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February 15, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Notes from the Field
At the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Seattle this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Susan Brown, marketing director for the Lawrence (KS) Public Library. She shares her viewpoints on marketing, readers’ advisory, and social media with us in this interview.
Rebecca: Many libraries may not have a dedicated marketing person—can you give us a summary of what your job entails?
Susan: My job really encompasses communications, publicity, PR, and marketing: I coordinate our amazing social-media team; I manage all of our communications (calendar, newsletter, press releases, etc.); I manage our website, with help from our great web content team; I help with major library-wide programs such as summer reading and Read across Lawrence; I help launch new services and initiatives by developing PR campaigns; and I work with community organizations to develop partnerships.
Most of all, I work to position Lawrence Public Library as an essential destination that both serves and reflects our community.
Rebecca: How has your career changed over the last 10 years?
Susan: I’m going to go back a little further. More than 20 years ago, I took my first library job to make beer money as an undergraduate at Virginia Tech. After that, I worked in government documents, then in academic reference. When I finally bit the bullet and went to the University of North Carolina (UNC) and got that piece of paper with the letters M, L, and S on it, I was dead set on going into academic reference and instruction (and may have been just a tad snotty about it, looking down my nose at public libraries). All that changed when, as a result of there being no jobs for me in academia, I took a job working the reference/RA desk at Cameron Village Regional Library, part of the Wake County Public Library (WCPL) system in Raleigh, North Carolina. They absolutely converted me to the world of public libraries. I like to say that I got my library degree at UNC, but I got my library education at WCPL. Just over 10 years later, I’m still working in a public library, but I’ve gone from the ref desk to RA to programming to branch manager, then back to the ref desk, and then to my current position, marketing director at Lawrence (KS) Public Library (LPL).
Rebecca: I know you are interested in changing terms from “customer service” to “customer-centric.” What does that mean, and can you tell us more about your approach?
Susan: I am incredibly passionate about customer service in libraries. All libraries have great stuff, but these days, people can get great stuff from lots of places. We have to set ourselves apart with great customer service that doesn’t just satisfy customers, but delights them. This means getting out from behind a desk, engaging customers in a friendly way, and going the extra mile to help them.
Previous to this position, I had always worked at a public-service desk—and truth be told, I really miss working directly with the public! I also spent a little time working for Barnes & Noble and learned a lot from their approach to customer service. As any former B&N bookseller knows, you need to personally put the book in the customer’s hand. Similarly, at one of my first library jobs, the head of the Reference Department would smack your hand if she caught you pointing from the desk. No joke. I think that these two things define my customer-service approach on the front lines.
Lately, I’ve begun to think about customer service under the bigger umbrella of libraries becoming more customer-centric. This takes a broader approach and might require a shift in institutional thinking as well. Too often decisions about services, collections, or programs are made with the comfort of employees in mind rather than the needs of the customer. A customer-centric approach puts the customer first. Every decision—from the placement of furniture to magazine selection to developing a mobile app—should be made with the needs and wants of the customer in mind. I don’t think about patrons, I think about customers. And libraries aren’t free, they are supported by public dollars—those public dollars should go toward best serving the public. I like to think about our customers as being prepaid customers, actually. They have paid for this service, and we need to make sure we are giving them what they want and need.
The best piece of advice about readers’ advisory I ever received came from Nancy Pearl. She opened a workshop with the simple phrase, “It’s not about you.” I couldn’t agree more, and I think this holds true for library service in general. It’s not about us; it’s about them. That’s what I really mean when I talk about being customer-centric.
Rebecca: Is there something unique or different that your library does in its approach to readers’ advisory or collection development?
Susan: As an RA librarian–turned–marketing director, I often preach that RA is one of the services that best defines our market value. In a world where websites offer suggestions based on algorithms, the personal, human touch is incredibly important.
Lawrence Public Library does not have a dedicated adult RA desk or department, but through our social-media outreach, we have created digital spaces where we can connect with readers and they can connect with each other. A few years ago the local paper did a feature about hot books for the summer season, and they talked to every bookstore in town but not the library. That killed me! It also inspired me to try and position LPL as a knowledge leader about books and reading.
On Facebook, we started asking folks about what they were reading, posting bookish memes and photos, and doing monthly RA sessions—“Tell us about a book you read and enjoyed, and we’ll suggest one from our collections.” On Twitter, we starting tweeting book news, book suggestions, and even insider info on hot books we had just ordered, including a link where our Twitter followers could place holds. This approach has paid big dividends. We have engaged readers, and now, when the local paper wants to do a bookish story, they contact us first!
Rebecca: Tell us about your library’s social-marketing concepts.
Susan: First off, we have a social-media team, not a committee. This is an important distinction for me. A committee implies a top-down and bureaucratic approach, a team implies a more creative and collaborative approach.
The team members are from all departments—our Facebook group is led by a children’s librarian, our Twitter group is led by a librarian from Tech Services, our blog is coordinated by an Adult Services librarian, and our Pinterest group is led by a Teen Services librarian. They are amazing folks and have made our social-media outreach pretty amazing as well. We were recently #11 on a list of 100 libraries to follow on Facebook.
We don’t have a social-media policy in the traditional sense (i.e. legal-sounding restrictions about who can post what); instead, we have a set of social-media principles. Basically, I get us all singing from the same hymn book, then I trust these creative people go forth and do what they think is best.
These guiding principles include advice that I often give to libraries looking to do more with social media:
Rebecca: What advice would you offer a smaller library interested in incorporating more marketing efforts?
Susan: Start small. Set goals. Be realistic. Spend some time listening before you start talking.
I’ve developed a workshop called “DIY PR: Top Ten Ways to Promote Your Library” that is aimed at small libraries who want to start doing more marketing.
Rebecca: Thinking about your collections, what kinds of materials do you find your library is in need of most right now?
Susan: E-books. Is that too obvious of an answer? The history of e-book lending in Kansas is interesting. We dropped Overdrive a few years ago and have had a tricky time providing e-books to our customers ever since. The problem we are about to face is that we will have several ways for readers to access e-books—the State Library has 3M, Freading, and they are about to launch Axis360, and we are about to join a regional consortium to provide Kindle content via Overdrive. As we provide access to all of these platforms, a big part of my job will be to make it as seamless as possible for the reader to connect with these items.
Rebecca: Sounds like there is a lot of great stuff happening at LPL! Anything else you’d like to promote about the library?
Susan: As a $19 million renovation and expansion project begins, we just moved into a temporary location (an old Borders bookstore!). Our new building’s design is centered on being transparent and flexible, with lots of social spaces incorporated into it. When we move into that facility in 2014, I hope that our organization and our staff will be much the same—transparent, flexible, and social. Through our social-media efforts, our current focus on improved customer service, and a reorganization rooted in being more customer-centric, I think we will be.
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