New Marketing Trends

Marketing Ideas for Non-Profits and Libraries

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

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Way Some Citizens View Libraries

I read lots of articles and posts about libraries, and I almost always look at the comments that readers leave at the end. This usually ends up as an exercise in frustration and disgust.

"Why, oh why, do I let myself read these upsetting comments?" I ask myself.
"Because you need to stay aware of what people outside the industry really think of libraries," I answer myself.

And we all should be aware of this. I know it's easier to stay within our safety zones and only dwell on the nice comments that library users make, but it's at least as important to know what non-users think -- and if you want to promote your services and improve your standing in the community, then listening to non-users is even more important. 

So I want to share a comment I read today that is representative of many that I see. People honestly wonder why libraries still matter, and as long as this is the case, we have more marketing and promotion to do. This comment was at the end of an article about a state government here in the US cutting virtually all library funding in its latest budget proposal. Here it is: 
With as much online content available these days and with the proliferation of e-book-enabled devises, I'm wondering why we need to spend so much on libraries very few visit? What's missing from this article are the millions of dollars currently spent at high schools, colleges and universities to maintain libraries, which come out of this very same budget. I'm a voracious reader, but I haven't been in a library since 2002, and that was to access the Internet when I was traveling -- the hotel's connection was down. I shop at Half Price Books and I can usually find my research material online. Let's not forget that this money isn't going to buy books, but to pay salaries, administrative costs, and overhead. Maybe these librarians can tell us what should be cut from this budget in lieu of this funding.
Does this make you angry? Sad? Hurt? Frustrated? All of the above? Probably. But what I really want to know is this:

* Does it spur you to take action? To improve your promotion? 

* Do you, personally, have a response for this? Not a tirade but a calm, fact-filled response for why libraries do still matter? Do you have this elevator speech at the ready, and have you practiced saying it? 

We all need to realize that people outside our profession think this way, and, more importantly, vote this way. How do we change their minds? What do YOU say when you hear or read things like this? Or what are the favorite responses that you've heard others use? Please share. I think this is an important conversation to have.


Baby Benjamin said...

Well, for one thing, I might point up that our library has tens of thousands of visits every year--33,000 there to use the Internet alone last year (in a town of 8,000.) I'd also comment on how much that person likely pays for library services, and the value of that service. In our community, the cost of the library is $84/ year on a $100,000 home. You make that back checking out ten DVDs, or hardcover best-sellers, or visiting 4 of our children's programs.

Anonymous said...

>I'm wondering why
>we need to spend so
>much on libraries
>very few visit?

There are two ways to look at this statement.

In all likelihood, the person who made the statement has no idea how many people visit the local library, since (s)he doesn't use it. Too often, people rely on "what my friends and I do" to judge the worth or popularity of things. Usage statistics for children alone are usually impressive. Many critics forget that school libraries are not open outside of school hours, and many schools severely limit the amount of time that kids are allowed to use them.

On the other hand, when you look at the population of most towns and cities versus library card registration and actual usage, the commenter is correct - relatively few people use libraries, versus the population as a whole.

It is easy enough to argue for the validity of libraries by bringing up real circulation numbers and such. It would also be helpful to point out to the commenter that relatively few people versus the total population avail themselves of other services, as well, though nobody would argue for their removal (ex. the fire department).

What this all means for libraries, of course, is that we need to work harder to reach the folks who don't use us. We have already won over our core audience - we need to spend much more time and energy reaching the rest of our potential cardholders.

~Kathy Dempsey said...

I agree, Baby B, this person clearly has no idea how many folks DO use libraries! Knowing your numbers for visits, as well as how much tax $ the average citizen in your area contributes per year, is an excellent way to enlighten nonusers. Great!

@Anon, you're right too. People who don't use something assume that others don't either. (and, great point about the fire dept!)

And you're soooo right about reaching nonusers. Too many of us concentrate on serving those who come in, and complain that there's no time to reach out to others, or to serve them if they did start coming in. This is silly. Those who are NOT already users / fans are the dangerous ones (voting-wise, especially) that we NEED to reach out to.