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Product and Service Identification

Marketing for Libraries: Part 5: Product and Service Identification from Annette Lamb on Vimeo.

Products are more than tangible items. They include intangible interactions, experiences, and service encounters that happen every day in the library. In "The Experience Economy", Joseph Pine and James Gilmore (1999) stress the importance of orchestrating memorable events for customers. The memory itself becomes the product, the experience. Rather than trying to be all things to all people, today’s libraries are positioning their products and services to appeal to specific market segments.

bridgeRead Who Let the Dog Out? Implementing a Successful Therapy Dog Program in an Academic Law Library by Julian Aiken and Femi Cadmus or Therapy Dogs Provide Stress (and Comic) Relief by Suzanne Mawhinney. Learn how a therapy dog can be used to make attending law school less stressful.

In this section, we'll examine the products libraries offer, how new products are identified, and how services can be analyzed.

Key Questions

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

What products do libraries offer?

therapy dogBe creative about the types of products and services that your library can provide to meet the evolving needs of clients.

Example: Have you ever considered a library dog? Studies show that animals can reduce stress levels. What's more stressful than law school?

Therapy dogs are becoming increasingly common in library settings. Suzanne Mawhinney (2011) advertised their therapy dog program in their weekly law school community email, blog, and Twitter feeds. The sign-up sheets quickly filled.

Much of the marketing literature focuses on marketing products such as tangible goods and services. Libraries have a wide range of products including programming, resources, events, instruction, and other services.

The visual below shows those library services with tangible and intangible elements.


According to the Ohio Library Council, products can distinguished by their

"variety, quality, benefits to customer, design features, and sizes (quantities). One example of a product would be a library instruction program. Features would include the content covered, the quality or level of expertise of the instructional design, the convenience of the training (time and location it is offered), length of training, expected outcomes and uses of the training, accessibility for different learning styles, appeal of the instructional design elements (hands-on, lecture, projects, assignments, etc.), and even the appeal of the instructor!"

Philip Kotler (1982) describe a product as

"anything that can be offered to a market to satisfy a need. It includes physical objects, services, persons, places, organizations, and ideas. Other names for a product would be the offer, value package, or benefit bundle."

According to Kotler, the product concept contains three levels:

studyingpostal exam

Tangible items can include five characteristics: styling, features, quality level, packaging, and brand name.

Example: Darlene Weingand (1999, 88) provides the example of a customer seeking the study manual for the postal service exam.

Because most libraries are funded with taxes, services are not purchased directly. Instead, the price is related to how much the taxpayer is willing to spend and the value of a trip to the library.

When considering the value of services, think about the market value equivalents found in the business sector. What about the services of bookstore, video rental stores, fee-based research services, continuing education course tuition, and concert tickets?

The Ohio Library Council lists tangible good and services of libraries including:

Example: Include culture programs in the mix. The Norman Public Library part of the Pioneer Library System holds an annual Crowns Tea each year. The event is based on the photo essay and book "Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats" by Cunningham and Marberry. The images below show the guests enjoying food and tea, listening to a choir, having photographs taken and wearing decorative hats.



In New Planning for Results, the Public Library Association (2001) lists 13 service priorities:

Example: It's not enough to circulate a book to a child. How can services help students develop a passion for reading?

Example: It's not enough to teach students to locate information. How can activities help young people develop a passion for inquiry?

How can products be analyzed?

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) matrix method is a useful way to categorize services and grow library business. Developed in 1970, the premise is that only a diversified organization with a balanced portfolio can use its strengths to capitalize on its growth opportunities.

BCG Matrix
question mark
Question Marks

Cash Cows

Market Share
Market Share

Library products and services can be placed in one of four categories:

Stars (high growth, high market share). These services are may be costly because they are growing fast, but they're worth the investment because they have a high return.

Example: The rapid growth of e-books would fall into this category. They require new purchases to keep up with demand, but they are in high demand.

Cash Cows (low growth, high market share). These services are inexpensive and easy to maintain.

Example: Many states provide free access to subscription databases. Libraries provide access and tutorials through their website so they are free and easy to maintain.

Question Marks (high growth, low market share). These services grew rapidly, but they don't have enough use to make them cost-effective and their future is uncertain.

Example: Many users purchased Blue-Ray players so libraries have purchased Blue-Ray DVDs. However the market may be shifting away from physical videos. Is it worth the investment? Question Marks can easily become Stars or Dogs.

Dogs (low growth, low market share). These services aren't expensive, but they also don't generate much use. Are they worth continuing to support? Are they taking up shelf space that could be used for something else? It may be time to get rid of the virtual file and audiotape collections.

Example: If your volunteer enjoys maintaining the vertical file and it receives occasional use, there may not be a compelling reason to liquidate that resource even though you might consider it a "dog". Instead, you might focus on government documents that are not yet in digital format.

Although the BCG matrix is useful, it's only one of many areas to consider when looking at marketing the library. It's important not to overemphasize high growth. In some cases, a "dog" might be an essential service to a small audience. Although books on audiotape may not be as popular as they once were, they may still have a consistent group users.

It may also be possible to repackage services into a new approach at set of services.

"Access Services at The University of Montana, Mansfield Library has changed and evolved over the last 20 years. Interlibrary Loan and Reserve Material services experienced explosive growth followed by recent continuous declines. Circulation of library materials also generally declined. The previous necessity for and advantage of managing Access Services units together may now be outweighed by new user needs and organizational opportunities. The following new strategic alignment is proposed: combining Circulation, Stack Management, and Copy Services with Reference in an Information Center (and eventually a Student Learning Commons); integrating Interlibrary Loan with Acquisitions; and affiliating Course Reserve Materials with Instruction and Distance Education." – Brown, 2010


How are new services and products identified?

mermaidThe quest for great new products and services is never ending. However it can be difficult to know what's going to be hot next.

Example: In the Fall of 2012, mermaids were the hot topic in young adult fiction. However, how long will this trend last?

Brian Mathews (2009, 71-72) suggests the practice of "coolhunting" to spot trends early and integrate them into library practices. Start by people watching. Immerse yourself in the culture of your user. What are they doing. What tools are they using? How are they communicating?

Example: High school students send and receive hundreds of text messages a day. How can the library make use of this system to engage users in the library without becoming annoying?

lockSometimes new services come from necessity.

Example: In her Library Reachout blog, Rebecca Metzger (2012) shared a real-world experience. After a series of laptop thefts in the library, Metzger organized a group of staff and students to discuss how to raise awareness about library laptop safety. Out of the discussion came the idea of purchasing and circulating laptop locks for use on student computers. A display was established at the front of the library to focus attention on the problem and solution. The display contained a locked laptop a sign referring to the new service. It worked! Students checked out the locks. Read their promotional poster.

Be on the lookout for new services your library can offer. Before jumping into a service, be sure to find out if it's a need in your community. Also, explore library websites to see how other libraries are providing the service. A good place to start is at the Programming Librarian website from ALA.

Example: Some libraries offer free notary public service. Do a Google search for notary public library service and you'll find lots of examples of libraries providing this service. The websites might also provide ideas on how these services could be marketed. Go to East Brunswick Public Library for one example.

An easy way to locate new service ideas is through a survey. Ask open-ended questions regarding services library users would like to see offered. Before jumping into a service based one person's listing on a survey, go back and do a second survey asking users whether they would use a potential service.

Example: The University of California Santa Cruz added additional quiet study space "in response to feedback" from users.

Example: Many libraries offer book signings, writing workshops, and other programs by local authors, artists, and other creative individuals. Since residents may wish their own personal copies of local works, some libraries offer these works for sale at the library. Henderson County Public Library offers an online store featuring works by. In addition, they also sell library library book bags featuring the library logo.

Consider ways to bring people together at the library. What services could be offered for a particular market segment?

Example: The Brewster Cafe at the Hudson Library & Historical Society is located in the library rotunda.


How are new products developed?

Darlene Weingand (1999) suggests a seven step process for designing new products:

  1. New Product Strategy Development. As marketing goals and objectives emerge, the need for products becomes apparent.
  2. Idea Generation. New product ideas can be generated through brainstorming, focus groups, and other processes.
  3. Screening and Evaluation. Products are considered and evaluated for possible inclusion in the program.
  4. Business Analysis. Products are examined to determine whether they are realistic and cost effective.
  5. Product Design or Development. A prototype or pilot testing situation is established.
  6. Testing. The product is field tested on a members of the target segment.
  7. Commercial Introduction. A plan is established for introducing and promoting the product.

Example. The library has traditionally had a CD music collection. However surveys indicate the people are interested in digital downloads for the iPhone and Android. After investigating the options and evaluating options, the Freegalmusic service was selected from Library Ideas. Before offering the service to the general public, a field test was conducted with different types of users including different age groups and varied technical skills. Finally, a plan was designed to promote the new product.

bridgeRead Village Post Office Coming to a Library Near You? by Kathy Middleton.
Does it make sense to have a post office in your library? Before jumping into a new service, it's necessary to do a market audit think carefully about how this new service would work.

How is price used in product identification?

Market research can be used to identify lots of services that patrons want, but are they realistic in terms of price? The financial burden to the library as well as the costs to the user must be considered.

From paying staff to purchasing new computers, there are many hidden costs associated with services. The cost of a service in terms of staff time is an important consideration. If the reference desk is understaffed, users might skip the library and go to the Internet. However staffing the desk is expensive. Are there enough customers to hire a separate person or can a circulation desk worker cover both?

The cost of a service in time and convenience can be just as important as the monetary cost. If the wait times for new books is too long, users may choose to purchase books from the bookstore instead. If children can walk from the school to the library for an afterschool program, they may be more likely to attend than if they need to be driven by parents.

Libraries offer some fee-based services such as photocopying, interlibrary loan, and document lamination. They may also charge a fee for some programs such as puppet-making or creative writing. In some cases these fees are associated with materials such as paper or supplies. In others, the fees pay for speakers or additional staff costs. It's important to consider the competition and compare costs with local print shops or community college courses.

There is a direct relationship between cost factors, the library's budget process, and library goals. A product must contribute to the library in a positive way and help advance a specific goal to be viable. A program budget can be used to identify debits and credits related to individual products.

Both direct and indirect costs can be included when establishing the value of a product:

Cost/Benefits must be weighed to determine whether the benefits outweigh the costs for a particular product.

How is place used in product identification?

When choosing a place for a service or program, consider the results of market research. Would people prefer a physical or virtual experience? In other words, do they want a physical book, an audio book, or an e-book? Do they want a book club that meets each week on the couches in the fiction section or a virtual club that meets online instead?

3D printerA physical location has pros and cons. Some people enjoy the face-to-face interaction with peers and library staff while others prefer the convenient of online access. Lack of parking spaces, limited computer access, and poorly lit reading areas can impact the physical appeal of the library. Poorly designed database interfaces, limited live online reference services, and cumbersome passwords can limit the use of a virtual library.

Example: While many people think of the virtual library as the wave of the future. Don't forget place-based products and services. Think about how a 3D printer could be targeted for specific audiences in the academic setting.

The image on the right shows an object created on a 3D printer (image courtesy of Creative Tools).

bridgeRead Maker Station in Library Parking Lot.
Examine their list of ideas and possible audiences.
How could the maker station be marketed in a library setting?

How is market research used to determine service needs?

Library users demand quality, variety, and reliability in their services. Use market research results to determine the needs and design services that meet these needs.

Example: Let's say that users are unaware that databases have superior performance and higher quality content that most websites. They are also unaware that many databases contain images, audio, and video elements. These aspects of the service need to be featured in programs and communicated in materials.

Services should be designed to meet a specific need. For instance, think of the many reference questions that are posed every day. Rather than answering the same questions over and over again, why not design a user-friendly source that can be easily accessed inside or outside of the library?

Example: Identification is a common reference activity. From identifying whether a plant is poison ivy to determining the type of tree in a front yard, these types of reoccurring questions can be time consuming. The Ohio Public Library Information Network (OPLIN) and the Ohio Historical Society (OHS) developed a series of identification keys to help library users quickly make identifications.

Explore their identification guides including What Tree is It?, What's That Snake?, and What's the Point?

In addition, the identification guide website suggests "for help with identification, please contact your public library."

What services match specific audience needs?

Determining what services best meet the needs of a particular audience is essential in the marketing process. Brian Mathews (2009, 31) states that "the library experience is a sequence of interactions set across a series of semesters... our objective is to identify and isolate opportune times to engage students by presenting different aspect of the library."

Example: Incoming freshmen have different needs than other academic library users.

"Incoming freshmen often feel nervous about midterms and finals. They want to do well in their first semester. Most of them are taking the same core courses and therefore have tests around the same time. The library can help alleviate their anxiety by offering coordinated study sessions and bringing together teaching assistants, tutors, and education courses. These informal sessions both target specific academic needs and serve as a social component for peer mentoring. This type of encounter plants the idea that the library is more than just a computer lab or a place for books; it is directly linked to classroom success. They were probably already going to study anyway, but in this manner the library becomes integrated into their lifestyle. This is empathic thinking; instead of just trying to imagine ways to get more students to use the library, we flip the question around and ask, what do students need this week and how might the library help provide it?" (Mathews, 2009, 22)

It's easy to get entrenched with the services you currently provide. Seek out new ideas by following professional magazines and blogs. Go to Weblogs for a long list of library blogs to explore.

Example: The article Case Studies from Morning Report: Librarian's Role in Helping Residents Find Evidence-based Clinical Information, the research identified a search that met a specific need. Librarian involvement in the Morning Report meeting was used as a way to improve the level of evidence-based information exchanged by residents.

How can these services be provided?

Igor Ansoff developed a matrix focusing on present and potential services and markets. He stressed four different growth strategies.

  Current Services New Services
Current Markets
Market Penetration
Service Development
New Markets
Market Development

Market Penetration. Growth can be achieved by convincing current users to make more use of existing services. This is the easiest approach because these clients are already library users.

Example: Parents who bring their children to the "wild kids, wild animals" events, might be convinced to attend other library events. The photo shows an event at the San Mateo Public Library.

wild kids readebook

Market Development. Growth may be possible by matching existing services with new market segments.

Example: Some people who have purchased e-book readers may not be regular library users. However they may be convinced to use the library website to check out e-books. This new group of people will be difficult to target, but it will bring in new users to the library.

Service Development. New services can be developed and targeted to existing market segments. Market research can be used to determine what services will benefit a particular market segment.

Example: A community college library might expand its services to the local community in the form of non-credit seminars.

community college classsecretary

Diversification. New services can be developed for new markets. This can expand the reach of the library to new groups as well as add innovative services.

Example: A hospital library may currently focus predominately on doctor and patient needs. However, it might expand its services to include special programs for secretarial staff.

What's the Service Life Cycle?

The problem is familiar. Everyone wants to check out the bestsellers the day they arrive. A year later, you're stuck with multiple copies of books that everyone's read or are no longer hot. How do you meet high demands, but also deal with excess capacity? Try advertising the books that are no longer hot. Focus on the best of the decade in each content area. Pair older books with new books. Most of all, get to know the life cycle of various library products.

If you've been involved with libraries for long, you've see resources and services come and go. Remember Betamax tapes and Videodisc cartridges? Each service as a life cycle that should be considered when selecting services to market.

bridgeGo to Worksheet 5: Service Life Cycle by Fisher and Pride (2006).

Adapt this worksheet for your marketing plan.

Example: Steampunk is currently a hot genre and in the growth stage. This is the perfect time to recruit new readers to this interesting fiction genre. Check out a YA Steampunk Reads Pinterest board.


According to de Saez (2002), the "product lifecycle theory maintains that all products or services are best fitted to particular stages in the development of service activities". These stages include:

gpsphoneThe time periods within the stages differ depending on the situation, but the order is the same.

Example: When handheld GPS devices were introduced in the late 1990s, they gradually gained the interest of hobbyists. Many libraries introduced the devices and made a couple available for check out at the library. As websites like became popular and local scouting troops began designing activities around GPS devices their popularity grew. Many libraries increased the number of GPS devices available for checkout and some school libraries checked out class sets. By the late 2000s, use of the devices peaked. Some groups continued to check out the devices and new users continue to emerge. However, with the introduction of GPS apps on many smartphones, interest in the stand-alone devices began to decline.

What does the service encounter look like?

According to Lynn Shostack (1985), a service encounter is a period of time during which customers interact directly with a service. While traditionally these encounters are face-to-face, increasingly patrons are interacting with resources online.

High-contact services are those that involve face-to-face contact. Patrons are actively involved asking questions, working with a librarian on a project, or attending an event. When a high level of participation is needed, the customer must co-create the service. In other words, they are an active partner in the service experience. The service can't take place without the customer's active participation and involvement in decision-making.

Medium-contact services involve less involvement with service providers. A patron may browse books with little assistance from a staff member.

Low-contact services may involve little or not physical contact with the library such using an online service.

Example: Many states no longer provide free tax forms to libraries. However, these forms are available online. Many library websites like the Urbandale Public Library contain tax information and links to forms as a service. Use of this service involves low-contact.

The Service Delivery Drama

The service encounter can be thought of as a drama where library personnel and patrons take on roles and follow a standard script. Scripts are sequences of behavior that both staff members and customers are expected to follow. The more experience patrons have with the library, the more familiar the script becomes. Regular library patrons become comfortable with these standard procedures and may become frustrated with disruptions and changes. Some scripts such as checkout procedures are highly routinized. While others such as storytelling hours may very each week. Defining scripts using a flowcharting approach is an effective way to examine and analyze the procedure looking for ways to ensure a positive experience.

Example: Check out a fun flowcharts of navigating NPR's top 100 science fiction and fantasy books. You could create a similar chart showing the process of Reader's Advisory.

Low-contact Encounters

When a users comes to your website, what do they do? How do they act? What do they focus on and what do they ignore?

Every aspect of the service encounter must be analyzed. When dealing with online encounters, usability studies can be conducted to see how people interact with the website.

Example: Dowd, Evangeliste, and Silberman (2010) provide examples of connecting users with electronic resources. They recommend embedding help for each page directly on the page including reference phone number, embedded chat service, e-mail contact, technical support information, and a link to sign up for consultation. Rather than a laundry list of databases, they suggest focusing on the top three in each subject area.

How can service blueprinting be used to identify key activities in service?

Service design is a complex task that can benefit from a more sophisticated flowcharting known as service blueprinting. Rather than designing a physical structure such as a building, service blueprinting processes have a more intangible structure.

Developing a service blueprint requires identifying all the key activities involved in service delivery and production and specifying the linkages between these activities. A central aspect of service blueprinting is to distinguish between what the patron experiences frontstage and the activities of staff and support processes backstage, where the patron can't see them. Between the two lies what is called the line of visibility. When faced with stacks of books to be processed and an overflowing e-mail box, it's easy for librarians to become so focused on managing the backstage activities that they neglect to consider the patron's view of frontstage activities.

Examine the Service Blueprint for Seeing Tomorrow's Services Panel below. Click to see a larger version. This blueprint shows what happens at a live event such as a conference or workshop.


Service blueprint clarifies the interactions between patrons and staff members and how these are supported by additional activities and systems backstage. Because blueprints show the interrelationships between staff roles, operational processes, information technology, and patron interactions, they can facilitate the integration of marketing, operations, and human resource management within a library. There's not a single way to create a blueprint, but it's recommended that a consistent approach can be helpful for planning.

Blueprinting gives directors the opportunity to identify potential fail points in the process that pose a significant risk of things going wrong and diminishing service quality. Knowledge of possible fail points enables directors to design procedures to avoid their occurrence or to prepare contingency plans. Standards can be developed for execution of each activity.

Blueprints of existing services may suggest service improvement opportunities.

bridgeRead two or more of the following articles for a better understanding of this approach:
Assessing and Improving Library Technology with Service Blueprinting by Young, Mannheimer, and Rossmann.
Leveraging Service Blueprinting to Rethink Higher Education
Service Blueprinting from Lovelock & Wirtz.

There are many ways to create a service blueprint. However keep in mind that the purpose is to view service delivery from a variety of perspectives including the customer, staff, and others involved with the experience. It's important to include both the elements seen by the customer and the backstage elements involving the staff.

When creating a blueprint, it's necessary to chart the steps, choices, activities, interactions, and place where the customer has the experience with a service. Be sure to show the lines that separate action areas:

Check out a library example: Taking a Class in the Digital Media Lab


A touchpoint is the interaction of a product or service with customers, staff, and other stakeholders. Touchpoint analysis involves understanding the service encounter from the target customer's point of view. At what point does the customer interact with a staff member, attend an event, view a sign, watch an online promotional video, or read a library poster or brochure? These all impact the customer's experience with the library's services.

The goal of a touchpoint analysis is to determine which touchpoints are most important for success. Did the person see the poster, but ignore it? Did they watch a library instruction video and have a successful experience using a database? Did they get advise from a staff member and follow the advise?

According to Designing Better Libraries,

"knowing that touchpoints 'are central to the customer experience' suggests that librarians should do more to identify and evaluate the touchpoints that combine to create the library user experience. Do we even know what our library touchpoints are, and if we do, do we know how they work to provide the desired experience - and ultimately how would we assess if they are working to delivery that experience?"

bridgeRead Service Innovation through Touchpoints: Development of an Innovation Toolkit for the First Stages of New Service Development by Simon Clatworthy in International Journal of Design.

Jane Kingman-Brundage (1989) developed an effective approach for blueprinting that can be applied to library services. The key components of the blueprint including:

The Customer's Journey

There are many ways to visualize the customer's journey. Customer journey maps are visual representations that reflect individual customer needs through a series of interactions and emotional states. The customer journey provides an easy-to-understand way to examine the user's story including the highs and lows of the experience. Joel Flom (2011) states that this process includes three parts:

Adam Richardson (2010) suggests that you begin by mapping your customer's journey. Then, look for touchpoints in four categories:

Then, Richardson (2010) suggests that you examine each touchpoint and ask yourself:

Check out a library example: Ebook Download Customer Journey

Explore a few examples. These don't apply directly to libraries, but they give the sense for how the service encounters can be visualized in different ways. For many more ideas, do a Google Image Search for diagram customer service journey.

How can a "library as product" approach be used to define services?

Whether marketing a new line of cars, clothing, or breakfast cereal, it's essential to define the product, identify current inventory, assemble product lines, and design product portfolios. In his book Marketing Today's Academic Library, Brian Mathews (2009) introduces an approach to viewing the library as a product that can be applied across library types. For a full understanding of this approach, read Chapter 4 of Mathew's book. The diagram below shows the four step process.

library as product

Define the Product

The introduction of technology, higher expectations, and increasing competition have contributed to the evolution of the products provided by libraries. From business and industry to health organizations and libraries, the evolution of products can be viewed in five stages:

products evolution

In other words, library products are no longer simply associated with resources and services. Effective library programs are also looking for how experiences can be created and transformations can be made in the lives of library users.

Elements of Pop UpsBrainstorm things associated with each of these five stages. Think about how a product could evolve from a basic commodity into a transformation.

Example: Let's start with an example through the eyes of a librarian and a user. The book The Elements of Pop-Up by David A. Carter and James Diaz is a popular commodity. It's a book that circulates regularly. The librarian notes that popularity of this book and creates a display of pop-up books (i.e., Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs, The Enchanted Doll's House, Castle: Medieval Days and Knights, Wizardology, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Star Wars: PopUp, One Red Dot) along with the "The Elements of Pop-Up" which shows how paper can be engineered. Youth start asking for more information about making books, so a Saturday workshop is offered in making pop-ups. The librarian encourages those interested in making pop-ups to form a group and share their products in a special library display. Snacks are provided for those working on the project and the youth get together informally. Interest is expanded to other types of paper engineering and library materials and services.

Identify Current Inventory

Library products need to be identified. Brian Mathews (2009) recommends conducting a product inventory of all resources and services. This should be a brainstorm of ideas, so there's a good chance you'll find overlap and duplication. List resources and services in the following five areas:

puppetboyExample: Brian Mathews created a sample of what a current inventory might look like. Examine the PDF.

Similar inventories could be created for each library type. While some elements would be the same, others would vary.

Example: A children's library would include colorful mats and carpets, kits, puppets, rock collections, children's games, and other items not found in some other library inventories.

Assemble Product Lines

The next step is to assemble product lines by combining related items based on function. Many famous designers have inventories that include fragrances, apparel, and home furnishing. Cereal companies have lines focused on particular clients such as cereal for children, healthy eating, and older adults. Think about the lines that could be created for library products. For instance, the following categories could be developed by Brian Mathews (2009) for the academic library setting.

tent kidsThese categories represent more than individual services and locations, they include the wide range of resources, services, and physical/virtual spaces needed for particular types of work or play. For instance, your reference assistance line might include in-person, texting, IM/chat, phone, e-mail, web-based FAQs, or other approaches.

Example: Brian Mathews created a sample of what product lines might look like based on the sample product inventory. Examine the PDF.

Example: In a children's library setting, cultural encounters area might include spaces for storytelling, puppet shows, gaming, and a children's stage.

The image on the left is from the San Mateo Public Library system and show a special summer reading area.

Design Product Portfolios

Product portfolios bundle resources of interest to particular market segments. Sporting goods companies bundle products based on type of sport (i.e., football, basketball, golf). Items may be taken from a number of different product lines such as footwear, hats, equipment to create the golfing portfolio. Some of the same items such as hats might be used in multiple portfolios.

The same approach can be taken with library product line items to create product portfolios. You might target the library needs of different disciplines, age groups, or professional groups. This approach applies to all library types. Mathews uses the example of biology majors:

"Biology majors might need to use online course reserves (access), meet with their teaching assistant (assistance), practice for a group presentation (work area), and prepare for a test (study area)." - Mathews (2009, 40)

Example: Brian Mathews created a sample of what a product portfolio might look like. Examine the PDF.

Example: The product portfolio for the pop-up book group would include access to pop-up books (access), the initial workshop (assistance), and help creating pop-ups (assistance). Production supplies such as paper, scissors, and makers would be used (tools) in an area with tables (word area). Comfortable spots would be needed for discussions, sharing, and displaying artwork (cultural encounters).


You won't have the time to create portfolios for every situation. Instead, build these over time as you work with particular groups.

How is quality service defined?

It's not enough to simply offer a service. To be worthwhile, the service must be high quality. Quality customer service is important regardless of whether it's a basic circulation transaction or a semester-long research course.

Judith Siess (2003) notes that in the past, people came to the library because it was the only place to access some types of information. Today, customers have choices and the library is only one of many choices. Libraries must do more than provide a service, the must provide quality customer service.

Many researchers have identified levels of customer service (Gupta & Jamhekar, 2002; Weingand, 1998). The goal is to go beyond basic service and provide an exemplary experience (shown below).

quality spectrum

What services are part of daily operations, routine projects, significant projects, and pacesetters?

As you consider your mix of products, it's important to balance support for your existing activities with new ideas. Lovelock and Wirtz identified a mix that includes four levels of activities:

As you think about continuing to support existing operations and routine projects, also consider significant projects and pacesetters.

The photo below shows a student at the circulation desk at the Wendt Library Commons (courtesy Flickr).


Keep in mind that more is involved with a product than simply offering the program or service. According to Fisher and Pride (2006, 30-42), it's important to consider the details of the product.

In Get In On the Action, Shawn Friend (2012) stresses that there's a need to dig out of the 'library only as a place' pigeonhole. He suggests working with faculty to help with research in their classes, designing online materials that professors can use in their courses, and meeting with faculty outside the library.

Brittany Kolonay and Gail Mathapo (2012) developed a successful "embedded law library" program that extended their services beyond the library building. In their article Experimenting with Embedding, Kolonay and Mathapo asked the questions, "how do you keep a law library relevant to a student body located in a different building? How, as a librarian who does not teach, do you reinforce the importance of legal research?" Their solution was to embed law librarians in three of the law school's clinics and seminars where students are regularly involved with academic legal research and writing. Kolonay and Mathapo (2012, 20) found that

"success with our embedded librarian program has strengthened the library's ties to the law school while also improving student understanding of legal research. We believe the time spent is worthwhile and look forward to continuing our program and expanding it when and as resources allow. "

bridgeLooking for more ideas?
SKIM Chapter 7 of Lucas-Alfieri, Debra (2015). Marketing the 21st Century Library: The Time is Now. Chandos Publishing.


Aiken, Julian & Cadmus, Femi (2011). Who Let the Dog Out? Implementing a Successful Therapy Dog Program in an Academic Law Library. Trends in Law Library Management and Technology, 21, 13-18.

Amberg, Penny (2010). Where angels fear to tread: a non-librarian’s view of sustainability of rural libraries. APLIS, 23(1), 28-32. 

Andreasen, Alan & Kotler, Philip (2003). Strategic marketing for nonprofit organizations. Prentice Hall.

Berry, Leonard and Parasuraman, A. (Spring 1997). Listening to the customer: the concept of a service-quality information service. Sloan Management Review.

Brannon, Sian (2007). A successful promotional campaign. Serials Librarian, 53(3), 41-55.

Brown, Barry N. (2010). Access services management measures revisited: from triage to marketing to disarticulation. Journal of Access Services, 7(2), 84-96.

Coffman, Steve (2003). Going Live: Starting and Running a Virtual Reference Desk. ALA Editions.

Dempsey, Kathy (2009a). The Accidental Library Marketer. Information Today: Medford, New Jersey.

de Saez, Eileen Elliott (2002). Marketing Concepts for Libraries and Information Services. Library Association Pub Ltd.

Doucett, Elisabeth (2008). Creating Your Library Brand: Communicating Your Relevance and Value to Your Patrons. ALA Editions. 31-37.

Dowd, Nancy, Evangeliste, Mary, & Silberman, Jonathan (2010). Bite-Sized Marketing: Realistic Solutions for the Over-worked Librarian. ALA Editions.

Flom, Joel (September 7, 2011). The Value of Customer Journey Maps: A UX Designer's Personal Journey. UX Matters.

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

Friend, Shawn (March 2012). Get In On the Action. AALL Spectrum.

Kingman-Brundage, Jane (1989). The ABCs of service system blueprinting. In M.J. Bitner and L.A. Crosby, Designing a Winning Service Strategy. American Marketing Association.

Kolonay, Brittany & Mathapo, Gail (June 2012). Experimenting with Embedding. AALL Spectrum, 18-20.

Kotler, Philip & Zaltman, Gerald (1971). Social marketing: an approach to planned social change. Journal of Marketing.

Kotler, Philip (1982). Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations. Second Edition. Prentice-Hall.

Lee, Nancy R. & Kotler, Philip (2011). Social Marketing: Influencing Behaviors for Good. Sage.

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

Mawhinney, Suzanne (2011). Therapy Dogs Provide Stress (and Comic) Relief. AALL Spectrum.

Mathews, Brian (2009a). Marketing Today's Academic Library. ALA Editions.

Nagy, Andrew (2011). Deploying the next-generation service. Library Technology Reports, 47(7), 16-17.

Nunn, Brent & Ruane, Elizabeth. Marketing gets personal: promoting reference staff to reach users. Journal of Library Administration, 51(3), 291-300.

New Planning for Results (2001). Public Library Association (ALA).

Pine, Joseph & Gilmore, James (1999). The Experience Economy. Harvard Business School Press.

Richardson, Adam (2010). Touchpoints Bring the Customer Experience to Life.

Scott, David Meerman (2011). The New Rules of Marketing & PR (third edition). Wiley.

Shostack, Lynn (1985). Planning the service encounter. In J.A. Czepiel, M.R. Solomon, C.F. Suprenant, The Service Encounter. Lexington Books.

Siess, Judith (2003). The Visible Librarian. ALA Editions.

Trout, Jack (1997). The New Positioning: The Latest on the World's #1 Business Strategy. McGraw-Hill.

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

Weingand, Darlene (1999). The library's products – heart of the system. Marketing/Planning Library and Information Services. Libraries Unlimited, 81-98.

Woodward, Jeannette (2009). Creating the Customer-Driven Academic Library. ALA Editions, 130-151.

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