Library Value Proposition

June 15, 2012
Disney Characters: Pluto, Donald and Mickey

from flickr user armadillo444

We recently had a marketing faculty member come to the library to discuss marketing libraries. At one point in the presentation he displayed a simple evaluation sheet that we have at one of our reference desks with essentially these four questions:

  1. Was our service cheerful?
  2. Was our service efficient and timely?
  3. Was our environment conducive to research?
  4. How important was our resources to your research?

In each of these four cases we discussed who our competitors were. Some of them we were expending a significant amount of effort to ensure when they will not necessarily get users to use our resources. Others our competitors are so far ahead of us that it makes no sense to try to keep up. We should be putting resources elsewhere. Here is a breakdown:

Cheerful and considerate service

Value proposition: we give cheerful service.

Why? Because if we don’t, they won’t come back. Okay true.

But will it get them in the library? If they want cheerful service, will they automatically think, “Hey, I should go to the library?”

Competitor: Amusement parks, entertainment venues, etc

No. They will go to Disneyland if all they want is cheerfulness.

Efficiency and speed

Value proposition: we give fast and efficient service.

How long does a typical reference transaction take? Several minutes. But you get the answer so that is great.

Competitor: Google

Compare this with Google. Searches take less than a second. We have lost the speed and efficiency war. We will never find something faster than the web. Who has a better value proposition based on speed? Google.

Space conducive to research

Value proposition: we are a great place to study.

Competitors: dorms, student centers, study halls

Here is where we could really shine. We are not promoting our space as much as we could. Examining twitter posts about the library one quickly realizes how many people prefer quiet study space over group study space. Dorms and student centers are loud. Libraries (our users are saying) shouldn’t be–or at least they should only be in designated areas.

Relevant resources

Value proposition: we house high-quality resources.

Competitor: Google Books

Again, Google has more books than most libraries and they are getting bigger.


Not sure if I agree with everything that was said but his point about speed was certainly well-taken. To illustrate his point he tried to use our library federated search to find an article he wrote. He searched using his name and two key words from the title. The first screen was irrelevant. He used the facet for author and limited results just to him. He still could not find it. This took a few minutes.

“Oh, well, forget it. You know what…” and he did the same search in Google Scholar and it was the second hit in the results. This took a few seconds.

Our best value proposition from that informal survey is our space, something that is very disconcerting. When our library becomes nothing more than a nice computer lab, what does that mean for our profession?

Our discussion led us to a realization that one of our other value propositions which we don’t capitalize on, but which we have a much smaller list of competitors:

Personal contact

Value proposition: we provide interaction with the user in which we validate them and encourage them in the research process.

Competitors: Family, friends, colleagues

Google does not tell them they can do it. It does not say, “that is an interesting topic.” It does not acknowledge that they are frustrated in the search process. We could be promoting our users to themselves–and then they will come to us more to feel better about their efforts.

My question: is this really a good enough reason to keep libraries as they are presently constituted?

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“Librarians Can’t Spell.”

March 30, 2009

Whatever your brand is, you will lose followers if you say you are great at something but you actually don’t deliver. Even seemingly trivial mistakes can alienate the public. A fly in a soup at a restaurant can be catastrophic (because food is their brand). A misplaced gas tank in a Pinto? some might say that was the beginning of the end of Ford’s credibility (because cars are their brand).

For librarians who claim a special knack in literacy and research, basic spelling and grammar errors do not bode well. I looked at the site in question and there doesn’t seem to be errors “abounding” (maybe in the comments?), but the principle is still the same. Be good at what you claim to be good at or expect to be marginalized.

Library Newsletters

December 5, 2008

Brian Mathews at Ubiquitous Librarian has a really interesting post about what male and female students expect and want to find in a newsletter put out by their library. Here is his list of responses:


  • fun stuff, funny and interesting facts, things that apply to college students
  • events on campus/around Atlanta, study tips, facts
  • cool books or websites
  • websites for students, info on library, good books, resources
  • new things on campus, events, good books
  • cool websites, ideas for things to do on campus and in library
  • jokes, word teasers, info about tech, website resources for students
  • funny facts, happenings around tech, info on library


  • campus info
  • interesting facts about tech, events at the library
  • events on campus, interesting facts, jokes
  • good books, events on campus, spotlight an organization
  • events in Atlanta, events sponsored by tech groups, info on the library
  • things going on at library, facts people don’t know about the library
  • advice, events on campus, info about the library
  • map of library, where you can find certain things within library, humor
  • cool books or magazines, people’s opinions, jokes, interesting facts
  • stuff about tech

Although I am not sure how often a print newsletter would be picked up by students outside of the library doors, I do think this list can help in deciding what kinds of news announcements to post on the webpage/blog and what updates could be tweeted or txted to students.

I expected the large amount of responses about highlighting little-known services or cool books but it surprised me how much technology news was mentioned. Some librarians are more tech-saavy than their users but I am surprised that this seems to be an expectation: “libraries should help users learn technology as well as research skills.”

I also noted how often general campus news came up. Students still feel like we are a window to campus life. We should keep it that way.

Improving the Librarian Image (ALA 2008)

August 1, 2008

I decided to attend a session (which had people standing all the way out in the hall to listen–125 was the number I overheard on the way out) at ALA on Improving the Librarian Image because I am always interested in hearing about how the rest of the public perceives us and how to facilitate change. Donna Cardillo is a Registered Nurse and so that was also interesting.

A big take home for me was the use of credentials. I know it may be a bigger issue in nursing to show you have the full credentials to be a nurse but I can see a reason in libraries as well. Cardillo noted that, like in hospitals, patrons often do not know who is a librarian and who is a secretary or student assistant in libraries. She recommended having business cards made up with your name, title and credentials. The title also helps to further differentiate you; in this way the public can see that librarians are not all identical. The credentials can also help patrons, students, or faculty realize you have a Master’s degree, possibly adding more respect and buy-in from the communities we serve.

As an introduction she said, “Now some of you may be wondering why an RN is speaking at a library conference. What do nurses have to do with librarians?” My notes (including answers to this question) are below:

  • Nurses and Librarians?
    • gender
    • shortage
    • undervalued and underpaid
    • image problems
      • stereotypes
    • genetics?
      • how many of you are former nurses or studied nursing? (10%)
      • How many of your siblings/family members are nurses? (40% in the room!!)
  • why does our image matter?
    • budgeting issues
    • legislative issues
    • morale issues
    • recruiting issues
  • Personal Image
    • appearance
      • dress well: conveys confidence; sets them apart
      • hair–“serious hair” Working Girl
    • body language
      • you don’t have to feel confident to act confident
      • look in the eye, but not too much
        • don’t be the first to look away every time, just sometimes
      • stand up straight, head up
        • authoritative and assertive
    • speech…
      • most of us talk too much and have trouble getting to the core message
      • say things in different ways hopefully eventually it will come across
        • think of your most important message
        • think of how few words you can say it in
        • say it
        • then stay quiet
      • we have a bad habit: Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll come back…
        • unless you truly have something to be sorry for don’t say it
      • eliminate qualifiers: controlling the reaction of the listener before you say anything
        • you probably have heard this, but…
        • you probably won’t like this, but…
        • Problem: it takes to long to get to your point, lose your audience
      • You need to realize when you do this–self-awareness is the first step to eliminating the bad habit
        • Think before you speak
    • workspace/carspace
    • learn how to take a compliment
      • you did great: don’t mention it
      • thank you for your help: it’s my job
      • Accept it
        • you dishonor the person
        • yourself
        • your profession
      • Say: it was my pleasure; anytime; thank you for telling me that; let me know if I can do anything else for you.
      • appearing modest and humble is okay but you don’t have to be self-deprecating
    • Have a business card
      • have your academic credentials
      • carry the cards where ever you go, not just on your desk
      • have them made from where you work
        • not in the budget?
          • it costs next to nothing–people just never bother to ask
    • peoples’ impression is how they will treat you
      • we believe more of what we see than what we hear about or of people
  • Harnessing the power of the media
    • monitor images of librarians in the media–this is people’s perception of you
      • movies
      • sit-coms
    • stories about libraries or librarians
      • library budget cuts?
      • positive? negative? “Hipper Crowd of Shushers” positive but the stereotype is still there
        • let them know why it is detrimental
    • write letters to the media
    • Six Steps to Free Publicity, Marcia Yudin
      • Some people shy away from the media; read about it;
      • How can I say no, my whole profession is counting on me
        • clear communication is important; you are coached on general questions prior to recording
        • break down and eliminate industry jargon and acronyms
    • contact local media directly
      • I am the librarian at…
      • use National Library Week as a spring board
      • “You might be interested to know that…”
      • write letters to the editor if the information is accurate: offer additional resources and offer yourself as another resource
    • Being visible in the community
      • people will know you and your abilities
      • if you are unknown, it will not be hard to discourage bad local legislation
  • Promoting the profession
    • people don’t know about us; we don’t talk about ourselves enough
    • brochures and websites are not going to do the full job of educating peoples
    • don’t just say “I am a librarian, staff or MLS student”
      • add a sentence about what you did that particular day
    • get out to community fairs more
      • career fairs
      • scouting troops
      • school groups
      • Rachel Singer Gordon’s “How to become a librarian” article in Library Journal–this can help you describe what you do
    • Men/ ethnic minorities: people need to see people like them to go and pursue a career
  • Networking, getting visible;
    • attend a chamber of commerce meeting
    • a work meeting
    • women business owners in the community
    • promote our services on a regular basis
  • handshaking: important social custom; only form of acceptable touching connection
      • credibility
      • colleagues and clients; even children
      • sign of respect–levels the playing field
      • shake, eye contact, and smile
  • Marketing, staying visible
    • Always wear you’re name badge, title and credentials
    • photos of who works in the library with name, credentials and title for your users
      • you have to have the delineation: librarians are all different
    • sell your value on a daily basis
      • you can’t assume
        • people know who you are
        • know what you do
        • know what you have
    • consider writing a weekly/monthly column with your picture
      • tips
      • suggestions
      • different services
      • different materials
    • consider writing competitions
    • offer to speak at a local meeting on your paid work-time
      • propose these to the people you work for:
        • why do you want to go?
          • they vote
          • they donate money
          • they don’t appreciate/know our services
      • if you don’t ask you don’t get
      • even if it is no, it produces awareness
        • repackage it and try again
        • if we can’t do that, maybe we can do this
        • “When the customer says no, the selling begins.”
    • other ideas
      • Comment: in the public: at the gym or the grocery: what do you do: “I am your librarian”
      • Comment: offer comments and questions
        • always identify yourself by names and permissions
      • Comment: contacted local assembly person; they told her about meetings they are looking for speakers
        • if you don’t know your local assembly person is you can find out easily;
      • Comment: a lot of libraries have public meeting space: always make myself known and who I am
      • Comment: we have a speakers bureau and offer speakers in their interests
      • Comment: passed over for promotion; one of the reasons why I came I felt I might need to change my image…but I am becoming cynical and bitter; how do you turn that around?
        • A: changing your image is a good thing; there are a lot of reasons why people are hired; make an appointment to speak with your supervisor; let your goals be known and ask for advice; can you suggest other projects I can get involved in?
      • Comment: new hires get a mentor who give candid feedback and help them in promotion
      • Comment: enewsletter: would you like to sign up for our monthly newsletter with tips on research?
  • Getting involved in national/local associations
    • joining isn’t enough, get involved
    • dues are too much
      • ask for help from your employer
        • ask for help to go to conference
        • ask for it every year even if they say no every year
        • if you don’t ask you won’t get
        • nos still create awareness
        • why is it important to be a member?
          • why is it important to go to a conference
          • Comment: when you get back meet with supervisors and tell them why it was beneficial;
          • D: write a report, give the boss material
      • cost is relative to value
      • you can probably deduct this on taxes
    • they won’t listen to me; too much politics;
      • even if you put something out there and they don’t follow, you are still feeling empowered and your voice is heard
    • you will also need to sell this to other people
      • you join associations for what is in it for you
        • you are an informed member of the profession–pipeline of information
        • garner support
        • let off steam
      • join a committee
        • hones your leadership skills
        • your communications skills
        • your networking skills
    • run for office in your organization
      • this holds a lot of wait in your employment evaluations
  • Develop speaking and writing skills
    • promotion method
    • it is the good communicators who get ahead in this world
      • articulate
    • anyone can learn how to write and anyone can learn how to speak
      • more technique involve than most people realize
      • develop it and cultivate it
    • start small and start local
      • write about something you love
      • write about something you know
      • write about something innovative
      • write in an association newsletter
      • it is the doing that grows into ability
    • Getting a rejection letter
      • when I got my first one and vowed I would never write again
      • the editor had actually taken the time to make some suggestions
      • I never resubmitted that article, but I went to the public library and got a book on how to write for publication in journals
      • today I am doing a column for that magazine now
        • I almost let one rejection letter keep me from ever doing it again
      • WHEN you get a rejection letter, you celebrate that–it is a rite of passage
        • writing and submitting is the part of publication that is important
      • Speaking? I looked up books at the library on that as well