My MSc Econ dissertation titled ‘Strategic marketing in academic libraries: an examination of current practice‘ is now available on Aberystwyth University’s open access repository.

I know a number of people said they were interested in viewing it so I’ve included the details below. I have also added it to my publications page.

Strategic marketing in academic libraries: an investigation of current practice

The purpose of the research is to investigate strategic marketing in academic libraries, incorporating elements of organisational orientation, strategic planning, and processes and procedures to support these.

Aims and objectives
The aim of the research is to build on existing literature, extending the knowledge of current practice in a relatively unexplored area within UK academic libraries. The objectives of the research are to identify key considerations for strategic marketing in academic libraries; to critically evaluate current theory on the subject; to explore current practice; and to formulate recommendations of best practice.

A mixed methods approach was chosen, using survey and case study strategies. An online questionnaire was used identify trends in current practice, whilst telephone interviews enabled more detailed exploration. A geographical sample, university libraries in the West Midlands, was chosen due to convenience. All nine libraries were invited to participate; one chose to opt out whilst one did not respond. This resulted in seven libraries participating in the questionnaire, with five of those also participating in an interview.

The key considerations for strategic marketing in academic libraries emerging from the literature included market orientation, marketing planning and customer relationship management. Results showed that though market orientation is seen as a useful approach for libraries, the topic is relatively unfamiliar to librarians. Responsibility for marketing
planning varied across the libraries interviewed, though all but one utilise groups to bring experience from different areas of the library. All participating libraries have some form of marketing plan and engage in customer relationship management activities, however formal procedures and embedding into service planning was not evident.

Strategic marketing in academic libraries is of clear relevance to today’s economic situation, and the research highlights the need for raising awareness of such issues and considering implications and barriers to practice.

The item record is available in Aberystwyth University’s Cadair repository with the full text PDF linked from the item record.

EDITED TO ADD: This is likely to be my final blog post before Christmas this year, so I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas! If you feel like doing something fun over the festive period, why not enter the Festive 24 Things 2011 quiz?

Earlier today I gave a presentation at the Oxford Social Media 2011 event hosted by Oxford University Libraries. The brief was to discuss ways to market yourself as a librarian using social media, and rather than just update my previous presentation on a similar topic, I chose to change the focus slightly and concentrate on the marketing and personal branding side of things rather than the fundamentals of social media.

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As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been thinking recently about advocacy and educating people; not necessarily on a huge scale like some of the campaigning going on in the library world, but on an individual level. It’s sort of a double pronged approach – doing things at ground level to help spread the word as well as some of the larger scale campaigns.

Some examples

As a librarian, I often end up in conversations where I try to explain what I do to people. I’m not as good as I’d like to be at it, especially since moving to research librarianship which I find even harder to explain, but I do like to do my bit to help people understand the work of the profession. I often find it easier to do this when talking to strangers – I’ve had a number of conversations about it with taxi drivers, train passengers, and a particularly interesting conversation with a train ticket collector at a train station in Exeter. I was there for last year’s UC&R/CoFHE joint conference, where I was doing two presentations; one about your library brand and the student experience, and one on professional networking for new professionals. It was a three day conference with around 100-150 delegates (I’m guessing). As I arrived at the train station I stupidly put my ticket through the barrier and it kept it. I needed the tickets to be able to claim back the expenses so I had to ask the ticket collector if he could retrieve it for me. He was very nice about it even though this meant he had to go through ALL the tickets to find mine (which happened to be in the last pile he checked). During that time, we struck up conversation about what I was doing in Exeter. I explained about the conference and his initial reaction was one of surprise – what did librarians have to talk about that could fill three days? When I explained that this was actually just a very small section of the librarian profession and mentioned some of the other conferences I had presented at and attended and the things we had discussed, he was amazed. We got chatting about what a normal day is like as an academic librarian, and he was really impressed with the variety of things I was involved in and the support we offered to the University. He had no idea that we taught or provided support for developing information skills, he didn’t know that we took a qualification to become librarians, and he was amazed at the variety of topics I mentioned would be discussed at the conference. He then found my ticket and I thanked him profusely before leaving the station. As I was leaving, I noticed he had started chatting to his colleague about our conversation and some of the stuff academic librarians do – our conversation had obviously made an impact on him.

Another thing I talk to people about (probably more often than librarianship as it arises so often due to having to eat unusual meals!) is the fact that I have coeliac disease. I’ve been diagnosed since December 2009, so it’s still a relatively new thing for me, though it’s almost normal to me now. For those who don’t know, those of us with coeliac disease have an auto-immune response when we eat anything with gluten (wheat, barley and rye are the main grains that have gluten). It brings different symptoms which makes diagnosis difficult, but thankfully when I was suffering I was tested for pretty much everything by my doctor and following a positive blood test for coeliac disease I had an endoscopy to confirm diagnosis. It’s a condition you have for life and there’s no treatment other than cutting gluten out of your diet. I get some food on prescription, and my grocery shopping now takes a lot longer than it used to as I have to check every product to check whether or not I can eat it. It’s a bit of a pain, but it’s necessary – I feel so much better since adopting the gluten free diet and it means I’m now at far less risk of some of the problems I could have if I continued to eat gluten (things like osteoporosis, infertility, and cancers). It does make eating out a little tricky, and I’ve had some revolting gluten free offerings at events.

There’s a lot of confusion about gluten free diet – some people choose to adopt a gluten free diet but don’t need to (though I don’t understand why – it’s so difficult to eat gluten free and most people can manage gluten with no problems), and some coeliacs seem to think that they can get away with eating gluten or that their body will learn to cope with it (not true, but some coeliacs don’t have physical symptoms so I can see why they might think they’re not affected). Also, because it’s not really an allergy, the effects of inadvertently eating gluten aren’t as immediate or violent as someone with a severe food allergy (in my case it takes about 12hrs to take effect and symptoms last about 3-4 days). These issues dilute the message about the importance of a gluten free diet for coeliacs (high profile chefs with coeliac disease saying they eat pasta and pizza don’t help either!). And let’s face it, it is bloody awkward! We can’t have anything that’s been anywhere near gluten, so I can’t even use the same toaster without using one of those toaster bags for my gluten free bread, I can’t use the same butter as my non-gluten free partner, I can’t use the same serving tongs if they’ve been used for food with gluten, I can’t have sauces that have been thickened with flour…. Like I said, it’s awkward and difficult!

I do understand that for people not familiar with the condition, it can be difficult to understand. But because it’s so crucial for me to follow a gluten free diet (and I want to make it easier for myself and others in future), I do try to do my bit, particularly when I’m eating out. I have to ask about gluten free options anyway, which I think in itself helps raise awareness, but I will also explain it to people I’m with or servers/chefs at restaurants if necessary. At a hotel in Edinburgh recently, the rate included breakfast. Now I can’t eat cereals, or toast, or muffins, so breakfast can be tricky. I’d asked the hotel if they were able to offer anything for a gluten free diet and they were really accommodating. They bought in lots of special food including gluten free bread, cereal, and rice cakes for me (for any coeliacs reading, I would definitely recommend Holiday Inn Express Royal Mile if you’re visiting Edinburgh). This did however mean that I had a loaf of bread and a whole box of cereal on my breakfast table. It got some odd looks from others in the hotel, and the guy next to me asked me why I’d bought my own breakfast. I explained that I hadn’t, and that the hotel had got some gluten free food in for me. What followed was another interesting conversation, where I basically had to defend my diet and explain that it wasn’t a faddy choice – it was something I had to do to stay healthy (as it happens, during this conversation we also discussed why we were in Edinburgh and I also got to do a bit of library advocacy too!).

I’d like to think that through these examples, and many others conversations like it, I’ve managed to educate a few people about both librarianship and coeliac disease.


I thought I’d share my experiences because maybe you’d like to help spread the word about something you care about too. My advice is to get out there and start talking about it – either face to face, or online. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t get involved in campaigns if you can, but grass roots level stuff is important too and it all helps.

Think about the main message you want to get across; this is something I’m trying to do at the moment so that I have an easy to understand answer when people ask what I do.

As much as I despise BT (though they are hopefully installing fibre optic broadband for us tomorrow so I might change my opinion slightly if all goes to plan), I do think their old advertising campaign is relevant here: “It’s good to talk” (though nowadays with social media there’s no need to spend money on expensive phone calls to do it!).

Library definition
Library definition from Collins

Quite a lot actually, when you’re a librarian. A recurring professional issue in librarianship is defining what a librarian does to a member of the public. Laura (Theatregradrecently blogged about her experiences as a librarianship student discussing her course with other students, giving a really interesting perspective.

What is a librarian anyway? We have the traditional stereotypes – the middle aged woman wearing a bun with a twin set and glasses on string around her neck. What does she do? Well she’s knowledgeable, but she’s a bit stuffy and reluctant to share information – you have to ask very nicely and you have to be very quiet when in her presence. I’ll admit that I held this perception of a librarian until I graduated from my undergraduate degree in 2005 and starting trying to find out about librarianship (this fact is ever present in my mind when I talk to people outside the profession).
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I read an interesting blog post earlier today from Andy Burkhardt who wrote a guest post for ACRLog titled Don’t Make It Easy For Them (read it – it’s not too long). It really struck a chord with me – one of the bugbears in my previous job was when colleagues (in my opinion) spoonfed students. I shared the post on Twitter and an interesting discussion began about whether or not we, as librarians, should make it easy for students (I’m referring to students but the same applies to most library user groups).

My personal view is reflected in my comment on the blog post (currently in the moderation queue):

I agree with the idea that information literacy sessions can be more rewarding both for the students and the teacher if students are able to discover the tools for themselves, however think some initial guidance is needed (perhaps which databases to use and how to get to them). This method of teaching is also intensive and therefore often needs more than one member of staff to support the session as students explore. It’s certainly my preferred method of teaching though; I found many students learnt more this way.

I also agree with your point about the reference desk, I see the role of a librarian as one who can show people how to find the information for themselves, therefore empowering them to do it in future. Having said that, many of the students I encountered on an enquiry desk didn’t want that – they see the librarian as a resource to utilise to get you your research. They pay their fees and expect us to offer a service – doing their research for them. It’s a difficult thing to address. I always took the approach that I would try to show them how to do something, but I had some colleagues who would just do it for them. Some students preferred learning to do it for themselves, others just wanted us to do it for them and found my approach frustrating.

I think a balance is needed but it can be difficult to know what is best and I think this probably changes depending on the situation and the persons involved.

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Man with megaphone

I started this blog post in a conference break at the JISC Future of Research conference. I wasn’t actually at the conference (it was held in London); I was in my office in Birmingham following along using various event amplification tools.

I hadn’t come across the term event amplification (i.e. amplifying the event beyond the physical location, for example by using livestreaming or Twitter) until quite recently, through Brian Kelly’s blog and a subsequent discussion I had with him. However, I have been involved in event amplification in a number of different ways before. Event amplification (although I didn’t term it as that) has been an important consideration of mine both as an attendee, an organiser, and a remote participant. Read the rest of this entry »

Earlier this evening I attended a free online webinar hosted by SirsiDynix; it was based on advocacy in libraries and was presented by Stephen Abram. I thought I’d share a summary of the presentation for anyone interested. Read the rest of this entry »

Road sign for Echo

As some of you may know, escaping the echo chamber has been a concern of librarians for a while now. American library bloggers, and more recently UK library bloggers, share their experiences and discuss innovative ideas for developing their libraries, whether they are public, academic, law, health or special libraries. For approximately four or five years now, I’ve been reading about all these fantastic developments and joining in conversations with other library and information workers in the profession.There’s some great stuff happening and some even greater stuff being developed for the future.

And yet, we find ourselves in the unfortunate position whereby libraries are facing closure threats, funding is being cut drastically, and staff are facing redundancy. Obviously, these new stories are due to the economic climate, but why are libraries suffering worse than some other areas? Is it because libraries aren’t seen as important as some of the more vital areas of public spending such a healthcare and education? Possibly. Is the problem exacerbated by the lack of communication outside of anyone working in the profession or our regular users? I think so.
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Earlier this week, myself and Emma Illingworth (@wigglesweets and half of Librarians on the Loose) presented a joint workshop at CoFHE/UC&R Joint Conference 2010 titled “Your library brand and the student experience”. Although neither of us are directly involved in this sort of work in our institutions, it’s something we’re both passionate about and spend time researching, so we wanted to pull this together and share some of what we’ve learnt with others. Read the rest of this entry »

Professor teaching his students in a classroom

Last week I attended a really interesting event hosted jointly by University, College and Research Group West Midlands and Career Development Group West Midlands. Librarians as Teachers: the New Professionals? was a very popular event, with delegates travelling from across the country to attend. I was invited to join the panel for a debate at the end of the day, presenting the opinion of a new professional.

You can see a programme of the day including presentations and supporting material, and view other blog posts covering the day, or view the archive of tweets, but I wanted to share some of the themes raised during the event which I’ve been contemplating since.

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