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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 131-125-E
Division Number: VI.
Professional Group: Management and Marketing
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 125.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   Yes

Marketing Action Planning: The Untold Story

Alice Calabrese
Chicago Library System
Chicago, Illinois, USA


The Chicago Library System (CLS) developed several approaches toward marketing education for member librarians. Through research analysis, it was determined that librarians felt pressured to defend against new competition for readers-bookstores, the Internet, other libraries, time and convenience. A dual strategy approach allowed CLS to market and promote itself while at the same time help members "tell their own story." We attempted to assist members create effective change strategies for their organizations. In doing so, we found that it helped define and position CLS in a leadership role.


The Chicago Library System (CLS) is a consortium of libraries in the city of Chicago serving 51 academic libraries, over 500 school libraries and media centers, the public library and its branches, and 235 corporate and special libraries. Among our services to our members is continuing education and training.

Market research was conducted with our members two years ago. Methods of approach included: three search conferences reaching 300 people, ten focus groups, individual interviews, and some surveys. Our members were probed to determine what they needed for future planning in their organizations. There was, and still is, a clear consensus among members that they have to build value for their libraries and information centers.

Some of them told us that the major audience (customer group) is inside their organization--a law firm, academic institution, or other business--which may be reorganizing, redefining their technology and/or downsizing. Some told us that they were no longer certain about their major audience; they simply needed to define their services and products in a community which may be changing with resources that are definitely changing. Others described the issue simply as "It's a matter of survival."

Like their counterparts around the state, our member librarians called for help to meet a number of common challenges and opportunities.

They wanted to learn how to develop and promote products that sell; understand the importance of positioning their organizations with leaders who can become spokespersons, advocates, and supporters; they needed training for staff members who could, in turn, relate to customers as spokespersons, advocates and supporters; and finally, feel pressured to defend against new competition for readers--bookstores, the Internet, other libraries, time, and convenience. Yes, some consider "today's lifestyle" a competitor.

They told us they want to know how to tell their story, and they literally didn't know where to begin.

A real part of the problem is what I will call mindset. One of my colleagues in the Illinois System Directors' Organization (ILSDO), a former library science professor is fond of saying: Librarians say they are open to their communities…. They are right...if you count sitting behind a desk and waiting for the community to come to them.

Over the years, we had seen--and participated in--responses to these questions in programs that met with limited concepts and mindsets:

All too often, we observe librarians involved in disparate activities without a plan or a real idea of the problem they are trying to solve. The CLS response was to plan the first M.A.P. (Marketing Action Planning-- Institute). The concept was to pilot a three and one-half day format with a small group of members who would become role models.

The group makeup represented a multi-type community--representing five academic and three special libraries, two regions of the Chicago Public School libraries, and the Chicago Public Library. Sixty percent of the group had taken at least one marketing class; the same number are responsible for marketing projects; only one had "marketing" in her title; she was not a librarian. Half of the participants had been in their current positions for less than one year. The same number described their organizations and/or libraries as "undergoing major change."

For example, the Chicago Public school regional librarians were charged with rebuilding school-based information centers after a seven-year hiatus of school libraries. Two of the academic librarians had participated in full-year reorganization efforts, anticipating accreditation.

CLS' call-to-action was that each participant produce an executive summary by the end of the workshop and commit to a full plan by March, 1998 (six months later). All participants expressed the need to produce a library marketing plan. Our request seemed reasonable.

Over the course of the Institute, participants received team and individual assignments on marketing planning. They heard from non-librarian and librarian speakers who shared case studies. They were videotaped, presenting their ideas. Each received a packet of M.A.P. newsletters with extensive ideas which could be used.

Participants mentioned the importance of knowing they were selected for the Institute. They attended each session and rated the experience a success in their evaluations and only four completed executive summaries. To our knowledge, no one has completed a marketing plan.

CLS members were asked, why they did not apply for the institute. We were disappointed in the number of applicants. The same answers were received: three and a half days were too long, summer is the wrong season, the idea of videotaping put me off.

Mindset also played an important part. Many in the first M.A.P. group were subdued in their approach and they even expressed discomfort with the idea of promoting their library. Yet, they had approached CLS on attending and submitted an application for attendance. Everyone had an opportunity to consult one-on-one with the consultant or the executive director, only four of the participants signed up to do so. Two of those used consulting time to express doubts about their chosen careers as opposed to discussing marketing action planning. Obviously, all the right people did not self-select.

Here are a couple of samples from those conversations. The first quote is from one of the "highest achievers" in our group. She supervises the fee-based, small-business service center for the Chicago Public Library. "It's scary but I'm the expert. What's important is that I feel comfortable with others who think that way."

The second quote is from a "middle achiever" in the group. Immediately after the Institute, she was a leader in promoting the library during the "President's Open House" to all departments. She may not have spearheaded this event if she had not attended the Institute. She spearheaded a new, interactive web-page and seems newly interactive herself. In talking with her, you could just hear the pride in her marketing results. "We now know how to target our audiences, we have integrated our library programs and it works."

After reviewing results of the M.A.P. pilot, we decided to continue with a re-designed and down-sized effort. We planned a one-day session in response to three and a half was too much. We planned it for the Spring instead of the Summer.

In January, we started publicizing Creating and Working the Marketing Plan.

Prior to the one-day workshop, we conducted a survey of the 20 participants and the results are as follows: Seventy percent responded to a one-page "pre-questionnaire." They were evenly split in library experience. Half of the group had worked for fewer than 2 years; half had worked from 5 to 20+ years. Eighty percent had marketing, public relations and community relations responsibilities in their job descriptions. Twenty percent of those were starting up a new marketing effort for their organizations. Eleven of the 20 participants represented public libraries--10 in the suburbs and 1 in the Chicago. The remaining nine represented three special and two academic libraries. Two suburban library systems were also represented. As a result, suburban public library issues--taxes, library privileges--threatened to dominate discussion.

Participants were asked to complete evaluations at the end of the one-day seminar. Evaluations showed that the majority of participants: would have preferred a longer workshop; expected to learn about marketing tactics, and strategy prevailed; valued the intra-group networking most.

Before I address what these experiences mean for future planning, I will share another alternative format we have tried to introduce librarians to marketing and communications, rather than commit them to training. We offered a half day session to evoke creativity and collaboration among the staff of the 12 Illinois library systems. The facilitator, who had also designed M.A.P. and the one-day workshop for CLS, helped us plan a half-day session. The group of 80 participated in marketing and communications activities--mini-lectures, interviews, and a group exercise to produce a one-minute ad--to tell the library story. The consensus was that this session was a rousing success. This may be the extent of marketing and communications training that all levels of staff need…or desire.

Clearly, there is more to discover about the right mix of training content and consulting to offer library managers who recognize the benefits--more technology, more prestige, more support, and more funding. When we discuss telling our story, we are really talking about articulating a changing paradigm. We are beginning to see the value of targeting those people who want to and should embrace the values of selling, risk-taking, and leadership. To borrow from the tenets of permission marketing--where the underlying objectives are as follows:

For some of us, this concept is not new. I was instructed by my mentor in my first library position to individualize each encounter with the patron I was serving. I began to keep a file, first in my mind and then on paper, of my patrons' favorite reading. I would then make suggestions on new selections and even called the patron to reflect that a new book was coming out by their favorite author. I worked strongly at building a relationship one-on-one. I was not the only librarian in 1971 to do so. It was part of our job. A readers advisory desk was positioned in the reading room. In smaller libraries, circulation librarians often took the role of readers advisor. The result was that we created a club-like atmosphere for regulars that multiplied. Those of you who have had an opportunity to work with young adults and children services know that this works. Summer reading clubs have always been a part of that club-like atmosphere to encourage reading and use of the library.

In conclusion, what started as a dual strategy, continues that way. Helping our members tell their story and create effective change strategies for their organizations means assisting members, and it also means defining and positioning CLS. In other words, we have learned that marketing to members is critical to providing them with marketing solutions.

Some of those solutions include: funding has to be consistent; staffing needs to be consistent, and a plan needs to be put in place. My recommendation is that each organization put aside a certain amount of the yearly budget, our suggestion, two percent after speaking with several marketing consultants for the purpose of marketing. That way, the marketing plan is systemic, built into and accountable to real planned performance objectives.

It is extremely important to be able to have a yearly marketing response to activities occurring within the library structure. The two percent can be put aside for staffing, creating marketing pieces, a promotional campaign, but there must be accountability built in. If you remember early on, I suggested there was a library in the suburban Chicago area that had a marketing program but was not able to measure how many families used the library because of that marketing strategy. That is what I mean by accountable. If a plan is put in place, an evaluation component must measure success.

In all of our marketing programs for our members, we have included an evaluation of the results. A reason for evaluation is to redefine, analyze, and create an even better program as we build on past successes. The evaluation has become part of our market research.

We are dedicated to developing a combination of responses to our members' calls for help. One of our M.A.P. participants said, "Marketing is a long-term process." My footnote is that planning to offer marketing planning is a series of volumes and not a short story.