Jo Alcock wrote an excellent blog-post today, about marketing and libraries. She suggested 6 ways in which we could apply some retail principles to marketing libraries, including this:
“Wouldn’t it be great if on the edge of the shelves (not at the entrance as people don’t tend to know if they’ll need one until they’ve examined the stock) there were a collection of reusable bags, like supermarket bags for life, that people could use to carry their books around the library (thus enabling them to carry more) and then offer them the option of purchasing when they borrow the books.”
In light of that, it seems pertinent to revisit the story of the Leeds University Library Sshhh…! bags, which I talked about in my CILIP Graduate Day Presentation as an example of getting positive stories about libraries into the Media.
Leeds as a University is big on eco issues, and has won all sorts of awards in that area. The Library had previously given out loads of plastic bags for students to put big stacks of books in, and wanted a greener alternative. The result was the Sshhh…! bag; a library-branded, suitably-sized book bag, made of highly biodegradable jute, by a carbon-neutral company on behalf of the library. Here is a picture of one, in Venice, for reasons I’ll get on to:
The bags turned out to be an absolutely extraordinary success, and the Library has now sold well over 15,000 of them. The interesting thing about this is it ties in with both with what Jo was saying, and what Cynthia Shamel says about ‘using the techniques of marketing’ in libraries; the bags were released in many different bright colours, but only in limited numbers so as to increase demand. (Incidentally, I can claim no part in this success, I’m just reporting it; Katy Sidwell, one of our Subject Librarians for the Sciences, came up with the whole thing I believe, and Liz Waller, our former Head of Public Service Strategy, came up with the marketing strategy stuff). This resulted in a huge group of people who automatically bought a new bag as soon as a new colour came out, regardless of how many they already had (in fact many people attempted to collect every single one). A FaceBook group was formed, called I have a Sshhh bag and am therefore amazing!!! There were also super-limited edition and highly sought-after Graduation versions, and ones which said “My Other Bag Says Sshhh…!” on the side… They continue to sell very well, and be something of a must-have fashion accessory. If you ever come to Leeds, you’ll see them – even if you don’t come on to campus, there’ll be plenty of people in town with a brightly coloured Sshhh bag.
The ‘positive stories in the media’ bit comes in because the success was picked up by many sections of the media, and also used as examples in various conferences and papers. The Guardian ran a story about it, and there remains a site on which people post photos of their Sshhh bags in unlikely locations around the globe – here is a screen-grab showing the map of the locations (and on the site itself, each time you click on a bag you see the photo of it in situ, hence the Venetian example above):
It is a great thing all round – environmentally sound, and a positive library-based story showing how we can indeed learn from retail, and successfully implement a few of that sector’s marketing techniques.
PS: Incidentally, I used to sit on the Environmental Coordinator’s Group at Leeds, and we were charged with coming up with new versions of the bag: new slogans etc. Genius suggestions from the House of Wikiman that were, shockingly, NOT taken on by the Group included:
I’ll be honest, I have about a million more of these (Green Consumerism is a poor substitute for Collective Action. But in the absence of the latter, Buy a Bag!) so maybe I should just set up my own company, perhaps call it Eco-Cynical…