San Diego County Library Marketing Critique

I have been a volunteer for the San Diego County Library system’s branch in Santee since September 2009. Because of my close involvement with this branch, I often use them as the basis for the various things I am required to observe or critique as a library student. I like to utilize the things I learn in my classes to evaluate where I think their strengths and weaknesses lie in various areas, and on occasion even share my input with the staff in the hopes of making a better library experience for everyone. Most recently, I have been investigating and reflecting on the San Diego County Library’s (SDCL) attempts at marketing, outreach and branding.

I consider myself to be rather perceptive, observant and rather tech savvy, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that I discovered that SDCL has any kind of online presence outside of its main website.

This is the only indication and unless I was looking for it, I would have never noticed!

I have since discovered the following online marketing attempts:

SDCL maintains one Facebook page that is updated frequently with relevant links and articles that would interest the community, general library information as well as promoting events and other things happening in specific branches. Patrons are able to interact with the library by commenting on the various posts with questions, comments, praise or concerns, or simply posting directly on the SDCL library “wall.”

 The SDCL “Hot Right Now” Twitter feed is updated at least every few days and highlights books in the library collection that are new, popular or otherwise interesting and also new policies or offerings such as the recent addition of e-books for Kindle.

Since blog entries are longer and more complex than the microblogging style of Twitter and Facebook, they address a wider variety of topics and purposes. Blog posts notify readers about library related events such as “reading group month” and “banned books week” and offers reading suggestions for such events. Blog contributors also seem to write posts about things that are relevant to the time of year, current events, or simply things that interest them and offer suggestions for further reading that can be found in the library collection. The blog is also used to post videos that are hosted on the Library’s Youtube channel that discuss new or hot items, as well as how-to instructional videos for utilizing the library website or catalog.

These videos are hosted for the purpose of embedding into SDCL blog posts, but can also be accessed all in one place through the Youtube Channel itself. Since the blog covers things other than just the videos, this is an easy way to see just the videos that the library has to offer.

The photo album can be accessed directly from the SDCL website, but the Flickr account is not as readily available. I only happened to stumble upon it through a Google search. While it’s great that they have one, I was disappointed that it was not really marketed anywhere.

Overall, I feel that SDCL has done a relatively good job of making a well rounded internet presence for themselves outside of just their website and more importantly, and keeping it updated. They have branched out into the worlds of blogging and RSS, micro-blogging, internet videos, and photo-sharing, but as with many libraries, I feel that they are really lacking in the actual marketing of it all. As I mentioned before, I only barely noticed the widgets on the front page the library’s website and that really seems to be where the marketing of their online efforts ends. Due to marketing shortcomings, many people in the community don’t have a clue about what all the library has to offer outside of books, and then the small percentage of people who do visit and make use of the library may not know the true extent of its capabilities, efforts and presence. Unless people are interested and seek it out themselves, they likely will never know.

The last thing I will evaluate is the SDCL’s attempts at branding. But what is the difference between marketing and branding?

From ALA publication "Creating Your Library Brand." Click picture for the entire publication.

So, basically it’s what the library is trying to market. They create a logo and image that defines the message they are trying to send to the public to tell people what they are about and what they have to offer.

The logo is colorful and shows headphones that symbolize music and audio-books, a book, and a film reel that symbolizes movies which are the basic types of media that is offered by the library. I also interpret the SDCL website to also give the feel that the library is modern and current with trends and technology. This feeling is conveyed through the inclusion of links to the Facebook, Twitter, and their latest Youtube video as well as other relevant and interesting links.

But even with the positive effort SDCL has made towards marketing and outreach, there is still a lot more that could be done, specifically in terms of outreach and simply getting the word out. If I was hired as a social media marketing consultant, I would offer a number of suggestions to help achieve a higher level of visibility so that everything they are doing can actually be seen and recognized instead of only by the handful of patrons who are tech savvy enough to stumble upon it all.

The first thing I would suggest would be to put up signs and flyers in the branches that encourage patrons to check them out on Facebook and Twitter. I visited libraries in Los Angeles earlier this year, and many of them had signs on the wall and sitting on the tables in the study area informing patrons of their Facebook and Twitter presence, and I thought this was very useful. The people in the library obviously make use of it and are the ones who would probably be interested in continuing their relationship with the library on the internet.

The next thing I would suggest would be to encourage individual branches to great and maintain their own Facebook and/or Twitter pages. Currently, there is only really one account for the whole SDCL system, which covers a large physical area. County branches exist all over San Diego County and some in very far reaching or remote communities up, with over 50 miles between some branches.

Patrons near the Imperial Beach branch are unlikely to be interested in programming at the Vista branch, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t want to be involved with their branch. A branch specific Facebook grants another means for patrons to feel connected to their library and the library staff. It can be used to answer reference questions and receive feedback from the people using that specific branch.

While Googling various libraries for this project, I stumbled upon the San Mateo County Library system’s website. I found their blog entry titled “Is Your Library on Facebook/Twitter?” which indicates in one convenient location which specific branches in the San Mateo County Library system have their own Facebook and Twitter pages, and a good number of them do. Another great thing I discovered on the hours & locations page was that there is a list of blog entries next to each branch to highlight things that have been posted by or about each branch. This is something that is very easily implemented and is a great way to get people interested and involved with their local branch. This library system is doing excellent things, and they are a great example of where I’d eventually like to see SDCL.