTML format. We have chosen the medical student profile to give you an example of one of our more comprehensive efforts. These profiles are not static documents—they are continually evolving as we add new data and develop new marketing ideas. Here we’ll describe each of the five sections.
1. The description of the client category includes the major characteristics and activities of the clients, institutional affiliations, and professions. In the medical student profile, there is quite a bit of detail on the curriculum for each year of medical school and its influence on library use. We also discuss the level of psychological stress that these clients experience, since stress can influence interactions with library staff. The profile includes important dates and major events that may affect library use (registration, exams, graduation, and residency application deadlines). We also added references to relevant publications and hotlinks to other sections of the university Web site where staff members can find more detailed information.
2. Demographics is composed of charts and summary information giving the number of clients in a category, gender, race, and ethnic characteristics. Characteristics such as age and native language can be important in understanding our clients. We included a forecast of demographic changes to allow planning for this client segment. This type of information is often difficult to obtain and challenging to update; therefore, we also included our source information.
3. Library use statistics were the most problematic to collect. For each client profile, we sought statistics for the number of library card registrations, books and audiovisuals checked out, Ovid database password registrations, Ovid searches, intermediated searches, document delivery requests, suggestions, library and Internet class attendees, and bindery users.
The team quickly discovered that we use slightly different terminology
to describe clients in each automated system. For some activities, no statistics
by type of client are kept. In other cases, we found that they were extremely
difficult to obtain: A feature intended to protect the privacy of client
circulation records makes tracking system use by type of client a significant
challenge. This inability to integrate data across systems spurred the
staff to create a team charged with reconciling data
elements for all systems.
We also expect to address the trend toward use of IP addresses in lieu of passwords to control access to restricted databases and electronic information. Currently, we cannot collect reliable usage information by client type for library services such as FirstSearch, Infotrac, and electronic journal access. The Marketing Team will need to develop alternative means of tracking use.
4. Research is divided into two areas: internal studies or surveys
and reviews of the literature. Our library has a long tradition of internal
research. We included the results of the library staff brainstorming sessions
on library use patterns, likes, dislikes, and wants in the profiles for
each of our client segments. Profile readers can also consult the results
of a 1992 focus group study of medical students by clicking on a link.
Some other profiles also include research summaries. The Marketing
Team explored external research about client segments to enrich our understanding; MEDLINE and ERIC were the key resource databases. Each profile includes an annotated bibliography. We are contemplating adding a section that summarizes client suggestions, drawn from our growing client suggestion database.
5. In marketing strategies, we analyze the information collected
for the profile from a marketing perspective (see example
at end). We list the currently targeted products and services and explain
the circulation policy for the group. We then identify new strategies for
marketing library products and services to this segment. In addition, the
profile includes team and unit notes, which provide updates on projects,
plans, and marketing campaigns targeted to the client segment. This section
will aid the Marketing Team in coordinating staff efforts. We also include
links to documents on the library’s intranet, which explain product lines,
marketing strategy, priorities, methods, and contacts.
The Effect of Our Client Profiles
The process we used to develop the client profiles proved to be as important as the profiles themselves. It stimulated self-examination, resulting in plans for coordinating our client data collection methods (the Data Rationalization Project) and ideas for analyzing client library usage (the Client Data Points Project). It encouraged staff at all levels to provide input about our clients and helped us to create a client-centered environment.
Out of this process we also derived the idea for a client contact database, in which we plan to store information about library clients so that we may serve them better.
The Marketing Team and other library teams and units are currently using the client categories as a tool for targeting promotions for library products and services. Each quarter the Marketing Team targets several client groups. The team also provides a “Marketing Steps” how-to document on the library’s intranet for use by product managers and other library promoters. We are now testing the profiles as training documents to shorten the learning curve for new staff members, especially those in public service areas.
In summary, the development of client profiles has had a positive and
energizing impact on our staff. The profiles provide us with a new understanding
of our clients and give us a valuable new tool for meeting the challenge
of competition in today’s information marketplace.
Sharon Giles is the weekend manager of the Library at the University
of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. She is also the former
editor-publisher of Texas Index. Her e-mail address is Sharon.Giles@email.swmed.edu.
Lou Wetherbee is the associate director of libraries at the University of Texas Southwestern. In addition, she consults with libraries in the areas of planning, marketing, and customer service. Her e-mail address is LVW@metronet.com. Both have M.L.S. degrees from the University of Texas at Austin.
A. Current Strategies/Targeted Services:
Reserve and Reference Collection maintenance
Special equipment and facilities provided
Support of Curriculum Network and Curriculum Web
Special software installed on public PCs
B. Suggested Future Strategies
The main near-term change in student use of the library will involve an increasing need for students to use computers in the library for research, study, and preparation of reports and papers. In the fall of 1998, entering students will be required to have a personal computer. We can anticipate that these clients will gradually shift more and more of their work to a computerized interface, either on site at the library, or from remote sites. They will also use external electronic information resources from the Internet in addition to our resources, or perhaps in lieu of them.
Four possible marketing strategies to increase use of library services and “provide biomedical information that makes a difference” to medical students:
1. Identify ways to make it easier for students to use computers
in the libraries.
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