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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > July / August 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 17 No. 4 — July/August 2003

ACRL Sessions Provide Lots of Marketing Help
by Kathy Dempsey

Pre-conference leader Ken Marks moved the group at a quick pace to fit in as much training information as possible.
I attended the biennial Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) National Conference this spring because its program looked like it would offer a great deal of help to academic librarians who were struggling to market their services more effectively. And that was indeed the case. While in Charlotte, N.C., from April 10 to 13, I picked up a good bit of information that I wanted to share with all MLS readers. While this conference was for academics, what I'll write here can also help other librarians and information professionals. Likewise with the resources I'll name: Even though they may reside on ACRL or on ALA Web sites, don't ignore what they have to offer you.

Strategic Marketing Pre-Conference

The main event that attracted me to this show was the daylong pre-conference Strategic Marketing for Academic and Research Libraries: Train the Trainer. Those of us who attended emerged as official ACRL @ your library campaign trainers. ALA's Deborah Davis, who manages the international @ your library campaign, reminded those in the full room of the campaign's importance and was pleased at all the interest—the pre-conference had sold out and even had a waiting list. This session's importance was further proven to me when ACRL president Helen Spalding made a personal appearance to thank us for our interest and our attendance.

The pre-conference leader was Ken Marks of the University of Nevada­Las Vegas, and he walked us through books of training information, stopping sporadically so that each table of attendees could do exercises and brainstorming under the guidance of already-trained table leaders. Two representatives of 3M, the sponsoring vendor, were also there and they pitched in now and then with their own experiences.
The sold-out crowd filled the conference room, and each table
full of people was a team.

"The whole purpose of marketing is to change the branding that libraries have," Marks explained, adding that combating people's perceptions of libraries is "one of the most critical things you have to address."

This session involved far more information than I could ever write here. In fact, the Strategic Mar-keting guides contained far more information than we could go over in a day. So in this report I can simply share some key points and some ideas that came out of our brainstorming. Then I'll tell you where to find more information.

One point that Marks made is that, in your planning for marketing and for resources, you can't just think about the upcoming academic year or 18 months. You need to plan 3 to 5 years out. He also reminded us that "All undergraduate populations are not the same" and that you need to identify discrete populations and figure out what sort of marketing would work for each. For incoming freshmen, talk to high school counselors and college recruiters so you can understand them. Obviously upperclassmen have different needs and sensibilities. And don't forget to target deans, boards of regents, etc. Each group really needs its own separate long-term plan.

If your campus has its own public information office, you need to market actively to those staff members, and to make sure that they understand the importance of your library so that they include it in their overall promotional efforts. Having your news coming from an "official" campus source automatically lends a little more credibility.

Our discussions also pointed out the fact that we don't market the talents and skills of librarians. As long as there are people out there who don't know that you have master's degrees, or wonder why you need them, you should be promoting your expertise. It can be especially challenging in an academic environment where you're surrounded by faculty members who also have master's or Ph.D.s, but one easy way to start is to add your degree to your business cards to raise people's awareness.

The 3M "sticky walls" allowed each team to easily and quickly post the
results of its many brainstorming sessions.
At intervals throughout the day, each table full of attendees did various brainstorming exercises. We identified groups of customers, discussed what each group needed, talked about how a library could fill one of those group's needs, decided which sort of vehicle to use for delivery, pondered how to guide the target audience through the process of AIDA (gaining Awareness, building Interest, creating Desire, resulting in Action), and then had fun tossing around catchy slogans for the projects we'd chosen.

Marks discussed much more, such as the different vehicles for your marketing messages (public relations, sales promotion, personal selling, direct marketing, advertising), and they're not concepts that I can explain fully here. However, ACRL has made a great many resources available on its Web site:

Start at Right on the home page you'll see a link to the Toolkit for Academic and Research Libraries, which is packed with basic information. If you want more, from the home page click on the Issues & Advocacy section, then on Marketing @ your library. Finally, clicking on the top choice, Academic and Research Library Campaign, takes you to a wealth of information including graphics you can use, suggestions for slogans, case histories, all the manuals for the new campaign, a media relations toolkit, a PDF list called 100 Ways to Reach Your Faculty, and even links to studies and stats on academic library use. I could spend a whole day reading all the resources and following all the links.

Regular Sessions That Were Helpful

In a session on the first full day of the show, James Neal of Columbia University was one of the speakers talking about The Research & Development Imperative in the Academic Library. All libraries can and should play a substantial role in their school's research and development, which serves to raise their credibility on campus. "R&D is making discovery useful," Neal emphasized, which is the exact skill that librarians have been trained for. Thanks to this knowledge, "We're becoming much more integral to the electronic pedagogy that takes place in our institutions," but librarians must continue to insert themselves into the research process so they remain vital to the campus.

Dignitaries pose during a break in the pre-conference (L-R): ACRL
president Helen Spalding, and representatives of sponsor 3M Judy Nelson and Don Leslie.
If you've been wondering just how the Internet affects libraries, you should've been in the Friday afternoon session with Amy Friedlander from the Library of Congress. She discussed a study that the Digital Library Federation and the Council on Library and Information Resources commissioned Outsell, Inc. to do to learn more about how undergrads, grad students, and faculty do research. "What you think of the Internet has a lot to do with who you are," she explained. And while access to electronic info, including that on the Internet, is changing the way teaching, learning, and researching is done, the library still matters, at least in academic situations. To see the whole study and its results, go to

On Saturday afternoon I attended a heavy session on budgets. I heard Antioch University's Alan Guskin explain a lot about financial and educational models during Facing the Future: Enhancing Student Learning and the Vitality of Academic Professionals in a Climate of Budget Cuts. Guskin began by saying that the "big economy" of the past decade has covered up basic flaws in the economic system, and that now universities need to stop "muddling through" short-term problems and create viable long-term plans. Since higher education is all about student learning, and libraries are about offering those learning tools, then you must carefully assess your budgets and services to ensure that they're matching your organization's mission. Then prove how critical the library is and will continue to be. Many schools now are trying to decrease the cost per student, but "You can't keep cutting an area like the library if the library is to play an essential role in the future of the organization." You can read the document that he created with Mary Marcy, a colleague in Antioch's Project on the Future of Higher Education, at The home page has a link to the PDF, which contains stats, principles, quotes, and recommended actions.

A Whole Lotta Learnin' Goin' On

The strength of this conference was shown by its record-breaking attendance numbers. According to ACRL, there were over 2,200 registrants and more than 3,490 total attendees who came from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 12 other countries. As you might guess, this meant standing-room-only sessions and a busy exhibit hall.

This report merely scratches the surface of all the marketing, advocacy, and promotional recommendations that I heard at ACRL's very worthwhile conference. Check the links I've provided to get more details so you can customize some plans for your own organization.

Kathleen L. Dempsey is the Editor of Marketing Library Services & Computers in Libraries. Her email address is:

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