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Ditch the posters: marketing our school library.


I had been working at the school for three years when I decided to update the marketing of the library. It seems like an unusual move given that the library was thriving. While we had our core group of regular break-time users we weren't really getting in touch with the students who might benefit from using the library, especially as usage tended to dwindle during Year 9 and was virtually non-existent by Key Stage 4.

There was also the fact that we were paying for products that, despite our best efforts, weren't being used. It turns out that simply printing out a poster for a new product wasn't having an impact. I started thinking about how to refresh the promotion of these resources and as a result looked at the promotion of the library as a whole.

I know nothing about marketing so an excellent starting point for me was The Library Marketing Toolkit by Ned Potter.

Firstly, I needed to have some clear targets about who I wanted to get in the library. My goal was a measurable increase of Year 9 'free time' usage and resources borrowing.

There are a couple of key areas I intend to focus on in the next year or so. I intend to record these changes and hopefully update you as to which ideas have been successful (and not so successful).


We already had our own Library page on the school's Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). It was very basic so I made a few changes which included:

* An online suggestion box.

* Animoto videos about how to write book reviews (

* Online copies of all our hand-outs held on (online publications website).

* A Twitter feed.

A Goodreads widget (linked to my school Goodreads account). Here I can tag any books I'm reading for our Book Clubs. I can also keep track of how many books I read, which the students find fascinating!

I have started trying to raise the profile of the Library on the VLE's front page by having regular polls such as 'what is your favourite genre?' I also give them polls about the library, such as 'how do you like to learn?' as a focus when we were looking at updating our seating. As Ned Potter suggests, it is better to do market research in short regular polls rather than one large annual one.

Reviews and QR codes--promoting what we've got already

I really want to encourage use of our library management system (Oliver) so I put book-mark style flyers in the front of books describing how to write reviews. Eventually I managed to create QR code stickers which would take the student straight to the Oliver page for the item they were holding in their hands. As yet I haven't received any reviews so I have started offering a small reward if the reviews are published online.

Although I like using QR codes, they can be difficult to use in schools with a strict no phones policy. By putting the QR codes in the books at least the students could use the technology at home if they had it. I also started using QR code on posters in the post-16 areas and on resources to direct them to bonus material online. I find QR codes useful when you don't have space to include lots of information. Once you know how to make them, they are surprisingly easy to use.

Library Newsletter

I decided to create a termly e-newsletter which I originally used as targeted marketing to staff. I created this using Smore ( which is a free website which creates online flyers. I found this was a very effective way of getting my message across about new resources (especially as you can link directly to the online resources) and began sharing this with students and parents as well. The whole point of marketing is to get noticed and an attractive newsletter is a good first step.

Focus group--find out what the users want

Previously my only form of feedback from the students had been the annual Year 7 questionnaire. This feedback was always interesting to examine but invariably left me slightly exasperated by the vague answers.

Although it was tempting, I tried not to use students who I saw every day. We have a Cooperative group in our school so they nominated a few Year 9s to join the 'Library Committee'. These students meet with me and the Head once a term to discuss progress and ideas. I try to get them focussing on areas which can give us actionable results; things like requesting an additional five computers to the ground-floor rather than 'iPads everywhere'.

It is thanks to their feedback that we have made a few changes already and they are helping with furniture choices for our long-sought-after makeover, due this summer. I find their honesty and enthusiasm a great help and I thoroughly encourage those of you without a committee to start one.

Resource Promotion--the 'So What?' Factor

One of the key points from the Toolkit was that in order to increase usage you need to focus on exactly how the resource can benefit the user, not just the amazing features of that product.

I've started a slow campaign firstly focussing on the impact library usage can have on grades. In the beginning I tried some subtle advertising with questions such as 'Where can I find out about ...' 'How can I improve my grade in [subject]?' These were displayed on the plasma screens around school. Gradually I've included positive quotes about reading and libraries, as well as evidence from reports which show the benefit of reading for pleasure. I used anonymous quotes from the students about why they enjoyed reading and the library.

I realised that I needed to actively focus on the 'so what' factor rather than simply 'look at what we have'. It was actually quite hard to write in that style at first and I kept asking myself 'so what?' for every slide. It was much easier if I concentrated on what it might actually cost them in the 'real world', in terms of money or time.

As the whole point of marketing is to show the library's value to the people who aren't using it, I thought it would be useful to highlight the statistics on how many people do use the library and what they do when they're there (so number of fiction books borrowed, which resources are being requested etc.). This was doubly useful as it helped advertise the library and also show other stakeholders, such as governors, how much the library is being used.

Remember that the 'product' you are selling isn't just the resources, but anything you can offer your users like events or just a safe space. I try to consider the '4ps':

Product (What is it? Is it the right product for the user?);

Price (What is the cost to the user? Often nothing!);

Place (Where/how are they going to access it?);

Promotion (What is the best way of advertising it? Flyers, word of mouth?).

Using Facebook and Twitter

Facebook and Twitter accounts might be difficult for marketing if they are blocked at school. It's always a good idea to be sure about what the school policy is before you set up an account. I'd been using a Twitter account for a few years but I'm mostly followed by other librarians at the moment. Ned Potter set out 10 Twitter rules for libraries; the best for me was the '1/ 4 rule' (one in four tweets is about your library service; the other tweets should be retweets or useful links). I really like following Botany Downs Secondary College Library ( because of the brilliant mixture of facts, quotes and library related tweets.

I also started using the hashtag #CothamReads which I add to any book-related tweets!

Be weird to get noticed

I already had a bit of a reputation for 'weird' visuals following my 'Silent Study Saves Lives' posters. These posters outlined the negative outcomes of talking in the silent study zone using disgruntled fairy-tale characters (every time you talk a fairy dies, a Vampire gets hungry etc.). Some people might argue this is a bit silly but I think students would prefer that over a list of rules. I really enjoy the reaction these posters get and at least they get noticed.

I am a huge fan of online memes (viral online images or videos) and wanted to use them to advertise services. However, many online memes are images of people presumably used without their consent. It turns out memes are useful tools when discussing copyright and being careful about what you post online! I decided it was simpler to avoid the moral/legal minefield and make my own; this also meant that they stayed relevant as memes have a tendency to go out of fashion quite quickly. We had already obtained permission from Lego to create a poster using their figures, so home-made 'memes' seemed like an obvious direction. These slides were so popular that students and teachers started making posters for me to display.

What's in the future?

At the moment, the make-over of the library is moving slowly and we hope to be making some physical changes over the summer. I ran a competition on World Book Day to design a new logo and set the students the challenge to encapsulate the many different aspects of the library. Once we have this design finalised will be able to focus on our 'brand' and start getting it seen around school and online.

Since I started this project I've noticed a lot more information around about marketing libraries and I've had several conversations with librarians who say it's going to be a big focus for them in terms of CPD this year.

Gradually I will aim my promotion more towards my target group of Year 9+ as it has been very general up until now. I'm excited with some of the recent changes I have made and can't wait to find out the impact on usage. Although at first it felt like a bit of a daunting prospect, there are some amazing resources online that are easy to use and very effective. I've found that I'm constantly looking around to find good promotional techniques to borrow from other areas such as public libraries and retail.

My final point: remember to market the benefits of your service, not the features. To quote Ned Potter: 'imagine if libraries were invented tomorrow. How would you go about marketing this amazing new resource?' See what happens!

Some ideas for kick-starting your library promotion

Look at library through the eyes of someone else. I suddenly noticed a few things I could change simply by pretending I was walking in for the first time. In this frame of mind I wrote a SWOT analysis of the library and focussed on some of the strengths as selling points.

Find out what the users want--get a committee or focus group together.

* Use word of mouth--get your library champions involved (could be staff or students).

* Mix things up a bit--I'm a big fan of moving the furniture around to keep students interested.

* Come up with an 'elevator pitch' for your library. If you had 30 seconds to sell your library, what would you say?

* Use technology: Podcasting, Animoto, YouTube Book Trailers. There's always something new!

* Don't be too put off if something you've tried doesn't seem to have had an impact at first.

Further Reading

Potter, N. (2012) The Library Marketing Toolkit. London: Facet Publishing

The Library Marketing Toolkit Website:

10 Twitter Rules:

School Library Marketing 101:

Read about some bold library promotions in Arkansas:

Where to find Library Marketing info:

More on the 4Ps of marketing

Follow Craighead County Public Library to see how weird online marketing can get:

Sarah Davies is librarian at Cotham School in Bristol. Twitter @Cotham_Library h ttp://www.go odreads. com/MissDa vies
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Author:Davies, Sarah
Publication:School Librarian
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2014
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