Market Audit, Research, and the Value of Libraries
Libraries all participate in some aspect of marketing. It's easy to get caught up in the new social technologies, pretty posters, and newsy publications. However are these activities having a real impact on circulation, return users, or program participation? If these activities don't translate into value for a library user, it's wasted time and money.
Watch my narrated slide show at Vimeo (on the right).
In this section, we'll explore the value of the library to users. In addition, we'll examine the process of completing a marketing audit and conducting market research to determine the current status of the library as well as future opportunities, threats, and trends.
Each of the following questions will be addressed on this page. For quick access, click on the question of interest.
- What is a marketing audit and how it is used?
- What's a needs assessment?
- What is a community analysis?
- What is an organization analysis?
- What is an environmental scanning?
- What is a SWOT analysis?
- What is market research?
- If the library were gone, would it be missed?
- What is the value of libraries?
- How can the library create value?
- What is the “Return on Investment” of a library?
- What is the cost/benefit of a library?
- What tools and resources can be used for primary data collection?
- What tools and resources can be used for secondary data collection?
- What demographic, geographic, and census data can be gathered?
- What behavioral data can be gathered about current and potential users?
- What usage data and other library resource data is useful?
- What collection information is useful?
- How can comment cards and suggestion boxes used in market research?
- How can polls be used in market research?
- How can surveys be used in market research?
- How can interviews be used in market research?
- How can focus groups be used in market research?
- How can mystery customers and secret shoppers be used in market research?
- How has technology impacted library services?
- What are market trends?
A marketing audit is a systematic approach to examining existing products and services for strengths and weaknesses. It often focuses on the Ps of marketing including product, price, place, and promotion along with other elements. The purpose of the marketing audit is to appraise the organization's current status and provide recommendations for future action.
Darlene Weingand (1999) adapted Philip Kotler's definition of a marketing audit. It's
"a comprehensive, systematic, independent, periodic examination of the information agency's total environment, objectives, strategies, activities, and resources in order to determine problem areas and opportunities and to recommend a plan of action."
An audit is used to identify capabilities and challenges in the organization. This assessment should include both internal and external investigations. The internal aspect focuses on the library itself, while the external aspect explores the larger organization, the local community, and the larger country.
The marketing audit provides the basis for making informed decisions about library activities. What's realistic and unrealistic for your organization? What makes your programs unique? What changes need to be made in the library's programs and services.
An audit may cover the entire library program or focus on specific elements. When focusing on a particular area, it's still important to still explore both internal and external factors. In addition, each element should be examined from many perspectives. Many questions should be asked from the point of view of the resource, the librarian, and the customer.
Example: A reference desk example from Brian Mathews shows the necessity of thinking about a service from many points of view. (Mathews, 2009, 44):
"Say that over the last two semesters the number of questions asked by students has steadily declined. The common approach is to ask, how can we increase traffic? The department then conducts a survey and finds out that many students do not know about the research help service. This then is a problem of awareness. In response, the department develops a campaign to get the word out about librarians. They plaster the campus with posters, pens, and fliers and then wait for the questions to start rolling in.
While there is nothing wrong with the strategy... it fails to dig deeply into the matter. Another approach would be to consider asking, why are the numbers so low? This becomes a core question that we can study.
- Is there a lack of awareness or a lack of need?
- Have assignments changed?
- What is different about the way that students conduct research or write papers?
- Are there additional channels that librarians could use to interact with users?
- What motivates students to seek reference assistance, and how do they feel about approaching the desk?
- Are telephone, e-mail, and chat numbers declining as well?
- Are users satisfied with the customer service and the quality of assistance that they receive?
- How did they find out about it?
- Why don't some students use the library at all?"
The marketing audit contains a number of components:
- Audience Analysis. Analysis of current and potential customers.
- Community Analysis. Analysis of the community and competitors.
- Organization Analysis. Analysis of the library's objectives, programs, and current marketing activities.
- Environmental Scan. What's happening outside the library that could impact the library.
- SWOT. What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the library?
The marketing audit used to report information about library products and their use. A needs assessment is a specific approach to clarifying problems, identifying gaps, and inventing evidence-based, appropriate interventions or solutions that are often used as part of the marketing audit.
A needs assessment is a systemic process for identifying gaps between current conditions and desired conditions. During the 1970s, Roger Kaufman developed the needs assessment process. He suggested that a quality needs assessment determines the current results and articulates the desired results. The distance between these results is the need. A solution can then be targeted to close the gap.
A needs assessment generally consists of the following steps:
- Identify the issue
- Identify audience
- Establish the goals and objectives
- Conduct a literature review and market research
- Select a data collection methods
- Determine your sampling appraoch
- Design the data collection instrument
- Gather, report, and analyze data
- Draw conclusions
Information from the audience, community, and organization analysis are part of the needs assessment. The environmental scan and SWOT analysis are specific types of needs assessment.
Example: As you examine the data, you may notice that you have a large Spanish speaking population in the community, however the Spanish language materials in the library are rarely used. Before jumping to the conclusion that "promotions" are needed, it's important to conduct a needs assessment to identify the specific connections between the current conditions (lack of use of the Spanish language materials) and the desired conditions (lots of use of these materials). What are the reasons for this lack of use?
Your library serves a community with current and potential customers. This community also contains competitors. It's necessary to understand this community in order to design products to meet the needs of the community.
A community analysis involves gathering information about a community with a goal of community improvement. In this case, how can the library contribute to community improvement.
You may already have a library strategic plan, marketing plan, and other important tools to help with marketing. It's important to review all these documents prior to jumping into developing new plans. Take a fresh look at your organization. Examine each of the following areas (Weingand, 1999, 48-50):
- Mission. What's the mission statement of your organization?
- Goals and objectives. What are the goals and objectives for the library?
- Resources. What human, financial, technical, and physical resources are available?
- Structure. How is your library managed?
- Assets & Liabilities. What's the current status of your library? It is strong, weak, or somewhere in between?
Take some time to review what's been done with marketing in the past. What's the role of marketing in your library? Weingand (1999, 50) recommends examining three facets of marketing practices:
- the philosophy of the information agency regarding the concept of marketing, including administrative commitment to the marketing effort;
- the distribution of responsibility for current marketing activities, specifying which personnel are accountable for each activity;
- the identification of the full range of marketing activities in place both currently and in the past.
In addition these three areas should be analyzed to determine what changes need to be made. Weingand (1999, 51) recommends the following questions:
- What is the status of routine, formalized marketing/planning within the organizational structure? Does a planning process exist? Is it pro forma or does it have real impact upon managerial decision making? How often does the process take place or it is ongoing? Who participates? Who is responsible, and for what segments of the process?
- What are the lines of control regarding the marketing/planning process? As above, who participates and who is responsible, in what areas? Are there specific reporting procedures in lace? What is the information and communication flow?
- How do marketing activities interact with other aspects of management? Are these interactions positive and supportive or are they competitive and self-defeating? How well do members of staff relate to each other and to marketing philosophy and activities? Is a spirit of cooperation present?
- Is there a marketing information system in place that provides a continuous stream of marketing research? Is there a mechanism in place to continually update the marketing audit? If so, do present communication patterns effectively distribute this information? If not, are there plans to develop and implement such as system?
- How are products developed in the information agency? Who makes the decisions? Upon what criteria are these decisions based? Do the procedures of product development also include product phasedown and product elimination? Is the concept of normal product lie cycle accepted by management and other members of staff?
In conducting the organizational analysis, it's also important to look at the specific marketing mix that is currently being offered by the library. This can be explored using the Ps of marketing:
- Product. What type and extent of products are currently being offered by the library?
- Price. What is the cost to provide these products both directly and indirectly? What's the cost of staff associated with these products? What fees are being charged? What's the cost/benefit of each product?
- Place. How are products currently being distributed and accessed? What physical access is provided? What virtual access is provided?
- Promotion. How do customers currently learn about the availability of products? Are there clear promotional objectives? What communication channels are used?
Example: The Allen County Public Library offers a Cookbook Club at the Aboite Branch. The photos below shows women in the club. Think about this program. What would the product, price, place, and promotion look like for this type of club?
It's important to know what's happening both inside and outside the library organization. This information can be used to make projections of future developments and plan for change.
Environmental scanning assesses the internal strengths and weaknesses of an organization in relation to the external opportunities and threats it faces. In other words, you need to be able to connect the health of your library with what's happening in the local community, region, state/province, nationally, and worldwide.
Ellysa Stern Caboy (2011, 3) defines environmental scanning as
"an organizational practice of screening external demographic, social, cultural, political, legal, and technological trends in an effort to better anticipate and met future user needs."
An environment scan involves both an internal and external assessment.
The internal assessment looks at inputs (i.e., staff, supplies, equipment, resources, facilities,) and outputs (i.e., delivered products and/or services including databases accessed, website hits, questions answered, program attendance, circulation, etc.).
The external assessment involves identifying the factors that impact the library from the outside. These might include competition, technology, standards and regulations, government funding, politics, and the economy. Some of these factors are predictable and ongoing like changes in technology and regulations. Others are unpredictable and far-reaching such as the impact of war or changes in the global economy.
Many sources can be used to locate information including market research studies, discussions at professional conferences, professional literature, government census data, and annual report comparisons.
Ellysa Stern Caboy (2011) suggests that libraries consider the following questions before undertaking a local assessment of users:
- Are there already-existing local studies that can be utilized?
- Who will conduct the study?
- What is the focus of the study?
- What are the time line and staffing for the study?
- Are there national studies that can be used for benchmarking purposes?
- How will results be analyzed and implemented?
The process of conducting an environment scan includes the following elements (Caboy, 2011):
- Identify needs.
- What needs to be scanned?
- Who will conduct the scan?
- What's the time line?
- Examine the external environment.
- What data needs to be collected about the world outside the library?
- What general data is needed?
- What specific data is needed in particular areas such as technology trends?
- Examine the internal environment.
- What are the current strengths and weaknesses of the library?
- What's the current status, plans for the future, opportunities for change, and limitations?
- Rank trends.
- What opportunities best fit with the needs of local users?
- What trends are most relevant for the library?
- What changes would have the most positive impact on users?
- Apply findings to marketing audit and plan.
- What new resources or services need to be considered?
- What changes need to be made?
- How can the findings be applied to current marketing efforts and plans?
- Continue the cycle.
- What next?
- What worked and didn't work?
- What needs to be changed?
- What new needs have been identified?
An environmental scan can help libraries identify emerging markets, user needs, and library trends. Albright (2004) notes that a scan can serve as an "early warning system" helping libraries anticipate the need to be prepared for changes and threats.
Example: For a long time, e-book readers were simply a fad. However recently, the market has become more stable, the number of titles have skyrocketed, and the number of users has increased dramatically. This information is vital for library resource and program planning.
An environmental scan isn't a one-shot assignment. It takes an ongoing commitment of staff to follow blogs looking for trends, keep up with local demographic data looking for changes, and participate in professional conferences.
The PEST analysis is technique for examining external factors that impact your library's services. For each of the following factors, examine the situation now and speculate on upcoming changes. How do these external factors impact the internal operation of your library?
- Political/Legal Factors. How does the political climate impact your library? What are the current legal issues related to Internet filtering? Are you compliant with public broadcasting rules when showing movies in the library? Is there a copyright notice on your photocopy machine?
- Economic Factors. How has the recession impacted library use? How is the current economic climate affecting donations? How will upcoming budget cuts impact programs? Are there local bookstores where people buy books?
- Social Factors. Are the demographics of your users changing? What's the impact of the changing local population? Has an increase or decrease in immigrant population impacted programs? How do people get their news? Are there local television stations and newspapers? What educational programs are available in the area?
- Technological Factors. How is your virtual library being used? How has communication changed with social technology? What services providers are available locally? Is wifi available in your library? What other organizations provide free wifi?
Various techniques can be used during your marketing audio to focus on particular products or services in your library.
The SWOT analysis is a technique used to determine your library's current standing or position. Think about SWOTS in the area of customers (i.e. what population changes can be identified? is the cultural/ethnic makeup changing?), staffing (i.e. do you have professionals, paraprofessionals, and/or with the skills to meet the challenge?), facilities (i.e. does the building space, technology infrastructure, and location distribution meet the challenge?), support (i.e., does the staff and community have the enthusiasm to meet the challenge? is funding increasing or decreasing?), and collections (i.e., does the physical and virtual collection have the resources needed to meet the challenge?).
- Strengths. In what areas does your library excel? What customers do you serve exceptionally well? What products and services are the most popular? What services receive the most complements? What services make staff proud? In what areas has your library won awards or received recognition?
- Weaknesses. In what areas does your library need improvement? What products and services are least popular? What services receive the most complaints? What services are your staff's least favorites?
- Opportunities. What market segment is growing? What groups are under served? What favorite services are under used? What programs could be improved?
- Threats. What market segment is declining? What expensive services are under used? What previously popular services are in decline? Where are the most customer complaints? What is the largest competitor? What aspects of the library are embarrassing?
Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats are constantly changing, so it's important to conduct SWOT analysis regularly. Constant monitoring and adjustments are needed to address each category.
Example: The library staff's lack of knowledge regarding a particular database would be perceived as a weakness. However after a staff development workshop on the topic, database assistance may become a strength.
Example: If some members of the volunteer staff are having a hard time dealing with the special needs of the hospital's cancer patients, a short seminar on connecting library resources with patients might turn this problem into an opportunity to expand services to this special group.
Example: An online reference service can quickly become very popular making it a strength. However long wait times could easily shift this strength service into a position of weakness. Additional staff may need to be shifted to this assignment if the service continues to be promoted.
You need evidence to support existing and new products and services. Market Research is used to identify issues, gather data, and make decisions related to marketing library services.
"Marketing research specifies the information required to address these issues, designs the method for collecting information, manages and implements the data collection process, analyzes the results, and communicates the findings and their implications." - American Marketing Association
Librarians already do this type of research when preparing annual reports. For instance, they may conduct user studies to examine how library clients are using electronic databases.
In some cases market research is informal. Librarians may compare their circulation statistics with other similar libraries or ask a family history class if the new data projector was bright enough.
However in some cases, a formal study may be designed.
- Problem: No one is using the hand-held GPS devices available for check-out.
- Hypothesis: People don't know they are available or how to use them.
- Gather Data: Conduct a survey of face-to-face and online library users.
- Synthesis Data: Create graphs visualizing the data.
- Draw Conclusions: People like the idea of the service, but didn't know the devices were available or how to use them.
- Action: Develop a marketing plan for GPS device checkout and use.
Market research can be quantitative or qualitative.
Quantitative research stresses things that can be measured. For this type of research information is gathered using statistically sound approaches such as counting the total number of items or people, observing and counting a random sample of users, or timing how long a procedure takes with a random sample of users.
Example: We want to find out how many people are using the photocopy machine, how many copies per person they make, and whether they use a card or cash.
Qualitative research focuses on how people feel about an experience. Surveys, focus groups, and interviews may be used to gather this information.
Example: We want to find out why the copiers on the first floor are used more than the ones on the second floor. We want to know why people are still using cash when they could use a prepaid card. We also want to know if people like the photocopiers or if they have problems with them.
Before jumping into the details the marketing research and the marketing audit, take time to reflect on the overall purpose of libraries. We need to be able to identify the reasons libraries exist.
All types of libraries are facing challenges. What would happen if libraries simply disappeared? It's easy to speculate, however it's difficult to defend your programs without evidence to support their importance.
Many libraries are being threatened. Judith Siess (2003, xii) points out six reasons why librarians should be concerned:
- The rise of the Internet.
- The apparent popularity of end-user searching.
- Many libraries are going "virtual," that is, eliminated their physical presence in organizations.
- Corporations (and other institutions) are getting very good at and comfortable with outsourcing.
- A poor economic situation and increasing emphasis in the bottom line make constant downsizing a well-accepted (if short-sighted) management practice.
- Technology has made it easier to find and obtain information.
Jeannette Woodward (2009, 1-9) stresses that a visitor to many academic libraries might not be impressed when walking into the library for the first time. They would likely find an impersonal place with vast unfriendly spaces that lack creature comforts. The library staff may seem invisible and the outdated signage is one of many indicators of a lack of interest in customer convenience. With the introduction of computers, reference assistance is now difficult to find and it's easy for customers to wander through wasted space never finding what they need.
Woodward (2009, 13-14) is optimistic that libraries can reinvent themselves:
"The library's customers can service as a sort of compass, pointing libraries toward the future. By focusing on the needs of their customers, libraries can create an environmental that is physically inviting, intellectually stimulating, and a focal point to which all members of the academic community are drawn."
Think about the specific products and services a library offers. What are the impact of library services such as free access to computers and Internet?
Skim Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries from the Bill & Melinda Gales Foundation. Notice how this research initiative focused on the impact of free access to computers and Internet in public libraries. It uses evidence in the form of statistics to defend libraries. You need an IU account to access this article.
Siess (2003, 15) points out that if people don't know the value of the library, it won't exist.
Take some time to think about what would be lost if your library didn't exist.
Value is the benefit that a library user receives when using a product or service. Libraries can create value by offering the types of services that customers need in a way that is effective, efficient, and appealing.
The transfer of value from the library to the patron is at the core of marketing. This exchange includes the pleasure patrons derive from the services as well as the monetary rewards received by staff (Lovelock and Wirtz, 2010, 19).
The library's value must be clearly communicated to the user.
- Why are you doing what you're doing?
- If you were gone today, what would happen?
- Why exist? What's the mission and vision?
Think about the information, resources, and services that you provide. If information is readily available through Google and services are provided through other organizations, do you need a library and librarians? What's the value in your goods and services?
Consider the customer service provided by libraries.
Consider how your organizational and guidance skills relate to information use and library management. How are you facilitating lifelong learning and the quest for knowledge? What is your "value added"?
Select ONE of the following articles to read based on your library type of interest:
Read Jaeger, Paul T, Bertot, John Carlo, Kodama, Christie M., Katz, Sarah M., and DeCoster, Elizabeth J. (November 2011). Describing and measuring the value of public libraries: The growth of the Internet and the evolution of library value. First Monday, 16(11). You need an IU account to access this article.
Read Levor, Ruth (2003). The unique role of academic law libraries. Toolkit for Academic Law Libraries. You need an IU account to access this article.
The State of America's Libraries Report 2012 is a good place to learn about the current status of American Libraries.
In 2003, the OCLC first released the Libraries: How They Stack Up snapshot of the economic impact of libraries worldwide. The report focuses on five areas of libraries and librarianship: economic engines, logistics experts, valued destinations, information provides, and a profession.
Examine the 2010 How Libraries Stack Up Infographic on below (click for larger images) from OCLC to help you think about the value of libraries in a visual way.
To view other snapshots of libraries, go to OCLC Publications.
Explore New York's Libraries: How They Stack Up. Notice the statistics they have gathered about libraries in New York.Librarians seek to form long-term relationships with patrons through providing quality service. It's important that libraries have a set of values that guide actions and shape relationships with patrons. To learn more about why libraries matter, go to the American Libraries Association Libraries Matter page.
The Value of Libraries wiki at ALA provides resources associated with the value of libraries.
One aspect of value is related to money and finance. To determine your numeric value, begin with existing tools like the Library Value Calculator (ilovelibraries), Valuing Library Services Calculator (MidContinental), Library Value Calculator (MidContinental).
Explore to the Library Value Calculator.
How could this tool be adapted to meet the needs of different types of libraries?
Some people derive value from physical collections, however for others it's the 24/7 access to digital collections that brings them in the virtual door.
Libraries can create value by offering the types of services that patrons need, accurately presenting their capabilities, and delivering them in a pleasing and convenient fashion. In return, the library receives value from patrons using the services and the library obtains value by their services being used (Lovelock and Wirtz, 2010).
Creating value involves more than simply making services available. These services must be targeted to address specific needs and interests.
Example: Simply having an online catalog isn't enough. The catalog must meet the needs of information consumers. If library users view the online library catalog as a useful tool in accessing information, they will see value in the service. This may seem logical, however it's still important to identify research to determine how best to improve and advertise this service.
Read Online Catalogs: What Users and Librarians Want from OCLC. Think about the aspects of your online catalog that add value to the library experience. Are users aware of these features? Are there ways that these elements could be highlighted as valuable? You need an IU account to access this article.
Librarians spend much of their time designing environments they hope will be valuable. These services are often free and easy to access, so why aren't customers flocking to libraries? Jeannette Woodward (2004) sees a disconnect between the great bargains libraries provide customers and the resulting bottom line.
Example: A few years ago many libraries invested in books on MP3 known as Playaways. After the initial excitement, circulation began to drop. Is this because people lost interest or did people simply forget they were available? Is it time to abandon this technology or find new ways to market it? A user-centered library asks their clients what they value rather than make assumptions or guessing.
Skim Focusing on the Bottom Line in The Customer Driven Library by Jeannette Woodward (2004). You need an IU account to access this article.
Brian Mathews (2009, 1-2) has found the solution in a user-centered approach to managing and marketing libraries. He states
"by offering a balanced array of academic, social, creative, and cultural experiences, the (academic) library can become a premier campus destination, rather than a place that students have to go. Instead of being grouped in with compulsory services such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, the post office, or financial aid, academic libraries can be a source of inspiration...This change in perception is not accomplished simply by plastering your library's logo (everywhere)... Instead of just paying lip service to a user-centered model, libraries must become user-sensitive organizations."
Whether valuing company stock or a piece of land, investors are concerned about their Return On Investment or ROI. In a business situation, your ROI comes in the form of dividends or cash.
Libraries have a ROI too. To calculate the ROI of your library, simply take the value of services and divide this by the cost of delivering services. It's a simple idea, but it's not easy to calculate when dealing with abstract ideas like the "joy of reading." How do you place a value on access to a computer when completing job applications? What about the importance of a medical researcher identifying a critical connection through use of a database?
There are a number of online resources to help in your exploration of this topic:
- The Mid-Hudson Library System has created a series of questions and answers to help librarians understand the idea of Return on Investment (ROI).
- Skim Public Libraries - A Wise Investment to see a Return on Investment Study of Colorado Libraries.
- For a state perspective, explore the Return on Investment in Florida Public Libraries page.
- To compare your library to a peer library, try the Peer-based Return on Investment Calculator.
Closely related to Return on Investment is the idea of Cost/Benefit. Service providers like librarians need to be concerned with providing good value to patrons. Value can be defined as the worth of a specific action or object relative to an individual's or organizations needs at a particular point in time, less the costs associated with the benefits (Lovelock and Wirtz, 2010, 19).
Example: Read Library Puts Price on Services' Value. This article shows an example of how the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library calculated the value of their libraries.
Example: Brian Lavoie and Lorcan Dempsey (2010) in their article Rethinking the Boundaries of the Academic Library stress that academic libraries must decide what information transactions will occur internally and externally. For instance what's the impact of using cooperative cataloging, shifting from print to ejournals, and new mixes of services.
Social media provides a great example of high impact, low cost programs. In Making Your Wallflowers, Ryan Harrington (2010, 17) stresses that measuring the benefits of social media requires new ways of thinking about profit. For instance, online use statistics can be tracked. Harrington states that
"If I discuss a periodicals database in a blog post and link to that database, I can see how many users entered that database via my link. If I publicize a nutshell guide, I can measure circulation statistics. I can easily measure downloads from our repository."
Harrington (2010, 17) also notes that
"the mere fact that people are viewing the information we generate constitutes a success. We can even count the number of times a message from our Twitter account has been retweeted, referenced, discussed. We don't need sales because traffic in and of itself is a success. It means we are getting our message out—we are educating (or entertaining) our users, and thereby providing value. There are a number of metrics librarians can use to track social media ROI if we rethink the meaning of 'profit'."
Use the Cost Benefit Calculator to determine the benefits and costs of databases.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of this calculator? What's missing from the equation?
Skim Manual for Using Cost Benefit Analysis to Value America's Medium Sized and Smaller Public Libraries from IMLS. You need an IU account to access this article.
When conducting market research, it's often useful to collect and analyze your own original data. Primary data collection involves gathering information to address research questions. The advantage of primary data is that your approach can be designed to address the specific needs of your study.
Observations are a useful technique for examining user behavior. These can be informal observations such as watching the reactions of the audience during a program. Or, more formal observations such as recording the activities of users when they first enter the front door of the library. How do they react? What do they look at? Where do they go?
Example: You might record the time people spend waiting at the circulation desk or how they use the photocopier.
Surveys and Interviews are an effective way to gather answers to questions about library use and quality of resources.
Example: At the conclusion of the summer reading program, ask both parents and children about their experiences. Ask for their suggestions for future programs.
Focus Groups are effective in gathering ideas and feedback. They can be useful to formally try out new ideas or gather anecdotes and experiences.
When using these approaches, keep in mind that your users are human. Some people may change their behavior when being observed. Or, they may answer a questions differently when answering face-to-face versus anonymously.
Example: Solicit a group of college freshman by making an announcement in freshman English classes. Tell them pizza will be provided. Explore their thoughts about the best way to support their study needs and how these services could be promoted.
Read Mathews, Brian (January 14, 2013). Focusing Your Focus Groups.
Think about how you could use focus groups in a particular library setting.
You don't need to collect all the information yourself. Rely on local and national sources for demographic information. Also, use national and international studies to track trends.
The PEW: Libraries reports are a great place to start. Their library section provides some great background information.
Browse From Distant Admirers to Library Lovers and Beyond... from PewResearchCenter. Think about how this information might be useful in marketing library resources and services. Explore some of the other reports available at PEW: Libraries.
Many organizations conduct library research. Use their reports to begin your investigation. For a quick check, do a search for an organization and add research reports such as ALA research reports.
The American Library Association Library Statistics page contains links to many facts sheets that are useful in providing background information and statistics.
In some cases, you can use data gathered by someone else to help you in your our investigation. This information may help you better understand your own situation.
Example: The research brief The Importance of Summer Reading: Public Library Summer Reading Programs and Learning provides an overview of why summer reading programs are important. What information could you gather from this document that you could apply to your situation?
The photo below shows a storytelling event as part of the Allen County Public Library summer reading program (Courtesy Allen County Public Library).
Demographic information is essential for planning. Demographics measure attributes of a community. Are college enrollments increasing or declining? Are young people moving into the neighborhood or is the population predominately "empty-nesters"? Are there research and development initiatives you need to know about for your corporate library?
Information about user age, gender, language preference, family size, income, educational level, occupations, interests, and other basic data can be helpful for planning market segments.
Putting together a basic facts sheet is a great way to get the "big picture" of your library. It helps people get an idea of the statistics related to libraries. Examples from the Mid-Hudson Library System Quotable Facts sheet include:
- More than one out of every two people in the Hudson Valley have Library cards (63%).
- There were over 3.5 million visits to MHLS member libraries (2006).
- Library patrons conduct more than 3 million searches a year in the Online Public Library Catalog.
- Over 800,000 reserves were placed in 2006, a 54% increase since 2004.
It's useful to begin with general demographic data about your region. Use some of the following resources to locate information:
- American FactFinder from U.S. Census Bureau. Search tools allow you to identify factors related to your geographic area including ethnicity, education, language, housing, and employment.
- Academic Libraries from NCES. Compare academic libraries.
- Public Library Harvester. Search for and locate information about public libraries.
- State & County Estimates of Low Literacy. What's the percentage of adults with low literacy in your area?
- State and Metro Area Employment, Hours & Earnings. Explore US employment data.
Understanding current and potential users is critical in building effective marketing strategies. Behavioral data are local library statistics that describe user activity.
Seek research reports that provide general data related to your area of interest. Then, use this data to design your own local studies.
Example: The Perceptions of Libraries, 2010: Context and Community document provides insights into information consumers and their online habits, preferences, and perceptions. How can you apply this information to your local community and organization?
Example: The 2011 AskColorado and AskAcademic Evaluation (2012) report examines two virtual reference services. The results of this survey provide insights into how virtual reference services are used. How can these results be used in planning for other types of virtual services?
In addition to the perceptions of people at the state or national levels, it's also important to collect your own data based on your own program. The Ohio Library Council suggests information in five areas:
- Identify the demand for services from the various segments (user groups).
- Identify your competition -- what are other sources of services you provide that your customers may prefer, and why.
- Learn how your users make decisions about which services they actually use, what factors influence their choices.
- Learn what value customers place on library products, what are the features and benefits they look for in a library product.
- Determine the promotion strategies that will influence decisions of your users, what will work best for specific groups (market segments) and for specific types of products.
Closed related to behavior is usage data. It's useful to begin with data from state, provincial, national, or international sources. These statistics can be used as a basis for comparison with your program. In other words, what can you expect in terms of usage data? What's happening in other locations?
The library's circulation system is often used to gather behavorial data such as the occasion of use (day of the week, time, time of year), usage rate (light, heavy), user status (regular, occasional, infrequent), and related information.
Example: Skim the State Library Agency Survey: Fiscal Year 2010. This document reports library statistics data from 50 states and the District of Columbia. Or, skim Public Libraries in the United States: Fiscal Year 2009 for public library data.
Example: In his article 50 Shades of Red: Losing Our Shirts to Ebook, Christopher Harris shares usage and cost data related to ebooks.
Most libraries collect many types of information about library use. Rather than simply reporting data, look for unusual findings, patterns, and trends. Before starting a new campaign, be sure to collect baseline data. In other words, to prove the success of a program you need to know the situation both before and after a marketing campaign.
Example: Brian Mathews (2009, 46) described how data was collected about use of a rehearsal studio that students can use to practice group presentations. It was found that a wide variety of classes use the space. However the data prompt a number of additional questions that need to be asked in order to determine the type of marketing approach that might increase use of the facility.
- How do students find out about the rehearsal studio?
- How far in advance do they reserve it?
- Where do they go if the room is already booked?
- Why do so many biology students reserve the space?
- Why are there so few humanities or social studies users?
How well do you know your collection? What's being used? What's not being used? Conducting a collection assessment is an important part of market research. Over the past decade, librarians have become aware of the need to share "hidden collections" that are often under used. A 2009 survey (Dooley & Luce, 2010) found at fifteen percent of print volumes are still not cataloged online. In addition, many libraries don't provide access to archives, manuscripts, cartographic materials, and audiovisual materials through the online catalog.
In Taking Stock and Making Hay: Archival Collections Assessment, Conway and Proffitt (2011) stress the importance of collection assessment as a way of gathering information about archival collections. They state that many institutions have "hidden collections" that could be more effectively used.
Skim Taking Stock and Making Hay: Archival Collections Assessment by Martha O'Hara Conway & Merrilee Proffitt (2011). Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Research.
What types of collection assessments could be conducted in the your library area interest?
Most libraries provide comment cards and suggestion boxes near their circulation desk. Many also provide a place on their website for feedback and suggestions. These can be very useful tools. However, it's important to realize that these people are self-selected and may not represent the entire library community. The opinions received are generally on the extremes and need to be considered in that light. In other words, one irate user who was having a bad day shouldn't be used to change an entire service protocol. However any grievance should be taken seriously.
Look for trends and patterns of suggestions. In some cases, you may wish to see if others agree. Consider a blog or other virtual location where common suggestions can be posted and ask for comments. One suggestion for a book may generate interest you didn't know existed. This is particularly important with young people who are in tune with trends and hot topics. Consider setting up separate areas for ideas related to guest speakers and collection ideas where online readers and view and react to the postings of others. Keep in mind that these types of open areas need to be careful monitored.
Example: Go to the Ithaca College Library. Notice the Talkback page where users can post questions or make suggestions. A librarian answers each question online.
A poll is a quick and easy way to collect instant feedback on a topic. Keep in mind that polls can be biased and only represent those people who happen to be in your face-to-face workshop or online at a particular page.
Keep polls short and focused. You might ask about a library remodeling project, use of an area of the library, or favorite book.
Example: Before redesigning a web page or area of your website, embed a poll on the page asking the opinion of users about specific elements that might be included on the revised version.
A few simple polling tools include:
Library market research surveys are generally aimed at a representative sample of individuals. In other words, it's not possible to survey all users. However, a sampling of walk-in visitors over a week's time might be used.
Example: Do people like the self-checkout option? Do they prefer it to the traditional check-out procedure? What do they like and dislike about the service? Did they run into trouble? These are all questions that could be asked in a simple survey. The image on the right shows the Self-Checkout area at the Allen County Public Library.
Questionnaires may include questions about attitudes, needs, or preferences related to library services. Consider surveys in the following areas:
- Use studies. A common survey is a library use survey asking customers about their use of the resources and services of the library.
Example: Ask people about their experience at the reference desk.
- Follow-up investigations. Contact a sampling of those who have used a particular product or service to check for satisfaction. Ask them about their experience, their satisfaction, and what changes they would like to see.
Example: Contact people after they have returned a digital camera, used a study room, or returned books.
- External surveys. Conduct an investigation of a population outside the library. In some cases, you'll need to get permission if the environment is outside your library. However, these varied locations can be useful in identifying the needs, interests, and actions of specific audiences that are current or potential library users.
Example: Sample people in the school cafeteria, at a sporting event, or attending an historical society presentation.
Online survey tools allow participants to share their thoughts and data. Google Forms is a great tool for librarians to collect and organize information from users. Probably the most popular tool is Surveymonkey. It's easy to use and share.
Keep in mind that surveys don't need to be long or complex. Many libraries do short surveys sent out to their users through social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
Example: The Hennepin County Library sent out a Tweet asking users to complete a simple one item survey. They wanted to know where people were likely to go when one of their libraries was closed.
Skim What is A Survey?
This website provides an excellent overview of how to survey research is conducted.
Consider how these ideas can be applied to library surveys.
Types of Questions
The questions may be "closed-end" with options such as "yes," "no", or "1-2 times per week". Or, they might be "open-ended" asking the participant to provide information. These types of questions do not have right or wrong answers, instead they are intended to connect relevant information.
Many surveys use rating scales. For instance, you might ask people to rate the quality of reference desk service from poor to excellent or the quality of a speaker from unsatisfactory to outstanding.
In addition to questions about the library, demographic information may also be collected. This data helps marketers identify specific segments of the population by areas such as age, ethnicity, or education level.
Example: A survey was conducted by Walsh University Library using Zoomerang. They collected responses from over 500 individuals. Notice the types of questions asked. In some cases, areas were provided for additional information.
One approach is to ask users what they're doing at the library with questions such as
- What was the purpose of your visit?
- Did you find what you were seeking?
- Did you need to ask the library staff for help?
- If yes, did you experience a wait?
- If yes, was the staff knowledgeable?
- If no, what went wrong?
In addition to surveying library users, it's also important to collect information from non-users. Dowd, Evangeliste, and Silberman (2010, 6) suggest doing a quick survey at a bookstore, grocery store that offers movie rentals, night school, or a movie theatre. Start with the following questions:
"We're surveying people who don't use the library. Do you qualify?"
"We're looking for people who wouldn't be caught dead in the library. Do you quality?"
Example: Design the survey to include questions like "Why don't you use your local library? Check all answers that apply: I'd rather buy books, I hate fines, I hate books, It reminds me of school, It's for children, The programs are boring, It's too far, I don't like to read, I don't watch DVDs, I only listen to music I download...
Read User surveys: libraries ask 'hey, how am I doing?' by Dwight King.
This article explores tips for creating an effective library survey.
Many commercial products are available to assist in survey development and implementation. Look for those aimed at library research. Tools like LibQUAL+ from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is expensive, but could be useful for large-scale library projects.
The following resources are helpful if you don't have a background in conducting surveys:
- Boost Survey Results with Carefully Crafted Questions
- Conducting User Surveys
- Questionnaire Design and Survey Sampling
- Questions to Consider Before Collecting New Library Data
- Questions to Gather Performance Indicators
- Sample Surveys from ibec
- Survey Design Tutorial
Interviews are an effective way to gather useful information from different points of view. They may be conducted face-to-face, by telephone, by mail, or online. In-person surveys may be conducted after programs, in high-traffic areas, or during an event. Or, appointments can be made to interview administrators, partners, or community members.
Both formal and informal interviews can be useful.
Formal interviews are conducted in exactly the same manner with each participant.
Informal interviews may vary the questions based on interviewee answers and interests. The conversation may move into related area rather than sticking to a formal outline.
Example: Brian Mathews (2009, 49) uses the example of how students use a group study space as an effective topic for an interview. He suggests asking the following questions of both regular library users and those who don't use the group study spaces:
- What characteristics do you like and dislike about a group study space?
- Why do they prefer a particular location for study?
- What are their thoughts on the atmosphere, aesthetics, and furniture?
- How might the study area by improved?
Focus group research involves facilitating a discussion among representatives of a particular segment of the market population. The discussion is used to identify insights that can be used in marketing. They are great for exploring current services and also for considering new services.
Suzanne Walters (2004, 60) identified four elements of successful focus groups:
- Choice of Participants. Choose a homogeneous group of 8-12 participants.
- Facility. Participants should be comfortable. A conference meeting room with comfortable chairs works well. If possible, use two-way glass and video record the interaction.
- Moderator. Choose an outside moderator unfamiliar to the group.
- Discussion Outline. While they discussion should be free-flowing, protocols should be developed to keep on track.
As part of the focus group, participants are asked to share and discuss their experiences. They may also be asked to react to an idea for a new service or try out an activity to see how it works. Participants might be asked to walk through their experience using a service or describe how they've used a particular resource in their life.
It's useful to have a facilitator with experience. If you're new to moderating these types of discussions, use photos, scenarios, or activities to get the group going. Involve the participants in brainstorming ideas on a whiteboard, creating a concept map with post-it notes, or prioritizing services using cards. This active involvement keeps participants engaged in the experience.
Because these focus groups can take time and effort, it can be difficult to recruit participants. Consider a short, focused activity.
Providing pizza, donuts, or chocolate can draw interest. You could also attach the event to an existing activity where people are already available.
Example: Hold a parent focus group during a children's event. While the children are working with the librarian, the parents could be participating in a focus group on a related topic.
The following resources are helpful if you don't have a background in conducting focus group research:
Sometimes it's useful for you or others to pose as library users to gain an in-depth look at library resources and services.
One approach is for you to view the library from the user's perspective. When researchers become "customers" they're able to experience and evaluate the quality of service delivered first-hand. This can be useful in brainstorming ideas, problems, and data that needs to be collected. However, this approach isn't always effective. For instance, it's impossible for a 50 year old to pose as a traditional college freshman. It can be difficult to take off your "research hat" and become part of the research process. This technique can also cause morale problems among staff if they feel they are being "spied on." It's important to let staff know when these kinds of activities are happening and that the results will not be used as part of a performance evaluation.
A second approach is to enlist the help of users. Brian Mathews (2009) suggests asking several freshman to approach a library service point seeking a book of personal interest or looking for information for an English paper. Follow their steps as they work their way through the system. How do they act? Where do they go? Who do they interact with? Was it easy or difficult? Where did they get lost or run into trouble?
A third approach is to hire "secret shoppers" to focus on customer service interactions. Record the encounters seeking problems with information, communication, or attitude.
The "secret shopper" approach can be very useful in measuring individual employee service behavior identifying strengths and weaknesses. It can also be useful to seeking ways to improve the physical placement of products and streamline procedures.
Example: Use the secret shopper approach with people from various age groups, ethnic groups, and interest areas. Are there particular types of customers or customer questions that cause specific problems for the staff?
New technologies are drastically changing the way many libraries do business with patrons as well as behind the scenes. Computers, telecommunications, and digitization change the way patrons access information and interact with librarians.
Example. The New York Public Libraries is weaving technology throughout its services and programs. Read What big media can learn from the New York Public Library by Alexis Madrigal (2011) for an overview of these new approaches.
Social media is an important tool in marketing and something that is important to evaluate.
Read Measure the Results of Your Activity on Social Media Sites by Darlene Fischter and Jeff Wisniewski.
Think about a specific library. What social media data could be collected?
Both primary and secondary data can be used to begin looking at market trends. Examine how local library use and program attendance is changing. Think about the impact of national trends on your library. Demspey (2009a) notes that some librarians "shy away from statistics." She stresses the importance of using data to support programs and campaigns.
According to Fisher and Pride (2006, 12), "trends are about change. The change could occur in either the external (in the community) or the internal (in the library) environment... whenever there is a sustained movement (increasing or decreasing) in a direction of a demographic, behavioral, or psychographic factor, a trend can be forming."
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the data. Try to focus on particular areas of interest and look into the future. Fisher and Pride (2006, 13) state that
"trend extrapolation takes a single event or statistic and extends it into the future. Trend extrapolation can help librarians make projections about what is needed to serve particular segments of library users and potential users, now and in the future."
Example: Look at current surveys of e-book demands and compare them with past surveys. It's clear that e-books requests are on the rise. Read Library Patrons Want E-Books Over Every Other Downloadable Media by Jeremy Greenfield.
According to Berry and Parasuraman (1997), a service-quality information system uses multiple research approaches to capture, organize, and disseminate information to support decision-making. A library might select from the following approaches:
- Transactional surveys. A service satisfaction survey can be used following a service encounter to obtain patron feedback while the service experience is still fresh in the mind of the patron. This approach can be used continuously. By focusing on a particular experience, an overall assessment is lacking.
- Mystery patrons. Researchers become "customers" to experience and evaluate the quality of service delivered. This approach measures individual employee service behavior identifying strengths and weaknesses. This approach is often used quarterly. Because this technique is subjective it has the potential to hurt employee morale.
- User surveys. Surveys to determine why customers use or don't use the library can be used to assess the role service quality and other issues play in customer patronage and loyalty. This approach can be used continuously. Libraries must be able to identify and monitor service usage on a per customer basis.
- Focus group interviews. Directed questioning of a small group, usually eight to twelve people. Questions focus on a specific topic and can be used with patrons, non-patrons, and employees to provide a forum for participants to make suggestions. This approach can be used as needed, however the dynamics of the group can impact the results.
- User advisory panel. A group of patrons recruited periodically to provide the library with feedback and advice on service performance or other issues. Data are obtained in meetings, over the telephone, through the mail, or online to obtain in-depth, timely feedback and suggestions about service quality from experienced patrons. This approach may be used quarterly, by may not be projectable to the entire customer base.
- Service reviews. Periodic visits with patrons to discuss and assess the service relationship. A formal process can be used for a common set of questions and follow-up. It can be used to identify patron expectations and perceptions of library performance. This approach maybe used annually or semi-annually but it can be time consuming.
- Customer complaint, comment, and inquiry capture. A system to retain, categorize, track, and distribute customer complaints and other communications to identify most common types of service failure and opportunities to improve. This approach is continuous, however dissatisfied patrons frequently don't complain.
- Total market survey. Surveys can measure patron overall assessment of a library's service including non-users and potential users. This approach assesses the library's performance compared to other services on a semi-annual or quarterly basis. This approach is great for an overall look at the library, but doesn't address individual service encounters.
- Employee field reporting. A formal process for gathering, categorizing and distributing field staff intelligence about service issues by capturing and sharing expectations and perceptions. This approach can be used continuously, however some staff members may be unwilling to share.
Berry and Parasuraman (1997) stress five guidelines for developing an effective service-quality information system:
- Measure service expectations. Patron expectations provide a frame of reference for their assessment of service. For instance, a survey might ask about desired service (what the patron believes the service should be and can be) and also adequate service (the minimal level of service acceptable to the patron). Comparing the perceptions-only data with the combined perceptions-expectations data demonstrates the diagnostic value of measuring patrons' expectations. If only perceptions were measured, little guidance would be provided for investing service improvement resources.
- Emphasize information quality. The objective in building a service-quality information system is to focus on quality of information, not quantity. Is this information relevant, precise, useful, in context, credible, understandable, and timely?
- Capture customers' words. In addition to quantitative data, it's important to also record the tone, inflection, feeling, and affective aspects of a patron's voice. Explanations and elaborations of problems are essential in understanding an issue.
- Link service performance to library results. Data about patrons gained and lost are important to understanding the big picture.
- Reach every employee. A service-quality information system can be beneficial only if decision-makers use it. Staff members need to be involved in all aspects of the process from sharing perceptions to addressing problems.
Questions for Service-Quality Information System Users
What would you like to know about the customers you serve?
What type of information would help you improve service in our library?
What type of information would you like to have about your own service performance? About your work unit? About the library? About the competition?
If you presently receive information on customer service information? How often would you like to receive this information?
Are you receiving the information you need to help the library improve its service?
Are you receiving the information you need to best serve your patrons?
What information on customer service would you like to receive that you currently do not receive? How would this additional information help you?
What customer service information that you receive is most valuable to you? Why? What is least valuable? Why?
Do you receive customer service information on a timely basis? Please explain.
What could the company do to improve the usefulness of the customer service information it provides you?
Looking for more ideas?
SKIM Chapter 3 of Lucas-Alfieri, Debra (2015). Marketing the 21st Century Library: The Time is Now. Chandos Publishing.
Albright, K. (2004). Environmental scanning: radar for success. Information Management Journal, 38(3), 38-45.
Alman, Susan W. (2007). Crash Course in Marketing for Libraries. Libraries Unlimited.
Berry, Leonard & Parasuraman, A. (Spring 1997). Listening to the customer: the concept of a service-quality information service. Sloan Management Review.
Caboy, Ellysa Stern (2011). Who are our users? Scanning the environment to detect trends. In, Diane Zabel (ed.), Reference Reborn: Breathing New Life into Public Services Librarianship. ABC-CLIO.
Connaway, Lynn Silipigni & Radford, Marie L. (2010). Virtual reference service quality: critical components for adults and net-generation. Libri, 60(2), 165-180.
Conway, Martha O'Hara & Proffitt, Merrilee (2011). Taking Stock and Making Hay: Archival Collections Assessment. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Research. http://www.oclc.org/research/publications/library/2011/2011-07.pdf
Dempsey, Kathy (2009a). The Accidental Library Marketer. Information Today: Medford, New Jersey.
Dempsey, Lorcan (January 2009b). Always on: libraries in a world of permanent connectivity. First Monday, (14)1.
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King, Dwight B. (2003). User surveys: libraries ask ‘hey, how am I doing?’ Marketing Toolkit for Academic Law Libraries. Available: http://www.aallnet.org/sis/allsis/Toolkit/surveys.pdf
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Siess, Judith (2003). The Visible Librarian. ALA Editions.
Survey Design Tutorial. StatPac.
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Walters, Suzanne (2004). Library Marketing that Works! Neal-Schuman Publishers.
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Woodward, Jeannette (2009). Creating the Customer-Driven Academic Library. ALA Editions.
What is A Survey? American Statistical Association Survey Research Methods Section.