After all, we’re the libraries. We have plenty of experience with corporate entities that don’t reflect our values. We deal with the journal publishers who practice a business model that hoards the world’s knowledge and maximizes profit from the research that our university’s scholars conduct. When it comes to the academic publishing system, institutions of higher learning have made a deal with the devil, and we, the libraries, are the campus units who pay the bill. We do it every year, often facing steep price increases with flat budgets.“Why We’re Dropping Basecamp” by Duke University Libraries
I’ve been thinking about something I heard at the LMCC 2023 conference: “Marketing should drive usage which in turn creates impact” (source: Cordelia Anderson).
I often forget that middle piece when developing outreach strategies for my library. At the risk of oversimplifying, I’m extending Anderson’s use of the word “marketing” to the entire outreach enterprise. For sure, there are programs and initiatives the directly impact usage: a recent campaign to promote our streaming video collection, the curation of recommended reading lists, and the annual open house. However, there are some programs that skip right over usage to create the end-goal of impact: our storytelling programming, our faculty speaker series, and our haunted library. These latter programs directly impact our students by creating a sense of belonging and bringing together our community through the celebration of its creative works, but that impact isn’t achieved via the library’s services and collections.
I would consider creating impact via the library’s services and collections to be a traditional approach to library outreach, one often taken by teams where outreach work is embedded within reference and instruction departments. This is where you find info lit workshops, custom bibliographies, instructional handouts, e-resources campaigns, video tutorials, etc. For teams like the one I manage (we are our own “outreach and engagement” department separate from our colleagues who focus on teaching and collections building) we go straight to the impact: feel good events, mental health programs, community building, productivity support, and service learning opportunities. The motivations for our work come unfiltered straight from either the library’s broader mission or the university’s strategic goals.
I’m not suggesting one type of outreach is better than the other. Having both is important, but finding the optimal balance between the two is a conversation for every individual, team, library, and organization to determine on their own terms.
Another successful (mostly) vegan Thanksgiving: sweet potato casserole, mushroom Bourgogne, roasted root veggies from my garden, baked beans and this lovely bottle of 2009 Chateau Margaux.
“Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty-three thousand miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules— and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress.”(Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., The Sirens of Titan, epigraph, 1959)
Last week, I attended the 2023 Library Marketing and Communications Conference in Indianapolis. This is one of my favorite conferences to attend. It’s relatively small, relatively affordable (with meals included!), and attended by people who get me. Regardless of whether we work in academic libraries, public libraries, as librarians or as professional staff, we all speak the same language. We understand that not everything can go on the website. We know that fliers are a net waste of everyone’s time. We know that creating social media content is a specialized skill that few people actually do well. We realize that more promotion does not equal more awareness. We understand the power of storytelling. We value having a consistent brand. And yes, we all spend too much times on our phones, but secretly (or not) we enjoy it.
So here are a few of my takeaways from this year’s conference.
Burnout is real
Libraries cycle through outreach and communications folks like trends on Instagram. Constantly developing new ways to connect with users takes a toll on all of us. A number of sessions this year spoke to the necessity of setting up guardrails, taking time to step away, and the need to find ways to reconnect with your creative spark. Sadly, there wasn’t much talk about burnout being a systemic and organizational problem that needs to be solved at the management level, but that might be a result of there being so many new professionals in attendance.
Email is king, Instagram is queen, and existential dread
Everyone is looking for an excuse to get off X/Twitter. No one is interested in Threads. TikTok is banned in many states and the rest of us are reluctant to jump on. But email… email is king. Email offers a stronger analytics story, a closer connection to users, and a more dependable way to reach out. And it’s what our users want! A number of presenters confirmed what I’ve discovered at my own library: users prefer to be contacted by email. Instagram is a close second, but only as a vibe check. If email is for sharing information, Instagram is for sharing feels.
Social takes way more time than people assume
If it wasn’t apparent from my opening, one of the best aspects of LMCC is the collective kvetching. One strong theme this year was how many of our colleagues misunderstand the complexity of our work, most notably the time it takes to develop content. A 10-second Instagram post may only take an hour to film, edit, and post, but what you don’t see are the countless hours searching for inspiration: finding the right music, twisting the arms of the right colleagues, waiting for the right time of day to film, coordinating with all the other communications going out that day. We spend far more time consuming content than creating it, but that’s necessary for understanding how our work fits in with the ecosystem of any given platform.
What I’m reading
How I’ve Changed My Thinking About Burnout by Anne Helen Peterson
“I am doing less. I am lowering the bar. I am loosening my schedule. But I also have a fuller life, with so many places to direct my attention and time. It’s both less busy (with work) and more busy (with other life) than ever before.”
Nobody Wants Their Job to Rule Their Lives Anymore by Eloise Henry
“If I had a shorter work week and a dignified salary then they’d get a well-rested, enthusiastic and switched-on employee. Instead, they’re getting a poor and exhausted worker.”
Adopting the Perennial Mindset by Tara McMullin
“Quality-of-life guarantees could help people make life transitions—at any age—with more ease. And while these guarantees do benefit individuals directly, they also benefit our society. Fewer people scraping by, falling behind, or burning out because of unreasonable expectations is an overall cultural and economic good.”
Until next year, friend! For about 6 weeks, this lovely orb weaver rebuilt her web between the top of my dwarf orange tree and the power cables running to our house. Each evening before sunset, she would meticulously reweave her web, which by midnight would already be full of flies and the occasional honey bee. I haven’t seen her for a few days so my guess is she either returned to being strictly nocturnal or, more likely, she mated, produced her offspring, and died. It was comforting to greet her each day when I came home from work.
Links to the past
- 1 year ago: Notes from the 2022 Library Marketing and Communications Conference Day 1 and Day 2.
- 6 years ago: One of the best photos I ever took
- 10 years ago: I still need to find out the answer to this mystery
Protip: browsing and borrowing from your local library can satisfy the shop therapy part of your brain without costing you moneyami_angelwings on Mastodon (h/t Dense Discovery)
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these (see also: 2017, 2015). For folks considering working in academic libraries, or shifting to outreach and/or library managerial work, I hope this glimpse into the day of one librarian is helpful!
8:30a: Arrive at work. The first thing I did this morning was sign a stack of thank you cards for our campus partners on the latest library event. Sent a message to my employee who is coordinating the distribution of these to let them know they were ready to be delivered.
9:00a: I’m trying to develop a meta-analysis project so I spent a good portion of the morning reading through different models, methodologies, and critical appraisals. There is a lovely faculty-only space in our library where I like to go when I need uninterrupted time to work on my research.
10:30a: Spent 30 minutes processing email.
11:00a: I serve on the ACRL University Libraries Section’s Academic Outreach Committee. This year, we are toying with the idea of building a directory of academic library outreach folks. Another committee member and I have been assigned the task of developing a plan, so we met on Zoom to hash out our initial ideas.
12:00p: A couple years ago, I decided my health was more important than anything my job could possibly throw at me, so I schedule walks, yoga classes, and/or gym time throughout the week into my Outlook calendar. Today, I spent 40 minutes on the elliptical during my lunch break.
1:30p: Had my weekly 1:1 with one of my direct reports.
2:30p: Posted some content to the library’s Instagram account and updated the graphics on the library’s homepage to promote our upcoming events. Edited a short reflection piece written by a student about a past event, reviewed and uploaded a recording of that event to our YouTube page, and combined the two to create a news post for the library website.
4:00p: More managerial work. I sent reimbursement information to other campus units, drafted a follow-up from an earlier meeting, delegated tasks to my student workers for when I’m out of town next week, and reviewed the details of an upcoming report deadline I need to work on when I get back. Had to double-check the construction of a Qualtrics survey that was currently collecting respondent data (it was fine). Caught up on a few open loops with one of my employees before they left for the day.
5:30p: Cleaned up and locked up so I could go pick up my kids from their after-school program.
Next week, I’m heading to Indianapolis for the annual Library Marketing and Communications Conference, a gathering of library folks involved in marketing, communications, public relations, social media, and outreach in academic, public, and special libraries. This year, I served on the program planning committee that helped to select the speaker line-up. There are some presentations I’m really excited to see! Here’s my schedule:
Tuesday, November 7
- 9a: Keynote by Kim Crowder
- 10a: Strengthen Your Marketing During Challenging Times by Cordelia Anderson
- 11:15a: The Power of Empathy-Centered Storytelling by Deborah Hakes
- 12p: Swag swap
- 1:30p: Let the Numbers Lead You: Using Data to Market Your Library by Natalie Browning and Sarah Reynolds
- 3p: Try a Little Tenderness: Communication and Marketing Inspired by the Trauma-Informed Framework by Rebecca Tolley
Wednesday, November 8
- 9a: Keynote by Keith Keller
- 10a: More than Clicks and Likes: Really Measuring Social Media Impact on Event Attendance by Charles Samuels, Chris Vitiello, and Mattison Domke-Latz
- 11:15a: Open for All: Real-World Ideas for Incorporating Accessibility and DEI Into Your Library Marketing by Kathryn (Katie) Bulloff, Stephanie Cargill, June Kucalaba, and Angela Hursh
- 1:30p: I Can’t Even with Content Anymore: How to Work Through Content Creation Burnout by Meghan Kowalski
- 3:00p: The Ties That Bind: How Libraries Can Use Email Marketing to Bring Their Communities Together by Leigh Gaddy, Kim Burean, and Melissa Beck
I have human babies and I have fur babies, but I also have… worm babies! Keeping my little wigglers warm and well-fed is part of my daily routine.
Every 6 weeks, I schedule a 4-day weekend for myself to help decompress, detach, and destress from work. This long weekend will be busier than I’d prefer, but I’m still planning to get some me-time in. On the might-do list:
- 💇 get a haircut
- 🍜 treat myself to lunch
- 📖 go to the park and read a book
- 💉 take me and my kids to get our flu vax and covid boosters
- 🧘 yoga
- 🪴 gardening (including weeding, pulling out last of summer crops, and mulching)
- 🎧 catch up on podcasts
- 🎄 design the family holiday card
- 🪱 watch Dune
- 🎵 listen to Sufjan Stevens’s latest album
- 🍪 make snickerdoodle cookies
It’s a common misconception that word of mouth is “organic”: that it just happens; but this belief negates the agency required for word of mouth (WOM) to be successful. WOM requires antecedents: specifically, customer commitment, trust, and customer satisfaction, according to one meta-analysis of 60 years of WOM research (Lang and Hyde 2013). These positive traits need to exist prior to WOM marketing efforts, which can be either direct or indirect and produce both positive and negative affective, cognitive, and behavioral effects on customers.
It is the role of the outreach librarian to play three leadership roles vis-a-vis WOM marketing: building the foundation; indirectly managing WOM; and directly managing WOM.
Building the foundation requires working with all units within the library to ensure high-quality service, collections, and programs, and then aligning external messaging with that expectation of quality. Indirect WOM management involves much of the usual promotional work that raises awareness of the library (e.g., videos, blog posts, and testimonials), but also includes work that encourages student-staff relationships (e.g., student engagement activities, meet-and-greet events, student advisory boards). Direct WOM management involves far more targeted work, including paid testimonials, viral marketing, rewards for sharing library content, and student ambassador programs.
I would hazard to guess that outreach librarians spend most of their time on indirect WOM management, not enough time on building the foundation, and almost no time on direct WOM management (the latter for lack of funds no doubt).
We are at a distinct advantage being on a college campus. While colleges are not completely closed information systems (cf. Chatman’s seminal work on information sharing in prisons), messages can get trapped within the system even when the nodes (i.e. students) swap out every four years. Like any pseudo-insular organization, ideas that develop on campus can linger long after their initial spark. This is word of mouth. Moreover, we have a captive audience. So while our ideas have to compete with many other units on campus, we are somewhat shielded by the marketing influences of the off-campus world.
So when something spreads “word of mouth” on a campus, don’t be too quick to attribute it to the innate qualities of the message or the nature of the service, collection, or program you’re promoting. Instead, consider the foundation that has already been established and how you might continue to actively maintain that foundation into the future. This is the work of the outreach librarian.
Chatman, E. A. (1999). A theory of life in the round. Journal of the American Society for information Science, 50(3), 207-217.
Lang, B., & Hyde, K. F. (2013). Word of mouth: what we know and what we have yet to learn. Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, 26, 1-18.
image credit: Charles Hackley Agency on Flickr, cc-by 2.0
It’s a mad world. Mad as Bedlam.David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Trifles make the sum of life.David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
I don’t run the social media account for my university, but I do oversee the accounts hosted by the library. As Head of Outreach and Engagement, managing the various external (i.e., campus facing) channels is part of my portfolio. This is of course in addition to research and service, collection development, faculty liaison work, leading a department, and all the other “normal” academic librarian duties. Social media is only a tiny fraction of how I spend my time.
That said, a recent article by the Chronicle, “This is One of the Loneliest Jobs on Campus” by Megan Zahneis made me feel seen. But before I get into it: have you said thank you to your social media manager yet today? Have you told them how much you respect and appreciate their work? Have you given them a bottle of wine? Go do that first. I’ll wait.
Drink bleach and die
“To manage an institution’s social-media accounts is to act as its voice to hundreds of thousands of people, and to take in those people’s thoughts, questions, and complaints in real time.”
When things are going well, you can feel like you’re on fire. The excitement of developing new content (yarr!), seeing people fall in love with it, watching engagement numbers rise… all of that can be thrilling. But just as quickly it can turn sour. I once posted an image of a new book from our popular reading collection that was about Trump’s legal troubles: I immediately found myself the target of MAGA trolls. They were not even our students! That didn’t make it any easier to read. I’ve internalized negative reviews of my organization, even though I know that’s absurd. When you’re the one creating and pushing out all the messaging, it’s difficult not to take it personally.
Keys to the brand
“[Social media accounts are] the keys to your brand. Surprisingly often, those keys are held by a single person.”
In one survey cited, 48 percent of respondents were the sole individuals running social media accounts for their uni. Another 35 percents were on teams of two. While the article didn’t mention it, I would bet those 35% are much happier and well-adjusted than the other 48%. There’s solidarity in teams, not to mention the comfort in knowing that it’s not all on you to figure out. Creating content daily that is engaging, unique, up-to-date, and useful is … painfully difficult work. I’ve been doing this type of work for almost a decade, but even I have days where I’m at a complete loss for ideas. More often, though, it’s the lack of time that’s the killer.
I have been advocating for an assistant to my position for years, specifically someone with a few years experience creating content for the web. As the article notes, most of the people doing this work [well] are not 18-year olds and interns: they are professionals who have been working in higher ed social for years. Understanding internet culture, knowing how to critically follow and examine trends, being able to create content that matches the platform and algorithm you’re posting to, and being able to do all that within the limits of your institution’s mission and branding guidelines: that takes skills, knowledge, and experience. In an academic library setting, moreover, you also need to juggle the overlapping context of our own professional standards/expectations for how libraries “do” social media.
“[Social media managers] are the Swiss Army knives of a college’s public-outreach apparatus, often incorporating copywriting, photography and videography, graphic design, marketing, and public relations into a day’s work.”
Collaborating from Day 1
“Our team — including social media — is involved at the outset of any planning, including the strategy for releasing those plans,” [Wilson] wrote.
I cannot count the number of times colleagues have come to me and said “Hey, we’ve just [done this thing]. Can you get the word out on social?” As if taking a photo and writing some copy is all you need to “get the word out.” Sure, I can do that, but it’s a waste of my time and won’t get you the outcome you think it will. Instead, as the person quoted above notes, loop in your social media leads from the start. Include them in the initial planning meetings. For most projects, if I’m involved from the beginning, I can develop a much more robust and interesting promotional campaign.
Or I can just Tweet about it.
image credit: European Space Agency on Flickr, cc-by 2.0