Library Marketing

General Marketing Information

Creating a Marketing Plan

Children and teens are inundated with advertisements and marketing on a daily basis. Everything from shoes to CDs to snack food is broadcasted to them in every marketing form imaginable. It is necessary, however, for a local library or school library to break through this white noise to make a lasting marketing impact on the youth. Although marketing is as much of an art as it is a science, there are some general rules that can be easily followed when setting up a library marketing plan:
  1. Don’t be afraid to try new technologies. Youth today are becoming even more technologically savvy with each passing year and the easiest way to reach them is to take advantage of the forms of media that they are using the most.
  2. Don’t be discouraged if it does not work. Just because one type of marketing did not work does not mean that with some tweaking it could not gain better results the next time.
  3. Know your audience. Through the use of surveys, polls and interviews learn what the patrons want, what they like and how the library can deliver this to them.
  4. Choose the delivery methods wisely. If all of the patrons are high tech, a simple poster at the front of the building may go unnoticed whereas an email would have garnered better results. Use the mediums that will best reach as many patrons as possible.
  5. Have a good foundation. Make sure that staples like a website and a Facebook account are well established and kept up-to-date.

There are many blogs and websites that are helpful when establishing a marketing plan including:
  • The M Word- A blog of marketing ideas for non-profits and libraries.
  • Marketing the Library – Includes six modules for training personnel on marketing the library.
  • American Library Association’s “Blueprint for Your Library Marketing Plan” – Contains forms for completing a library marketing plan.
  • Library Marketing Toolkit - This blog is maintained by a library consultant and librarians in North Carolina. While some posts focus on NC libraries, many have a broad appeal and give library marketing news as well as great ideas on how to market to library patrons.

Know Your Audience

The best way to market to a demographic is to know what they want, what they like, and who they are. Barbara Dimick writes, “Successful marketing requires that a library professional devise a proactive public relations effort that enables effective two-way communication between the library and the library user, continue to evaluate target markets and their response to library offerings, and adopt a flexibility that allows for changing service priorities based on changing customer profiles.”

Spending time with the children and teens in the library will allow librarians to understand what the youth value and how best to reach them when doing a marketing campaign. Also, research can be done with the help of surveys and direct observation. Even patterns of product usage – which books are circulated the most, what programs are most attended – are helpful in analyzing market segments.

For a youth department in a public library or a school library, most of the market segments will be children under the age of 18. However, this can be broken down further into toddlers, children, tweens and teens. Each group has their own stage of development which influences their wants and desires. A library must take these into consideration when marketing to each demographic.

A children’s librarian will not only have to market to youth, though. Adults can play a large part in a library’s children department. Parents, administrators, teachers and community members are all beneficial to a library program and must be marketed to as well.

Marketing to Teens

Many teens today use on-demand services that offer instant gratification (think DVRs and YouTube) rather than traditional outlets. When Gossip Girl first came out, for example, traditional TV ratings had the show as a flop. Web fan pages, teen blogs, and iTunes download rates, however, proved the show was a huge success. Social media, which offers instant feedback and opportunities to personalize, was how teens interacted with the show. Libraries can tap this interest by enlisting teens to manage or contribute to our social media sites. Even if the library already has active social media sites, teen input is invaluable. This interaction will also validate teens’ media skills, empower their voices, and build their confidence in the library (Goodstein).

That being said, “Don’t try too hard to be cool. Kids can see right through that” (Goodstein). Just be open, willing to look silly, and, of course, be yourself. Also recognize that teens interact with adults differently than they interact with each other. For example, “teens use email to communicate with the adult world, but when they want to talk to each other, they usually text or IM. If adults reach out to kids in a medium they view as their own, it often freaks them out” (Goodstein). This is why it is important to have teens – or people of any age – sign up to receive text messages or other forms of communication. We want our messages to be warmly received – not deleted without opening (Goodstein).

In 2009 the New Jersey State Library (NJSL) conducted a pilot program to test how effective library texting would be. The program offered English and Spanish texting with the goals of: finding out what works, saving money, outreach, and sharing results (Blumenstein). As part of the program, six public libraries sent an average of two texts a week to teens and parents of younger children. Catering to local needs East Orange Public Library, one of the participating libraries that serves a large population of English-speaking children with Spanish-speaking parents, offered Spanish texting as well. NJSL is developing similar projects offering more languages (Blumenstein).

A recent study found that students between the ages of 8 and 18 spend more than 25% of media time multitasking. This means short messages are the best way to grab teens’ attention (Goodstein). While it is harder to sign people up for “mobile marketing,” the “response rate is much higher” because the interactivity gives instant results. Library staff described the texting service at the end of every program and had sign-ups available. As additional incentive, anyone who recommended a friend was entered in a raffle (Blumenstein).

When marketing to teens, it is important to keep in mind that “teen” is not a blanket demographic. Different teens respond to different outreach efforts differently. As a broad example, teenage boys are more likely to create and upload videos to sites such as YouTube while teenage girls are more likely to customize blogs and interact via social networking sites such as Facebook. Tweens are most likely to play web-based games such as Disney’s Club Penguin. And as media changes, so do interests, which is why it is so important to be aware of technology trends (Goodstein).

Online Marketing for Teen Sources

With so many sites available on the web about teen marketing, it is helpful to know the ones that are coming up with the best ways for marketing library services to teens. Below, a few of the best (and most fun to read!) have been listed along with a short description of each.
  • TLT: Teen Librarian's Toolbox: This blog is written by an 18 year veteran of the teen/YA librarian world. She offers information on promoting teen services within the library, how-to posts on marketing tools (such as graphic design), and creative ideas for creating dynamic programming. She even declared 2005 "the year of the teen" and let her patrons come up with the programming they wanted to see! Each post is detailed and insightful, and she often has topics pertaining to marketing and promotion.
  • The Indie Librarian: This blog is written by Kim Bolan Cullin, a library consultant and author of many books, including Teen Spaces and Technology Made Simple. She writes on her blog about a myriad of library topics, one of which is marketing. Her blog often has information about new and creative ways to market to the teen patron, and she has posted about everything from using technology to market to the teen patron to highlighting outstanding articles about marketing in libraries that she has come across. She will often write about an article she finds interesting, and then provide a challenge to libraries to complete in relation to the article, providing doable goals that enhance a library's marketing power.
  • 4YA: Inspiration for Youth Advocates: This blog is written by Andrea Graham, who among other things is a youth culture consultant. Her blog is unique in that every week, it features research and media news specifically tailored for the young adult population. A librarian could use these ideas to order materials and create programs around what is currently popular with young adults. Her unique position as a consultant means that her blog is always bursting with new and interesting ideas that are at the forefront of young adult culture. Her blog would be a great source for coming up with ideas that would make the library palatable to teens.

What to Market

There are many aspects of the library that should be marketed to the above demographics. Marketing the current collection is important. After completing a marketing plan with patterns in product usage, a library can pinpoint the parts of their collection that is the most popular and continue to draw attention to those sections. They can also market sections that are not heavily circulated in the hopes of increasing check out rates. Marketing the library’s space is important, especially for tweens and teens. Evaluate the space using questions such as: Where do your eyes focus? What is attention grabbing? Imagine seeing the space for the first time – what do you like or dislike? Making a space that is inviting for youth and marketing it as such will greatly increase the number of children that frequent a library. Librarians should also market programs as well knowledge that librarian's can give patrons.

How to Market



Displays are a simple way to market the library’s collection, programs and knowledge. When making a display, it is necessary to establish a plan. First, create a rotation schedule. Having an ever-changing collection of displays will revitalize a library and keep patrons interested and engaged. Also, make sure that the displays have a theme. A unifying theme will help a display become understandable to users and can more accurately market a specific point. Time is needed to design the display and purchase necessary materials before it is set up.

When setting up a display, make sure that it is placed in the best location possible. Even if the library is small, displays can be arranged on tables, countertops, shelves, desks, window ledges, slatwalls, bulletin boards, easels, cardboard posters and even using the ceiling. Studies have shown though that the best place for a display is a few paces to the right of the door as patrons will drift that way when they enter. Common mistakes that occur while making a display are overcrowding, undercrowding, inappropriate props and not rotating the displays in a timely manner.

Brochures, calendars and posters

Brochures about the libraries services, bibliographies and read-alikes can be a great way to passively show patrons various information services the library can offer. Keeping these items displayed at the desk or near the corresponding sections in the library can help children, teens and families find information they may need and give people a positive impression of the library as a place to go to obtain information services

Calendars that tell patrons about events each month can help to market various programs and services the library offers. Busy families and teens can plan ahead to attend library programs if calendars are made easily accessible. Advertising programs in-house using posters can also be a great way to let patrons know what is coming up at their local library.

However, costs of paper can add up, so make sure to pick and choose between what items will best help to market your library's services.

This Marketing Toolkit created by librarians in Rhode Island also gives great ideas for marketing in house.


Youth today use many online sites. A library must learn which sites are best to reach their market segment. Common sites include:

  • Facebook- There are many ways to create a presence on Facebook. As one of the fastest growing social media sites, Facebook is a great way to reach out and market to patrons. A library can create a group, a page or a profile, depending on their needs. Once an account is created, a library can let their patrons know of upcoming programs, share pictures of new books or patrons, and discuss books and other library items with their users.
  • Library Website- Having a separate website for the children or teen department is essential. Use the site to highlight library resources as well as links to the catalog. Including pictures of the actual space with patrons will show how inviting the space is. Also include other links to web-based resources as well as links to any blogs or Facebook accounts that the library has. You can also use Facebook to advertise events.
  • Blog- A blog can be used for reader’s advisory. It should also be linked to all other sites including Facebook and the library’s website.
  • Cellphones- Although emails would be a good way to market to adults, many teens rarely use emails. Instead, they have moved to text messages. Finding a service that will send free texts will greatly increase a library’s chance to market to teens.
  • Twitter- Keep a Twitter account with helpful hints or current happenings at the library.
  • YouTube and Screencasts- A library can make helpful videos to educate patrons as well as market parts of the collection, space or knowledge of the librarians.

Community Marketing

One way to market a library (be it public or school) to the local community is to get in contact with teachers at the local schools. Making the faculty aware of what the library can offer their students by way of books, databases, computer software is beneficial.

Hosting programs can be a great way to help get patrons into the library. For programs open to the public, putting up posters and flyers at community establishments popular with the targeted demographic can increase publicity for your programs, especially for community members who may not go frequently to the library. For example, for a teen program, it can help to put up flyers at a popular teen hangout, such as a coffee shop or local movie theater. For families, you could advertise in family restaurants, parks, or daycares. Public libraries may also be able to work with school librarians to put up posters for larger programs (such as Summer Reading) in the schools. School librarians may be able to publicize events or services throughout the school using this method.

Word of mouth is always the most powerful marketing tool that libraries have. By creating a space that is inviting to youth while having a friendly and helpful staff, the children will encourage their friends to spend more time at the library.


Blumenstein, Lynn. “In New Jersey, Teens, Parents Alerted by Text to Library Programs.” Library Journal. 17 Jul. 2009. Web.

Bourke, Carolyn. "Library Youth Spaces Vs Youth Friendly Libraries: How to Make the Most of What You Have." Aplis, vol. 23:3, September 2010, pg 99.

Circle, Alison. "Marketing Trends to Watch." Library Journal, October 1, 2009, pg 26.

Dimick, Barbara. "Marketing Youth Services." Library Trends, vol. 43:3, pg 463.

Gallo, Erminia Mina. "Attractive Displays for Teen Spaces." Young Adult Library Services, Summer 2008, pg 32.

Goodstein, Anastasia. “What Would Madison Avenue Do? Marketing to Teens.” School Library Journal. 1 May 2008. Web.

Horn, Laura Peowski. "Online Marketing Strategies for Reaching Today's Teens." Young Adult Library Services, Winter 2011, pg 24.

Young, Terrence E., Jr. "Marketing Your School Library Media Center: What We Can Learn from National Bookstores." Library Media Connection, May/June 2010, pg 18.