We admit it ourselves. The word ‘library’ has a dusty image. Say it out loud and pictures inevitably appear of endless shelves of dull books, while behind the reception desk sits an elderly, grey-haired lady wearing a pair of 1970s spectacles and a Palestinian headscarf.
Some of the blame for this problem of image rests with ourselves. Libraries have simply fallen asleep in class. Keeping up with an information society developing at such a furious pace is no easy task and for a librarian of the old school may appear insurmountable. How pleasant to recall the good old days, when we could barricade ourselves behind a pile of books, isolated from the wishes and needs of our users. In 2007, however, the demands on a library are of a very new and different character. Libraries today are part of a vibrant society which overwhelms us with all kinds of offers, not least in the commercial field. People no longer have any problem in filling their day. In fact 24 hours is not enough to take in everything available from TV, the Internet, newspapers, concerts, magazines, etc. On top of all this, bookshops are selling books as never before. So how can a library find its place and purpose in such a world?
The four P’s of marketing
If we take a look at the theories of marketing guru, Philip Kotler, in particular the four P’s – price, product, place and promotion – we see that from a competitive point of view libraries hold some strong cards.
Making use of a library is completely free of charge. No other competitor enjoys a similar advantage. The principle of free access ensures that library services are available to rich and poor alike. The only condition is that you conform to the rules of borrowing.
Books on sailing? Henning Mankell’s latest thriller? Something for a teenager or for the very young? A library is packed to the ceiling with interesting books of all kinds, but if you prefer to watch a film, listen to music, surf the Internet or look through a magazine on interior design, this is also possible.
In common with many other libraries, the Asker Public Library enjoys the advantage of a very central situation, making it an easy place to find and a natural meeting-place for the local population.
Here lies the challenge. Given all the competitive advantages mentioned above, one would imagine that librarians could simply lean back and relax. People will surely crowd into the library to make use of our services without our having to lift a finger. Unfortunately, national statistics present a different and unmistakably clear picture. 40% of Norwegian women and 65% of Norwegian men never even visit a library. Also with regard to the total number of users, Norway trails far behind its Nordic neighbours. There is clearly plenty of work to be done in the promotion of libraries.
That which cannot be seen does not exist
The vision formulated by the Asker public library is enterprising and challenging: “We aim to be a library such as the world has never seen!” Ambition of this nature places great demands on marketing and promotion, so all possible means must be used in order to bring our vision to the notice of the public.
Acquiring greater visibility and creating a trademark require a conscious approach to all aspects of a library. First and foremost the library needs to be given an identity by means of a modern logo offering a complete visual experience through the use of colour and clear, distinct graphic design. Light, airy and inviting premises serve to underline the overall impression of a modern library. In 2004 the Asker public library moved into new premises in the recently-completed Asker cultural centre situated in the centre of town. During the planning stage the question of ‘space’ was central, not in order to fill the premises with media but to create suitable meeting zones. Here there is room for conversation, to meet acquaintances without getting in the way of others, to sit down and listen to music, to leaf through a book or to do simply nothing.
Plenty of space on the shelves makes it possible to display books by the front cover. Topical and varied exhibitions serve to liven up the interior and create constant change.
It is important that visitors should easily find the books they need. To a certain extent the Asker library has freed itself from the requirements of Dewey by organising the non-fiction collection into categories, such as Hobbies, Food and Drink, House and Home, Parents and Children, Mind and Body, etc.Works of fiction are categorised under headings such as Window to the world with books by Haruki Murakami and Amy Tan. Categories are revised at regular intervals in accordance with what we know is of interest to the public.
More than a collection of books
Arrangements within and outside opening hours constitute a golden opportunity to promote the library as more than a collection of books. People crowd into an Indian evening with food and a lecture. Youngsters come to paint and to play with popular miniature figures in our Warhammer Workshop. Satisfied visitors wonder if the library can really afford to run such activities. The answer is that of course we can, when the aim is to attract more users into the library.
Children and young people are enrolled at an early age. Those who read 50 books are rewarded with the Bookworm Card which offers discounts for a year on tickets to the local swimming pool, the cinema and arrangements in the Asker cultural centre. This is a good example of beneficial cooperation. Youngsters taking part in the reading programme come into contact with the library’s other services, while the swimming pool, the cinema and the cultural centre fill up with ‘bookworms’.
Creative marketing at the lowest cost
A library has no marketing budget to compare with companies in the private sector.We are therefore obliged to think creatively in order to reach the greatest possible number of people at the lowest possible cost. Cooperation with other cultural institutions is one way to go. Our annual literature festival is a good example, bringing together the library and the Asker cultural centre, with its youth club, cinema and senior citizens, in a mutual effort to present Asker’s population with a broad display of our various services. It is also important throughout the year to coordinate local arrangements in order to avoid competing for the same public.
We advertise arrangements through newsletters sent out by e-mail. Posters and flyers, strategically placed at the library entrance and other places where people gather, are a cost-effective way to promote our activities. In an Internet- based world homepages constitute an important channel of information and many people use the library in this way from the comfort of their own home. They can search in our databases, make book reservations and keep themselves up-to-date with all aspects of library activities. Naturally we provide a user-friendly format and daily updating of our homepages.
Mention in the local media costs nothing and is an effective marketing tool. Close contact with journalists leads to frequent references to our arrangements and other activities. This kind of publicity is invaluable when it comes to enhancing our image among the general public. The library also supplies the press with weekly book reviews. All this serves to underline our position as an important source of information, literature and cultural experiences.
The active librarian
The most important aspect in the promotion of a library concerns its staff. The myth of the quiet, introvert librarian is no longer valid. Today’s librarians must dare to face the challenges of the future and demonstrate where their expertise lies, namely in the dissemination of information, knowledge and cultural experiences. Library users must at all times be met with quality service and a willingness to assist. This area represents a challenge to those responsible for the training of librarians. The profession of librarian is no longer a peaceful haven for bookworms seeking a quiet, protected place to work.
The dust has long been brushed from library shelves. The modern library has an exciting atmosphere. Librarians are constantly looking for interesting lecturers, following trends and creating imaginative homepages.We are visible, we are involved, and we must not be afraid to show this to the world.
of the section for
children and young people
Asker public library
frid.feyling AT asker.kommune.no
responsibility for special
arrangements and marketing
rannveig.kvanum AT asker.kommune.no
Translated by Eric Deverill