New Marketing Trends

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

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Thoughts on an Unstaffed "Library Express" Branch in WA

Have you seen the short news article in Library Journal about a small unstaffed branch in a new housing development in Washington state?

Sarah Houghton-Jan, aka the Librarian in Black (LiB), posted about it yesterday, bringing up some good questions. I decided to chime in there and ended up writing what should have been a full post over here on The M Word!

The LiB questioned whether an unstaffed branch was worth it as far as money saved, and more importantly, should it still be called a "library" when there is nobody there giving service? (It was designed basically as a room where residents could order books via OPACs and pick up holds when they became available.) My take from the marketing side was different. Here's an excerpt from what I said there:

...[F]rom a marketing POV, this is a winner. the key is this paragraph from the LJ article:
“The new mini-branch was inspired by a survey of community residents; some 95 percent said they would rather pick up their holds in a nearby unstaffed library than drive to a full-service library. Redmond Ridge is a 1,228-unit master-planned community.”

So the library system did exactly what this target audience asked for: opened an “unstaffed library” right in the community. It’s sure to be used b/c it fills a specific desire for these patrons. And for that I say, Bravo, King County!

Go over to LiB's blog and read the thought-provoking post, and comments, in full. Tell us what you think: Is this unstaffed "library" (named "Library Express") a slippery slope toward cutting staff to save money, or a brilliant use of marketing to meet patrons' needs? Or both?


Anonymous said...
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Suni J. Minorics said...

This reminds me of a few articles I keep reading (also in Library Journal) about GoLibrary and other mobile library services (like those DVD redboxes). In a way, I don't think it's a terrible idea because you're still providing a great service (giving people what they want) without personal interaction (most ppl. communicate online, anyway).

It's also good because it gives people the privacy and flexibility of being able to get materials without anyone knowing what they're taking (it's still a fear that we look and judge every item a patron takes! Hahah...there's no time for that.) Although, yes, it does essentially reduce staff, it can also free up staff to do other essential tasks, like ordering, weeding, etc. that might not get done because of time-consuming circ. duties.

From a marketing perspective, I think that it shows we're focused on patron needs and respond accordingly. It also shows that we're in step with current trends of many things becoming self-service (i.e., ordering online, getting DVDs at the supermarket, self-checkout machines at the grocery stores, etc.). While I do have some security concerns about the operation at this unmanned branch (regardless of the cameras), the bottom line is that I think it's a GREAT idea. It's forward thinking and cost-effective.

As for calling it a "library", yes, I still think it should hold that name, but at the same time, do we call going to the ATM going to the bank? Maybe the focus should be less on the name and more on the user stats. that come from this new service. I think this is a great alternative to completely closing down a branch, also, if a system ever came to that unhappy crossroads.