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School Library Marketing 101: It's About Students Not Stuff.

Librarians are not born horn tooters.  At least, I'm not.  I know that might sound contradictory for someone who a) calls herself "library girl" and b) spends most of her time running around the countryside spreading the gospel of library.

But it's true.

Tooting my own horn does not come naturally.  In fact, it wasn't until the world started to turn upside down and libraries became a frequent flyer on the fiscal chopping block that I decided I needed to learn how to advocate for kids by promoting what I did to support them.  I became a horn tooter out of necessity.  As so many of us did.

Let's face it.  These days marketing isn't just about marketing.  It's about advocacy: advocacy for students and how high quality library programs can change their lives.

The problem, however, is that most marketing is focused on tools:  the slogan, the brochure, the newsletter, the infographic, the wiki, etc.  And while all of these can be effective ways of delivering your message, it's the message itself that really counts.   Before we can even begin to think about how we're going to market our work and its impact on student learning, we have to create work that impacts student learning! 

I know.  I know.  That sounds a little obvious.  And yet, think about it.  If you were asked to develop a marketing plan for your library, where would you start?  C'mon... be honest!  Most of us would begin with a proposal.  An "I will _________" statement.  What's more, that statement would probably end with something like "create a monthly newsletter."  That's how we think of marketing.

And that's the problem.

School library marketing has to begin and end with impact.  It has to be about what we do for our kids, our teachers, our communities and why it's important.  It has to be about outcomes and the message that "we're all in this together" or, put another way, that we care just as much about student success as any other teacher in the building.  Don't get me wrong, at some point we DO have to think about how we're going to share that good work, but the work has to be good first.

So... over the last couple of weeks, I've been working on a template for creating a school library marketing plan.  In the end, I settled on 4 formal steps - that is to say, steps that are written down.  But as you'll see, there's some really important stuff written between the lines.  

Step 1:  Set some goals.

I cannot stress this enough: marketing is meaningless unless you have a product worth selling.  The most creative and most beautifully designed newsletter is ineffective if its content is not focused on specific efforts to impact student learning or help support our teaching staff or contribute to the greater school library community.  That said, the goals we set for our work are as varied as the communities we serve, but I feel strongly that those goals must be rooted in real, identified needs.  We can go to the curriculum standards and pull out an objective for whatever grade levels we teach, but wouldn't it be more effective to talk to some teachers about which goals their students are struggling with and then tackle those in our work too?  Similarly, if we know (as an example) that a significant number of our students come from military families, a reading initiative that focuses on the impact of multiple deployments or on the reading lives of kids in the countries that, although thousands of miles away, play an important role in our own students' lives, would be far more effective than a more generic program.   The point is, without some kind of data (either qualitative or quantitative) to inform our practice, we are really just shooting in the dark.  Getting to know our kids, our teachers and our communities  and what their needs are will help us create services that are WORTHY of our marketing efforts.

Step 2:  Seek alignment.

Though not every state's professional teaching standards for school librarians are worded exactly alike, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and assume that most are focused on student learning.  That said, creating alignment between these standards and your instructional goals for the year is a good habit to get into.  Not only does drawing this line help ensure that you're meeting the standards that your work will ultimately be evaluated on, but that alignment also helps sharpen the focus on student outcomes.  There's a reason school librarians are required to also be certified teachers: because certified TEACHER librarians know how to create instructionally focused library programs.  And instructionally focused library programs are worth marketing.  Additionally, if you've written a mission statement for your library, (and you really should do this!) make sure it's on your plan.  Even if you're the only one who ever sees it, that statement, which defines what you are about, is worth repeating.

Step 3:  Pick some tools. Aaaah! Finally!  The fun part!  Yes, now you can pick some tools to help you spread your message and get more people involved in the instructional programs that you've worked so hard to build. And the good news is, there's a plethora of tools to pick from!  Whether you go the social media route or decide to rock out a killer brochure, here's my advice. 

  • Select multiple ways of marketing every initiative. Any marketer will tell you that a successful marketing campaign AT BEST only reaches about 10% of its intended audience.  So... if that's true, you need get that message out there repeatedly and in a variety of formats.  For example, if you've put your time and talents into building a library space that provides kids with the

opportunity to create, communicate, collaboratie and think critically, be sure to share that on your webpage AND in the PTSA newsletter AND through some candy grams placed in teachers boxes AND on a strategically placed poster in the faculty restrooms.  The more times you send out the message, the more likely it is to stick.

  • Target your audience(s).  Spend some time thinking about who really needs to know about the programs you are promoting and then create marketing materials that target those individuals.  Marketing materials for your school board members, for example, should carry a different tone than those directed at students, etc.  We all know that "one size fits all" clothing never fits anyone.  The same is true of marketing.  Craft a message for individual groups, as and its more likely to hit home when it lands.

  • Find a balance between the innovative and attainable.   By all means, think out side the proverbial box when it comes to promoting how your library impacts students, but make your marketing goals realistic.  We'd all like to be able to skywrite our message over the football field during homecoming, but that might be setting your sights a little high.  Pick marketing tools that are easy for you to use and that you'll be able to knock out of the park.  If you create goals that are too difficult, they just won't get done. 

Step 4:  Create a timeline.

Creating deadlines will help you stay focused and on track.  Be specific and outline when exactly you're going to deploy your marketing arsenal and, to the best of your ability, stick with it.  Create events in your calendar and make these things a priority when you are able to.  But don't discouraged if actually serving the needs of your community gets in the way of promoting that work.  If you miss a deadline don't get discouraged.   Just remember, this isn't about tooting your horn, it's about building programs that change students' lives.  And that work is important too.

Step 4.5:  Reflect.  Reflect.  Reflect.

While I don't advocate reinventing the wheel each year, I also know that your goals are going to change because each year you have new kids and new staff members who come to you with all new needs. So take the time to collect some data from your stakeholders at the end of the year. Try to define some measures of success that will help you judge the merits of your plan - a good starting point might be participation (in the programs you marketed), feedback from your students, staff, etc., and/or student growth data.  Either way, it seems silly to go through all the work of marketing what you WITHOUT taking the time to evaluate that work at the end.   So... if you've made it to the end of this post, bravo!  It's a long one, I know.

As I said early on, I've created a template for this work that you are welcome to use and share.  If you like it, as is, I've made it a PDF form, that you can simply plug your info into and then save and/or print, etc.  On the other hand, if you feel it needs a few tweaks to meet your needs, feel free to create your own version using any part of what I've already done. Either way, if developing a marketing plan is on your list of things to do, just remember that, as with everything we do, library marketing is about students, not stuff.  Begin with creating programs that are based on worthy goals and selling them will be a snap. 


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