Marketing of Academic Libraries, Chalanges and Practice


During the last two decades, a major change and development has happened in libraries. A critical element for that has been the development of telecommunications and information technologies-ICT. From the 80’s the automation of libraries has received a great impulse, and many libraries have introduced more and more ICT equipment and its applications, creating their own web sites, generating compact discs, and producing leading projects. It has provided libraries with a more refreshing and distinctive touch and new directions are now conceived by libraries. The technological environment and the extraordinary growth in the use of Internet has definitely improved the cooperation among libraries and eliminated almost all restrictions. Academic libraries today look totally different than they did twenty years ago. Thanks not only to the technologies but also to the information agents. Economic changes, technological developments and other forces have reshaped and redefined librarians’ way of thinking.

The library in this era need to redesign the services and revision must be done to the information profession to meet the ICTs development and to give the chance for the library to grow from the regular types of libraries to the universal information services, and from a conservative library to a modern virtual library (Feria, 2000).

This increase of information technologies and the explosion of available information are the most obvious changes in academic libraries. The amount of human knowledge is doubling almost every five years; the number of students has almost doubled since 1970’s, same for the number of teachers and researchers with large diversity of user groups. And library users must learn to use different databases and interfaces successfully to be part of the knowledge expansion (Nims, 1999).

Information providers are now more diverse and the academic library is not the only provider in the higher education market like before. Users can get their information from other information providers. Using the Internet, they can access volume of information over the computer without coming into the library building or interacting with a librarian at all. In addition, libraries now face competition from traditional bookstores like online bookstores such as Along with small shops that offer inviting environments to sit and read books, with drinks and friendly staff to answer questions. The revolution in information services that is taking place in academic libraries makes it essential that libraries design new services that meet the user’s needs better than other providers. With all that the idea of applying marketing principles to academic library services is greeted with hesitation and doubt (Nims, 1999).


In the last few years, the products and services provided by libraries have changed considerably. The challenges to library services from changes in educational approaches, the impact of technology, new methods for information provision and declining budgets have meant that marketing is now so necessary that it cannot be considered a separate function. It is the whole business seen from its final results; that is, from the client’s perspective. In determining new approaches, many libraries have come to appreciate the contribution that the marketing concepts can make. In designing the marketing mix and developing the marketing plan, the so-called 4Ps have become central to libraries – product, price, place, promotion. Any library using marketing techniques to develop its operations focuses on its products or services; the price paid, which may be in money, time or energy; the promotional strategies by which library collections and services are made known to potential clients, including publications, displays and participation in events; and the physical facilities or place from which services are made available and distribution strategies which increasingly use the Internet and virtual as well as real approaches. Positioning and politics can also be considered in the mix and incorporate positioning the product in the mind of the client and public policy and politics (Madhusudhan, 2008).

Marketing has been defined as the: “… analysis, planning, implementation, and control of carefully formulated programs designed to bring about voluntary exchanges with target markets for the purpose of achieving organizational objectives … [and] … heavily dependent on designing the organization’s offering in terms of the target market needs and desires and on using effective pricing, communication and distribution to inform, motivate and service the market” (Kavulya, 2004, p.118). True marketing is a repetitive process and a systematic approach for matching services and products to the user needs and desires. Marketing is the key ingredient in the success of any nonprofit organization (Koontz, 2004).

The study of the practices of library marketing activities of universities in Kenya, explores the marketing practice in Kenya academic libraries and what are the obstacles that face this practice. Result of the study prove the need for academic libraries to be more aware of their role in the academic atmosphere and show the library importance and relevance to the academic community by its contribution to research and teaching which is the main purpose of the university. By doing this the academic library can insure the support of the university. The study proves that showing the library informational role will prevent academic libraries from being marginalized by the institution that support the library. If they fail to do so the library risk being seen as irrelevant and lead to becoming more and more marginalized in the university educational process (Kavulya, 2004).

The job of marketing services is not as easy as marketing a product, the service cannot be returned and cannot be stored. Dissatisfied customer cannot return an unsatisfactory service as he can an unsatisfactory product. And a customer can often choose to perform the service himself. Successful marketing is characterized by four activities. First is market research to identify customer needs and wants, second is market segmentation to allocating resource to customer groups, third is marketing mix strategy which includes the products or services, priced, delivered and promoted; and finally the fourth which is evaluating the marketing effort (Tucci, 1988).

1. Market Research

The needs of the library users are the core of the marketing process. It is the user who drives marketing and ultimately shapes the product or service. Marketing is not just the four P’s (product, price, promotion, and place). Marketing is planned and executed process which includes marketing research to develop services and products, then evaluating the results and integrating the findings into future services and products. The majority of mission statements of academic libraries neglect the concept of letting the users’ needs dictate the services orientations (Nims, 1999).

Academic libraries need to be more persistent in investigating user’s needs by using Marketing approach to develop services that meet their expectations. It is not just marketing of already available services to the users but to find out what the users want (Kavulya, 2004). Marketing research is the function that links the information professional to the customer’s needs and wants. Marketing research can be done by reviewing internal customer data in the library and also by recognizing usage categories for materials that are being checked by students, categories like user types; students or faculty, date of entry, type of material, and so on (Koontz, 2005).

In the Saint Mary’s University library experience, Lefebure (2002) found that the Patrick Power Library had a very uninviting environment. The library building and the interior design was really uncomfortable. Although the library was known for its efficient, thorough and friendly service, the library seemed to be disregarded because few only knew how excellent the library resources were and how good was the service inside. The positive side of the library was undermined by the dim and tired appearance of the building itself. At the same time the financial resources were rare and not easy to acquire for renewal or redesigning the library. Even the electronic services were not known to all of the students and not many knew that inside the library there were many computers linked directly to the Internet with major electronic information services. So the challenge was to design a marketing campaign that would transform the library to make it a welcoming place (Lefebure, 2002).

By conducting a marketing survey to take the student opinion and thoughts regarding the library services, students “who are the main clients of the academic library” put more emphasis on atmosphere and ease of access through the Internet than the more traditional library methods. Students revealed what services would encourage them to use the library more; the majority of respondents in the sample group mentioned a coffee shop, and more resources. Other factors mentioned were updated materials; food and beverages allowed in the library; better climate control; atmosphere; lounge area; and better lighting. The final factor cited was promotion of the facilities. It was clear that the students themselves recognized that they were not fully aware of what was available to them. This experience demonstrates that market surveys and research do work if you ask the right questions, and not just asking the regular current users of the library. But surveys should also investigate the needs of students who do not come to the library. And the best marketing is word of mouth. Students often consult each other rather than approach the reference desk. Yet if the reference staff is efficient, friendly, helpful and solutions-based, the students will generate positive word-of-mouth about the service. On the other hand, good marketing is soon void if the student meets an unfriendly staff member (Lefebure, 2002).

Not many users have sufficient knowledge of the academic library, library services, and information technologies. And many students hold negative attitudes towards librarians. Mu (2007) demonstrates that 75 to 85 percent of college freshmen viewed the library as scary, overpowering and confusing. And the biggest challenge faced by reference librarians is to create a positive image. Librarians need to develop the ability to create a welcoming environment.

Although more and more librarians are getting familiar and comfortable with promotional activities and public relations, they often use marketing principles without realizing it. In the course of planning new services or evaluating existing service, many academic librarians assess their users and their needs, segment their intended users, and target services to certain populations. Marketing can assist libraries in determining their future and in identifying quality products, services, programs, and materials (Nims, 1999).

Relationship marketing, in particular, reflecting the mutual interests of libraries and the clients they serve, is being seen as a concept for libraries to embrace. Libraries after all, are built on relationships. Marketing is directly linked to the client’s perceptions of the services the library offers and the library’s interpretation of the client’s needs. In developing and maintaining relationships, it is essential that all clients are identified and their needs understood. Market research is a useful tool for discovering and understanding client needs and identifying better ways to meet those needs. If changing process is involved, it is always easier to change one-self than it is to change others (Madhusudhan, 2008).

2. Market Segmentation

Marketing segmentation means grouping customers for best product delivery and resource allocation to better promote the service to specific groups, for instance media type, graduate, undergraduate, and faculty. They could be also segmented by online users or walk in users, or the time they spend inside the campus, or by database users and physical items checkout (Koontz, 2005). The purpose of marketing segmentation is to target the customer rather than the product or the service. The aim is to provide services that satisfy individual rather than a generalized service. Taking into account the various market segments and their needs, market segmentation involves research to determine the quality of the library service and its contribution to the mission and the objectives of the parent organization. Data are collected looking at users’ awareness and attitude to the library service, customer satisfaction levels, and the major strengths and weaknesses of the library in terms of staff, resources, programs and facilities. Studying the organization and users helps create appropriate library services and programs as well as guide the planning of the right marketing strategy. This marks a departure from promoting of a solo existing service towards a package of services designed to meet the various target groups in the university such as academics, researchers, and undergraduate as well as postgraduate students (Kavulya, 2004).

3.  Marketing Mix

Marketing mix is formulated by the 4p’s. The first P is the creation of the Product which also could be a service for the market that is the target. Then there is Price, Place of distribution and finally promotional efforts. The development of an effective marketing strategy requires the specification of the marketing mix which incorporates the four Ps of marketing. The marketing mix is the guide for the development, implementation and evaluation of any specific service or product (Kavulya, 2004).

Product: The product is defined as “anything that can be offered to a market to satisfy a need” (Norman, 1989, p.46). “Every product has a price and must be available some place and then promoted” (Kavulya, 2004, p.120). The main product provided by the information professionals is giving the user assistance and acting as an intermediary between the user and the resources of the library. Product could also mean the various services offered by the library and designed for specific user groups such as databases, information skills programs, SDI activities, whose quality depends on their usefulness to the users’ information needs. The success of all marketing and planning efforts hinge directly upon the quality and excellence of the product or service designed (Norman, 1989).

The Product mix “is a set of all product lines and items that the organization makes available to its customers. A product line is all the various products within product mix that are closely related, with shared characteristics, offered to a specific segment of clients or through a specific channel. A product item is a unit within the product line. Product item for a university library may include those product lines and items offered through public or technical services” (Koontz, 2005, p.7).

Price: Price is simply”what it costs to produce [the] product. Plus any user fees that are assessed” (Owens 2002, p.11). There are financial environment challenges in higher education but there is no relationship between cost and demand for services in academic libraries. The economics of the new technologies will make it difficult for many academic libraries to offer services at no charge (Norman, 1989).Fee based services could be a good alternative to public funding, specially for struggling academic libraries with insufficient financial resources or libraries with poor funding that do not adequately fulfill their needs. Selling information services is a potential source of funding for academic libraries. Increasing cost of services justifies the user fees. Applying fee for providing services to the users is not only to support the library existence but also to widen the library borders and capabilities to provide new and better services. Library services are no different than any other public service that the public pay for every day. One of the advantages of putting fees on using library services is the insurance of the consistency of library services; the users sometime over-use free services just because they are free, putting fees limit the over-use of services and put value and quality to the service in the customers’ eyes (Mahmood, Hameed & Haidar, 2005).

The concept of selling information services may not apply to the basic essential information services that academic libraries provide. But the more advanced and technological services are highly suggested to provide income for academic libraries, like photocopy services, Internet service, computer printouts, use of computers for word-processing, and microfilm prints. Photocopying and Internet service can be successfully offered as fee-based services. To implement fee-based service in academic libraries a good training of the library staff and a marketing and promotional plan must be established to raise the awareness for the academic community of the importance and the existence of the library and information services that are provided (Mahmood, Hameed & Haidar, 2005).

Place: The current development in ICT has proven that the place is a crucial factor for library services. To contain library services within the library walls is something from the past. The availability of the Internet and intranet make it possible to offer information services of any academic library in the world to any user on the Internet. The role of the database vendors is undeniable in that regard. Databases vendors are one good example of how the place of the service has become irrelevant as databases now can be accessed online in any part of the world (Nims, 1999).

Promotion: “[T]he role of promotion is to communicate with individual groups, or organizations to directly or indirectly facilitate exchanges by influencing one or more of the audience to accept an organization’s products(Norman, 1989, p.48).Promotion is the most used aspect of marketing by librarians. Information professionals should not confuse the meaning of “promoting” with the word “marketing”. Promoting is simply employing creative ways to make library products and services visible to users. Typically, academic librarians have a service, such as class-related instruction, term paper clinics, or faculty workshops, which they have determined people need(Nims, 1999).

Another term for promotion is ‘communication’. “Promotion is the communication and public relations aspects of the marketing mix that informs the public about the product’s benefits and applications” (Owens 2002, p.15). Promotions is divided into five elements: advertising, publicity, personal contact, incentives, and atmospheric (environment). Product orientation has often hindered the effectiveness of library advertising. Most library advertising tells the world that the library is a wonderful place with wonderful products. And rarely do they ask “why don’t you use the library?” Communication problem is intensified because of the lower levels of personal involvement required by the message from the library. The role of communication is to bring about changes in what target audience know and understand about libraries; to bring about changes in their preferences for products vs competing products, to bring about changes in their behavior. The amazing thing is that the personal communication is the least expensive and most effective advertisement medium available. Libraries need to switch from product oriented approach to customer oriented approach (Tucci, 1988).

4. Evaluating the Marketing Effort

The objective of marketing evaluation is to make sure that the process of marketing is fulfilling its purpose, to change the marketing mix strategy as needed to improve the evaluation results. Most important, evaluation will help to plan how to increase customer satisfaction. The role of “evaluation” is to measure the marketing effect by evaluating the customer behavior and by measuring customer satisfaction (Koontz, 2004). The assessment of user satisfaction guarantees the library understanding of user needs and trend of using the services provided. Regular advertisement methods are not enough to grab the user’s attention to the library. Give the costumer what he wants and watch him come to the library again willingly then continue evaluating clients’ use of the services. (Tucci, 1988).


The success and survival of academic libraries is dependent on getting the users to use the library resources and services. A library without users is useless. And to succeed in that there is a need to let the users be aware of the existence of the library and its services. Making the library necessary for the potential user is the secret of a good and successful library marketing campaign.  Marketing the library service is not about selling services only; it’s about spreading the knowledge about the existence of the library and its resources using different tools. It’s about keeping the clients in touch and informed about resources and services that match their interests. The success of academic library marketing lays mainly on convincing the clients that the tools or databases are worthwhile, they must  understand what the services are, and be enthusiastic about how they will be helpful (Noel & Waugh, 2002).

Librarians need to market their services and resources for students and potential users to create awareness of the academic library’s value. Major sectors of the potential market for the library’s services are probably not aware of all the services available or have no understanding at all of what is offered. That’s why marketing is vital to the success and existence of the academic library. The main focus of every library should be a good customer service. Good service can equal a good marketing campaign, which is another reason why marketing is important for libraries. Effective marketing provides the means by which users are made aware of the services of the library and their value. A large percentage of the academic library users are students who have misconception about the library and its role. This image has to be changed with marketing strategies (Mu, 2007).


The Internet now provides a unique environment where information service can be brought to life, and new methods for spreading information can be explored. It is particularly important for academic libraries to take advantage of the Internet. And without library employees who have the basic knowledge to deal with and manage information tools the library misses great opportunities to both advertise and modify information services for users. To help the academic libraries create innovative marketing techniques the library needs to hire computer literate people. “Computer literate librarians can be very effective in applying their skills to the marketing process in libraries” (Noel & Waugh, 2002, p9).

Teaching marketing in LIS is crucial at this point to cope with the global developments. A marketing course should be essential in the LIS discipline. The better understanding of the marketing concepts will lead to better performance and professional library and information services (Kavulya, 2004). Alongside, LIS schools should always provide courses that teach ICT skills including computer programming as well as teaching how to build resource collections and organizing information (Noel & Waugh, 2002).


The idea of marketing as a practice for businessmen only is outdated. Marketing is now conceived as the science of strategy. Strategy is “the direction and scope of an organization over the long-term, which achieves advantage for the organization through its configuration of resources within a changing environment, to meet the needs of markets and to fulfill stakeholder expectations” (McNicol, 2005, p.498). The main objective of that strategy is client satisfaction; librarians in academic libraries should know it and apply it as part of a permanent activity in the management and planning processes. Strategic planning plays a key role by using SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) and the identification of CSF (Critical Success Factors), and the generation of strategic projects, as well as other elements. Among other methods there is the creation of customer and supplier data banks, advertising, and staff which is very important element since the main good of a marketable information service is the people who work in it.  Promotions and advertising are part of the success in service marketing, but not as important as measuring the customer satisfaction, and the ability to keep customers (Feria, 2000).

Strategic marketing approach should provide academic libraries with tools that can assist them in the task of designing, developing and delivering appropriate services. It can enable them to start with customers rather than seeing them as the finishing point in the information supply chain and shift from product and service orientation to customer and need orientation (Kavulya, 2004). This is the case of Questia, the world’s largest Online Library, with a collection of over 35,000 digital books for undergraduate students. Marketing techniques and market research led Questia to a firm understanding of its target market which is the average undergraduate student. So Questia’s online library accommodates itself to the lifestyles of students. It takes full advantage of its digital format to overcome many of the inconsistencies and barriers that students encounter in a traditional library (Gibbons, 2001).

What is impressive in Questia’s marketing techniques is the diversity of tools and methods used. Students are receiving a torrent of colorful, slick flyers publicizing the magnificence of Questia’s “innovative, scholarly and indispensable” collection and promotional prizes, including a laptop computer and PDA, just for visiting Questia’s Web site. Also Questia has emailed students’ parents, requesting that they buy the subscription on behalf of their child understanding that students may not have or want to spend money subscripting to the service, plus using TV commercials in premier TV hours showing how the online library can help students to finish their research and assignments any time, even if the library doors are closed. One clever marketing technique used by Questia is the word of mouth. Questia is recruiting students to spread the word about the online library services and to push their product throughout the campuses and to collect marketing information related to the students and their needs. The experience of Questia library proves that the library needs to market its collection and services. The belief that the value of the library collection is enough to draw attention of the users is not true anymore. The need is not just to build a library and fill it with good collections and service and wait for the clients to visit. There are obstacles that need to be overcome such as working hours and closing times, physical barriers, geographical barriers and the rapid change in the information science (Gibbons, 2001).

In the past libraries always believed that their importance would continue to be acknowledged without any questioning. That has resulted in delaying the involvement of library and information service in institutional strategic planning. As a result to this, it is crucial for librarians to emphasize their contribution to institutional aims and outcomes. Libraries no longer occupy the secure position which they did in the past. In these circumstances, libraries need to demonstrate that they are an integral and essential service of any university and play a key role in helping the institution to achieve its goals and outcomes (McNicol, 2005).


The contemporary library is now generally named an information market and the library user is a consumer of information. Information is an essential resource for research and development of any nation. Marketing is vital in building the proper planning, designing and use of information services and products for the better and best possible use of information. The library should give priority to provide superb customer service enhancing its image as information provider in the information age. The library and information services should be user oriented in order to satisfy their information needs effectively. Marketing of library and information services includes user’s priorities, expectations, individuality, responsiveness, relationship, quality of services, professional skills and competencies, value-added services, etc. The ultimate aim of marketing here is to provide the right information to the right user at the right time.


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Source by Mohammad AL-Bahrani

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