I have just returned from the New York Library Association/Section of School Librarians Conference, where I gave a presentation on tag lines, branding, and elevator speeches. Later that evening I was speaking with one of the participants who said she learned a lot, but her big “take-away” was that she had to start thinking about her program in a business-like way. It’s not an easy concept for librarians – or any educators—to accept, but the reality is if you don’t realize you are in business, you may very well be out of business.
The presentation I gave at NYLA/SSL draws heavily from the business world. I often said to people, while I am a school librarian, I am also in sales. I sold my program every day to everyone who came into my library whether it was a student, teacher, or someone picking up a piece of equipment going out for repair. I am not saying we can or should run our libraries like a business. We are not in it for a profit, and we are limited in bringing in new “customers.” But we can adapt many sales principles to sell our program to our various customers and stakeholders.
Someone I worked with had sales training and she noted how important it is to always remember no one wants to be sold—but everyone wants to buy. What she meant was, we resist any sales pressure, which is one more reason we don’t get anywhere when we lead with research findings showing the value of school libraries and librarians. It’s obvious to whomever we are speaking that we are “selling” our program.
The idea is to make the program something they want to have. This is where marketing comes in. Marketing identifies a problem the customer has and shows how your product (your program) can solve it. You can see it easily with your students. You introduce a research project and the students’ problem is find relevant, accurate information in the most efficient way, know how to organize it, and use the finding to create something of value. If you are doing your job, they know you are the best person to help them get on track and stay there even when research gets messy. Look at the image to the right – can you see how these words apply to your program and getting it noticed?
Apply the same approach to your administrators. What problems do they have that your program can solve or make easier? How can you demonstrate that? Once you begin to think in these terms, you can tackle a bigger challenge—figuring out what problems board members have and your ability to help them. What about parents? Parents of elementary students have different wants and issues than parents of high school students. What can you do to assist them?
The first step is to alter your mind set. It used to seem as though everyone took for granted that what we did was important and valuable. But in reality, people were just accepting it because it was there. Once money became an issue and everything was on the table, if the library program was not of high value to the stakeholders with power, it was cut or eliminated. It’s time to show them, your program is one they definitely want to buy. Remember – you’re indispensable.