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.

Observations

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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