Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Library marketing: a strategic approach to an interactive library experience

Olin College of Engineering is a young college (last ten years) set up to bring more hands-on training, entrepreneurial spirit, cross-disciplinary learning and design concepts into engineering education. Students are a diverse group with a range of talents beyond their academic excellence. Dee Magnoni is its Library Directory with some background in advertising.

The interactive library: escaping temporal exhaustion
Olin's library is not huge but Dee believes that you learn by more than just reading and writing; the interactive collections reflect this. The library is a 24/7 space to escape "temporal exhaustion" (when we're too busy to pause and contemplate, our creativity suffers). The small staff at Olin doesn't sit behind a desk. The virtual collection is much larger and deeper than the physical collection. The library is full of games (chess), modelling kits and other interactive "realia" to encourage creativity and thought. It sounds like an inspiring and fun place to learn.

Encouraging e-resource usage
Olin puts most of its budget into e-resources, and makes sure they're used by holding a vendor fair. Olin advocates four steps: goal, timeline, budget, communicate. Dee allows herself 6 months to plan a fair! and works with other departments (IT, facilities) and external partners (caterers, balloons, photographer). In attracting vendors Dee communicated her own excitement along with the benefits for vendors. Vendors have been "fabulous" in partnering with costs and prizes. In the run-up to the event she put together and distributed publicity posters and flyers, and re-confirmed all the vendors and suppliers.

Dee's event coincided with "Talk like a pirate" day and so they used this theme and the seasonal treats (caramel apples and cider) to theme the decor and catering. In order to enter the raffle, users had to answer the question "What did you learn?" - a great way to elicit feedback such as "I learnt where and how to do my research". She also gathered feedback from vendors as to the value of the event to them. "One event is not going to solve all my PR challenges," she notes, and tells us the lessons she learned:
  • always communicate more, more, more
  • be ready for something to go wrong, because something will
  • don't do it alone - get all the support you can from vendors, suppliers, internal depts
  • make sure you, as well as everyone else, have fun!
A multichannel approach
Olin does other forms of marketing and Dee cites Springshare's LibGuides as a useful tool for helping students to find resources in specific areas. The library has a Facebook page, uses Wikis, blogs, instant messaging and news feeds to reach its users (I applaud this multi-channel approach). Dee has also carried out considerable research among faculty and students to inform her strategic planning, and has created an external library advisory board (including vendors, researchers, a copyright expert, a consortia director and faculty from other colleges) to visit regularly and provide strategic advice as well as occasional tactical input. Isn't this a great idea - I wonder how many other libraries are capturing the skills of those around them in this way? Dee rates conferences as an opportunity to pick up on the zeitgeist and share experiences with others.
Exemplum, exemplum, an example from your own life ... One library realised its students weren't taking in the guidance they had received from the library as freshers, and were calling their parents for the kind of help the library should provide. So the library scrapped its freshers event and invited the parents to tea, so they would later tell their offspring to use the library.
The library as part of the bigger study picture
At Olin they talk about information fluency, not information literacy. Dee gathered together relevant standards and worked with students to come up with their own curriculum (which they called Lifehacks) with modules on sleep, nutrition, relaxation, and "everything else you need to be successful to study". She paints a compelling picture of a library that has been able to grow itself into being precisely what its students need it to be - I guess the challenge for others is to be able to evolve from a more traditional library into an interactive and welcoming environment such as Olin has managed to create.

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