Academic journal article Journal of Library Innovation

The Innovative Academic Library: Implementing a Marketing Orientation to Better Address User Needs and Improve Communication

Academic journal article Journal of Library Innovation

The Innovative Academic Library: Implementing a Marketing Orientation to Better Address User Needs and Improve Communication

Article excerpt


While academic librarians have long engaged in marketing, it has typically been in the limited sense of promotion and advertising. Application of the marketing concept, with the realization of a marketing orientation as a long term goal, redirects the library to actively seek out user needs and then to design and provide services and resources that will meet those needs. When fully realized, marketing is a bidirectional process in which user needs are determined, services developed, and feedback obtained to assess how effectively the library has addressed the needs. This eliminates the necessity to "sell" services, allowing the library to spend the majority of its efforts on further innovation. The article provides an explanation of the marketing concept and orientation contrasted with the much more common production orientation. The concepts are illustrated through models and a description of the marketing effort as it has developed in the W. Frank Steely Library at Northern Kentucky University.

Despite numerous library conferences that include the word marketing in their titles, it should be fairly clear that librarians do not market and that they never have marketed. Marketing-at least from the perspective of management practice-is a destabilizing process of creating in the client an awareness for a need of which that client may be totally ignorant. Indeed, that need may be served only after that hunger for a product or a service has been awakened. (White, 2000, p. 225)

Librarians have long been interested in marketing as a way to increase use of their services. That interest dates back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the modern American library took form. Despite librarians' enthusiasm, they often did not fully understand the marketing concept. As in 1910, when one library advertised its services through leaflets placed in laundry bags (Renborg, 1997), it is probably safe to say that most librarians would consider marketing to be synonymous with promotion and advertising (Kies, 1987, p. 5).

In fact, promotion and advertising are marketing functions. While both have a definite place within a comprehensive marketing effort, by themselves they simply serve to sell whatever service the library has already chosen to provide. In the library context, selling refers to efforts to increase usage rather than to stimulate a monetary transfer. Perhaps due to their limited understanding of the marketing concept, many librarians have seen it in a negative light. John Cotton Dana, a library pioneer, "horrified some of his more staid library colleagues by using a billboard to advertise [his] library" (Renborg, 1997). This "horror" of marketing persists to the present day. In a 2007 survey, one school librarian commented: "'I believe very deeply that libraries offer information, not entertainment . . . Glitzy marketing has no place in a serious intellectual setting" (Parker, Kaufman-Scarborough & Parker, 2007, p. 331).

This aversion to marketing has led some librarians to eschew it altogether, taking an "if we build it, they will come" approach to the development of library collections and services. When users fail to flock to their offerings, these librarians shake their heads in disbelief and wonder at the ignorance of their users. Since few users of academic libraries have the time (or desire) to aggressively seek out new library services and information sources, they remain unaware and may become dissatisfied with perceived library deficiencies. This is dangerous in an era in which the academic library faces increasing competition and financial pressures from both on and off campus.

In his observation at the head of this article, White (2000) seems to suggest that marketing is about creating needs. Rather, it is about identifying needs, some of which may not be self-apparent to the user. Identifying and meeting user needs will help libraries to create services that do not have to be sold. …

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