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Marketing the Academic and Research Library

September 30, 2019

Some of you may have seen the viral Twitter post below. This got me thinking about the nature of scholarly publishing and the role the academic and research library plays in access to these materials.

https://i.redd.it/sqys7tj52b931.jpg

Before I begin, I want to say I mean no disrespect to Dr. Witteman here. Dr. Witteman is clearly trying to be helpful, and promoting what she believes to be ethical access to materials. However, Dr. Witteman is incorrect here on several fronts.

First of all, as many of you are well aware, the authors are not always allowed to send their papers to students for free. This depends on publishing agreements and contracts with publishers, and many publishers write into their contracts that the publisher retains the rights to all intellectual property contained within the article. In these circumstances, authors are not allowed to send copies of their research papers for free – this would be a violation of copyright law. 

Secondly, it is not the role of the author of a research paper to provide access to those materials. This is the role of the library! Many authors are extremely busy people who cannot field dozens (or hundreds) of requests for their research paper. This is where the library and a trained librarian comes in, where we can help students search for materials, find related materials, and even get access to materials we do not own through interlibrary loan and other resource sharing agreements.

It seems so obvious to me that everyone knows academic and research libraries can provide access to scholarly articles. After all, isn’t this the whole point of a library in general, to provide free access to information?

However, I see this as a challenge and an opportunity for libraries. Clearly librarians – myself included – need to do a better job of marketing library services. In today’s environment, many students are growing up all the way through their schooling, through the K-12 grades, without a school librarian. Many students never receive the kind of information literacy instruction they need in school, and then they enter the world of college and university unequipped and unprepared to conduct the kind of research they are expected to conduct.

It is our job to reach these students with this message. The days where we could assume a basic understanding of writing, research, and information literacy when a student enters college are gone. It is more important than ever, especially in a world where the complexity of information is increasing exponentially, to reach students with a basic message of what their library does, what their librarians can do to help them, and how to go about accessing information.

Something as simple as a once-per-semester announcement of library services, or a flyer or poster explaining basic library services, can do wonders to spread the message to students of what the library can do for them. I am a big fan of the ALA’s Libraries Transform campaign as a toolkit to get libraries started in marketing to their stakeholders. I am also a big believer in the “one-shot” instruction session not just as an information literacy tool, but as a library marketing tool. It is incredibly helpful for students to see the face of their librarians, to get to know their names and recognize them, so that later when they are in need of help they may think to ask a librarian.

Perhaps you can share some marketing strategies that you have found to be high-impact and helpful for your students and your community! I admit I am not an expert on marketing, but I do believe this is a great opportunity for us all to learn from one another – to not “reinvent the wheel” and to borrow what works.

How do we ensure all of our students know what the library and their librarians can do to help them? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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