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

Marketing of Libraries and Information Centers in China: a Case Study

Du Yuanqing
Director of Marketing Division
Institute for Astronautics Information
P O Box 1408,
Beijing 100013,

Internet email: duyq@hns.cjfh.ac.cn


Institute for Astronautics Information (IAI) is a typical information center in China, operating in the environment of a market economy at a primary stage. A detailed case study is provided for people to have a closer look of what are happening in Chinese library and information community. To promote IAI's products and services, four categories of things are done including (1) making a list of what IAI can practically do; (2) user identification and analysis; (3) pricing of IAI's products and services; and (4) marketing to raise awareness of IAI. The purposes of marketing and eleven effective ways of promotion are discussed. Problems to be solved concerning future library and information services are presented.


library services; information centers; marketing; promotion; charging policy; information services; user identification; marketing skills; market driven economy; China



In China, there is a system of public libraries led by the Ministry of Culture, including the National Library of China, the provincial libraries, the city and county libraries. There is also a parallel system of public information centers, guided by the State Science and Technology Commission, including the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China (ISTIC), the ministerial institutes of scientific and technical information (ISTIs) and the provincial ISTIs. There are also an academic library system belonging to the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) and a university library system led by the State Education Commission.

Institute for Astronautics Information (IAI) is a typical ministerial level information center affiliated to the China Aerospace Corporation (CASC). IAI is the only authoritative information center of its kind to provide one stop shop service of Chinese space related scientific and technical information (STI).

With the growth of a market driven economy in China, IAI has to learn to "swim in the sea of market economy". IAI reorganized its internal structure and formed a new Marketing Division. The members of the division are from the six different functional departments of IAI. This report briefly introduces the things I and my colleagues have done and the experiences and lessons I have learned as the head of the Marketing Division of IAI.

1 First Thing's First: Make a List of What We Can Do

The first thing I did was to find out what IAI could actually do. I have decided to make an operable list of all the products and services IAI could provide. There was no such kind of list before in the history of IAI.

With the help of some members of the Marketing Division representing different departments, I have gathered lots of basic facts. Then I put all the facts together with my own findings in the form of computer printouts and disseminated them to the senior employees of IAI in order to reconfirm the authenticity of the facts. Finally, we got a better idea about what IAI can do.


  1. Chinese Aerospace Document Database (CADD)
    This machine readable database has more than 80,000 bibliographic records covering part of the recent ten years' space related collections of IAI and other five libraries affiliated with CASC. CADD has now got its CD ROM version.

  2. Information Research Reports
    Aerospace related information research reports are mainly from the Research Department which produces about 50 reports each year.

  3. Publications (mainly periodicals)
    Aerospace China
    (Chinese edition with English abstracts)
    Aerospace China (English edition)
    Space Technology and Civil Products
    Space Industry Management
    China Astronautics and Missilery Abstracts (CAMA)
    China Scientific and Technical Astronautics Reports (CSTARs)


The services that IAI provides are listed alphabetically. They are typical of many information centers in China.
  1. Consultation Services
    At present, we just provide certain kinds of research reports on certain topics in response to users' needs.

  2. Database Searching Services
    Some users visit IAI library and seek direct assistance from our staff in searching certain databases for certain topics of information.

    We provide accesses to Internet, National Library of China, Beijing Document Services and have some databases on CD ROM.

  3. Document Delivery Services
    These services are specially welcomed by people from places other than Beijing. A user can phone us or write to us to tell what article or report they want. Our staff will search IAI's and other information centers' collections to locate it, make a copy of it and mail the copy to the user.

  4. Host based Searching Service for Dial up Users
    There is a mainframe computer operated by the Computer Department of IAI. Over 800,000 records (from five databases) are loaded on the external memory of the machine. Any people who has a computer and a modem can access the databases through a telephone line.

  5. Management Services
    IAI, since it was founded in 1981, has been appointed by the top administrative of , formerly, the Ministry of Aerospace, and now, the CASC, to be the head information center in charge of some managerial functions to guide all the libraries affiliated with CASC.

  6. Patent Services
    IAI has a Patent Office to provide patent related services for inventors inside and outside the CASC. The staff of the Patent Office have got the necessary certificates approved by the State Patent Bureau.

  7. Publications Distribution Services
    We distribute our publications and home made research reports to our users.

  8. Reference Services
    Answering queries from administrative officials of CASC is now a top priority of IAI. The levels of reference services vary from spending a few minutes finding some statistics to spending a few days gathering documents and writing reports. Basic enquiry support and general guidance in the use of the collections are provided for all users.

  9. Selective Dissemination of Information (SDI)
    We provide topical bibliography compiling and abstracting services according to users' prescriptions.

  10. Training Services
    Training services are provided for potential dial up users and the information workers from grass root information organizations (e.g. an information department of a reearch institute).

  11. Translation Services
    IAI has a group of qualified translators and interpreters. Most of them understand at least two languages. They are experts in Chinese, English, Japanese, French, German and Russian.

2 User Definition: Who are IAI's Users

Knowing about users (both active and potential) is a vital ingredient of marketing.

IAI was created in the plan driven economy environment. Its parent organization was then the Ministry of Aerospace and is now the CASC. At present, most of IAI's financial support is still from the CASC. Therefore we consider the individuals or organizations representing the CASC to be IAI's major users (customers). We call them "internal users". All the rest types of users are called external users.

Originally, we took the financial support from parent organization for granted and just passively provided some traditional services to some users who happened to know IAI. Since the market economy is growing with tremendous strength, even the financial support from government is allocated on a competitive base. Recently, customer oriented thinking and practice have pervasive influences on IAI staff. IAI has reordered its priorities and worked harder then ever before to provide quality products and services to appeal to our most important customer CASC.

We also realize that there are chances to sell some spinoffs of our products and services to general public. Even our main stream products and services can be shared by some related universities and organizations. For instance, before the establishment of the new Marketing Division, IAI had already begun selling some IAI produced journals to some external users.

Most users outside CASC are ready to pay for certain products and services they are willing to get from IAI. Thousands of people all over China subscribe to IAI's periodical Aerospace China. Some foreign space related libraries subscribe to our bilingual abstract periodical China Astronautics and Missilery Abstracts (CAMA), and further use our document delievery and translation services.

In order to get detailed and concrete information about our potential users, we search our own CADD to find out the corporate names, and finger through some international space related directories to get the addresses. We believe they will be the potential users who will probably pay to get our publications and services.

We have built a database containing information of our users. A very handy mailing list is maintained with the help of a PC. Analyses show that our users include government officials, researchers from inside and outside the CASC, students and teachers, general public and foreign space related libraries and organizations. 3 Fee or Free: Pricing of IAI's Products and Services There are no generally accepted pricing standards for information products and services in China so far. As we ourselves are often users of other information centers and libraries, we have been charged for some of the products and services provided by them. Most of the cases the charging is reasonable and understandable, but sometimes we feel it is intolerable. These experiences help us a lot in pricing our own products and services. Of course, we have to make some changes according to our own tenets. Most often we charge only to cover a portion of the cost incurred for the service provided.

Libraries and information centers are generally considered pro bono publico organizations. Traditional services like reading room facilities, on the spot lending, basic enquiry support and general guidance in the use of the collections are free of charge for all internal and external users of IAI.

We also don't charge our traditional and important internal users representing IAI's parent organization CASC. We do almost everything we can to serve their information needs. IAI's periodicals and other publications are timely delivered to their offices. Urgent enquiries from them are answered without delay. And IAI is always ready to provide them with needed research services, document delivery, report writing, translation services and SDI services. They have free access to all databases in our mainframe computer.

For the external users, new services generated because of the introduction of new media and new devices are charged. Host based dial up use of databases in our mainframe computer can be charged in proportion to the connection time. Or users can choose to pay an annual fee for unlimited connection time. When charging for the use of CD ROMs and on line searching, the following factors are considered: the cost of the installations, the manpower, and the amount of printing.

Document delivery fee is based on the amount of work involved in locating the document, the direct cost of getting the copy of it and the time allowances.

Charging for research services, expert consultations, translation and editing services, SDI services, patent related services and other value added services is more complicated. The recent practice includes direct negotiation between the service providing staff and the customers.

Fee for training services is to cover the direct cost of classroom renting, manpower, textbooks and manuals. Guided practices on machines are usually free of charge.

Issues in relation to fee based information services and products are hot topics all over the world. Although I am in charge of a Marketing Division, I personally feel nostalgic for the time when all services provided by the library were free of charge. Three years ago when I was invited to a "meeting of experts" held by the National Library of China and asked to give my opinion about charging a fee for getting a book from a library shelf to a reader in the reading room, my comment was "intolerable". I still insist that all kinds of libraries and information centers should provide a set of free of charge standard services to the general public for the good of the society.

Generally speaking, the pricing policies are quite fluid at the present stage and may easily affected by the economic, social and political circumstances within which the libraries and the information centers are operating. At the beginning of our charging practice, we realized that most information seekers were parsimonious and reluctant in paying for some types of untraditional services they got from IAI. Lots of explanations were needed from our staff. But now things have changed a lot and people are accustomed to being charged for certain types of services. When we publicize a new version of the price list of IAI's products and services, we attach to it a note like "prices are subject to change without notice" and the work load of price related explanations is becoming smaller.

4 Marketing, Promotion and Public Relations: Raising Awareness of IAI and Its Products and Services

4.1 Purposes In the competitive and market driven environment, marketing and promotion planning can be vital in securing the allocation of adequate resources to the information center. The necessary amount of income for IAI to survive and grow should be generated from both the parent organization CASC and the external users. And, at present, the percentage of the first part of IAI's income is still high.

In order to reinforce IAI's political and financial position in CASC and to get the support from the senior management of CASC during the budget allocation discussions, IAI needs to continually raise both its visibility to its internal users and its effectiveness in satisfying their needs.

And in order to win paying users and sponsors so as to generate income for IAI, a continual effort of marketing and promotion is indispensable to bring IAI's products (services) and their target users together.

Unfortunately, even until now, a good many people simply don't know IAI at all. I often hear people say "I have never heard of IAI before" when I visit some research institutes. And the image of the librarians and information workers in their minds is often traditional and old fashioned. That means there are gaps between IAI's products and their users. My two years' experience as a manager of IAI's Marketing Division has taught me that there are lots of things to be done in publicizing IAI's services, products and their contributions to its internal and external users.

4.2 Methods

I and my colleagues have intentionally spent a lot of time keeping telling people that IAI's task is to establish an information rich environment through providing widest possible access to aerospace information for managers, researchers and students working in the space related fields. Following ways (listed alphabetically) are used to implement our promotion strategy.


Direct contacts with individuals and organizations are of special importance in China for raising awareness of IAI and its services and products.

Sometimes I am appointed to be interpreter to attend some important events and commercial talks. I make the acquaintance of some potential users as occasion serves. During the intermissions and the time traveling in a car, I talk to the people around me, exchange name cards with them, and introduce IAI and, if possible, its products and services to them.

I and my colleagues have attended some important space related meetings and exhibitions to disseminate the sample copies of our publications, the order forms, and the handouts explaining our products and services.


Different marketing practices can be combined and coordinated to get the best result of promotion.


Soon after the founding of IAI's bilingual reference journal China Astronautics and Missilery Abstracts and the starting of IAI's host based database services, we organized a large scale demonstration in a well equipped hall at the CASC Headquarters. More than two hundred important people representing government, universities and industries were invited to attend the event. A video tape reporting the success of the demonstration were prepared for the Beijing TV Station to broadcast.

After this event, some small scale outreach activities displaying IAI's products and services were organized. Transparent glass made bookcases decorated and loaded with IAI's products are placed in the hall and the corridor of IAI's office building.


The best way of letting people really know about IAI is to provide quality products and services so that they can discover what IAI can do for them and how it can be useful. And if IAI is effective and helpful, users will be pleased and will tell others.


Provision of written guidance to the products and services a library or information center provides is a traditional and effective way in user education.

I and my colleagues have prepared lots of handouts and brochures explaining in detail the contents of IAI's dial up user services and the procedures of utilizing them and addressing FAQs (frequently asked questions), and disseminated them, free of charge, to the people who should know about IAI.

"A Guide to IAI's Products and Services" lists all the things IAI can do for its customers and the related costs users are expected to pay. Detailed information about the location of IAI, the ways of getting there, the telephones and contacts for all the products and different services is also provided.


With the rapid development of information technology and the exponential growth of the amount of information, quite many information seekers, young or old, often feel lost when they first visit a library or information center. Little training in information skills is provided for students when they are in college.

One of the responsibilities for IAI's marketing staff is to provide one to one instruction during enquiries including familiarizing users with the Boolean search or other search strategies. This can effectively eliminate the frustration encountered by new comers to IAI and thus increase best use of IAI.

We carefully redesigned IAI's old bibliographic journal and published the well accepted new bilingual reference periodical CAMA. Considerate instructions about how to read the six different indexes are provided by illustrations. We encourage university teachers to use CAMA to demonstrate information searching process, and join their efforts in teaching students how to search and locate relevant documents. Ten universities including Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Northwestern Polytechnical University, National University of Defence Technology, University of Science and Technology of China, and Nanjing University of Science and Technology have been using CAMA as training aid.


Giving lectures on new information technologies can be very effective in changing the stereotyped thinking about information workers within the minds of the audience and in raising their awareness and understanding of information services.

In 1995, I was invited by many organizations and institutes to give lectures on "information highway and STI searching". More than five hundred people attended those lectures. I have made best use of the opportunities to introduce IAI's services and products. Following each lecture there was a demonstration of dial up accesses to both the Internet and IAI's host based databases. Each time I brought with me a notebook PC, a modem and some auxiliaries, and established the connection before the eyes of the audience.


A "Space Information Work Newsletter" and other related newsletters edited by IAI are distributed among members of the Space Information Chapter of the China Society for Scientific and Technical Information (CSSTI). The staff of Marketing Division actively write reports to the newsletters telling about new reports and services, events and meetings, and the recent arrivals of IAI's carefully tailored collections, in order to raise awareness of the value of the information available and to encourage its effective use. This makes people believe that IAI is always there to help.


Making advertisements through certain newspapers and journals is already an established practice for selling IAI produced periodicals.


We send greeting cards to people who have used IAI's certain kinds of services and supported IAI's marketing efforts.


The surveying process is in itself a process of telling people what IAI will do next. And a lot of feedback opinions about present products and services can be collected at the same time. The reports of the survey are helpful for making decisions affecting future products and services of IAI.

5 Things to Be Improved: A Long Way to Go

As we are aggressively promoting our yet underdeveloped information products and services, we are sensible enough to discover following problems needed to be solved for the health of future marketing and promotion planning.


A lot of factors including provincial and departmental interests are causing fragmentation for the information market and preventing library and information services from fully utilizing the resources available throughout China.

There is no practically operable national OPACs system in China. Most users have to physically approach a library or information center to get a book or document. And there is no practical plan to connect the presently existed host based dial up services. If a user want to reach 6 hosts, s/he has to make at least 6 different phone calls and type at least six different passwords.

Saving is getting. Much yet has to be achieved for eliminating duplications of efforts between information providers (including libraries and information centers) to save funds.


The evaluation of marketing and promotion activities can check the effectiveness of those activities and help to find better and more cost effective ways of marketing. Tangible proofs of the value of information marketing and information itself collected during the evaluation will be valuable for future marketing.

The evaluation of IAI's products and services can provide basic information about its overall performance. User satisfaction surveys can be a good method for such evaluation. If IAI can get high rating from its users, its financial and political position can be strengthened.


Promoting the relevance of the information services to the users' competitive advantage can encourage information oriented atmosphere within the parent organization and in the society. This will be helpful in improving the social environment in which libraries and information centers operate.


IAI is determined to put emphasis on marketing and information access and wants to be a user first information center. All the opportunities good for marketing IAI and its products and services should be utilized to full effect.

We have already known the concept of "Total Quality Management". Is it possible to establish a new concept "Total Marketing Management"? Marketing skills are not only important for marketing staff and the chief managers of libraries and information centers. Information workers of all levels should get trained in promotion and marketing skills and ready to practise them.

But it seems that no one is responsible to provide the needed training. People have to teach themselves through trial and error processes. And international exchanges in relation to library marketing and promotion between librarians from both developed and developing countries/regions are seldom known to be organized.


Strategic planning of marketing and promotion activities largely depends on good user analysis. But little has been done in systematically identifying users and their needs.


As far as I know, it is a common practice in China that a marketing department of a library or information center is both a sales department and a public relations department, and it is also responsible to provide bonus (proportional to the sales) for its staff. I am quite worried that this kind of environment is easy for cultivating snobbish spirit in a library or information center and thus jeopardizes the image and the future of our profession. We should not be "penny wise and pound foolish" in designing and practicing our charging policies.

In my opinion, public libraries and information centers are not places for the staff to make their fortune. It is another common practice for many libraries and information centers that some of the buildings and offices are redeployed for other uses. This leads to, for instance, smaller reading rooms for users, and the traditional role played by public libraries and information centers in promoting books and reading is likely to shrink.


I have seen obviously unbalanced development of library and information services across China. For example, there is no library at all in my birth place Yanwo Town close to the northern bank of the Yangtze River, with an area of 100 square kilometers and a population of 40,000. And people there simply have no chance to get library services at all.

Unbalanced information resources distribution and the varied levels of accessibility of different groups of people pose limitations on and challenges to the practices of information marketing and promotion.


The inequality of information flows between developed and developing countries/regions is problematical. Taking Internet for example, it is an obvious fact that developed countries/regions speak a lot more lauder than all the developing world. The factors causing the unbalanced information flow include (1)language barriers; (2) lack of marketing skills, funds, trained staff, equipments and communication capabilities of the developing world; (3) national information policies; (4) lack of effective cooperation between the developed and developing worlds.