Editorial: Marketing – always on the agenda

Time and again it is said that most residents are not familiar with the service selection offered by their local library. Those who use the library regularly are, of course, aware of the services they already use, but not of all the services available. Those who don’t use the library, naturally, don’t even know that much. Time after time, the matter is raised; libraries have to learn how to market, they have to inform residents and decision-makers about the diverse services of their own library.

The large, resource-rich libraries may have a person who has specialized in advertising, studied marketing or worked in the field, but smaller libraries have to manage on their own. They should be able to create images, as is done in the advertising world, even though marketing a library doesn’t involve selling dreams of beauty and happiness, but rather providing information about what the library can mean in the daily lifes of residents.

How is it possible to produce websites, posters and leaflets, which provide enough comprehensive information and are yet brief and create a good image? Slogans are helpful, but they’re not enough.We are bombarded daily with all kinds of products from advertising agencies; increasingly ostentatious ads are necessary in order to penetrate our awareness.

In all Scandinavian countries, and in many other countries, library operations are based on library legislation and national policies, which means that all of the libraries in the country are basically the same and on the same level, and the same type of services are available. Library services can thus be marketed on a national level, and indeed this is done to some extent in association with various campaigns carried out by authorities and library associations.

According to Finland’s third information society strategy (2007-2015), libraries are national assets, because they offer guidance in the skills needed in the information society in addition to traditional services. In the Prime Minister’s information society campaign program, Finland in the networks, library staff was marketed as experts in Internet information. Not only did many citizens learn skills needed on the Internet as a result of the campaign, but they also became aware that libraries have free Internet access and a serviceoriented staff that has command of information network contents. A TV bulletin telling about Internet services in libraries was produced in association with the campaign, and it was shown several times in the evenings. Getting libraries included as part of the campaign was not a clear-cut matter, but the massive dispersion of infor-mation definitely made it worth the effort.

Small libraries do not have many resources for marketing. On the local level, a completely different type of marketing is needed, it has to be designed for the area’s residents, i.e. offering information about their respective library’s services and material, opening hours, exhibits and other programs. It is more difficult for libraries in large cities to get library-related articles into the newspaper; it is significantly easier to approach smaller, local newspapers when there is something new to announce.

“Always ready” could be the marketing password: ready to tell users and nonusers about the services on offer, ready to invest in websites and printed products, ready to give interviews and send press releases to the media. In recent years, we have seen cases in Scandinavia where osten-tatious and fun slogans promoting new trends in the library have elicited protests from users, media and writers’ associations; the library’s message was misunderstood. In the long-run, I believe that even these types of ‘scandals’ are an advantage to the library. The desire to talk about what kind of library we want is a positive thing. It is good that the staff has an opportunity to say that libraries should be developed along with the changing environment and everyday life. It is good to get the decisionmakers and those with influence moving and taking a stand, good that even the library can sometimes become ‘media-sexy’… Of course it would be better if the same emotionally charged discussions were being used, for example, for promoting new library premises or more diverse material and program selection, supporting the library staff ’s reform efforts.

Barbro Wigell-Ryynänen
Councellor for Library Affairs
Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland
barbro.wigell-ryynanen AT
Translated by Turun Täyskäännös

Retired, former editor