Dear Library Schools: Please Do Better


If librarians are ultimately responsible for marketing librarians and library services, then the schools that prepare future librarians must offer the necessary training. Right? Well, not really. Carol Tenopir of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, School of Information Sciences, stated that library schools tend to emphasize the skills and knowledge that a librarian needs to do the job. “Schools do not focus on how to market to a constituency.”(1)

So not only do we not know how to tactfully advertise our services to our patrons, but our career is in further jeopardy when you add in the stereotypical view of a librarian–or as Margaret Slater (2) found, the way our patrons traditionally view us: with “passivity, incompetence, bureaucratic tendencies, unworldliness, and insufficient education or subject knowledge for the job.”


Perhaps we don’t like to think of “selling ourselves” out there in the marketplace, but it sure would be nice to have a library school course that would help to compete with all the other marketers out there.  (And for those of you that are already teaching such courses, thanks!)


(1)Shamel, C. L. (2002). Building a Brand: Got Librarian? Searcher, 10(7). Retrieved February 25, 2009, from

(2)  Slater, M. (1987). Careers and the occupational image. Journal of Information Science, 13(6), 335-342.



9 thoughts on “Dear Library Schools: Please Do Better”

  1. Lacking a course may only be half the battle. I can’t remember where I read it, but there was something else talking about this issue recently, and it said that San Jose does have a marketing course, but it is not a popular course at all. So it won’t really do much good to add that course if no one wants to take it. (Maybe because, as you say, people don’t want to think of “selling themselves” to the public)

    Another option would be to integrate marketing into other library courses. That may hold more promise, as I could easily see it being a more prominent part of many classes I have taken.

  2. At South Carolina it is not a separate course, but marketing is emphasized in a couple of the other courses, like the management course and reference course, Still, there was only scant mention of marketing.

    There is a certain element of ivory tower syndrome in libraries, as if marketing is something done in the dog-eat-dog corporate world alone. Surely people recognize the value of libraries and librarians, right? We shouldn’t have to stoop to selling ourselves and our services like so much soap or fast food.

    But libraries have to be about money, particularly in this economy. And where resources are scarce and we’re up against firemen, police, water and sewer, we HAVE to market ourselves and MAKE the case for funding. No choice here.

  3. Just to play devil’s advocate here:

    Why _should_ library schools offer marketing courses? Are librarians to be jacks-of-all-trades, masters-of-none?

    Why not just have libraries hire actual marketing experts? Why do they have to be librarians? That is what we recently decided to do where I work and it was one of the best decisions we ever made…

  4. I entered library school after working for several years in marketing and advertising. Once I started classes, I noticed that more often that not the topic of marketing libraries was dismissed because my classmates weren’t interested. Or perhaps they assumed that they would work in institutions where someone else would do their marketing for them. Or they didn’t know enough about it to even form a basic opinion, so ignored it altogether.

    I work in a small library. There is no money to hire professional marketing help, no matter how hard I wish for it. I’m a believer that every library school student should learn marketing basics along with creating budgets, writing strategic plans, managing employees, etc.

  5. I like Mike’s idea – especially for big events (new building/wing/collection…etc)

    But what about for a simple storytime program? Or gaming tournament? Librarians should be aware of basic marketing techniques – like Heather noted, there’s no money for hiring professionals for everyday stuff like that!

  6. San Jose state does emphasize marketing in two of the core courses, and does have a marketing for libraries class.

    For me though, part of the reason I want to be a librarian is that I’ve spent a lot of time in retail and I don’t really want to sell people things anymore. And the concept of marketing is so closely related to that in my head.

    In order to market marketing to librarians and future librarians, it may be better to spin it as advocacy. Or better patron service. Both of those concepts seem better suited to librarians’ self-image.

  7. A few days late on this conversation, but this is one of my favorite topics.

    As a Library Director, and even before this position, I find that a significant percentage of my “job” relates to marketing. In fact, I might even say that everything we do on a public level is marketing the library.

    How I participate in a organization wide committee. Whether I’m even on a organization wide committee. What I blog, tweet, email. How I blog, tweet, email. Etc.

    In looking back at my MLS transcript (SJSU, 2004), I see no marketing class on the list though one may have been offered. Is it possible to teach this in Library School? How would it be presented/discussed? In my opinion, part of marketing is just knowing that we represent our profession and we should carry ourselves with that in mind.

    Positive. Upbeat. Intelligent. Willing. Broad. Open. Professional. Critical. Competent.

    These are a few words that come to mind when I think of our profession. If we do this, the profession AND the library is being marketed. Of course, this is big picture stuff and perhaps not the “nuts and bolts” of marketing. Can we do both?

  8. My library school in New Zealand taught Management of Library Services (, which included discussion of marketing techniques. It was a useful and enjoyable course.

    It does seem that there’s a need to find a balance between “core” librarianship (say reference and cataloguing/information organisation) and teaching more generalised skills that are often useful in libraries (IT, marketing, management, etc).

    Susan: I wouldn’t see marketing as ‘selling things to people’, more as ‘finding out what their needs are, and explaining how we can help meet them’ – it’s focused on what the person wants, not what the library/organisation wants to sell them.

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