When we take a strategic approach to marketing, as opposed to making various uncoordinated efforts, our institutions and users benefit. Valerie S. Gordon and Patricia C. Higginbottom have been responsible for a range of marketing-related activities throughout their combined 40-plus years of service, most of which have been in association with the University of Alabama–Birmingham’s Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences, and they have authored this slim volume designed to help librarians who consider themselves marketing novices.
As stated in its Preface, the goal of Marketing for Special and Academic Libraries: A Planning and Best Practices Sourcebook is to provide the reader “with the inspiration and drive to market your library” even if you lack, as did Gordon and Higginbottom, “formal training in marketing or public relations” (p. xv). It is true that one does not need a degree in marketing to master the basics, to develop a coherent strategy, or to conduct effective public relations campaigns. This book alone may not make the average librarian feel confident enough to write that initial marketing plan, but the references provided at the end of each chapter, as well as links to good examples offered in sidebars (e.g., “Sample in-house talking points for marketing” on page 36), lead the reader to additional experts, models, and guidance to bolster their understanding.
I commend whoever edited the volume for achieving consistent content formatting through 10 chapters. Had the book’s Preface not explained that Higginbottom had written the first section of the book (chapters 1–5) and Gordon the second (chapter 6) and third (chapters 7–10) sections, readers would never be able to tell that they are the product of different authors. Each chapter includes sample documents, case studies, and tips for dealing with challenges that are specific to the subject matter. While helpful, some of the samples and cases seem to be portions of longer documents. This also is true of the sample marketing plan in Appendix A that lacks an introductory narrative linking it back to the organization’s strategic plan, as suggested as a best practice in Chapter 1. The Sample Web Usability Test (Appendix B) is more successful, and with only minor editing for customization, it could be used as a model for any library web usability test.
Beginning with chapters that are devoted to developing and implementing a marketing plan is the ideal way to start any marketing text and is often overlooked in favor of a set of public relations activities. So it is here with chapters 1 through 5. Chapter 1 emphasizes the need for systematically planning annual campaigns by using the organization’s strategic plan as the foundation for its marketing plan and by clarifying what your library is, what it represents, and what it hopes to become (p. 1). A marketing plan need not be fancy or complicated, but it is important to have one (p. 11) and to be sure everyone on staff understands its importance and his or her role in its implementation.
Chapter 2 illuminates some of the more common challenges one might face when asking staffers to participate in developing a marketing plan, along with tips for overcoming each. Chapter 3 highlights the components of a good marketing plan, including activity lists, schedules, the library’s needs (such as supplies, equipment, and the skills necessary to execute the plan), a budget, and evaluation. It also stresses the importance of segmenting the library’s audience and to craft messages for each segment’s specific needs. Chapter 4 (Implementation) recommends identifying themes for each month; Chapter 5 (Evaluation) is most helpful in figuring out how to determine what to track and how to compile the data to make it meaningful.
Chapter 6 says that effective brands are authentic, so consistency across all touchpoints is required. The “Better brands and cooler campaigns” checklist near the end of the chapter is worth reviewing, although an additional sentence or two elaborating on each of the bullet points would have given readers a good summary of the important issues covered in the chapter. While there are sections that are specific to different types of digital publications in Chapter 7 and social media platforms in Chapter 8, the author provides best practices that will apply as new kinds of media become commonplace in future. The need to be strategic, to build relationships with audiences, will remain even as new tools appear.
Chapter 9 speaks to the importance of personal interactions with staff members and presents ideas for events, although these too would have benefitted from a bit of elaboration beyond the bulleted suggestion. The final chapter addresses design elements of marketing materials, including fonts and photos. Perhaps the best part of chapters 7 through 9 was the addition of checklists that are specific to solo librarians.
Marketing for Special and Academic Libraries is a short, easy read. The authors stress all the right elements for their stated target audience, but could have done more to fulfill their stated goal. No reader will come away disappointed, but many will be going elsewhere, seeking more.