23 Things, Thing 19

Marketing. That one word brings up a mixture of reactions for me. I feel a combination of terror shiver-down-the-spine and a touch of apathy. I have come to realise over the course of the 23 Things programme that I don’t get all this emphasis on being on every single online service going. Being on Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/Flickr/other is just a bit too much for me. As with everything, this is very much down to personal choice but I fear that all of this focus on the web is distracting us all from dealing with matters a bit closer to home.

While I agree that having a website and email contact address is pretty essential for any entity that provides some form of service, how far should that have to extend? My main issue with being online in many ways is that…well…are students even going to look on Facebook for you? If I ever need to find out about a department/company I will google them and go on to their website.  I won’t start off with Twitter or Facebook and work back to the website itself. Life just does not work like that.

Another issue I have with all this shiny tech is that, great…we look amazing and welcoming online but if the student walks through the doors of *insert library name here* and the first person they meet has terrible customer service skills then all of that work has been wasted. I’m not saying that we’re all terrible outreach people, but I have heard time and time again from students that they know all this stuff exists, but there seems to be this horrible myth going around that some libraries always have a notorious individual who have been hostile/difficult. Now I’m not pointing the finger at anyone in particular, but I fear that some of these myths may have some truth to them. Just working through the horrible attitude that a lot of students have towards the UL alone is an uphill struggle. Time and time again I heard students that I either know through work or on a more personal level ranting about how unwelcoming it can be and how they have had run-ins with people who have made them feel like never coming back again, especially when they can camp out in their college library overnight and not have to even bother trekking out across the river to the big Dark Tower of Sauron (not my nickname!).

I love the UL and I think its an amazing place, as is the University in its entireity but I feel that this issue is something that we desperately need to tackle and I’m not sure if the Web is the best place to do it. As many studies have shown, online interactions have a considerably less “real” feel to them than a face-to-face conversation. I feel that we should be putting our energies more into being present at Fresher’s Fairs and running forms of welcome days periodically throughout the year, with the offer of a cuppa and a chat with a librarian. Rekindle a warm and fuzzy view of the librarian rather than the net-savvy whizz that we seem to be trying to promote nowadays.

I’m not saying disregard web-based things entirely. There have been some excellent Things so far and I can see how they can be effectively used, but I just fear that people are moving on too quickly in the name of progress without stopping to reflect on the potential cracks that they are leaving behind. I know that the UL have orientation tours and other things to get students to get to grips with the complex layout of the place but I have noticed (as I have given some of the tours myself) that not many undergraduates have really been turning up. We need to become more integral to students’ lives so they can’t survive university without us. A lot seem to be doing pretty well and I have heard proud declarations of how some have never even gone into their departmental libraries and still have passed with a good degree. From personal experience, promoting the invaluable services that we libraries provide via effective poster campaigns in different colleges and departments has more of an impact than a Twitter announcement that not all students will see.

Ensuring that our marketing is effectively produced in Fresher’s packs, subject introductory packs, given to tutors to hand out at supervisions when appropriate….that’s what we need to do more of. Communicating our services with the people who have more direct contact with the people we’re trying to reach. I’ve never liked calling students “customers” but at the same time, they are paying for a service through their fees and I feel that we should be providing value for their money. Putting leaflets in students’ pigeon holes would be another excellent and direct way of doing things. Plus we could be very focussed and use student lists or library user lists to give out information that is specific to the individual rather than bombarding some poor NatSci with information about the MML library for example.

I know I haven’t covered much about the original topic: marketing with social media. After looking at the links provided in the original Cam23 post, I must say I really liked the examples presented by Erin Maassen. I love the idea of a eye-catching business card that has a trading/game card feel about it. This use of imagery and style breaks down the wall between user and provider, making them more approachable and reachable. This is the sort of thing we should encourage. Having actual people as the contact points for a library. If someone knows what the librarian that they need to talk to looks like and they’ve emailed them a few times, they’re going to be less intimidated about coming in to the actual building and engaging with that librarian further. I don’t feel that Twitter et al. provide this same sort of connectivity. While the contact cards that Erin provides have many contact points to Twitter and Facebook, the Head of Adult Services has a far less complicated contact card as she simply provides a few options of getting in touch with her directly. Unlike her presented colleagues who over-provide, she jumps out as being far more approachable as you are given a few services to contact her rather than the average individual getting lost in the forest of multiple links.

I apologise if this post has offended anyone, it really was not my intention. I just felt this Thing was an excellent springboard to discuss and present some concerns that I have been having for some time about Cambridge University and its libraries. I’m not saying we’re all doing a terrible job, far from it! I just feel we need to make sure we don’t drop the ball on this. Engagement with the user is critical, and we need to tread carefully as to how we go about it.

One final point about Twitter and Facebook: any student will tell you that such services are terrible procrastination tools. Are we ok with encouraging students who already spend too much time online to spend even more time messing around with a pretty Facebook Group rather than getting off their backsides and actually coming in to the library and benefitting more directly?

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4 thoughts on “23 Things, Thing 19

  1. A former employer had cards made for various people who were known to deal with suppliers, admissions and alumni but not for the library staff, nor did library staff havce name badges. might it be that we are perceived as behind the scenes people, unlikely to relish interactng with users. Perhaps a stall at Freshers fair will help (but not a down with the kids lady gaga video)

    • See, I really like that idea! Everyone has their own specialisations and areas of interest, which can often not be just confined to their jobs. We need to allow individuals to use their outside interests and skills to make the services that we provide a lot more varied and interesting. That way both employee and reader benefits!

      I agree with the Fresher’s Fair stall…that is a work in progress at the moment but I agree…no Lady Gaga! See, with the Internet, I just worry that the library community are trying to come across as “cool” rather than just being great in their own way!

  2. This is a great post, really really interesting and I agree with so much of what you have said, particularly and most importantly the importance of the staff who provide the first point of contact or the random interaction with a member of staff passing the corridor. Initial impressions count and good customer service in RL cannot be beaten for creating a good impression (the reverse is famously also true, people will tell lots more people about a bad customer service experience…). You say “re-kindle a warm and fuzzy view” but I wonder if there has ever been that view in the first place – we might need to “kindle” it 🙂

    A couple of things to add, as there is so much food for thought here.

    1) I wonder whether the undergraduate attitude towards and perception of the UL is going to change as a result of the change in borrowing rights? Surely the main reason undergrads often don’t bother after a first visit is that barrier of not being able to borrow until the final year. It gives an impression that the UL is “not for them”. I think this development offers the UL a wider opportunity, certainly with undergrads.

    2) Secondly, and this is based only on my personal experience, there are some ways in which the web-based interactions you mention can add to the feeling of a personal relationship/connection with a librarian. I find it personally much easier to contact people/ask a question on Twitter, for example. I have done this numerous times to institutions (libraries, CILIP, other institutional accounts) that I would never have bothered to contact via a “contact us” form or an email address because somehow they seem more “formal” forms of communication. If the Twitter account has personality and, crucially, a person behind it, then it can be a means of creating this interaction before people even summon up the courage to step in the Dark Tower of Sauron 🙂 I think it does have something to offer and possibly might reach people other forms of communication cannot reach?

    • I’m glad my post has given you some food for thought!

      I agree that initial impressions are key and your point about negative experiences being more memorable and more widely spread than positive ones! Just look at product reviews on the Internet. People are more likely to comment and rant about something that didn’t work than praise something that did!

      As for my rekindling of the warm and fuzzy view, I always thought that was there. The archetype of the little lady behind the desk or more recently, the bumbling yet loveable Giles from Buffy! I suppose that viewpoint isn’t shared by all so yes…kindle away! I guess my point was about making us all friendly and approachable rather than scary and brandishing date stamps and overdues!

      I completely agree with your point about the change in borrowing rights potentially encouraging new first years and changing their attitude towards us as a department. I must confess, I did wince a bit when I saw that borrowing rights are to be extended to all because of the conservation issues and whatnot but at the same time, if it means more people are using our services and getting a better experience then it’ll be worth it!

      I see your point about contacting people through Twitter and starting up a connection that way. I think that’s great and that’s why I really liked those business cards that I mentioned in my post. It gives a first point of contact and gets people talking. I agree with your comment about the “Contact Us” coming across as too formal sometimes. Having the chance to a real person via Twitter etc can always help!

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