Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Selling the Invisible and Marketing the Library

At the 1999 SLA conference in Minneapolis (MN), the Library Management Division, in conjunction with several other divisions, sponsored a talk by Harry Beckwith. Beckwith's focus is on marketing in a service-based economy and he spoke about market the special library. I remember that his presentation was better and more impactful than the keynotes that year! An a plus what that he was willing to interact with those of us who were attending the conference, and not just present and then leave. The summer 1999 newsletter from SLA Military Librarians Division list the "Ten Keys to Successful Relationships" which he covered:
  1. Faster -- everybody wants it faster
  2. Affinity -- develop a good chemistry with your users
  3. Predictability -- be consistent, have integrity; remember that your word and deeds are integrated
  4. Comfort -- create the feeling of comfort in your library; a comfortable atmosphere from you and your staff will get them in the physical and virtual door
  5. Expertise -- be a consultant; show the appearance of expertise
  6. Sacrifice yourself to make the user feel important
  7. Thank people more
  8. Welcome them
  9. Follow-up -- find out how you are doing
  10. Connect -- make a personal connection by learning names and using them

At the conference, copies of Selling the Invisible (1997 edition) were for sale and I still have the copy I purchased.  I read it, referred to it, and used it in some of the library classes I taught.  The book was republished in 2012.  

As I stare at the book in my bookcase and wonder about Beckwith, I see that he published several other books all focused on marketing, including one on the art of selling yourself.

What is a service?

Beckwith wrote (Selling the Invisible, 1997, p. xv):

A product is tangible. You can see it and touch it. A service, by contrast, is intangible. In fact, a service does not even exist when you buy one. If you go to a salon, you cannot see, tough, or try out a haircut before you buy it. You order it. Then you get it.

Libraries deliver services:

  • Advising patrons on what they might read next
  • Hosting programs for various age groups and people with different interests
  • Provisioning materials on demand from other libraries or publishers
  • Reference and information services
  • Circulation services
  • ...and more...

Yes, libraries contain materials, but how someone decides to borrow a particular item - and the act of borrowing - is a service.

Why am I mentioning this? 

It is August 2020 and every organization is facing some sort of financial hardship due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including libraries.  We - libraries - need to focus on selling ourselves, which means understanding what our users want, ensuring that the service is delivered consistently, nurturing our users, and talking about what we do.  We need to be doing this all the time, even when our budgets are being cut, in fact it is more important during those times.

While I like Selling the Invisible, there are many books and articles available on how to market services. If this is an area you need to learn more about, use on the services of your library (perhaps ILL) and borrow a copy of Beckwith's book.  I know you will find it easy to read and you'll also be inspired to put something new into practice.

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