Marketing: an essential skill for the 21st century librarian

To use marketing to its full potential, you have to understand what your added value to your clients is. Eric Kokke on why marketing skills are crucial for information professionals.

As is the case in so many other professions, basic marketing skills are needed to survive in the fast and ever-changing world of libraries.  In previous years, the introduction of a marketing module as part of an advanced library course package offered by GO | School for Information may have caused a massive uproar and met with great resistance. In 2019, many librarians have accepted marketing as a part of their day-to-day professional life and are willingly admitting that they should spend some part of their day on marketing tasks. This group of early adopters may readily buy into the definition of marketing as 'adjusting your information products and services to the needs of your target audience and communicating about it'.

As librarians, we have no choice, we have to. Technology is moving at a fast pace, we are past the stage of constant chatter about the pervasiveness of search juggernaut Google. Instead, we are focusing on emerging technologies and disruptive techniques and how these can be integrated into our workplace to improve workflows and provide innovative services. This change is reflected in the ‘hunger’ for data (Business Intelligence, AI and Big Data), the increase in awareness and use of machine learning and voice assistants (Alexa and Google Home) and the constant connection with colleagues, family and friends on social media. Communicating about these new tools and techniques and how we can continue to leverage our value as thrusted sources of information to our clients’ are important tasks as well.

Communicating about library services continues to be an issue. We know which information services we offer, unfortunately, not all our clients are aware of what we offer. As a consequence, many of the products we offer are underused and clients turn to (search) solutions that may be considered inferior to what we offer.

These are the reasons why we should embrace marketing as a part of our job! To use marketing to its full potential, you have to understand what your added value to your clients is. Added value is not a description of your work, but a clear answer on the all important question ‘What’s in it for me?’ from the perspective of the person you are communicating with. If you are working in an educational environment you tell a student that your services will ultimately help him to graduate. The message to management/administrators is different. You tell them that your services contribute in a positive way to the number and the quality of the graduates and that these services assist with establishing high quality standards. That is your added value!

Alternately, you can tell management about the problems you solved for clients. For example, how you helped a visitor to your library survive the information overload or assisted a researcher by providing the necessary trustworthy information for his research. By solving these kind of problems for your clients you contribute to the overall performance of your organisation.

As librarians you do have a lot to offer, but you have to make this known to others by telling them repeatedly what your added value is. Be creative, be proactive, be assertive, be brave!  Go out there and communicate with your clients. Ask them what kind of information services they need. Ask them how they conduct their searches. Make sure your services meet their needs where possible. Make sure you communicate your added value. Make sure you can answer the important ‘What’s in it for me?’ question!

Eric Kokke is Marketing Manager at GO | School for Information in the Netherlands, board member of the KNVI (Royal Dutch Association of Information Professionals) and member of the innovation committee of the Royal Dutch Library.