Career Strategies for Librarians
Grow the Profession: Marketing the Librarian
by Steven M. Cohen
Editor's Note: MoneyAisle.com published a Belussian translation of this article (2011).
When I get asked questions about my experiences working in a large law firm with high demands, I
always respond by stating that I have to justify my existence every day. While that may come as an insult
or a shock to many librarians in our field, I see it as a push towards working to my highest possible
potential. Whether it is going that extra step in my research that didn’t necessarily have to get done, or
working “through lunch” to get that research completed on time, or starting new projects that enhance
the need, as the managing partner puts it, to “grow the firm”, I feel the need to show the administrators of
my firm that they need me.
That said, doing this is only half of the equation. The second part, one that librarians have historically
lacked in performing, is in marketing. The administration in my firm has to know what I have actually
done to help “grow the firm”, no matter how small. If I spoke at a conference, wrote an article, or received
an award, the first person I tell is my boss. After that I send a copy of the article or the proceedings to the
marketing department, as they have the means to get the word out to the upper administration, namely
the equity partners and chief executive officer.
How Do We Market?
There are numerous ways for librarians to market themselves, online and offline. While the method
above requires the social skills necessary to “talk the talk” with the administration of an organization (in
my case, a law firm), there are other ways in which we can present our ideas, project implementations,
articles, and awards to the necessary personnel. This article will address three topics. First, I will talk
about how the online world is full of resources and tools for librarians to market themselves. Second, I
will show examples of how some librarians market themselves well in these online environments. Last,
I will discuss the multifaceted reasons why librarians should market themselves.
I first became interested in marketing while revamping my weblog. I was considering what to place on
the right hand side of Library Stuff (usually filled with links to other weblogs, an archive of past posts, or
various “about me” or “contact me” links), and I couldn’t figure out what I wanted there. At that time, my
book had been published and I was being asked to speak at numerous conferences and regional library
gatherings across the country, so I started a list of places where I would be speaking. Believe it or not,
this was a perfect marketing scheme, as these presentations show up in every post that I make to my
weblog, increasing the chances that they will be indexed by the major search engines and seen by
potential conference committees. After that, I started to post links to articles that I have had published. In
addition, three or four times per year I publish forthcoming presentations and articles, which are then
broadcasted to everyone who accesses my weblog (or subscribes to its RSS Feed).
Weblogs are one of the best places to market oneself in a professional capacity, for two reasons. First,
weblogs are very easy and cheap to set up. In fact, there is little to no cost to the user. So if a “non-
techie” librarian wanted to write about “non-techie” issues online, weblogs are the perfect solution.
There is little to no learning curve. Second, the nature of the weblog is that it is personal to the writer (or
“blogger”), and that he can do with it whatever he chooses. Some have called libraries the pure form of
democracy in action. In the online environment, weblogs are the equivalent.
Electronic mailing lists are another method that librarians can use to market their talents online. While I
have been outspoken on the deleterious uses of electronic discussion boards (the signal to noise ratio
is highly lopsided towards the latter), they are perfect for showing off not only one’s writing abilities (and
social skills), but there is a large audience on the receiving ends of the posts. The key is to keep it
relevant to the discussions. For example, if there is talk about RFID on Pub-Lib, and you wrote an article
(or have a blog) about RFID, get it out there. If this happens on more than one occasion, then you may
start to become an expert in a particular aspect of librarianship and may be asked to write another article
or speak at a conference. Similar to these mailing lists are forums, which are online discussion boards
that anyone can join. While these are not as popular for discussion as electronic mailing lists, forums
have started to increase in number and can be used as an effective marketing tool.
In the offline environment, marketing can be accomplished in many ways, although these methods may
not reach as many people as the aforementioned online initiatives. First, by networking at local or
national meetings, librarians can create a social network built around colleagues and possible
business arrangements with vendors, which could lead to future collaborative adventures. Whether we
realize it or not, every time we have a conversation with a colleague about anything remotely related to
our professional lives, we are marketing ourselves. The goal? Future successes and brand name
Examples of Library Weblogs that Market
I follow the library weblog community very closely and have witnessed writers employ a variety of
marketing tactics. Some are done purposely and are obvious in their intentions, while others are a bit
more obscure. For example, on numerous occasions, Gary Price of the famed Resource Shelf has
written, “As we have mentioned in the past” or “We have said this before”, referring back to (and linking
to) previous posts on his weblog. This is less obvious than some of the posts that I have made on
Library Stuff, where I write: “I have an article out today in…”, or “I will be speaking at the following
conferences”. To wit, there is no wrong or right way to market oneself on a weblog. It all comes down to
how comfortable one is in presenting his work to the readers. Jenny Levine of The Shifted Librarian has
a link to her presentations and articles on the right hand side of her weblog, and a link to her Library
Journal Movers and Shakers award as her “about me” link, which I thought was ingenious marketing.
Sabrina Pacifici has no problem linking to all of the new articles on LLRX (of which she is editor) on her
weblog, Be Spacific. Last, Michael Stephens of Tame the Web fame has a link to his book, as well as
specific categories set up for conferences at which he will be speaking. There are many ways to market
oneself in the online world, especially with weblogs. But why do librarians need to market themselves
and why do most normally do a bad job (or worse, not at all)?
The Need to Market
To answer the first question, a similar question has to be asked: Why market? Without getting into the
business of marketing (an area in which I have no education or empirical training), I believe that the
main reason professionals market their work is to get more work. A close second is to become
recognized as a leader in a particular field of study. But when we get down to the core of marketing, it’s
all about survival. And survival means getting more work. One other reason to spend the time showing
off what we have accomplished is that, by marketing ourselves, we may be able to get higher paying jobs
or better raises, which in theory is getting more work. Getting back to the first question of why librarians
need to market themselves, the answer again is clear, but with an addendum. We should market
ourselves to get more articles to write and presentations to give, as well as being recognized in our
profession -- but an added issue is to gain the respect from not only our administration, but from our
Historically, librarians haven’t had the pleasure of getting the respect we deserve. When school districts
cut budgets, the library is often looked at for cuts. I follow news in the library profession closely and have
read hundreds of articles over the years about library jobs being cut, and it turns my stomach. While
librarians have tried (sometimes successfully) to prevent these cuts by raising awareness of what the
library can do for the clients, the library administration rarely seems to show off the talents of their
librarians on staff. This is especially important in the academic environment, where tenured librarian
positions are highly sought after. If the talents of the librarians working on the front lines (at reference
desks, for example) can be seen by the community (be it academic, public, or corporate) via marketing
deployments of articles written, conference presentations made, or even “thank you” notes written by
patrons, we may be seen in a better light. Companies like to show off their employees (well, good
companies should). Libraries should do the same.
Finally, I have come to the conclusion (and this is just an opinion not based on any research, but on
numerous discussions with library professionals all over the country) that most librarians don’t like to
market themselves. I don’t think that it is a fear of success (that is an individual personality trait), nor do I
believe that we are, as a whole, lazy. Most of us do our job for the love of the profession. We surely are
not in it because of the salaries or the hours (how many of you work weekends?). Librarians dutifully
perform their jobs because they get satisfaction out of helping others, not from “showing off”. While that
is a noble sentiment, we can’t become martyrs in an electronic age that is quickly passing us by. We
need to justify our existence on a daily basis. By marketing ourselves as professionals who contribute to
our field of study, this justification will come to pass, both for the individual and as librarianship as a
whole. Let’s grow the profession.
About the Author:
Steven M. Cohen is Assistant Librarian for Rivkin Radler, LLP in Uniondale, NY. He is the creator of
Library Stuff, a library weblog dedicated to resources for keeping current and professional development,
which has been active since August of 2000 . Steven has been the Internet Spotlight columnist for Public
Libraries Magazine since March of 2001. His first book, Keeping Current: Advanced Internet Strategies to
Meet Librarian and Patron Needs was published by ALA in 2003. Steven has spoken at numerous
conferences in the U.S. and Canada on topics such as search engines, keeping current, weblogs, RSS,
and marketing strategies for professional development. Steven was one of 55 recipients of Library
Journal’s Movers and Shakers award for 2004. Steven received his M.L.S from Queens College in 2002.
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.
Article published Sept 2004