Marketing Future Libraries

Article excerpt

Eric Lease Morgan works in the Department for Digital Library Initiatives of the North Carolina State University Libraries in Raleigh. His e-mail address is eric_morgan@ncsu.edu, and his home page is at http://wwwlib.ncsu.edu/staff/morgan.

As of late, the reality has set in that libraries have fallen from their positions as centers of the information universe. While we as librarians never truly had a monopoly on information, our "market share," especially with the advent of globally networked computers, has dwindled considerably. Put another way, there are many more people and institutions providing information services today than even 5 years ago. Consequently, it behooves us to think more aggressively about marketing our information and knowledge products and services if we expect to be around in the future.

Marketing is an exchange process whereby two or more individuals (or groups) exchange goods or services for items of value. In Library Land, one of these individuals is almost always a librarian. The other individuals include taxpayers, students, faculty, or in the case of special libraries, fellow employees. The items of value are information and information services exchanged for a perception of worth--a rating valuing the services rendered. This perception of worth, a highly intangible and immeasurable thing, is something the user of library services "pays," not to libraries and librarians, but to administrators and decision-makers. Ultimately, these payments manifest themselves as tax dollars or other administrative support. As the perception of worth decreases so do tax dollars and support.

Marketing is not another word for publicity or promotion; publicity and promotion are just two aspects of the marketing process. Marketing also includes product creation, pricing, and distribution.

Marketing has been traditionally associated with physical "goods." As our economy moves more and more into the distribution of "information goods," we can easily predict an increase in the marketing of these services simply because there is increased competition. Because of this increased competition, expectations surrounding information services have increased. Couple this with our society's undying thirst for technology, demands for convenience, and the self-service mentality, and you can only conclude that we have to do more to improve our services and to convince people that they should use libraries instead of other information providers.

The key to this process is customer satisfaction, and one of the keys to customer satisfaction is employee satisfaction. Studies have shown that service organizations having high levels of employee satisfaction also have high levels of customer satisfaction, and low employee turnover is also closely linked to customer satisfaction. Similarly, employees who feel accountable are more likely to provide better customer [service.sup.1].

Using Technology to Employ Market Research

With these things in mind, there are a number of ways libraries of the future can employ computer technology to improve marketing efforts. But first, a library must come to better understand its customers through market research. The use of transaction log analysis, circulation records, user surveys, focus group interviews, and information interviews will provide insight on what your customers really expect.

For example, similar to the process of data warehousing, libraries could extract reports from the log files of their computerized services. All of a library's computerized services from OPACs to Web servers to bibliographic databases produce reams of log files. Libraries of the future should be able to analyze the disparate log file formats, normalize the data, and report on the real information customers are seeking. Libraries of the future will provide direct and sophisticated feedback mechanisms for customers. These mechanisms could include simple electronic user surveys, video conferencing, or Web-based suggestion boxes. …