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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

Marketing is an Attitude of Mind

Hilkka Orava
Library Director
Salo Public Library


The author describes the approach to marketing at the Salo Public Library in Finland, emphasising that it is a question not of money, but of philosophy - the attitude of mind - that permeates the entire staff. She queries the approach of marketing which is usually seen as a set of techniques developed for the private sector, but which may not apply in the public sector. Examples of the approach of Salo Public Library are provided.



What makes a pub popular? I mean permanently popular, not just briefly fashionable. Is it the result of advertising and campaigning?

Rarely, or at least only for a short while. Whatís essential is that supply meets demand, with expertise, good personal service, flexibility, the ability to cope with the unusual and, above all, interpersonal skill. If this works, then word of mouth takes care of the marketing to a great extent, if not totally. If marketing isnít working at the service level, then all other marketing efforts are in vain and will achieve no more than passing results.

As library professionals we may feel ourselves rather academic, but why would a public library be any different in this respect from a pub or other service?

The comparison with "my local" says something about my starting point which is: community librarianship. I'm not saying that one can succeed with the same concept in the public library at New York's 42nd Street. But most of the worldís libraries are community libraries. That also applies to the branches of big city libraries. Christian Grönroos, professor of marketing in Helsinki writes: "a growing service firm, in order to remain market-oriented and be successful, will have to be able to combine the strength of being small in a local perspective with the strength of belonging to a large organisation" You may not have heard of this professor, but you may well know of Philip Kotler, who wrote the preface to this book.


Finland, with a population of 5 million, has 452 municipalities, the median size of which is less than 5,000 inhabitants. Every municipality has a public library and, as the law prescribes, using it is free of charge. More than 20 loans, and 13 visits to the library, are registered annually per inhabitant which apparently is a world record for the 90s. Library use focuses on getting information, education, and lifelong learning both professionally and personally. Almost all libraries are computerised and have database connections. Of the main libraries, 70% are on the Internet.

The town of Salo has over 23,000 inhabitants, many of whom work in high-tech industry. Nokia is the biggest employer. Unemployment is very low by current Finnish standards.

Salo Public Library has the highest usage figures in Finland: 41 loans and 26 library visits per inhabitant annually. In the early 1970s, Salo ranked below average in these national statistics, but later that same decade it came top although external circumstances were much the same.

Research in the early 90s showed that the library ranked equal second with journals and newspapers as a source of information for everyday life. Compared with similar studies in other countries, this ranking is very high.

Friends and colleagues came first in the Finnish study, as they do in most others.

Easy to market library services

I maintain that nothing is easier to market than library services in a country where literacy is virtually 100%, where the government appreciates public libraries in word and deed, and financially and where using the library is free of charge. If the library hasnít got good standing in its community under these circumstances, something is probably wrong with the way it functions.

A Finnish mayor once said: "The library has contact, in a natural way, with all human needs and activities. So why waste time and energy trying to create new needs, when there are plenty of existing needs, conscious or latent, to which the benefit offered by the library can be directly connected?"

The question is: can we see this benefit from the userís point of view, and will we communicate in a way that relates to the userís needs? Or are we too busy selling the library, its collections and institutional values, or marketing our own values like the blessings of good literature, or whatever we may think is right and modern?

Despite my title, I shun the word marketing. Too often itís seen only as a bunch of techniques, which are supposed to take care of image and visibility, to bring appreciation and popularity. Because they are developed for goods markets, these techniques rarely apply to the service sector; even more rarely do they apply to service provided with public funding. Professor Grönroos, referring to Philip Kotler, says this about the marketing mix: "its 4 P's [product, place, price, production] constitute a production-oriented definition of marketing and not a market-oriented one".

Marketing library service is a question not of money, but of the philosophy the attitude of mind that permeates an organisation, the entire staff. Goods are used, but service is experienced. The public image of a service within the community is born primarily out of the experiences of people. It crystallises gradually. We who work in the library are the most important marketing resource. The deciding factors are our own attitudes, our commitment to the community, to the people who are, indirectly, our employers.

Why am I "marketing"?

When Iím asked about the goals of my work, I define it something like this: to do my job in such a way that everyone is aware of the library and knows how to, and dares to, approach it and benefit from it. Note the word aware.

To inform is our basic duty tax payers have a right to know what services their money provide. Then itís up to them whether they use the services or not. As well we know, there are many happy and wise people who donít need libraries or read books. Yet itís important that they know about library services. Once I tried to suggest to a municipal councillor an active and happy person what she could use the library for, but all in vain. Still, this non-user is important for the library. Itís vital what kind of image she has of the services, what she knows about them and what she tells other people. Even a non-user can be a promoter.

Marketing in context

To market services, information about them must be placed in the right context. Age-group is not an appropriate context, but information needs and interests are.

By "marketing in context" I mean providing information about the library outside the library, in situations where people find themselves aware of their individual needs.

Why donít I use the term "targeted marketing"? Because itís dangerous to see people as targets. Information about library services must be integrated into peopleís daily lives. I believe that natural infiltration is a more successful strategy than aggressive campaigning.

Letís take a few simple examples. At least one parent of every Finnish child visits the child welfare clinic. The staff there gladly distribute a small leaflet that says what the library can offer in support of child care. When a family goes to a marriage adviser, facing divorce perhaps, they get a small leaflet listing appropriate books. When a business college has a course for future entrepreneurs, the library delivers small leaflets on how to start a business, on tax matters, on marketing and so on. When the Womenís Institute, aiming to raise awareness of how to use plants from nature, arranges a drive in the market square, the library provides small leaflets telling what it has available on the subject.

You will have noticed that I repeat the word "small". These are not exhaustive (and exhausting) lists of material, but a few good tips; one A4 at the most, preferably an A5, with contact information, a friendly greeting, an invitation to express wishes if there are shortcomings in the services, etc.

When the local newspaper runs a special feature, on renovating your house for instance, there will also be a mention of what the library can offer. In the same way, the library gets mentioned when the local TV or radio does theme programmes. My next ambition is to establish e-mail lists of local interest groups so as to reach them directly when we have something to tell them.

In each community there are always new opportunities to tell people about library services in context. This costs nothing but the awareness to spot the possibilities, and the energy to grab them. When we reach a few interested people, the information will spread through them. These "secondary promoters" are actually more effective than the library staff they are familiar experts in their field or hobby. Itís false ambition to try doing everything yourself. Sometimes itís more effective to let others do it for us.

Marketing is interaction

As well as "context", for me "interaction" is another keyword, both within the library and outside it. Let me give an example from a Baltic town. The townís library has resources no different from the average in that country, but its popularity, and the degree to which it is appreciated, are exceptional. Why? Because its staff is highly committed to the community and integrated into it in many areas of life. The success of this library compared with others like it shows that attitude of mind is what matters.

Marketing services is not a separate function, it belongs to everyone. Itís a way of working, a way of living.

Every staff member is like a visiting card for the library, even outside working hours. If I meet new people in my town, in a pub perhaps, I always tell where I work, and I know many of my colleagues do the same. Taxpayer-employers have a right to know who works for them, and itís good because the service gets a face and a name, so the threshold to using it gets lower.

A central part of marketing the library is marketing the staff. Library directors should not hog the publicity. It is better for the library if more of the staff gets known through the mass-media in the name of the library.

A key marketing position is the service front-line. Every meeting with a client inside the library, or outside it, is a moment of truth and of opportunity. If the front-line is ill-equipped, fancy strategies from headquarters come to nothing.

People on the service front-line should know as much as possible about the services much more than they need just to do their own job. The library wastes many windows of opportunity if the front-line job is seen narrowly as production-line work. At its worst, this results in the marketing of rules rather than service. Additionally, the service front-line is in a key position in the opposite direction as well: as spotter of shortcomings in the service, and conveyor of client feedback to the strategists at headquarters. Of course, user-studies are necessary every 3 or 4 years, but if systematic collection of client feedback rests only on these, we lose a lot of valuable information or get it too late.

User training as marketing

A brilliant opportunity for marketing and developing services in interaction is the training in library use and information searching that is given to school classes and other groups, provided they are not carried out in a stereotyped way and not centred around the librarian. For each group the needs of every participant should be assessed separately. Every visit should be based on interaction, where the librarian is receiving, not just teaching, or even preaching. When, for example, a teacher wants to encourage pupils to read more, all pupils will tell the library in advance what kinds of books or things they are interested in. On arriving they will receive a personal list of selected books according to their profile of interest. During the library visit the librarian will not lecture, but discuss with the pupils. After their visit the pupils will write their feedback in school, both about the visit itself and about the reading tips they received.

When students of Salo Business College had been introduced to information retrieval from their own field by the public library, they wanted to arrange an Information Acquisition Day, a small-scale fair, in collaboration with the library. A group of marketing students, with help from the library staff, planned and created a library fair, made a humorous video about searching for information, designed a questionnaire about the service etc. It was particularly pleasing to hear the final comment from the students during the feedback discussion: they said that by participating in the project they had learnt much more about what services the library offers, and now they will be able to share this knowledge with others. The fair was so popular that it will be repeated this year.

Marketing through user participation

When library users are involved, genuinely and regularly in day-to-day user-education and other interactive situations, the co-operation between clients and staff often results in services developing. The library should, on all levels, encourage and stimulate its clients to participate in the development of the library. In our clientsóand here I mean both non-users and usersóthere is enormous potential as developers and promoters of the library.

Letís take acquisition as an example. Itís misguided ambition (or poor professional self-esteem) to think that we should master every aspect of acquisition except, perhaps, for allowing clients to make the odd suggestion.

Behind all our activities should be the intention to interact with our clients. The better the interactive network that we manage to create with our clients 'who are the best experts on their own information needs and fields of interest 'the better our service satisfies the users. The service improves, and promotion comes as a bonus: active clients tell others who are interested about what has been acquired, and all involved feel that this is their library.

Word of mouth gets around

When do I feel weíve been successful in our service and marketing it? I donít measure success by saying that 41 loans are registered for each inhabitant. These kinds of simple statistics are influenced by resources and many other factors.

But I do feel satisfaction when I observe that positive reports have got around. Researchers since sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld in the 50s agree that word of mouth influences our mental pictures and habits the most. Iím pleased about clients who visit the library almost daily. But Iím particularly happy when someone tells me that he has never been to the library before, but now he has this problem and a neighbour told him to come: they know how to find the right information here, and the service is good.

I also feel satisfaction when somebody living in the town brings her guest to the library and says she wants to show "our library that we are so proud of". Thatís the target: getting people to feel that it is their library and having them feel proud of it.


Grönroos, Christian. (1990). Service Management and Marketing: Managing the Moments of Truth in Service Competition. Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books.