Monday, April 24, 2017

Footballs and URLs

MacDonald, Robert H., Computers in Libraries, Sept. 2000, Vol. 20, Issue 8. Footballs and URLs.
Marketing Your Library and its Online Presence


Libraries face growing competition from commercial internet communities as the first place to go for information. In an age where dot-coms are known more for their advertising campaigns than their content, libraries must market themselves as the only content-concious information solution. [“Online Ads on The Good, the Banner, and the Ugly.” Mediaweek 10.6 (2000): n. pag. Online. Bell & Howell Information and Learning. ABI/Inform. 15 May 2000] To make the Auburn University Libraries more visible to our users, we undertook a series of promotional events. One central focus included marketing the library at demonstration tables before Auburn University (AU) home football games. We utilized a PowerPoint presentation along with innovative marketing merchandise, embossed with the libraries’ logo and URL, to draw hundreds of people and make them more eager to find out about the libraries’ services.

Auburn University is Alabama’s land-grant university. As such, the library as well as the university seek to serve all citizens of the state through research, instruction, and extension; furthermore, we strive to exemplify “service to society as a function of U.S. higher education.” [Bonnen, James T. “The Land-Grant Idea and the Evolving Outreach University.” In University-Community Collaborations for the Twenty-First Century: Outreach Scholarship for Youth and Families. New York: Garland, 1998.] Located in Auburn, Alabama, the libraries’ collections exceed 2.5 million volumes, making it Alabama’s largest library system. We are a member of the Association of Research Libraries and are comprised of a main library and two branch libraries. Marketing our resources and services to the public allows us the opportunity to build on outreach efforts inherent to a land-grant university.

Planning for game day, 1999
Since 1997, the Auburn University Alumni Association has hosted a hospitality tent prior to each home game. The tent (40 x 80 feet) features food, drinks, and entertainment. It also hosts tables representing different departments and organizations, and draws between 2,500 and 4,000 people each game day. The tent is open approximately 3 hours prior to kick-off, and the libraries have participated since its inception. During the first 2 years, library volunteers at the tent provided printed brochures, pencils, and plastic bags. At one of these games in 1998, we observed that the other tables in the hospitality tent seemed to be doing a better job of enticing crowds to discuss their services. The notable difference between their tables and ours was that they had candy and better giveaways such as golf tees, peanuts, and colouring books. So we decided that we would invest promotional merchandise to be utilized at the hospitality tent on game days as well as for other marketing events.

Two librarians were assigned a budget of $5,000 and were instructed to select merchandise for the events. (See the sidebar for our suggestions for ordering merchandise.) They decided to focus on the libraries’ electronic access and two other specialized areas: InfoQuest (our own fee-based research and document delivery service catering to customers worldwide) and extended distance education services. We knew that alumni and visitors were familiar with the physical building and its holdings—the books that they could see and touch—but perhaps not as familiar with the electronic resources that were available remotely. To capitalize on remote access, we decided that in addition to the library’s name, its URL would also be prominently embossed on the promotional items. We wanted to brand the URL in people’s minds; we wanted them to think of our URL more than any other URL when they needed information. (Gibson, Stan. “Three Big Things: Brand, Brand, Brand.” eWEEK 15 May 2000: 62 and 66)

In the summer of 1998, the Alumni Association notified the library that there would be a change in the organization of the hospitality tent. Instead of hosting several tables during each game day, each department would be assigned one game day. They indicated that this would be a better opportunity for each group to be the primary focus of the day. Because of this change, we would be able to concentrate all of our resources (merchandise and volunteers’ time) on one single extravaganza.

Game day: what happened
After much planning and anticipation, our turn finally came. On Saturday, October 9, 1999, we got an early start as we began to set up three tables of library giveaways in the Alumni Association Tent. We used tablecloths, balloons, and streamers, and we prominently displayed a large tri-fold background featuring InfoQuest and distance education services. Since alumni and companies not affiliated with the university are the primary customers for InfoQuest, we felt that this would be an ideal setting to advertise this service. Our staff had prepared an extensive PowerPoint slide show to focus on the two areas of specialization. Auburn’s fight song played in the background of this show, adding to the game day excitement.

Before the tent opened to the public, other library volunteers joined us—we had a total of nine librarians, including our dean of librarians. We lined up all of our new promotional items: sponge footballs, foam drink holders, magnets, notepads, binoculars, mini-mousepads, business cards, Post-It Notes, plastic bags, brochures, and candy. (All of the giveaways were clearly marked with the libraries’ logo, URL, and phone number.)

As sports fan filtered in, we watched and heard their amazement: “You guys are in the library?!” and “It’s free?!” We repeatedly noticed their surprise as they eagerly listened to our own excitement about services and resources available to students, faculty, and, in the case of InfoQuest, to the general public.

The libraries’ laptop computer, with its cellular modem connection, proved to be valuable. (See the sidebar for details about the technology we utilized.). With it, we were prepared to answer the reference questions that arose. Patrons were pleased to receive instant service, rather than simply hearing, “Stop by the library later, and a reference librarian will be glad to help you.” After all, it was this kind of instant, remote access that we were marketing.

Blank address cards were another tool that day; with them, we collected names and addresses of people interested in receiving our new promotional newsletter, Auburn University Libraries’ Highlights.

Throughout the morning, we had a librarian photographing the event with the libraries’ digital camera. We planned to cover the story later in our electronic newsletter, Bits & PCs ( We sought permission from individuals to include their photos in the newsletter and we collected their names and addresses; later we mailed them each a copy of their photo along with the Web address where the article appeared. This was an extra touch that impressed people. We hoped that they would share their enthusiasm about the library with friends, and that the publicity would extend beyond the morning’s event.

When kick-off time was near, the band, cheerleaders, and school mascot, Aubie, came through the tent. (We recommend to anyone planning a promotional event to contact your own school’s mascot to schedule an appearance.) Finally, the crowds headed towards the stadium. It had been a dynamic morning, and our day’s giveaways were nearly depleted. We had handed out over a thousand items in just a few short hours and had talked with hundreds of people about exciting new developments available at Auburn University Libraries. We heard from several people throughout the morning that they would call InfoQuest for their business’ research needs, and that they would remind their children—who were students at the university—to make better use of the library. The Alumni Association extended kind words as well, saying that we had done a great job and that we were very well received.

Other marketing initiatives conducted here at Auburn

With the success of our game day experience, our library has been motivated to further explore the possibilities of marketing—in particular, marketing to outside patrons that do not often enter our physical library building. The following are examples of other initiatives that we have implemented since the alumni tent event.

Alabama Newspaper Hall of Honor Induction Ceremony: During another home football game on November 6, 1999, the Alabama Press Association hosted its Newspaper Hall of Honor Induction Ceremony. This annual ceremony is conducted in the Newspaper Reading Room of the main library on campus. We used additional branded giveaways that we had reserved from our merchandise inventory to offer a similar marketing display. Since this event was hosted within the library, we were able to offer tours of the library as well. This event enabled university alumni and prominent Alabama journalists and dignitaries to get a comprehensive overview of the libraries’ activities while they were in town for an AU football game and the Alabama Newspaper Hall of Honor Induction Ceremony.

Homepage oversight committee surveys: The committee charged with improving the libraries’ Web site conducted user surveys in the library and in the Haley Student Center on campus. Using technology similar to that used at the alumni hospitality tent, in conjunction with printed displays on poster boards, the committee was able to solicit input on Web page terminology and test out improvements to the libraries’ evolving electronic presence. The committee gave out candy, library copy cards, and discount coupons to a Starbucks Coffee Vendor (which had recently opened a shop in the main library at Auburn) to entice students and other university personnel to participate.

National library week: The libraries seized another promotional opportunity when National Library Week occurred in April 2000. The week’s theme was “Auburn University Libraries … Making Your Life Easier.” Each day of the week focused on a different service, including a new electronic document delivery service, public scanners in the library, and a new information desk. Publicity for the events included e-mails to departments, local newspaper coverage featuring our school’s mascot, a message on our home page that appeared before and during the week’s events, and even a live broadcast by the student radio station. Several volunteers in the library contacted local businesses for donations; the free merchandise that we scored included T-shirts, stuffed animals, tote bags, and even a flatbed scanner.

Our suggestions for others who are planning events
  1. Choose the event well, and make sure that it works for your situation. Auburn University is an SEC school, and football is big here—we’re a very small town, yet the 85,000-seat stadium is often sold out. Marketing at home football games is a perfect opportunity for us to reach a lot of people in a short amount of time. Seek avenues in your own environment that match your institution’s situation: Perhaps you could sponsor a film festival, or commission an artist to design a mural, or give away squeeze bottles at a women’s soccer game; the possibilities are endless. Also, consider taking along a laptop to your events to demonstrate remote accessibility and to answer questions that arise. 
  2. Think about the merchandise, and tailor it for the event you are planning. Seek out economical merchandise if your budget is limited. During our football events, we offered sponge footballs, foam drink holders, and binoculars. These were some of the more expensive giveaways, so we were only able to order limited quantities. However, when the Homepage Oversight Committee surveys were held, we offered Starbucks coupons, which didn’t cost the library anything because the Starbucks Coffee vendor saw it as advertisement to potential customers. Candy is also great because it is very inexpensive and provides instant gratification to the participants. Contacting local businesses for donations is an economical way to get promotional products. 
  3. Have a strategic marketing plan in place. When the Alumni Association called to notify us about the change of plans for the hospitality tent, we were already underway with our orders for giveaways. We also had plans to reserve some of those items for the Newspaper Induction Ceremony. We knew they were the two primary events that we wanted to focus on that year, and we knew the specific services we wanted to emphasize: InfoQuest, distance education services, and remote access of electronic resources. Take time to organize your thoughts for the year and try to focus on specific services or resources; if you try to cover everything, you’ll only overwhelm yourself and your participants. 
  4. Seize marketing opportunities as they arise to complement your marketing plan. A library staff member suggested that we do something to celebrate National Library Week; from that, we formed a committee of volunteers and made plans to contact local businesses. This single comment from a staff member paved the way for 5 days’ worth of promotional events, and the cost to the library was minimal because of donations. The Homepage Oversight Committee’s surveys were another way of promoting library services while gaining input from students, faculty, and staff. Be open to possibilities as they present themselves in your environment. 
  5. Get over the commercial fear. We have found that some academic librarians resist the idea of commercial publicity, suggesting that offering commercial products to entice people to the library somehow weakens library services. But as we discovered with our Alumni Hospitality Tent experience, people get excited when there are prizes and enthusiasm. If you decide to market to potential library “customers,” then don’t hold back because of preconceived ideas about what a library should be. (Wiley, Lauren. “ Plans 2Q Ad Push.” Adweek 37.11 (2000): n. pag. Online. Bell & Howell Information and Learning. ABI/Inform. 15 May 2000) 
We really scored big
Our recent promotional efforts proved to be very successful. We plan to continue to seek out avenues to promote our services and resources, while still concentrating on football-game-day events. One area that has growth potential is our new library development newsletter; its mailing list is continually growing, and each issue focuses on a specific service or area of the collection. Beyond this, we hope to explore new possibilities that incorporate emerging technologies into our marketing endeavours.

Remember, commercial information providers won’t hesitate to market to your users. On our own libraries’ bulletin boards, we have seen posters that attempt to draw our users to commercial Web sites. Libraries must actively advertise their services if they hope to compete in this arena; we should communicate that our information quality and our services surpass that of the businesses who seek to compete with us.

By Robert H. MacDonald
Robert H. MacDonald is the Web site manager and English literature specialist at Auburn University Libraries. He holds an M.L.I.S. from the University of South CarolinaColumbia and an M.Mus from the University of GeorgiaAthens. His e-mail address is mcdonrh@auburn.ed

JoAnn Sears is a science and technology reference librarian and the chemical and mathematical literature specialist at Auburn University Libraries. She holds an M.L.S. from Indiana University-Bloomington in Indiana. Her e-mail address is

Cindy Mitchell is the manager of InfoQuest, the Auburn University Libraries fee-based office. She holds an M.L.S. from Indiana UniversityBloomington in Indiana. Her e-mail address is

Tips for ordering promotional items Know your vendor and its products. Find out the type of organizations your vendor is used to dealing with. Have catalogs and sample items sent to you. Select childproof items. Find out how your vendor would like to receive graphics: What file type do the images need to be in? Do the graphics need to be camera ready? What about color codes? (There are a lot of shades of blue). Does your institution place limitations on how its name and logo may be used?

Give yourself plenty of time. Find out how long the turnaround time is from the order date. Order early—delays are inevitable: Allow time for proofreading before giving the final go-ahead. Selected items may be out-of-stock or no longer available. Shipments can get lost or sent to the wrong address.

Budgeting—Allow for price increases, shipping & handling costs, and set-up charges for graphics.

Keep good records. Keep duplicates of graphics. Keep copies of all communications. This will not only resolve problems but make ordering the second time around easy.

Don’t forget the candy! Buy individually wrapped candy, and order twice the amount you think you’ll need.

Game day technology
On game day and during other promotional events, we used a system made up of the following components:
Dell Inspiron 3500 notebook computer with Microsoft Office Professional 98 (includes PowerPoint, 3Com 56K Global GSM & Cellular Modem PC Card, Nokia 6190 PCS digital cellular phone, Mindspring Internet service account). We found this to be an affordable option that provided means of demonstrating library electronic resources. (Mobile Computing Online. Mobile Computing and Communications (2000): Online. Available: We were able to display our Microsoft PowerPoint presentation as well as demonstrate the libraries’ Web catalog and other databases such as Journals@Ovid.

Further reading
Corson-Finnerty, Adam and Laura Blanchard. Fundraising and Friend-Raising on the Web. Chicago: American Library Association, 1998.

Helton, Rae and Stuart Esrock. “Positioning and Marketing Academic Libraries to Students.” Marketing Library Services 12.3 (1998): Online. Marketing Library Services. Available ( 29 May. 2000.

Smykla, Evelyn Ortiz. Marketing and Public Relations Activities in ARL Libraries. Spec Kit 240. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries, April 1999.

No comments: