Marketing on a Shoestring: Fifty Nifty Thrifty Ways

Nancy DavisMonday, 8:30 – 10:00

Shoestring, pittance, trifling amount, tight budget, wing and a prayer, next to nothing, scratch, chickenfeed, small potatoes. What librarian hasn’t had to do more with less? Come to collect some great ideas for marketing your library on a shoestring, presented by Nancy Davis, partner in The Ivy Group. She has 20 years of experience helping organizations – both large and small – achieve their goals by implementing innovative, cost-effective ideas that maximize resources.

Presentation Slides:

Marketing in a down economy is more important that ever.

Our first inclination is to look at the budget and cut marketing. But the public needs to be aware of our services, because this is when we help the public the most.

Difference between “branding” and “marketing”
Branding: the uber-image of the library
Marketing what you do to make people aware of your image

Opposition to marketing:

  • The library is “too small” to market itself
  • What’s the point? We can’t compete with Borders or Amazon
  • It won’t work, and how could we even tell?
  • It might work too well and we’ll be overrun


  • People don’t expect library marketing to be slick and perfect
  • It’s generally better to do something rather than nothing
  • “Good” doesn’t mean expensive
  • Marketing does work, but you need a plan, and need to support it
  • It will cost some money
  • Not marketing will cause the library to lose ground in the minds of our investors (voters and tax payers) – especially important is to market the services that will appeal to patrons in bad economic times

What not to do

  • Mass-marketing – it’s not targeted, and that’s what we want (libraries should have a focused message); it’s also usually done through one channel (libraries need to use a broad range of medium to get the message out)
  • “Rolling before testing” – make sure you test your message first, otherwise it could look cheap, inconsistent, confusing, or waste money. Try your marketing on a small group to see how it works
  • Forgetting to include staff time in the bottom line – staff time is money
  • Barter – people will try to give you things for free in exchange for something else, but this is usually stacked against the library; make sure everything is in writing (thing includes donations with “strings attached”); always keep value value in mind
  • Not thinking long-term – sustainability is vital, so make sure you can follow through with programs and it’s not just a one-shot deal

Adopting the shoestring mentality

  • Always dress your best – staff represents the brand of the library
  • Learn something from every marketing activity (keep stats, review successes and failures, ask people how they heard about a program
  • Think in targeted segments – one size does not fit all
  • Tell your story – people connect with real stories that they can put themselves or their community into
  • Think double-duty – achieve more than one strategic or marketing goal with each program: Teen Reading Buddies serve to both improve literacy with kids and teens, and works as community service hours for teens

Strategies to use (not quite 50 ideas, but a lot…)

  1. Convert current users to new services
  2. Make friends, trustees, staff your ambassadors to the community – let them know of services first
  3. Motivate offline people to be online people – it’s cheaper and faster
  4. Get marketing talent on the board, or create a marketing advisory committee
  5. Make your library card look good – it should be the best looking card in the patron’s wallet
  6. Create a “intro to the library” presentation and talk to any group that will listen – get on peoples’ agendas
  7. Use public service announcements (PSAs) and local cable stations – it works
  8. Ask other town organizations, groups and departments to insert library info into their newsletters and mailings
  9. Work with the schools to use their distribution channels
  10. Use vehicle signage – magnet signs, bumper stickers, license plates
  11. Use local celebrities to assist with PR – have the mayor do a story time
  12. Get input and feedback from teens, senior citizens, etc, before you print
  13. Use websites as a virtual branch – it is the most cost-efficient marketing you can do
  14. Participate (visually) in local events
  15. Place ads in yearbooks, playbills, sports programs – they’re not expensive and they are unexpected
  16. Invite other groups to host their programs at the library, and then show them the tools and services the library offers that appeals to them – and sign them up for library cards
  17. Insert cross-marketing and readers advisory bookmarks into checked-out materials
  18. Solicit marketing help from vendors and library associations
  19. Submit book reviews to the paper, or other articles of interest (bibliographies of topics in the news
  20. Make the best possible use of in-library displays to involve and engage the public
  21. Replicate best marketing practices of other libraries (aka, don’t be afraid to steal good ideas)
  22. Make sure the staff understands that they are a huge part of the marketing effort – never let an opportunity to cross-market between services, products, service desks, etc
  23. Ask local printers about economies in print production – efficiencies lie in certain types of paper, printing in b&w, etc. – they know how we can save money, and will tell us to keep us as a customer
  24. Solicit corporate support to help pay for speakers, printing and other materials – printing their name on your materials is okay, and great for them
  25. Make sure you, the staff, and trustees have business cards – and give them out (printers can help with inexpensive ways to do this, and use both sides of the card)
  26. The annual report is a marketing document – make the dull statistics interesting with benefit-oriented information
  27. Maximize the potential of your telephone as a marketing tool – remind people of upcoming programs or new services; either with recordings or staff
  28. Display banners are seasonal and reusable – and changing the look of the library (outdoor and indoor) is visually interesting and engaging for patrons
  29. Offer free targeting training to specific groups (business databases for chamber of commerce members, etc)
  30. Co-develop materials with other libraries, leaving space for the library logo blank so you each can insert your logo and use the materials
  31. Create a stewardship program to honor long-time patrons, or frequent reader programs, to incentivize heavy library users


Is a state-wide library promotion campaign effective?
It does happen, and the general goal is to remind people libraries exist and raise awareness in a very general sense or to get a library card – it’s hard to be cost-effective locally

A lot of the ideas presented seemed like after-hours work for the staff – how do we do this?
That wasn’t the intent; it was to raise the priority of marketing during the workday. Marketing shouldn’t require overtime (but some things, like parade floats, are exceptions and worth overtime

How to make segmented maps of the population?
Just use a town map and indicate where churches are, civic groups, residential areas, sports associations, etc. Then try to associate people with these groups, and then look for which people are in more than one group. Evaluate what groups exist, what their needs are, and what communication channels each uses or has established

How do we get staff on board with marketing?
Tell them it’s their job [lots of laughs]; show them how easy it is – they talk to patrons while they are checking out anyway, so they could be suggesting library services during that transactions, too. It won’t take them extra time, as long as they recognize the opportunities when they arise. Make sure staff know how important they are to the cause. Try pairing new staff with veterans to pick up good habits, and share good ideas and success stories among staff. Show staff how to do this by having the director or other admins work the circ desk while marketing at the same time

What do staff say “no” to?
Have staff report or keep track of when they say “no” to patrons, and work towards getting everyone to saying yes by identifying the unmet needs of patrons

Marketing with other organizations?
Have local realtors include a library info packet with their materials for new home owners

Marketing in the schools?
Have a scavenger hunt or checklist (with prizes) to get students to explore other areas of the library

Can you elaborate on return-on-investment analysis?
It draws a correlation between the cost of library services and the benefit they offer – assign retail values to all services and compare that to the budget and what patrons are actually paying for. Try the Highland Regional (NJ) Library Consortium has a simple ROI model – Valuing Your Library – with a one-page worksheet, and show this to your town officials to show how much bang they are getting for their buck (usually 4-1). Also use the Library Value Calculator on your website

Crossing the Border: Changing Times for Librarians and Genealogists

Cynthia O'NeilSunday, 3:30 – 4:30

Every library has the basic tools needed by patrons who are searching for their roots, but librarians may not realize the extent of their online and print resources. Cynthia O’Neil, Certified Genealogist, Board for Certification of Genealogists and genealogy expert at the Manchester (NH) City Library, leads you through the process of assisting genealogists, as new technology and tight budgets encourage genealogists and librarians to work together.

There has been a divide between librarians and genealogists.

Genealogists think: everyone who works in a library is a “librarian” and needs to answer questions
Librarians think: everyone asking genealogy questions will be happy with the resources we can provide

Genealogists span from simply the curious to amateurs to professions who have their own research styles, favorite tools, and want to do their own work. A new group of genealogists are family members doing this work to find family medical histories and family DNA.

Amateur give the professionals a bad name – examples of amateur questions:

  • Where is the book on my family?
  • Can you do my family tree?

Librarians help find information, not do their work.

The best genealogists want original records or primary sources, which often are not in libraries. They are in City Clerks office or Archives, but vary by state and county, which makes it difficult for visiting genealogists to understand. Secondary source are usually not what genealogists want.

Problems between librarians and genealogists:

  • The reference interview can be difficult for genealogists, because it is very personal information and they don’t want to hear that information may not be available
  • Library resources are usually secondary sources, copies, or gifts (which leads to an uneven or “worn” collection)
  • Families move away, so libraries might not have information
  • Genealogists often think that everything about a townsperson is available somewhere in that town
  • Genealogy is usually not the main focus (or skill set) of a public library

Resources libraries already have that are of use to genealogists:

  • City directories
  • microfilm
  • maps (USGS, town, etc)
  • published local histories (even of surrounding towns)
  • how-to books on genealogy
  • town annual reports and vital records
  • cemetery records
  • the World Almanac (contains a timeline of history and a perpetual calendar to find past days/dates)
  • know who to contact to find church records

Session Handout

The handout was a bibliography of suggested core collection for libraries in New England:




  • Check for your state or town’s historical society’s website
  • [many more listed, will add asap]

How to help Genealogists

  • Encourage them to call before coming so you can be ready
  • Help them find information outside of the library
  • Ask them to tell us what they can’t find, so we know what resources to look for
  • Give out-of-towners local history information in addition to genealogical information, to help give them context (since New England history goes further back than other areas of the country

Question & Answer period

Q:What kind of information do you get out of land grants?
Where people lived, especially during certain time frames, see how land was passed through family members, learn how land was used.

Q: Do you have patrons come in and say donated information is wrong? Is it our responsibility to correct it?
Leave it the way it is, but include a note (with patron contact info) to notify subsequent users. The printed information came from somewhere, but no record is perfect.

Q: Boston University is starting an extension program for genealogy – should history-reluctant staff be sent for training, or just have one person on staff who is the expert?
Many staff are afraid of genealogy questions, and no amount of training will change that. Some find they unexpectedly enjoy it, so encourage them to try. If they are covering the expert’s lunch, they can at least pass out their business card.

Welcome to NELA2008 – Taking Charge of Change

NELA 2008 Conference logoWelcome to the New England Library Association’s 2008 Annual Conference. The conference this year is at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, NH, and our theme is Taking Charge of Change.

This blog will constantly be updated with notes from sessions, meetings and events throughout the conference. Here are a few important conference links to get you started:

Thank you for visiting the NELA Conference blog, and we hope you enjoy the conference – either in person or virtually. If you have suggestions to make this blog better, please leave a comment and let us know.