Peripheral Vision: the non-traditional things we do to help our library users

 

Below is a Storify of responses I got, when I asked on Twitter what 'non-traditional' library services they offered their users. I'm interested in the ways Library's plug gaps and address their communities' needs, even if what this entails is either only distantly related, or entirely unrelated, to the core library offering. This appearing in places our users don't expect - in their peripheral vision - is often really important in building relationships, and establishing the importance and usefulness of library staff. It opens doors.

People asked me to share what I found, so here we go:

Library Marketing and the Terminology Problem

 

When I first started writing and talking about marketing libraries, I was very keen to see libraries adopt the strategies and idioms of business. Libraries were being threatened by massive corporations like Google, Wikipedia and Amazon, whose function or output was for a lot of people a perfectly acceptable replacement for what libraries offered. So we needed to fight back, and market ourselves aggressively - just because we weren't chasing profits didn't mean we shouldn't be chasing customers.

Part of the reason libraries were in a state was that they didn't take marketing seriously, they were in fact scared of the term entirely, and were unwilling to recognise that letting the people come to us was simply not fit for purpose any more. We had to go to the people, and convince them of our value. Finding the term (or the idea of) marketing distasteful was holding us back.

I don't feel entirely differently about this today, although my view has become more nuanced, and I'd rather see Libraries effectively communicating the value of the other aspects of what we do, rather than directly trying to compete with, for example, Google: a fight we'll never win (and shouldn't need to).

However.

In 2010 David Cameron came to power, and his Conservative Government set about making the UK a worse place to live. Part of what they've done is commodify everything, consumerise everything, and it is with this apparatus that they advance their causes of privitisation, destroying the NHS, making education a source of constant frustration for schools and parents alike, and so on.

Increasingly things with which I was previously comfortable - marketing terminology, describing students as 'customers' and so on - are being strongly associated with things which make me decidedly uncomfortable.

Yet sometimes you need to use the vernacular of what you're describing if, like I do, you spend a lot of time describing it - I run marketing workshops and write about marketing on this blog and in a whole book about it. Increasingly I'm drawn to the word 'communication' - not all communication is marketing, but all marketing is communication. So marketing is a subset of communication. Good marketing is often just a byproduct of good communication. 

Nevertheless, I still use marketing lingo at times, albeit decreasingly so, because on occasion there's no better way to describe something so people will understand it. Whatever you think of the term itself, everything that marketing actually entails (a dialogue between us as library services, and users and potential users of those services - about how and why our services are relevant to their lives) we NEED to be doing.

People pay money to come to my workshops, and I don't want to waste their time explaining what I mean every 10 minutes as I search for an alternative way to express something for which there exists a perfectly good term or phrase - it would be absurd. As the trainer I have to communicate effectively in workshops about communication! But I also don't want to be part of the problem, I don't want to be ushering libraries towards a consumerist future which sees information purely as a commodity.

So yesterday when I ran a workshop called Marketing Libraries: Principles and Actions, for the International Library and Information Group, I put this slide on the screen 5 minutes in, and addressed this issue head-on:

A slide from my marketing workshop. Click to view CC version on Flickr

A slide from my marketing workshop. Click to view CC version on Flickr

I wanted to make clear that, although I was trying to avoid certain problematic terminology, I was still going to use some where it would be ludicrous not to - and I wanted to be clear on exactly what library marketers mean they talk about the market.

In essence, your market is your community.

Your community will be very different depending on the type of library you work in. Some libraries have a clearly defined community - I work in Higher Education, so my library's community is the students and staff at the University. (Primarily.) This is our market. This is the audience to which we need to communicate our usefulness. Most Special Libraries have defined communities: a firm, or business, or a school. Public Libraries don't enjoy this luxury of course - for them the market, the community, is everyone in their local area, both users and non-users alike.

However you define your community, this is what people like me are talking about when we say things like 'understand your market' (get to know your community), or 'segment your market' (divide them into appropriate groups so you can tailor communications for each group) or even occasionally 'market share' (if you work at an HEI with 1000 staff and students, and 600 of them use the Library, you have a 60% market share). I talk a lot about libraries being market orientated, and I can't stress enough how I mean community orientated. I actually say 'community orientated' all the time now, but plenty of my past output just used 'market orientated'.

I'm not talking about 'the free market' here. There are economic definitions of 'market oriented' and marketing definitions of 'market orientated' and I'm (very obviously) referring to the latter, as are other people who go on about library marketing. I'm talking about libraries offering services that their community needs, rather than merely offering services they've always offered, irrespective of their community. 

In traditional marketing there are two ways or orientating your organisation: Product Orientated, and Market Orientated. This 'services you've always offered' alternative, in marketing terms, is to be Product Orientated. This means focusing on the thing you do, rather than the needs of your market / community. This worked for libraries for a looooong time. We did books. It was great. But we all know that's not enough any more, hence the move towards market-orientation - towards working with the community.) It's about working closely with the people who use (or may use) your library, understanding what they need and what they'd like, and then trying to deliver that.

(There is a further complication here, in that people don't always KNOW what they need. So I tell libraries to continue to do everything people need, but to focus the marketing on what people want.)

As the slide says, everything - everything - comes back to your community. The library being at the heart of the community is a very popular refrain - but as pointed out on Twitter recently after this sentiment reached a critical mass in conference season, just saying the library is at the heart of the community doesn't make it so. To BE at the heart of your community you have to understand them and offer services based on what they require. Your community is your market. You are therefore market orientated if you want to thrive.

So next time you hear someone talk about library marketing, remember that a) we're trying to make libraries communicate more effectively so people use them more, and b) we're using marketing rather than economic definitions, and c), most importantly, 'our market' is our community, and we must work in collaboration with them in order to succeed.

This is brilliant: Broken library communications and how to fix them

 

Very occasionally I feature someone else's slides on this blog, and this is one of those times - because this presentation brilliantly elucidates almost everything I feel about modern library communication.

(Andy and Ange are on Twitter if you want to follow them for more.)

I worry that there's a sort of echo-chamber thing here, where people who already think like this nod and go 'yes absolutely' and people who don't agree shake their heads and say 'but what about [insert reason to carry on doing things ineffectively here]?' and none of us really change our thinking - but I hope that's not the case.

I think some people might think that the issues described in the presentation above are window-dressing or otherwise somehow superficial, but they absolutely are not - communication is at the heart of what we do in the information profession.

All of these things add up to make a huge contribution to the user experience - and ultimately the user experience defines whether your library is successful or not.

So in keeping with the advice in the slides, let's end with a call to action - is there one change you can make to the way you or your library does things, based on the above? Whether it's simply amending your signs so that if they say 'You can't do X here' they ALSO say 'but you can do it in location Y - here's how to get there' or a full-scale review of the communications in your institution, try and make a change! 

A file-format decision tree for saving PowerPoint presentations

 

So which file format is best for saving your slides? It depends on the situation, but it's almost never the default .pptx you're offered. I made a little graphic below to act as a decision tree for choosing how to save your PowerPoint - click on it to be taken to a larger CC-BY-SA version on Flickr.

What it comes down to is this. Saving your slides as a .ppsx file - a PowerPoint Show - is usually the best option, because it opens the PPT up in Presentation View right away. This looks SO much more professional than the default .pptx PowerPoint file, which opens in edit view, revealing your notes if you have them, and the first few slides. Your audience seeing behind the curtain in this way isn't the end of the world, but why do anything to reduce the impact of the presentation you spent ages creating?

A .ppsx file will keep any animations you have in your slides (and embedded video and audio) and unlike a PDF it won't compress your images, so they'll remain high quality. 

However, sometimes you need to use a PDF - mainly when you've used non-standard fonts. PowerPoint claims to be able to embed fonts that aren't included in the Office Suite (but which you download yourself) so they'll work on other PCs - I've found this to be lies, lies, and more lies... It simply won't work - either for presenting on another PC, or for uploading to Slideshare. So saving as a PDF sorts this out - it retains your exciting font choices, and keeps things the right size and shape (you may have to go into the Save Options and untick the ISO box if your PDF doesn't behave itself the first time you save it - for example if Transparency effects aren't correctly rendered).

I also use PDF if the PC I'm presenting on has a different version of PowerPoint to the one I made the slides on - or if I don't know ahead of time whether it will. The version of PowerPoint shouldn't matter but it does, and the other day I had to subtly reformat a whole slide-deck after checking it on the latest version of Office and finding it had mucked around with the font-size for no good reason.

PDFs are the safe option. They work on pretty much ANYTHING. Lots of people never present with PDFs because it simply never occurs to them, but trust me it works fine! I do it 99% of the time because 99% of the time I use non-standard fonts - just click View then Fullscreen Mode and it works exactly like a PowerPoint in Presentation View (including using a clicker to move the slides along).

(There have been a couple of occasions where I've forgotten to do this, and turned up with a regular PowerPoint file to present on a machine with none of my special fonts installed. This has resulted in frantic downloading and rediting and saving in a panic, and is not recommended...)

NB: Never ONLY save your slides as PDF or PowerPoint Show - you need the .pptx file to actually come back and edit them later.

So next time you're saving your file, check if you really need to use .pptx, or whether another format is more appropriate.

Why have an institutional blog?

 

If you work for a non-profit institution, the chances are you could benefit from having a blog. Libraries, charities, academic departments, pressure groups, research projects - in all of these cases if you have a static website, it's worth adding a blog too (and if you're about to create a static website, stop! Create a blog instead, and just include all the other pages you'd planned).

Forgot what you might have heard about blogs dying or being 'over', blogs are great for non-profit organisations. Ultimately they're just a way of getting information online, either to show people or for them to find on their own. It doesn't matter if people don't subscribe to your blog, or even if they understand whether or not it IS a blog at all. It's just a way to connect people with that they need.

Why are blogs so great? What matters is what they do for your audience. They make your information easier to find, and easier to use. There are a number of key reasons it's worth setting one up for the types of institutions listed above.

1. Blogging platforms come mobile-ready

This is essential now - already the world accesses the internet more on mobile devices than on desktops. People check for information on the go, wherever they are. You need to greet people with a mobile option. Wordpress, Blogger, Tumblr - all of these automatically create attractive, functional mobile versions of your blog (and its associated site). This particularly vital if your main institutional website ISN'T mobile ready - for example if you're an academic department trying to attract new students, and your wider University site only has a desktop version for now. 

2. Google loves blogs

By which I mean, blogs tend to be ranked highly by Search Engines.

Google - and every other Search Engine - likes regularly updated content, and so ranks blogs better accordingly. Google doesn't ACTUALLY love blogs (first it got rid of its RSS Reader, and now the very useful Google Blog Search has been given the push too) but due to the fact that new, well tagged and and well described content is consistently being added to the site via blog posts, there's more for Google to find. Another major thing search engines like is incoming links - people linking to your site from theirs. This is more likely to happen if you publish engaging content regularly than if you have a static site with basic 'About' information on it.

You don't need to become obsessed with SEO or to frantically chase hits to your site - you just want the maximum number of relevant people to find the content you create, with the minimum of fuss. Blogs help with this.

3. You can have URLs for everything

People share things with their network and with their peers all the time. And the way they do this is to point people to a link - a URL - and say 'have a look at this useful content'. A blog allows you to do this well: each post has its own URL, so each set of information can be discretely linked to.

This is much more desirable than the alternatives.

  • If you have ALL your information on one webpage this becomes harder to do ('have a look at this useful content, 3/5ths of the way down the page, buried under that less relevant stuff')
  • Or even worse, if you just put the info in emails so people have to copy and paste the text and can only really send it on via another email
  • Or, worse still, have the info in a PDF so no one ever looks at in the first place let alone shares it
  • OR, perhaps worst of all, simply delete the info on a static page and replace it with new info as you go along, meaning there's no legacy for anything you've done online

An institutional blog helps you to curate your own information and ideas more effectively, and makes it easy for others to find and then share with their peers. 

4. Blogs are easy to use

As anyone who was wrestled with an institutional Content Management System will attest, the value of just being able to Put Something Online quickly and easily is not to be underestimated... Blogs are simple to use - if you can use Microsoft Word then you're 99% of the way there in terms of writing posts - and it's a great way of linking to and embedding multimedia.

There are no barriers between needing to put something online and being able to do so, which is hugely useful for organisations.

5. Blogs are actually a very easy way of building a regular website

Although the specific blog-posting features are useful for all the reasons listed above, in terms of creating a regular website the blogging platforms are probably the easiest way to go about it. Increasingly there are good website-making tools available, some of which I've lined up for review on this very blog a bit later on, but you either have to pay, or compromise on things like bandwidth limits in a way the blogging platforms don't require you to do.

I built my band's website in Wordpress because that was the quickest, easiest way to make an attractive and fully-featured site - the actual blogging is a very minor part of what that site is for.

6. Blogs are free

Last but not least, your org doesn't need to put any financial investment into creating a blog. Blogger and Wordpress (and Tumblr) are free to use.

You CAN spend money if you want to. I recently created this site, using Wordpress, for the Learning & Teaching Forum at the University of York.

Click to go to yorkforum.org - created in Wordpress.com

Click to go to yorkforum.org - created in Wordpress.com

It took less than 3 hours to complete (thanks to the power of Wordpress's brilliant platform) and although we could have done it for free, we went for the 'Premium' option - for $99 per year we get our own domain name, more storage space, a wider selection of visual themes, and the promise that no advertising will appear on our pages. However, you may not require those features - I've also run lots of completely free Wordpress sites (and Blogger sites) which have worked absolutely fine.


What are the downsides of having a blog? It takes time to upkeep - and a sad, neglected blog can sometimes do more harm than not having a blog at all. The key is to link the blog in with your daily activities, rather than constantly casting about for things to blog about or people to write posts - so in the Learning & Teaching Forum example above, the blog is about events, workshops, and the regular magazine - and most of the rest of the site is populated by appropriately tagged blogposts too, meaning the upkeep is low.

Make sure several people have owner permissions of your institutional blog - you don't want to lose access if one member of staff leaves... And it's good to share the burden.

So if you don't currently have an institutional blog and I've convinced you to set one up, where do you start? Here's a guide to the four main blogging platforms. I'd recommend Wordpress, and eConsultancy have an absolutely comprehensive guide to setting up a good Wordpress site, so have a read of that.

Good luck!