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Liaison Librarians as Library Marketers: Interview with Karen Doster-Greenleaf and Amy Stalker

By Dan Bostrom posted 02-18-2021 10:41

Liaison Librarians as Library Marketers: Interview with Karen Doster-Greenleaf and Amy Stalker
By Melissa Fraser-Arnett

How do librarians build a strategic and tailored marketing program? Karen Doster-Greenleaf and Amy Stalker published an article in Marketing Libraries Journal in 2018 entitled “Hooking Your Audience: Tailored Instruction Marketing” about their experiences adapting a liaison librarian program at Georgia State University to develop a tailored library promotion program. LMD’s Marketing Section interviewed Karen and Amy to learn more about their experiences and to get an update on their marketing efforts since the launch of this strategic program’s introduction in 2016. They shared advice both on launching a marketing program and on building the relationships with clients that are essential to developing targeting promotional materials and services that will bring clients to the library.

You based your marketing approach on a liaison librarian model. How did you modify the program in order to shift this model?

Because there was an existing liaison librarianship program in place, the program was less about training librarians on new skills than it was about bringing new ideas to an existing team. Newer librarians joined the team and worked to take the existing relationships that liaison librarians had developed with individual faculty members and create an expanded program that created relationships with the faculty.

What role did relationships between librarians and faculty built during the earlier liaison program play in building the strategic liaison program?

These faculty became library boosters or library cheerleaders. Word of mouth promotion of the library’s services was vital in encouraging others to connect with liaison librarians. While existing relationships between librarians and faculty had some benefits to redesigning the liaison program, they also created some challenges. Faculty with personal relationships with librarians had pre-existing expectations about what the library should offer. In some cases, these expectations were skewed as faculty expected a personal touch that went beyond the library’s mandate, for example, providing personal tech help. Distinctions needed to be made between the services that the library provides and the professional relationships that exist between librarians and faculty and the tasks that librarians perform to support faculty as friends.

The liaison program had previously had an informal structure. The program was expanded to create more liaison librarian positions. This meant that library staff could be deployed strategically. The arrival of new staff meant that some liaison librarians were moved to different departments. There was a hand-off process. Liaison librarians helped new liaison librarians to connect with academic departments and their existing personal relationships with faculty helped with this process. New liaison librarians found that they needed to seek input from existing librarians. Negotiating expectations for the liaison program was a major activity in the expanded liaison program.

What role did library leadership play in the expanded liaison program?

Library leadership encouraged the expansion of the program. The library realized that they couldn’t expect to achieve strategy goals with all of their librarians running around doing their own things.

What other partnerships where important in developing the program?

Department heads were key partners in encouraging faculty support. We also built partnerships with faculty who where part of committees and student groups. We partnered with the TRIO program for first generation students to find ways to reach students. Referrals and word of mouth promotion of the library helped build the program. Conversations led to introductions to other faculty and shared acquaintances served as conversation starters. It took the library awhile to break into new faculty orientations and faculty meetings, but these ended up being vital to library marketing.

What role did timing play in building relationships and marketing the library?

Timing was very important to the program. We planned for the fall semester over the summer. We used library use statistics to see who used the library most often, when they used the library, and who we haven’t seen in the library in awhile. We used this data to add a personal touch to our outreach. We found that information gathered through the liaison program and library metrics worked well together. For example, we learned through the liaison program that the history department had done a curriculum redesign that the library didn’t know about. This allowed the library to modify its offerings.

We also discovered the good times to reach out to each department based on the intensity of their assignments. We started thinking strategically about being there for faculty during their time of need and we found that this time of need was different for each department. This meant that we needed to develop more nuanced communication patterns. We couldn’t just send one bulk email to all faculty. The most consistent challenge that we faced was convincing liaison librarians to overcome the impulse to send out emails to faculty right at the start of the semester. This is a time when they are being overwhelmed with emails. We had to consider the library’s place on the priority list and when faculty are going to be more receptive to our messaging.

In addition to understanding when to reach out to faculty, we had to understand each department’s communication style. In some departments, all message had to be sent from the department head. In others, faculty ignore department head emails. We also needed to discover which faculty needed individual messages. Some faculty need to feel that their unique needs are being addressed.

Your approach relied on tailoring materials to each department. Where there any marketing approaches that could be shared between liaison librarians?

This was a team effort. Intelligence sharing was part of the process. Liaison librarians shared information about what was working but also about changes that could impact others’ work. There were monthly librarian meetings, but hot ticket information items were shared immediately. We created communal spots where liaison librarians could share information. The team approach emphasized the idea that we are all in this together and that successes were successes for the whole library. Librarians shared what was working with their peers.

How has the shift to teleworking impacted your approach?

The switch to virtual work has 100% changed how we work. The university already had a suite of Microsoft products and Microsoft Teams channels were established for marketing. Library staff beefed up our tech skills. We created animated introductory videos to introduce the library. These were short and sweet and included animated avatars representing the liaison librarians.

We needed to think outside the box to market the library and embraced a guerrilla marketing approach. Library staff who were on campus went around campus to add library promotion stickers in areas where faculty and students would see them, such as in washrooms or on hand sanitizer bottles. We experimented with toggling links on and off in our promotional materials to encourage faculty to reach out to library staff when they were preparing their lecture materials because they would think they had encountered a tech error.

What online tools did you find most useful in your virtual marketing approach?

We use Canva and can’t praise it enough. We also used Flipbook for creating online brochures. Their free version allows you to create three eBooks or brochures. You are able to link to other materials from these brochures and they are mobile-friendly. We have created library marketing products using LibGuides, but you have to be mindful when you are creating library subject guides not to throw the kitchen sink at your audience. Stick with one-page guides for marketing and think of these as digital flyers.

We also use paper products in our library marketing campaigns. We attach liaison librarian business cards to giveaways from the library. We also run library pop-ups in faculty spaces. We did a pop-up with a Keurig coffee machine in the faculty hallway. Being in the department’s space helps you to pick up on the vibe of the department. You get a sense of their speed and business.

We also find that auditing classes can be a good way to understand faculty needs. This approach takes a bit of organization. You need to work attending the class into your schedule and be supported to spend time in the classroom.

What final advice do you have for libraries seeking to start a strategic marketing program?

First, look for ideas outside of the library literature. We look at business literature and pulled ideas about guerrilla marketing and concepts such as secret shoppers that we applied to the library. We also leaned about the importance of making sure that the work that you are doing should match what faculty really need. We had to review the work we were doing and consider whether we were doing things for our clients or whether we were doing them for ourselves, because we felt that these were the things that our clients should have. Knowing your customers is essential.

Second, start your conversations with faculty with an understanding of their information needs. In the case of faculty, you need to base your approach on their course syllabus. If you start with their syllabus, then you can start conversations with statements like “Did you know that we can…” in which you specifically mention a service or information product you can offer that aligns directly with their syllabus. If you start with an open offer asking “What can the library do for you?”, you are unlikely to get concrete ideas for faculty. They may not have an idea of what the library can do or they may only ask for services that they already know about. Librarians need to lean into their expertise in offering tailored information support.

Third, be present in your clients’ spaces. Beyond the classroom, go to student events and research activities. Don’t just attend guest lectures, but show up for the chats over coffee that happen before or after the lecture. Networking happens in these settings and a brief coffee break is a real opportunity to pitch the library. Hover at faculty meetings. While we like to send emails where we can share our strengths and expertise, it is harder for people to say no to you in person.

Giving a sales pitch for the library is out of many librarians’ comfort zones, but you can’t argue with the return on investment in terms of library use gains and relationship building that networking creates for the library. There are ways that you can increase library staff comfort with networking and pitching the library. First, you can offer training workshops. We had an improv artist run a workshop for librarians during a professional development day to help build comfort with public speaking. Second, you can host networking events in the library. This makes staff feel more comfortable because they are networking on their home turf where they feel more at home and are more willing to engage. Food also puts people at ease. Whenever you are running an event, remember the importance of timing and faculty availability so that your marketing targets will be able to attend.


Karen Doster-Greenleaf

Karen Doster-Greenleaf is the Director of Research and Instructional Services at Kennesaw State University. She holds a Master of Science in Library and Information Studies from Florida State University. Her current research interests focus on the impact of library services on student academic success and retention and the application of corporate management practices in academic libraries.

Amy Stalker.

Amy Stalker
joined Perimeter College (now Georgia State University) in 2013. She currently serves as the Associate Department Head at Georgia State's Dunwoody campus library. She received her MLIS from Valdosta State University and earned her BA in Russian Area Studies from Wittenberg University. Her professional interests include collection management, community outreach and employee development.

Melissa Fraser-Arnett.

Melissa Fraser-Arnott is the Co-Chair of the Leadership and Management Division’s Marketing Section. She is the Chief of Integrated Reference Services at the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, Canada. Melissa has a PhD from the SJSU-QUT Gateway PhD Program and an MLIS from the University of Western Ontario.