Marketing for Libraries and Information Centers – first thoughts

Reading notes.

The part of the reading that caught my attention the most was the section on incentives to decrease costs and/or add value.  I have seen incentives and disincentives used, well and poorly, to influence choices and behavior inside an organization.  Sometimes it is tricky, as in the following example.

A governmental organization decided it would offer a program of student loan repayments, initially as a way to increase entry level recruitment.  The “product,” in this case the job and career path being offered was already a big seller, but the new incentive was seen as a way to diversity the demographics of the incoming wave of recruits (this was actually considered, and given a heavy weight, partly as a means of recruiting minority students graduating with a debt burden and entering the job force.  At the time it was assumed that the low pay of entry level government service might be a disincentive to this particular demographic group.  Yet the organization had a stated goal to increase diversification.).

But there was one caveat.  Once in the student loan program, employees had to renew their participation annually.  Three years after the initiation of the program the organization moved the goalposts:  participation required service in countries with a 15% of higher hardship rating (hardship determined by degrees of safety, isolation, availability of consumer goods, medical issues like the possibility of contracting malaria, dengue fever, etc., and non-accompaniment requirements).  Those who entered early saw the loan payment benefit as a type of income augmentation, and desiring to continue it, altered their assignment choice accordingly.  Two years later (five years total), additional restrictions were implemented: service in Iraq, service in Afghanistan, service in Pakistan, or service at an unaccompanied post (where spouses and significant others were not allowed to travel) were required for participation. 

The monetary incentive, dynamic and evolving, both decreased the cost of desired behavior (getting people to go to God-awful places), and, as a disincentive, increased the cost of competing behaviors (service in very nice places like European capitals and Washington).

Eventually, and considered from the start by HR planners, the demand for people at the aforementioned places settled out with the establishment of a core cadre of hardened employees who enjoyed that type of work, coupled with the actual decrease of positions resulting from the build-down that inevitably follows a build-up. 


Product, pricing, and placement

I chose as a familiar library setting the West End branch of DC Public Library.  It is my neighborhood library, and one I used previously for an LSC 553 observation project.

On my way there, it occurred to me that it was a very cold day and that the library would probably be packed with homeless citizens, seeking refuge from the winter elements.  What I discovered when I arrived was a slightly different scenario: of some 15 patrons, half appeared to be homeless, and half seemed to be retirees like me, casually but well-dressed, reading and internet surfing.  The demographic mix I witnessed brought into clear focus the core product of the public library. 

Core product.  The various reasons and purposes why people go to public libraries are, for the most part, to seek actual and augmented products, i.e., computers (actual), computer classes (augmented), wi-fi (actual), internet usage for job search, tax assistance, research), homework assistance and story time for small children and their nannies (actual and augmented), to name a few of the goods and services that public libraries offer.  The core product, I would submit, is very fundamental:  a climate-controlled, secure, and structured environment, and accessibility to information. 

Pricing of product.  As a public good, the core product of the public library is free at the point of delivery, i.e., no admission is charged to enter, and no fee is charged to sit or to avail oneself of the services provided.  OF course, tax-payers pay taxes to the District of Columbia, and that money eventually winds itself into funding for libraries, but no one is required to present a tax payment document to enter the library (24th Amendment, passed and ratified in the 1960’s outlawed that practice).  There are implicit costs.  If one considered the opportunity cost of using the public library, its price would be negative, i.e., the money saved by not using other options, bookstores, private reading rooms, university libraries that require payment of tuition.  Just as the tax burden is distributed across the population, so is the savings benefit.  This affects the well-to-do as well as the homeless. 

Incentives/Disincentives.  City Government provides warm buses during the height of the cold temperature season to provide a warm, controlled environment for homeless citizens who only want to get out of the cold.  One of those buses is actually parked outside the West End library and provides an incentive, in the form of an alternate opportunity, people with that exclusive need.  It demonstrates in clearer focus that homeless citizens, at least a proportion of them, have actual information-seeking needs and are not visiting the library just for relief from the winter cold.

Placement.  Due to upcoming construction plans, the West End branch will move this summer to the Watergate Hotel, where it will operate during the new construction period.  A more exclusive address with a higher level of security present may serve as a disincentive to library usage by homeless citizens.  And when the library re-locates after construction has finished, it will serve as the ground floor for a medium-rise apartment building which will surely be a more exclusive location than it is at present.  

And it became, what? Yes, a poem:

January 23, 2014 #smallstones
Posted on January 23, 2014 | Leave a comment

neighborhood public library patrons –

half wandering homeless:
seeking refuge from environmental elements,
seeking refuge from boredom/ignorance,

reading books –

half wandering retirees like me:
seeking refuge from boredom/ignorance,

reading books –

both have rights to public space

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