Friday, August 8, 2008

Reference Renaissance - Session IIIC - "You Bought It, Now Sell It!"

You Bought It, Now Sell It! Creating a Reference Renaissance in the Public Library by Merchandising Collections and Services (Panel)

Karen Long, Adult Services Reference Librarian, Farmington Public Library, NM

Ms. Long spoke of how to promote library services; specifically, she spoke of a program her library has instituted, “Ask!”, a virtual reference service. It was great hearing Ms. Long's presentation (and to meet her afterwards!); the Farmington library, while in New Mexico, is only one hour away from Mancos, and I have a library card there. I was able to tell Ms. Long that I have seen and was familiar with the "Ask!" program. I'm looking forward to using some of her merchandising tactics in our library.

Identify your Reference Services

• Face-to-face
• Telephone
• Email correspondence
• Instant messaging
• Eliminate unnecessary words, have a fun image – one that will be remembered

Branding your Logo

• Reference desk
• Web page
• Reference web site
• Human signs – (logo pins for staff)

Promoting Internally

• Demonstrating a service live is more active and memorable
• Daily show announcements and weekly trivia prizes for staff
• Give incentives
• Let your staff give away something free to patrons: Cordmen (plastic man you can wrap your earbuds around) that had different Instant Messaging (IM) clients information, including the library’s IM usernames, were handed out by staff to patrons

Promoting externally

• An announcement in the monthly email newsletter to teachers
• Make it about them
• Patron newsletter
• Radio spots
• Prime Time (free dinner to attendees for sitting through library meeting) and Rotary Club demonstrations provide incentives to use library services


• Know your audience – Keep it simple!
• Meet your patrons at their point of need (they waited ‘til finals week to promote the reference service – just when they thought people might need it!)
• Show the functionality of the service and how it is relevant
• Demonstrate the service rather than just telling about it
• Provide incentives to use library services
• Reinforce/revisit your promotion

Karen Long, Adult Services Librarian,
Farmington Public Library


Creating a Reference Renaissance in the Library by Merchandising your Reference Collection

Bernadine Goldman, Assistant Library Manager,
Lizzie Eastwood, Reference Librarian,
Los Alamos County Public Library System, NM.

Ms. Goldman and Ms. Eastwood thought “out of the box”, and created a reference section unlike any other! No more Dewey Decimal system! Reference by keyword! Their new reference section has beautiful reference resources arranged by theme, and displayed attractively. Another neat feature of this new arrangement was the strategic placement of signs listing related websites.

When Ms. Goldman and Ms. Eastwood created their new reference section, they did not change the ‘location’ of the books in the system. This created some havoc, as some books were replaced in their original location in the stacks. A simple solution (and not too time consuming, as their reference section is small), would be to create a new system location, such as “Reference Special Collection”, and make sure that they change the location of all moved items.

Ms. Goldman’s excitement about her project was palpable, and brought a great energy to the presentation. She said a couple of times during the presentation, “If people don’t like it, we’ll just move it back to the old way!” I feel that for innovation to happen, sometimes you need to go out on a limb and just do it! Thanks, Ms. Goldman, for a great presentation!

I found it interesting that in the keynote presentation, David W. Lewis referenced the advent of mass printing and how it started the process of alphabetizing – going away from themes… Is it possible that the Internet is bringing us back to a more organic way of information organizing with keywords and tagging?

Their Goals

• To make all users of the reference collection aware of available resources, all in one place.
• To rearrange the physical collection to reflect the way people are thinking – in a “keyword” format (the internet search engine factor).
• To integrate the different types of reference material formats by placing signs and lists of online websites

Arrangement of Presentation

• Books – These are still being published, many are gorgeous, authoritative, and expensive – however, only a few get used.
• Reference E-Books – Available 24/7, remote access, keyword searchable, still expensive.
• Online Databases – EXPENSIVE! However, they are much more up to date, with more information, and easily accessible.

Why Don’t Our Online Databases Have Higher Usage?

• Require training of patrons & staff
• Sites keep changing
• Have to remember they are there
• Which one is best for what information?
• Have to ‘sell them’ to the staff
• The need to prioritize marketing

Merchandising the Complete Reference Collection

• Reference material is now all in one place
• Organized it the way people think (tagging – which keyword would get the greatest hits?)

Rearrangement of the Reference Collection

• Didn’t abandon Dewey entirely
• Put subject signs up on the end of shelves
• Brought subjects together (some of these had multiple Dewey numbers) – aging; health; weapons; environment; culture; jobs; literature; quotations; writers; history; travel; famous lives; genealogy
• Alternated high and low shelving, with displays on low shelves (had to half the original number of displays, because patrons are using the low tops as a table for work use).


• Accepted Internet as part of the collection
• Went through all the RUSA Best Free Reference Websites lists
• Checked that they are all still operational

More Merchandising

• Designed a new brochure with the RUSA best reference websites – will add to website shortly
• Large display shelving brought books out into the open – they found ppl stopping to read books for even 5 minutes, b/c they were displayed nicely and were attractive.

Reactions from Staff

• Mystifying to those who spent a lot of time learning Dewey (had to type up a list for the staff)
• Liberating to staff to know there is more than one way to view the information universe
• Empowering to staff to know they can contribute too
• Learned much more about the book collection, and hope to learn more about the online resources, too
• Acknowledged that it is nice to have a ‘vibrant’ collection
• Like the website/e-book lists close to books
• Loved the displays

Reactions from Patrons

• They’re noticing the reference collection
• “You’ve doubled the value of the library!”
• Lots of interest in the websites
• Much more browsing of beautiful reference books, some of which they have had for years - unnoticed (they effectively introduced reference books as a form of recreation as well as for information)

Lessons Learned

• Budget – manageable, very low budget, just a few purchases, and time spent
• Remember your marketing person!
• Staff time (rearranging the collection; learning new arrangement – be flexible; giving tours of collection to other service staff – circulation)

What Now

• Keep the arrangement for at least a year and see what happens!


Group Discussion Questions (after the presentation):

1. What are some of the effective ways of dealing w/internal roadblocks to new promotional initiatives?
2. How can we keep staff of different generations up to date and trained on all our resources to they can market them?
3. How can public library reference staff market service to four generations of patrons?
4. How can we budget and allocate limited staff time during marketing initiatives?
5. How can we demonstrate the usefulness of a 21st centure public library reference collection to modern day patrons?
6. How can we best teach computer and information literacy skills to patrons in a way that meets their needs?


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