As the public libraries in the region of Halland, Sweden, felt that the new services they offered were used to a lesser extent than they had expected, they have launched a project to find new ways to market the wide range of services today’s public libraries can offer their users and hopefully increase the use. The project, which runs from January 2009 to August 2010, is financed by the participating libraries, the region Halland and the Swedish Arts Council.
The aim of the project Making the library visible was to work on methods that would communicate the broad and varied range of services at the local libraries in order to increase their use. Four public libraries participate in the project. Among these are two central libraries and two smaller integrated school and public libraries. Instead of embarking upon an advertising campaign straightaway, the partici-pating libraries have first defined their organisation’s identity, moved on to their image, or the users’ view of the library and its services, and finally synthesized both into an appropriate profile. In marketing theory and practices such as corporate branding, the importance of a fit between the identity and the organisation’s values and aims, its image among its environment and the profile it chooses to create and emphasize in external communications is well known.
The project groups started by delving into their own organisation’s special identity. The project defined identity as a combination of the specific library’s geographical position and the demography of its local surroundings, its actual users, its mission, its organisation, values and focus. The project participants brought together their knowledge and their opinions about these issues in discussions and brainstorming as well as through the use of other methods such as keeping logbooks.
A smaller group has made a study visit to the Netherlands and shared its experiences in the broader project group. At the end of the spring term 2009, the project groups had developed a nuanced and varied view of their libraries’ own identities including what they saw as their main values, aims and target groups. After this, a survey about the library staff ’s understanding of the identity and image of their working place was sent out by the regional library to all library staff in Halland. The survey results have not been exhaustively analysed. However, there is a trend throughout the survey where the project library staff is more definite about how well the identity and the services of their libraries are known, both to the staff themselves and to their users. It seems as if the work with identity has led to the participants nuancing taken-for-granted assumptions about their users and their own raison d’etre. This would be a very encouraging result, which will be further analysed during the final evaluation.
Image – A user perspective
In the second part of the project focusing on image, the actual users, nonusers and their needs are studied more in detail. Apart from studying existing research within LIS on behaviour and needs of user groups that had been defined as target groups, such as young people, a study of 800 non-users in the environments of the four project libraries is being carried out through telephone interviews at the time of writingthis article. Another way for the project libraries to experience a user perspective was through observations of their libraries’ premises, where the participants endeavoured to see these through their users’ eyes. Two of the libraries observed the path the users take in each other’s libraries with inspiration from a Norwegian study (Hvem är de og hvor går de?). The third project library observed its own users with inspiration from a library project in Stockholm (Ett steg till!).
During the autumn of 2009, the project libraries were also offered several inspiring lectures and workshops such as a lecture by an expert in consumer behaviour and a lecture about strategic communication by a marketing consultancy bureau. The latter also conducted a workshop which has given the project libraries tools to work more with their own aims and prioritised target groups in the area of strategic communication. The libraries have partly as part of an earlier project in Region Halland (The library as a meeting place, see a study of previous research Rum för möten), continuing into this project Making the library visible, worked with the library as a room. The staff have worked very intensely with weeding and redesigning the librarys interior in order to create an inspiring environment for the users. In some cases they have even bought new furniture, lamps and so on. The result of this hard work has been airier and more foreseeable library premises, more open to the users searches for material or places to meet, sit and read, both for findings by serendipity as well as more targeted searches.
Having worked with their own identity and their image, the third step for the project is to choose a profile that fits in with the former, and methods to communicate this profile. Now the libraries are ready to commit to a specific target group and/or a specific area to develop. Afterwards the libraries will work with some of the activities listed below:
- Methods for continuous communication with users and potential users such as focus groups or user groups on the Internet, both as ‘ambassadors’ relaying information about the library’s services to their peers and to help develop the services – Activities for chosen target groups and their communication – Outgoing communication, for instance through sms and new social media.
Since the staff plays a key role in how any service is experienced, it is important to question and further develop the library staff ’s professional roles in accordance with the chosen profile and identity. The knowledge about the libraries’ identities, image and profile can also be used to understand whether, and why, the use of the library increases or decreases and lead to improvement. Finally, all new methods and activities will need to be evaluated. While the project itself will be evaluated by researchers at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science in the second half of 2010, it will be up to the participating libraries themselves to continue to evaluate, discuss and improve their profile, image and methods for strategic communication in many years to come.
The project has continuously provided its participants with inspiration and knowledge from other libraries and from recent research. At the same time, the participants have tried out new methods. This has led to a dialogue within the broader project group with a willingness to try new ways of thinking, which already at this early stage can be said to be a major successful result of this project. More final results will be presented at a conference in the autumn of 2010.
Head of Halland Regional Library,
Halland Regional Development Council
Karen Nowé Hedwall
Lecturer at Swedish School
of Library and Information Science
Translated by Karen Nowé Hedvall