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Notes From the Tech Trenches: Law Library Marketing Resources

By Cindy Carlson, Published on July 15, 2005

Cindy Carlson is the Electronic Resources Librarian at Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson LLP in Washington, D.C., a web committee member for the Law Librarian’s Society of Washington, D.C., and organizer of its Legal Research Training Focus Group.


Ah, the perennial puzzle: Is it really worth the effort to do marketing for your library? I hear that question, along with it's companion, "Who has time?" pretty regularly at law library association meetings. 

The word marketing has somehow achieved an amazingly negative connotation. Among librarians it often seems to equate to either "way too much work" or "unnecessary fluff." I don't think of it as either. Instead, it seems to me to be a necessity, though one you can easily mishandle. After all, if you don't tell your users what you offer, how will they know? You don't really want to leave them with all the choices at their desktop but no guidance on what to use and when, right? That way lies wasted time and expensive bills for our firms and for our clients -- less than ideal. 

Part of your job is to inform your users about their choices. You may not think of it as marketing, but that's what it comes down to. You need effective tools and vehicles through which to communicate with them about new products, product improvements, and the services you offer. You may do that through a newsletter, emails, or perhaps simply through one-on-one conversations. All of those are great options, as long as they are working. If you are getting the feeling that nobody is actually reading your newsletter or emails and no one is listening to your conversations, you may need a little help. 

This month, I got together with one of my colleagues, Abigail Ross, of Howrey LLP, and we presented a program on marketing at the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). In it, we took a calendar year, and working from the holidays and activities we could anticipate each month, we made up a list of possible ideas you could use to create awareness of library products and services. If you'd like to take a look at the slides, speaker's notes and some accompanying extras, that material is all available here. Keep in mind that these are the programming ideas from different libraries (though all were law firm libraries) that we accumulated over several years -- don't think that we do everything in the list every year or that you should, or would, want to. Instead, think of the calendar as a starting point. Whatever kind of law library you work in, choose what you like, and if nothing appeals, at least something on the list may spark an idea that will work for you. 

I won't reiterate what's in the slides in this column, though I hope you'll find them helpful. Instead, I want to take this opportunity to point to some additional online resources for marketing that Abby and I came up with as we were brainstorming after our program:

Marketing Treasures: This free monthly online newsletter is a nice way to keep an eye on what other folks are doing in the realm of library marketing. It lists marketing ideas from professional association meetings, upcoming programming, a feedback column on marketing challenges and more. You can sign up here to get an email alert when a new issue comes out.

MLS Marketing Library Services: This one is from Information Today and requires a subscription, but you can see a the table of contents for the current and previous issues online and see selected articles for  free.

LLSDC Legal Research Training Focus Group: Marketing goes hand in hand with training as far as I'm concerned. Both have to do with getting information out to your users, and some of the information on this page, especially the part about attendance, may be helpful as you consider marketing overall. And it never hurts to hear about the programs other firms are putting together. (Note: this site has not been update with current meeting information in ages, but the rest of the content is still very useful.)

Information Outlook: This magazine from the Special Libraries Association (SLA) usually devotes its October issue to Marketing. Access is free to registered members, but only issues prior to 2003 are available for free to the general public. 

The SLA Information Portal offers a section on Marketing/Value on their website (also available only to members). Currently it contains links to Benchmarking in Information Centers/Libraries, Information Center Marketing, Opinions and Perceptions of the Library Profession, and the Value of the Information Center.

AALL Excellence in Marketing Award Winners: Though this list doesn't link to the winning entries, many are from academic institutions who make that content available on their Web sites. If you don't find it on the Web, don't forget that you can always email or phone the library for more information. Chances are that if they are savvy enough to win a marketing award, they'll be happy to share information about it with you. 

AALL also offers the Academic Law Libraries Special Interest Section Marketing Toolkit. The Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section Toolkit is currently under revision, but you can order a guide in paper here on using the library as a marketing resource (Resource Guide #7). That's aimed at having your law firm administration value you the library, something which is vital if you want the rest of you marketing efforts to bear fruit.

Library Media and PR is a website aimed more at public libraries but that may have some interesting ideas for you to work with. Another along that line is the ALA @ Your Library site. If your firm has a culture that allows for the occasional goofy theme, try local public library Web sites and even library product catalogs like Brodart and Demco for inspiration. Non-legal academic sites can be great too. Just keep an open mind as you look. The ideas may not strike you as a perfect fit, but you may be able to apply some element -- what they're doing over the summer, how they're marketing certain services, etc. -- and apply it to your own institution.

And one last idea: While you are out and about at your library conferences, don't forget to walk beyond the vendor booths at the exhibit hall. Almost every association offers some kind of marketing or public relations showcase, and they are worth a tour.

That's all for the moment. If you have marketing questions of ideas, feel free to pass them along to either me or Abby and we'll do our best to help out. Have a great summer!