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Gimme a Gimmick

September 18, 2015

I recently listened to the ACRL-CHOICE Webinar, “Positioning your Library Marketing for Success,” sponsored by Springer. The archived webcast recording is available at:

While I found the webinar to be very enlightening and informative, I could not help thinking nearly the entire time, gimme a gimmick. Gimmick as defined as a marketing term meaning a special, unique, or quirky feature to make something ‘stand out’ from the ordinary. The presenters offered case studies of successful marketing activities at a few institutions. My interpretation of the title was one of delight and hope that a candid discussion about the strategies of positioning your library for successful marketing might include, at minimum, a summary of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ discussions and growing pains to accomplish these activities. However, instead we were presented with great marketing gimmick ideas patterned after popular ideals to draw attention to the library.

The first gimmick was an example from the University of Maryland Libraries and their use of a robot cartoon character to promote their inter-library loan service, UBorrow, that had just went to a fully automated system. While I was very impressed with their branding of this new service and thought that the robot image would stand out to students, I could not help but wonder if the students not living in ‘library land’ understood the underlying meaning of a self-automated service and the image of a robot. Further, I pondered the idea of the future of librarianship and wondered if this robot with glasses was not forecasting the method of retrieving materials. After all, hotels have already experimented with robots offering room service to guests.

Creative t-shirts, popular songs, and swag are not new ideas to assist the library with standing out and featuring their services however, larger open house events in connection with these items may be a novel idea. At Texas A&M Libraries, they hold a very large open house event one week before the beginning of classes. The open house began as a grassroots effort and now is a two and a half hour performance boasting 4,300 students. The underlying goals of the open house are to serve as an ice-breaker for students to come into the library.

The USTA Libraries blue crew aimed to attract attention via uniforms and branding as the next gimmick highlighted to successfully increase the number of reference transactions. Similar to the big box computer store, the USTA blue crew wore t-shirts, cardigans, button down shirts, polos, and more. The blue crew also rolled out a series of posters with cartoon images, holiday focused events, button branding contest, online connected branding and more. Before the yearlong campaign began, everyone underwent a refresher customer service workshop.

The final and ultimate gimmick was utilized to highlight Texas A&M Libraries Special Collections science fiction focus. The team was able to attract George RR Martin to come to the library and quickly turned the event into a University-wide and beyond event that took a year to plan and cost $32,000. The event became so large that it attracted the attention of the HBO cable channel and ended up being attend by more than 3,000 people. The team also came up with an exclusive dinner event and charged $400 per person and making back the money they spent on the event as a whole. Finally, Mr. Martin donated a first edition book to special collections.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, I feel that it is very difficult to measure the success of marketing gimmicks because they are primarily based on the number of participants and positive responses. If gimmicks are duplicated at other institutions and do not produce similar results can the flaw be identified as the lack of knowing your target audience? How do students decide to engage? With gimmicks or gab (word of mouth)? Do students follow the crowd, social media, or happenstance? Should we include students in the creation of gimmicks for the library? Do we use gimmicks at the end of the day to attract student participation or attention from our peers and administrators? Or is it both? When you are in the business of selling information and ideals, do we need a gimmick or just the facts? So, what’s your current gimmick? Share below :)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2015 2:17 pm

    I definitely find marketing elusive, and it has been my experience that there is no “one size fits all.” I tend to like to start simple. For example, this semester, we purchased a small 3D printer for the library. Our intent(s) were to learn about 3D printing technology ourselves, to gauge interest among students, and to introduce this new technology to students in all disciplines (our engineering students are already pretty familiar with it). Aside from mentioning it to people at various meetings, we pretty much did no promotion. We just set it up in a prominent place in the library (it’s quiet) and started printing things. The requests have been rolling in. We get at least one a day. There’s definitely word-of-mouth, people bringing their friends, etc. But it’s all unique to that situation and it’s easy to anecdotally measure. (Side note – I worked at the University of Maryland for 14.5 years. True, I was mostly in Special Collections, but I have almost no recollection of the the robot campaign. I think it was for their UBorrow system? So, I don’t know – was it a success? I also rarely used ILL when I was there, but still, I tried to be pretty on top of what was going on! But still, maybe it was successful for students, but I wonder about faculty/staff…).

    • September 22, 2015 4:05 pm

      Hi Jennie,
      Thanks for your response. I am not positive that the robot promotion for the UBorrow system was wildly successful; however, I believe it won an award and it was featured in this presentation so it did make an impact on some level.

      Thank you also for sharing what your library has done with your 3D printer. I was just recently told that we had bought one as well but I am not sure yet if we are making it available to students, etc. We do not have a maker space at our library but I would be interested in seeing the response to one from our population.

  2. October 12, 2015 12:31 pm

    Hi Casey! I’m just now catching up on some of these posts. I attended the webinar as well and I agree that the strategies were more gimmick-y than what I’m used to. We tend to stick with more traditional methods of spreading the word such as whiteboard signs, social media, flyers, emails, etc. However, that’s because these are things are free. The presentation disappointed me because many of the strategies mentioned (especially George RR Martin’s visit) are just totally out of the price range for most libraries. I’d be interested in hearing another webinar that is geared more toward small or medium-sized libraries with little to no budget for marketing.

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