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Marketing for Libraries: Overview

Marketing for Libraries: Part 1: Overview from Annette Lamb on Vimeo.

Some librarians say they are too busy to think about marketing… but are they busy providing the customer service needed for a thriving library?

Marketing is the ongoing process of creating a connection between the library and its users. Research is a key element of marketing. Librarians must match what the library offers with what users want and need. Then, the library must demonstrate its value in meeting a customer’s need to continue the cycle.

Effective marketing requires careful planning, creative approaches, and focused strategies. Librarians must think beyond traditional methods of recruiting non-traditional clients and nurturing existing users.

Keep in mind that a marketing campaign doesn't need to take months and cost thousands of dollars. Small, focused efforts can be just as effective.

In this section, we'll define key terms associated with marketing for libraries and consider the purpose of marketing.

Key Questions

Each of the following questions will be addressed on this page. For quick access, click on the question of interest.

What is marketing?

marketing logoMarketing is a systematic approach to identifying specific user needs, providing services to meet these needs, and persuading users of the need to act. The focus is on matching customers with quality services through community involvement. This is an ongoing process that anticipates the need for change.

Let's exploring some definitions of marketing.

"Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large." - American Marketing Association

"The process of planning and executing conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives.: - American Marketing Association

In the 1970s, Philip Kotler (1975, 5) began focusing on marketing in non-profits. He defines marketing as

"the analysis, planning, implementation, and control of carefully formulated programs designed to bring about voluntary exchanges of values with target markets for the purpose of achieving organizational objectives. It relies heavily on designing the organization's offering in terms of the target market's needs and desires, and on using effective pricing, communication, and distribution to inform, motivate, and service the markets."

Library marketing research has experienced a shift from "selling the library" toward "meeting the needs of users. According to Darlene Weingand (1999, 2),

"marketing is an exchange relationship: a process providing mutual benefit to both parties in the transaction... (today's) information professionals design a product to meet community needs instead of spending time in the often futile attempt to persuade a reluctant public that they 'should' use the library because it is intrinsically valuable."

The photo below from the San Mateo County Library shows a performer from their Japanese Internment Camp Memory project.

San Mateo County Library

In her article Marketing through the Ordinary and the Extraordinary, Aggerbeck (2012, 9) points out that "marketing is about relationships—about responding to the needs of others. For libraries, this means identifying patrons' needs, communicating how they can help patrons fulfill those needs, and delivering offerings that meet those needs".

Example: Minecraft is a very popular gaming environment for youth. From online how-tos like The How-To Geek Guide to Minecraft to popular books for all ages, many public libraries have designed youth programs around Minecraft. However, a successful program involves more than simply offering an event. It's important to consider the specific needs and interests of youth, design a program that meets these needs, and develop a marketing plan to will reach the youth audience and their parents.

bridgeGo to the Programming Librarian. Think about the many programs that a library could offer. Then, consider the role of marketing in making these programs a success.

Elisabeth Doucett (2008, 1) focuses on the storytelling aspect of marketing.

"Marketing is the process of (1) identifying the potential audience that you want to hear your library's story, (2) developing that story so that those potential users understand what makes your library unique and why they will find it interesting, and (3) developing ways of telling the story that will intrigue those users and attract their attention."

Marketing doesn't need to involve costly advertising. Aggerbeck (2012, 9) states that "the best marketing may be doing your normal activities but doing them extraordinarily well; in other words, marketing through the ordinary".

Dinesh Gupta (2006) states that marketing for libraries is a number of different things:

bridgeGo to the John Cotton Dana Library Public Relation Award to see lots of examples of marketing campaigns in a variety of library types. Then, search for the websites of the winning libraries to explore the types of marketing approaches they are currently using.

Also, read about the winners from 2018, 2017, 2016.

bridgeLooking for more ideas? Review the American Libraries Featured Stories Archives and Library Showcase Archive. These aren't specific to marketing, but provide insights into current activities in libraries.

What activities are elements of marketing?

In Marketing and Social Media: A Guide for Libraries, Archives, and Museums, Koontz and Mon (2014, ix) note that "marketing strives to drive an organization's mission successfully with customer-centered planning."

Within the area of marketing are a number of important activities.

Promotion is used to gain participation by encouraging people to take advantage of library offerings.

Branding involves establishing a link between the library and a logo/slogan/phrase and developing a profile that can be used to build loyalty.

Public relations involves building long-term positive relationships between patrons and libraries.

Publicity is a way of communicating messages to the public.

Advertising calls attend to the products and services available through announcements.

Advocacy generates support for specific proposals or issues associated with libraries such as funding and privacy rights through getting people who have good opinions about the library to speak on its behalf about the value of the organization and its services.

bridgeThink about the library's e-book collection. It's hard to see and many library users aren't even aware it exists. How could each of the activities of marketing (i.e., promotion, branding, public relations, publicity, advertising, advocacy) be leveraged to address this problem? The image below shows a bookmark used to publicize the ebook collection.


What is the marketing process?

Marketing is a process that involves creating a connection between the patron and the library in the form of a service, program, or resource. The library must demonstrate its value in meeting a patron's need through informational, educational, or persuasive means.

Think of marketing as an on-going cycle of activities:

  1. Market Research: Know the library and its users
  2. Market Segmentation: Focus on the needs of a particular targeted group
  3. Service Identification: Create a product and/or service that specific user segments want
  4. Market Planning: Design a plan to market this product and/or service to targeted users
  5. Relationship Building: Build loyalty and develop ongoing relationships
  6. Communication: Publicize, promote, and advertise the product and/or service
  7. Services Review: Review and evaluate progress to ensure quality service
    (continue the cycle with other products and services)


What is service marketing?

From leasing cars to selling burgers, much of the business marketing literature focuses on marketing products. However, there's increasing interest in marketing services.

Libraries offer a wide range of services such as providing access to electronic databases and offering storytelling programs. These services create value and provide benefits for patrons.

Service marketing is the process of connecting library services with library customers.


Lovelock and Wirtz (2010) identified a few key characteristics of service marketing that can be applied to libraries.

No Customer Ownership. In a library setting, customers derive value from services without obtaining permanent ownership of a tangible product. Patrons check out materials, obtain reference services, or participate in book clubs, however they don't actually purchase a product.

Intangible Products. Although library clients read books, use databases, and check out games, the service performance is intangible. The benefit comes from the knowledge or experience gained from the activity.

Customer Involvement. Many library services involve the client as an active participant. For instance, reference interviews are an important element of reference services. A positive experience with the staff member, the comfort and convenience of the facility, or the ease of use of the website may determine whether the patron returns.

People as Part of the Product. In high-contact services, customers come in contact with staff members as well as other patrons. While a staff member may coordinate a book club, the core activities may be organized by volunteers and group members. As such, the customers become part of the service. Although a service may be face-to-face, increasingly libraries provide virtual services such as virtual reference services, online homework help, and distance learning workshops.

Variability in Inputs and Outputs. Because services may involve a variety of staff, volunteers, as well as other patrons, it's difficult to control the quality of services. Standardizing procedures can increase the likelihood of a consistent, high-quality experience.

Difficulty of Customer Evaluation. Experiences can be difficult to evaluate. By matching needs to specific services, features are easier to examine.

Different Distribution Channels. Libraries have many ways to disseminate information. Increasingly, online communication and interaction are important services.

Rather than trying to be all things to all people, today's libraries are positioning their services to appeal to specific market segments. Information services must be tailored to customer needs, shared efficiently, and actively promoted to users.

bridgeRead Dubicki, Eleonora (2008). Basic marketing and promotion concepts. The Serials Librarian, 53(3), 5-15. Abstract: Librarians need to embrace marketing and promotion to better understand customers' needs and to communicate with them regarding the services libraries offer. This chapter discusses basic marketing concepts and adapts them to the non-profit library environment. The marketing process, including the development of a marketing plan and the utilization of the marketing mix to develop tactics for promoting library services, is reviewed. The chapter lays the groundwork for subsequent articles, where authors employ these promotional techniques to develop and implement successful campaigns for promoting electronic resources. You need an IU account to access this article.

What is social marketing?

In some cases, library initiatives involve ideas, attitudes, and behaviors rather than products and services.

Social marketing is the term associated with these types of intangibles. Developed in the 1970s by Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman, social marketing involves "the use of marketing principles and techniques to advance a social cause, idea, or behavior." Nancy R. Lee and Philip Kotler (2011, 9) state that the social marketers' objective is to influence behavior in one of our areas:

Social marketing relies on rewarding good behaviors through showing direct benefits for adopting proposed behaviors.

Example: A campaign aimed at the 60-80 age group might focus on statistics regarding the importance of social activity, physical activity, and an active mind in preventing dementia. The library provides both of these things. The goal is to increase participation in library programs by senior citizens.

For instance, Laughter Yoga is a program from Millbrae Library of the San Mateo County Library (below from Flickr).



How are market planning and strategic planning related?

Planning is process of designing and organizing tasks required to achieve a goal. A plan is created, refined, and updated to assist in this process. Planning is an activity woven throughout the library and information science profession.

Both strategic planning and market planning involve understanding client needs, developing a vision and mission, and designing and implementing activities to meet goals and objectives.

A strategic plan may involve all aspects of the library organization from collection development and staff development to fund-raising activities and acceptable use policies.

Example: Examine the Strategic Plan from the University of Notre Dame Hesburgh Libraries.

A marketing plan provides structure for the activities of public relations, promotion, and the other elements associated within the marketing process. Generally, a marketing plan focuses on a particular product or service rather than the entire range of library programs.

"Marketing is the wide range of activities involved in making sure that you're continuing to meet the needs of your customers and getting value in return. Marketing is usually focused on one product or service. Thus, a marketing plan for one product might be very different than that for another product.

Marketing activities include "inbound marketing," such as market research to find out, for example, what groups of potential customers exist, what their needs are, which of those needs you can meet, how you should meet them, etc. Inbound marketing also includes analyzing the competition, positioning your new product or service (finding your market niche), and pricing your products and services.

"Outbound marketing" includes promoting a product through continued advertising, promotions, public relations and sales." - Free Management Library

Example: To raise excitement about the Olympic Games and library resources, the San Mateo County Library offered a summer Olympics program.

San MateoSan Mateo


How are the Ps of marketing applied in a library setting?

Developed by Jerome McCarthy in 1960, marketing consultants often refer to the four Ps of marketing: product, price, place, and promotion. In the case of libraries, the "product" may include physical resources, services, experiences, facilities, and information (Gupta, 2006).

Library marketing books often expand or change these Ps. Darlene Weingard (1999) added two additional "P", prelude for the marketing audit and postlude for the evaluation component. Some use Ps such as product, price, promotion, and place (Alman, 2007) and Siess (2003) added point in time and people to the list.

A popular marketing textbook by Lovelock and Wirtz (2010) added additional Ps to address topics of interest in service marketing.

Let's explore eight Ps.

1) Product Element. Librarians must focus on the information resources as well as delivering quality services associated with these materials.

Example: The library may provide access to quality databases. However if they are difficult to access or lack support materials, they won't be used.

2) Place, Cyberspace, and Time. Resources must be readily available to customers. Decisions must be made about the place and time of services as well as the methods and channels used.

Example: A book club might be offered face-to-face at a particular date and time, while an online club might be available 24/7 online.

3) Process. Services must be designed with the method and sequence of actions in mind. Badly designed processes annoy customers and ineffective services are a poor use of resources.

Example: Poorly designed websites make it difficult for patrons to locate resources and information.

4) Productivity and Quality. Productivity involves how inputs are transformed into outputs that have value. Quality refers to the degree that the service satisfies the customer. Both productivity and quality are interwoven.

Example: Simply providing reference services isn't enough. These services must be effective and high quality to satisfy customers.

5) People. Many library services involve staff and volunteers interacting with patrons. The quality of these services often depended on the training and motivation of staff.

Example: Many medical librarians have a wealth of experience and knowledge that can be useful to hospital staff. Effective application of this experience is the key to an effective service.

6) Promotion and Education. Communication is the key to quality service. This communication involves providing needed information and advice to patrons, persuading target audiences of the merits of services, and encouraging users to take action at specific times.

Example: Many new college students are unaware of the services provided at their academic library. Accustomed to using tools like Google for collecting information, they may be unaware of the databases available and the assistance librarians can provide in locating quality materials.

7) Physical Evidence. The appearance of the facilities including the building, landscapes, furnishings, shelving, equipment, staff members, and signage all provide tangible evidence of the library's service quality.

Example: Quality library products and services can be overshadowed by worn out facilities.

8) Price/User Costs. In most cases, library services are offered at no cost to patrons. However, some costs may be associated with classes and programs offered by outside consultants. In addition to financial costs, librarians try to minimize the burden of intangible costs such as time and physical effort.

Example: By provide a night-drop box, patrons aren't limited to open hours for returns.

Some view the Ps as dated and have shifted to Philip Kotler's Cs of the marketing mix:

What does this look like in the "real-world"?

Example: The University of South Florida libraries engaged in a decade long project focusing on the marketing of electronic resources. Like any other plan, the team found things that worked and things that didn't. James Madison University had a similar experience marketing their virtual library.

bridgeRead at least ONE of the following articles about real-world library marketing.

Germain, Carol Anne (2012). Marketing for your movie collections and film resources. Public Services Quarterly, 8, 171-177.

Hu, Winne (November 1, 2015). Long Line at the Library: It's Story Time Again. New York Times.
Think about other traditional programs that could be on the comeback.

How is marketing changing in the 21st century?

According to Kotler and Keller (2005), philosophical shifts are occurring in marketing management for the 21st century. They've identified five changes that can be applied to marketing for libraries.

  1. From "marketing does the marketing" to "everyone does the marketing".
    Example: In the past, many libraries had marketing departments or relied on the director to run promotions. Today, everyone from the library secretary to community volunteers are encouraged to support library promotion.
  2. From organizing by product units to organizing by customer segments.
    Example: Rather than a "one promotion fits all approach", today's libraries are designing focused campaigns to meet the needs of subgroups of library users such as young adults, Spanish speaking users, and zombie lovers.
  3. From building brands through advertising to building brands through performance and integrated communications.
    Example: Rather than relying on advertisements and publicity campaigns, libraries are focusing their efforts on meaningful communications that involve users in activities such as read-a-thons and active program participation.
  4. From focusing on profitable transactions to focusing on customers' lifetime value.
    Example: While it's important that people come to the library and participate in services, it's even more important that they have a passion for learning and encourage others to read. Teach children to enjoy reading and they'll be a reader for life.
  5. For being local to being "global" - both global and local.
    Example: Participating in projects that reach beyond the local level gives the community a sense of being part of something greater. The Olympics programs is a great example (Image courtesy San Mateo County Library).

San Mateo

In "Bite-sized Marketing," Dowd, Evangeliste and Silberman (2010, 17) shared The New-Media Marketing Manifesto. It stresses the importance of using social technology and "Word of Mouth Marketing".

Increasingly, social media plays an important part in marketing. Koontz and Mon (2014, ix) notes that "social media facilities communications between and among customers and organizations using customer-centered, participatory online technologies."

In Marketing with Social Media: A LITA Guide, Beth Thomsett-Scott (2014) features examples of how Facebook, wikis, video sharing, Pinterest, Google+, Foursquare, blogs, QR Codes, and Twitter can all play important roles in today's marketing campaigns.

Keep in mind that everything doesn't need to be "high tech". Some of the most exciting new projects may blend old and new. Use social media to promote reintroduce the public to traditional programming.


Why study marketing for libraries?

A 2016 Library Journal survey identified skills in Advocacy, Communication, and Marketing as three of their eleven essential skills for today’s librarians.

The area of marketing is relatively new. Often associated with business, it has only been applied to libraries for the past couple decades. Recently, the use of phrases like “increasing your library presence,” the “visible librarian,” and “customer-driven services” demonstrate how marketing concepts are being woven into the library profession.

origami marketingIf you don't market your services, you may be missing new or current users who might benefit from your programs. They might not be aware that you provide reference services, check out movies, or have full-text articles available from their favorite magazines and journals.

Sometimes you just need cool ideas.

Example: Melissa Delaney shared this "fortune teller/cootie catcher" (on right) as a tool for marketing the young adult program at the Tippecanoe County Public Library. Use the Publisher document to make your own! You can even place QR codes in the center four boxes for added fun.

Brian Mathews (2009, 1) asks

"while more and more students may be visiting the library, the real question is, are they aware of everything we have to offer? Just because they are in our buildings doesn't necessarily mean that they are using library services effectively."

Lynda James-Gilboe (2010) found library customers are often unaware of the services available to them. In her study of academic librarians,

“fully 86 percent of librarians indicated that faculty and students do not understand the breadth of their collections and 94 percent think the collections – so carefully assembled and funded – are not explored to their fullest”.

In the article Strategic Marketing of Library Resources and Services, Debbi Smith (2011) states that

“the development of marketing activities for an academic library as an outgrowth of an overall library strategic plan can assist in clarifying which key resources and services should be promoted and in developing the optimal activities for communicating their benefits.

Marketing as an ancillary process to strategic planning can increase awareness and use of library resources and services among targeted user groups and can present a clear, consistent image to students, faculty, and administration as to what the library offers to the life of the university community and validate its continued funding.”

In their survey of library staff, Carole Estall and Derek Stephens (2011, 185) found that librarians

“have a positive attitude toward marketing and feel that it is vital in the current environment.” However they also found that many library staff were unclear about the definition of marketing leading to possible misunderstandings.

study librarianChristie Koontz (2009) notes that many library professionals confuse publicity and promotion with marketing. Librarians may skip the essential elements of marketing research, segmentation, strategies, and evaluation. Instead, they fall in love with a new service and choose an attractive ALA produced brochure without thinking about whether there’s a need for the new offering.

According to Cindy Carlson (2005), “the word marketing has somehow achieved an amazingly negative connotation. Among libraries it often seems to equate to either ‘way too much work’ or ‘unnecessary fluff’.” She stresses that law librarians need to revisit marketing with a focus on informing users about their choices using tools that are effective, efficient, and appealing.

In Free prize inside! Embedded librarianship and faculty collaboration at a small-sized private university, Amanda Bezet (2013) explained that marketing is essential for embedded librarians. Early efforts may involve emails to individual instructors.

Interested in learning more about the connection between the marketing attitudes and behavior of librarian? Skim Singh, Rajesh (2009). Does your library have an attitude problem towards marketing? Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(1), 25-32.

This comprehensive course provides the theoretical foundations along with practical strategies and real-world solutions needed for today's librarians and other information professionals.

bridgeLooking for more ideas?
SKIM Chapter 1 & 2 of Lucas-Alfieri, Debra (2015). Marketing the 21st Century Library: The Time is Now. Chandos Publishing.

For lots of online resources for academic libraries and marketing, explore Mallon, Melissa (2013). Internet resources. Public Services Quarterly, 9, 145-156.


Aggerbeck, Valerie R. (July 2012). Marketing through the Ordinary and the Extraordinary. AALL Spectrum, 9-11.

Alman, Susan W. (2007). Crash Course in Marketing for Libraries. Libraries Unlimited.

Barber, Peggy & Wallace, Linda (2010). Building a Buzz: Libraries & Word-of-Mouth Marketing. ALA Editions.

Bezet, Amanda (2013). Free prize inside! Embedded librarianship and faculty collaboration at a small-sized private university. The Reference Librarian, 54, 181-219.

Doucett, Elisabeth (2008). Creating Your Library Brand: Communicating Your Relevance and Value to Your Patrons. ALA Editions. 1-37.

Dubicki, Eleonora (2008). Basic marketing and promotion concepts. The Serials Librarian, 53(3), 5-15

Fisher, Patricia & Pride, Marseille M. (2006). Blueprint for Your Library Marketing Plan: A Guide to Help You Survive and Thrive, ALA Editions.

Gupta, Dinesh, Koontz, Christie, Massisimo, Angels & Savard, Rejean (eds.) (2006). Marketing Library and Information Services: International Perspectives. Die Deutsche Bibliothek.

Koontz, Christie & Mon, Lorri (2014). Marketing and Social Media: A Guide for Libraries, Archives, and Museums. Rowman & Littlefield. Available to IUPUI students as an ebook.

Kotler, Philip & Keller, Kevin (2005). Marketing Management. Prentice Hall.

Kotler, Philip (1975). Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations. Prentice-Hall.

Lovelock, Christopher & Wirtz, Jochen (2002). Service Marketing. 2nd edition. Prentice Hall.

Lovelock, Christopher & Wirtz, Jochen (2010). Service Marketing. 7th edition. Prentice Hall.

Mallon, Melissa (2013). Internet resources. Public Services Quarterly, 9, 145-156.

Metz-Wiseman, Monica & Rodgers, Skye L. (2008). Thinking outside the library box. The Serial Librarian, 53(3), 17-39.

Showers, Ben (January 6, 2012). The constant innovator: the academic library as a model of change management. Library Journal.

Siess, Judith (Feb 1999). Thinking about Library Promotion: Self-Serving or Just Good Sense? One-Person Library, 15(10), 1-3. 

Singh, Rajesh (2009). Does your library have an attitude problem towards marketing? Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(1), 25-32.

Thomsett-Scott, Beth C. (Ed.) (2014). Marketing with Social Media: A LITA Guide. ALA.

Walters, Suzanne (2004). Library Marketing that Works! Neal-Schuman Publishers.

Weingand, Darlene (1999). What is marketing? Marketing/Planning Library and Information Services. Libraries Unlimited, 1-20.

Weingand, Darlene (1999). Before you begin – forming a marketing/planning team. Marketing/Planning Library and Information Services. Libraries Unlimited, 21-30.

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