Marketing the impact of libraries

At the end of last week I ran a marketing planning workshop in London for information and library staff from throughout the UK. Over 50 attended from universities, health service and public libraries. With the advent of the internet and major search engines beginning with G, B and Y, many people feel that the era of libraries is over and that we can leave the search engines to organise and disseminate the world’s knowledge.

It was good to be amongst an energetic group of people who clearly believe that they have an expertise in information provision that the major search engines do not have. Their challenge is to get the message across to a set of funding bodies under pressure to make cuts rather than to expand. I wish them well in their development of segmentation and value propositions after the workshop. There is much stakeholder management to be undertaken in this sector.

The difficult thing for the library and information profession is to show the impact they have on people’s lives. They clearly do have impacts and after the workshops last week I hope the message about the importance of testimonials means that such things are used more and more to establish the relevance of libraries. At the moment library users may be seen in a negative light by many as “those who haven’t heard of G, B or Y”. Interesting… given that perhaps 90% of the material available on the internet is not searchable directly through a search engine (“invisible web” and “dark web” sources for instance) but is there (often freely) for those, such as information and library professionals, who think beyond search engines.

Impact is so important these days. What effect are we having? Metrics are great but we should never forget the impact on the lives of individuals who go on to do great things for society or their organisations. Someone should scour all the biographies out there to list all the “hat tips” to libraries. I’m still impressed that Bob Dylan regularly used New York Public library in the early 60s to read the microfiche copies of newspapers.

A new public library opened recently in Birmingham UK with over 12,000 visiting per day in the first week, slowing to around 10,000 per day after that. On Wednesday 23 October, just 51 days after the public opening, the Library of Birmingham welcomed its 500,000th visitor through the doors. What insights and inspirations have already been imparted to help the future of society and culture, employment and prosperity? How many lives have been made to feel better? And what in the coming years? Are libraries anachronistic or are their finest hours yet to come (whoops …. how many of you are humming Queen’s Radio Gaga now!)? I guess this may well come down to how well library and information staff can get the message across about the value they create. I, for one, hope there are enough people with energy out there to take on this challenge.