New Marketing Trends

Marketing Ideas for Non-Profits and Libraries

The M Word helps librarians learn about marketing trends and ideas.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A new culture is emerging, will libraries be leading?

How many of you have heard the argument (or even tried to use it yourself) that people should want to use our libraries because they get free stuff - only to see it fall on deaf ears? Free stuff in our society has pretty much been on the bottom rung for most people simply because we have invested so much in placing value on status and defining status as owning/buying “the very best”. Here in New Jersey we’d do better sometimes to encourage people to donate their once read books to libraries so we could sell them for a quarter than to have those same people borrow it for free. We might be tempted to try to convince people borrowing is the green thing to do but that gets a little weak.

David Brooks of the New York Times writes about an article by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, about the report released in May by the Commission on Thrift, For a New Thrift: Confronting the Debt Culture, that may be the first indicator that the tide will be changing. Essentially the group looked at how social norms and institutions that encourage frugality have been undermined  and those that encouraged debt and living for the moment were strengthened. resulting in the present situation we have now.  
"...  it’s one of the most important think-tank reports you’ll read this year… [he report]  also has some recommendations. First, raise public consciousness about debt the way the anti-smoking activists did with their campaign. Second, create institutions that encourage thrift. Foundations and churches could issue short-term loans to cut into the payday lenders’ business. Public and private programs could give the poor and middle class access to financial planners. Usury laws could be enforced and strengthened. Colleges could reduce credit card advertising on campus. KidSave accounts would encourage savings from a young age. The tax code should tax consumption, not income, and in the meantime, it should do more to encourage savings up and down the income ladder.

There are dozens of things that could be done. But the most important is to shift values. Franklin made it prestigious to embrace certain bourgeois virtues. Now it’s socially acceptable to undermine those virtues. It’s considered normal to play the debt game and imagine that decisions made today will have no consequences for the future."

So what does this mean for libraries? Not only are we models for thrift, but we can position ourselves to be the great educators on financial literacy and do what we do best: we can offer programs on financial planning; we can create “financial savvy centers” both in our libraries and online that provide online resources, books, workshops, webcasts; we can start a series of author talks on the subject; build community around the solutions... The need for these services are inevitable, the question is, will libraries assert themselves to be the place to go for those solutions or will we sit back and allow other institutions to move ahead and take our place?

Timing is everything. 

Every marketer knows the power in being first…. Here’s an opportunity for libraries to step up and take advantage of that positioning. 


~Kathy Dempsey said...

I'm with ya, Nancy. This is an opportunity and I hope libraries don't ignore it (again)... I mean, seriously: Who knows thrift better than librarians??

In Marketing Library Services' "Ideas for Action" section I've repeatedly suggested offering financial programs. Cool thing they could: offer a storytime during the same hour so parents could leave the kids in the next room and concentrate on the finances.

I'm trying hard not to start a rant on debt here! my parents taught me the value of money and saving and NOT borrowing. and I'm furious at greed corporations for pushing the "you must have this; don't worry about the debt!" culture. better stop there...

Genbook said...

I am of a certain age, and my contemporaries and I say "when I save up to get..." whatever it is. You don't hear that anymore. Everyone is encouraged to buy and put themselves in hock forever.

Yet, people will pay for something if they see that it has value. We have no problems collecting fees from family researchers because we provide a copy/scanning service that gives them what they need when they want it. And with gasoline 4.50 a gallon at this writing there is less of a price resistance point than before.

So libraries do have a market to hit.