library branding - the penultimate day of 5 Days, 5 Facts...

Nearly done… I feel like a man who’s decided to run a marathon without doing any preparation! I think I should have called it 5 Days, 5 Warnings, because they do seem to be more warning than fact – the first one about the digital universe expanding was pretty factual (albeit informed speculation) but the latter ones seem to be more 5 Days, 5 Conclusions Supported By Literature. Anyhow, look out for Day 5 tomorrow as it is, for me, the most important ersatz FACT of all…

Fact 4: your users don’t know what you are providing for them

a whole bunch of branding irons, none of which say 'library' on them

I’ve gone for the more confrontational and potentially provocative ‘your’ users rather than ‘ours’ there, but I know that some of you, or the institutions you work in, will have already tried to address this problem and perhaps even solved it. I’d love some feedback on this one; if anyone’s been successfully branding library resources to raise awareness that library resources is indeed what they are, please leave a comment and tell me about it.

I work in the e-Resources team of an academic library (for another week and a bit anyway – aaargh, must finish writing hand-over document etc!) and so I get to see firsthand how little many people understand about the way in which digital resources are provided. This is quite understandable, because how can we expect people to know about the technical side of things? But what it basically amounts to is, they don’t realise the Library arranges, pays for and maintains access to many digital resources – whether that’s the obvious e-journals and e-books, the databases like Lexis Nexis, newspaper archives like the Times and the Guardian, streaming websites, online music libraries, Box of Broadcasts or anything else. So they type something they’ve seen in the library catalogue into Google, and then ring up the helpdesk to ask why they’re being told they need to pay for access…

The reason, of course, is that they’ve not gone in via our catalogue, so they’ve not been routed via our authentication procedures, and so the digital resource in question doesn’t ‘know’ they are from this University. This is problematic in that our users aren’t able to access what they want to, which is far from ideal, but of course it’s easily solved if they ask us for help. More worrying is the fact that it hasn’t occurred to them that the library is actually responsible for providing access to this stuff, and that is something of a failure of branding.

All of this is backed up by the good old UCL  / BL report from 2008, on the Google Generation, which summarises the findings of the OCLC's investigation of the situation like this:

‘books’ are still the primary library brand association for this group, despite massive investment in digital resources, of which students are largely unfamiliar [1]

I think by the time they get into Higher Education (rather than Further, which is what that particular report was covering) they’ll become familiar with them pretty quick – a recent graph tweeted by Dave Patterson (now sadly locked on flickr, maybe he’ll put it back up later) showed a very interesting and apparently direct correlation between grades and library use, and the people who were getting 1sts seemed to be using the e-resources more than everybody else was. But I think that even when they become familiar with them, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll become familiar with the fact that it is the library that subscribes to them so the students and academics don’t have to pay for access.

My own place of employment spends literally millions – millions with an ‘s’ at the end – on its e-resources portfolio. It takes up a huge chunk of the budget, and a lot of staff time to sort out. If people don’t know we’re doing this, they must be wondering what the hell the library spends its cash on every year. It’s important that people know what libraries were doing in this time of decreased funding etc, or the general perception might be that we’re not providing value.

We take some steps here to brand our e-resources, in particular the digitisation service I run. All our PDFs are placed in folders which we brand as library resources, and as well as the digitised readings themselves the folders contain information stating explicitly that this resource is provided by the library. It increases awareness, and also it separates our perfectly legal scans with any dodgy stuff the academics themselves put online – useful if we ever get audited by the CLA. But there’s not much we can do to brand e-journals – we’re just linking to them after all, and even though the URL itself actually changed to include the name of the University, most people don’t spend a whole lot of time reading URLs of sites they’re already on.

But you can advertise the fact YOU, the library, are paying for this stuff. Part of me thinks this whole thing is an old issue - and indeed, it's been a problem for absolutely ages, but another part of me just doesn’t see much evidence of libraries shouting from the roof tops about this sort of thing and actually solving the problem. As Barbara McDonald says [2]

Expose and brand content. Make sure people know you’re PAYing for things. Avoid vendor labelling; shout LIBRARY every chance you get

This issue was revisted recently by Alison Circle on the Library Journal - she linked to a selection of three articles on this subject, which are worth a look.

Anyone else have any techniques for increasing library brand awareness in this context? Let me know.


[1] UCL (2008) Information behaviour of the researcher of the future, p.7. Available via  
[2] McDonald, Barbara (2009) “Building Library Systems” To “Designing UX” Available via