Students at tables in library work space, woman smiling, portrait

I was pleased to be able to attend CoFHE Mid-West/UC&R’s recent event “Tell us what you want (what you really, really want…): Library surveys and promotion on a shoestring”. The morning session looked at ways of getting user feedback through surveys and focus groups, and the afternoon focused on marketing initiatives to promote academic library services. Despite an interesting journey (Kassam Stadium is very hidden and not easy to find from the bus service out of Oxford), I managed to find my way there having found other delegates on the same bus!

Following tea, coffee and biscuits (and allowing time for presentations to be converted to the correct Word format!), the day began with a presentation from Anne Rowlands and Stephen Cullimore from Barnet College. They shared their experiences of using surveys and shared some good practice about the structure of a questionnaire, when and how to do it, and the types of questions to ask (e.g. open, closed, free text). At Barnet College they were interested in getting user feedback about their Learning Centres and devised a short 4 question survey which automatically loaded when users logged onto a PC (once for each user). Using this method they gathered 2600 responses; a higher response rate that the general student satisfaction survey at the college. Some of the data may shape the future of the service, although Anne stressed the importance of using a trial period (e.g. if students request longer opening hours) to assess and evaluate whether the change is feasible and if real use reflects the views expressed in the survey. Anne and Stephen hope to further their work to ensure they reach a wider audience (their current feedback was only from those who used the PCs in the Learning Centre in a certain period of time which could have skewed their results). They also hope to use the data to feed into “You say, we say” displays to demonstrate the importance of user feedback.

The next presentation was about focus groups, by Jan Haines from Oxford Brookes University. Jan’s talk was particularly interesting for me as I’m interested in learning more about how focus groups can be used and how to run them. She discussed the advantages of a focus group – qualitative, subjective feedback where the group can build on other’s ideas and are often more willing to talk than in an individual interview. Jan recommended using focus groups when you require in-depth information on a particular area, and using a group who share something in common. She went on to share some advice on the who, what, where, and when of planning and focus group as well as some advice on publicity and promotion, what to do on the day (before, during and after), and how to analyse the data and provide feedback to users (both those involved in the focus groups and those the decisions may impact upon). Unfortunately, despite all this research and forethought, Oxford Brookes still struggled to get participants for their focus group, highlighting how difficult this methodology can be (this issue was also raised recently at Middlemash, where Owen Stephens and others shared their experiences of lack of interested participants and no shows in their own focus groups). Jan’s presentation was really interesting and certainly gave me a lot to think about in practical terms of using focus groups.

We broke for lunch at this point – excellent variety although sadly a lack of labels (people are always interested in a food report so wouldn’t want to miss out that important point!). The afternoon session was handed over to Terry Kendrick, who was previously a librarian and now combines consultancy work with employment as a lecturer in marketing. His credentials certainly made him appropriate for a marketing event about libraries, and he didn’t disappoint.

Terry began with some basic principles of marketing, and a particularly eye-opening task. He asked us to think about the last time we studied for a course and asked it to think about the main reasons for doing it. He separated us into two groups; those who were passionate about the subject and just wanted to learn more, and those who were interested in the subject but mainly did it to get a qualification. Needless to say, the majority of the room (including myself) moved to the latter group. Terry then pointed out that if libraries market themselves by talking about all their “stuff”, our message will only interest the small minority that are incredibly passionate and always want to know more. If we want to reach the other group, we need to tailor our messages for their needs – being able to save time for example, or improve grades. This message really stuck with me and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since – as both an undergraduate and postgraduate student, I didn’t use the library that much. I use electronic resources, and as an undergraduate I spent a lot of time in the library to use the PCs (in the days before internet access in halls of residence!), but I didn’t take advantage of many of the library services that were no doubt available to me. I’m now analysing our marketing far more – how would I market to someone like myself?

The afternoon was packed full of lots of activities and sharing ideas for marketing initiatives, with a particular focus on word of mouth marketing. Terry stressed the power a good testimonial can have in terms of marketing, particularly if the message is from someone that users see as having similar needs to themselves. We need to give our users a reason to talk about the library and build active communication channels to enable these interactions. One such example of these is the frequently seen “Share this with a friend” type features on the web (for example, I use ShareThis on my blog – but can you do this on your library website and online catalogue?).

Another key message I took from the afternoon was the importance of how we contact users, with what message, and when. This is something I am particularly interested in – I support the work of my boyfriend’s marketing business two days a week, and it leads to some interesting conversations. I come from a more service-based environment, mainly B2C (business to consumer), whereas my boyfriend mainly works in the B2B (business to business) market, primarily supporting products rather than services. One of the things we agree on (yes, despite these differences a lot of our ideas about marketing are fundamentally the same!) with regards to marketing is the growing importance of relationship marketing. Terry emphasised elements of this by pointing out that if the library sends mass emails, people may well see this as an intrusion, and if it is not relevant to them at that particular moment (highly likely!), they will begin to think of the library brand as one which is an irritant to them and not very helpful. Over time, this can have a massive effect on the brand perception of the library, and we therefore need to think very carefully about the messages we convey, how, and when. In particular, we need to make sure they are relevant and timely.

As you can probably tell, I got a lot out of the training event and would thoroughly recommend going to one of Terry’s sessions if you get the opportunity. A lot of the areas covered have stayed with me and made me think critically about our own marketing efforts. The morning sessions were also very interesting, particularly as they each focussed on a certain technique common to library marketing research. I also met some fantastic people – the table I sat on had some fascinating conversations, both from an FE and a HE perspective, and it was really interesting to share our thoughts and experiences and discuss new ideas to improve marketing within our institutions. Many thanks to CoFHE Mid West/UC&R for organising such an enjoyable event! 🙂

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