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Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 81 – Marketing- reports statistics newsletters

Carrying on from last month’s edition on how we do our jobs, the August edition of the Employment Services Edition of Information Overload looks at how we market ourselves to our organisations. In particular we will look at the importance of reports, meetings, statistics and newsletters.

In this issue we will look at:
•    Marketing: Face-to-face
•    Marketing: Reports
•    Marketing: Keeping statistics
•    Marketing: Newsletters, Flyers and Bulletin Boards

Marketing: Face-to-face
Whilst annual reviews are important, they are not the discussion point here. The face-to-face meetings I would like to talk to you about are those you have with senior staff, and for the senior members of staff reading this, the kinds of information you need to pass on to the people within your jurisdiction.
Libraries and Information centres have a unique place in an organisation, yet in most cases, you wouldn’t think so. Librarians and their support staff and colleagues need to be able to respond to the changing needs of the marketplace and the changing directions of their parent organisation. If this doesn’t happen already, then senior library staff, librarians and library managers should be invited to, and participate in meetings whereby medium to long-term directions for the organisation are discussed and decisions based on those discussions can be evaluated.
As you and I know, these kinds of planning meetings form decisions and directions which impact on the information needs of the staff working for the organisation – however, unless we know in advance – our service provision will always be reactive.
For example, an organisation that decides to move out of one area completely will no longer need resources on the subject. The money allocated to buying these resources can be re-allocated to new areas of interest and research. Unfortunately, as most librarians and library managers will know, stopping journals mid cycle is difficult, so a little forward thinking and planning is essential for this to be effective. It can also take time to determine what new material should be acquired (based on research conducted in conjunction with members of staff) plus the length of time it takes for material to be received once the orders have been placed.
Assuming you are not privy to this kind of information already, changing the culture of an organisation to include the information professionals in these kinds of meetings is not going to be easy. But if we want our services to be even more efficient, effective and relevant to the organisation we work for, then we need to be included.

It’s also a great way to get support for budgets and of course our collection development policies. If we have the information, we can be proactive, we can place orders in time and not have to pay rush delivery fees.

Marketing: Reports

Reports are a great way of formally passing on important information to managers and senior colleagues within the organisation you work for. It may already be part of your job list every month to produce a report for management, but I wonder how many of you realise just how important this tool is in our marketing arsenal.
A monthly report can be dry as dust giving the bare facts, the number of records created, the number of clients served. Written into tabular form, it means little or nothing without some kind of background information.
But neither can a report be overly long winded either.
What you put into your reports are of course, up to you and your individual organisation’s needs, but they can highlight areas of concern, things that impact on the organisation (as a whole) and the impact on the people who are directly affected.
For example:
Corporate libraries with an open-access library collection and part-time library staff – may suffer from informal “borrowing”. The librarian isn’t there all the time, but a member of staff needs an item from the library, so they borrow it. They may leave a note to say what they have taken, but more often than not – this doesn’t happen.
Some time later, the librarian is asked to supply the item to another member of staff. The catalogue is checked, the item says it should be on the library shelves, but when the librarian goes to fetch it, it’s not there. The item is effectively missing.
A message goes to the staff…anyone who has the “item” could they please return it ASAP as it is needed by another member of staff.
The person who borrowed it, may decide to return it anonymously – do they re-shelve it, or do they drop it on the desk? If shelved, and put back in the wrong place, the item is still effectively missing. The librarian has already checked – and has checked related areas – just in case, but they may not check a second time.
So what happens next depends on the organisation, but an Inter Library Loan may be requested or a second copy may be purchased. Either way, the action of informal borrowing has cost the organisation money.

Whether or not anyone takes any notice of what you write is also dependent on the culture of the organisation I’m afraid. But one of the statistics we should keep – are these kinds of frustrating searches, number of missing items that create additional costs to the organisation.

Marketing: Statistics

It has been said by many people there are “lies, damn lies and statistics”. On their own they mean little. You may advise management you conducted 4 searches, ordered 3 books and 14 journal articles. They may look at those figures and say “is that ALL YOU DID over the last month?”
When in reality you spent half an hour with the client working out what they really wanted the search keywords to be, creating the best possible search string, worked out the best databases to use, searched the internet and all the deep web databases you know, gave the client a list of answers to their query; then spent another half an hour or so ordering the papers for the ones you couldn’t get FOC…after they returned the highlighted orders a couple of weeks later.
And of course, every search and every request is different, may use different resources to satisfy the query and may take longer to pin down the right answer.

So, unless you have first hand experience of the job and the likely steps you need to take to find the right answers to sometimes often vague requests, statistics on their own mean little. So imagine then what they will mean to the people reading them. Will they know and understand what steps you took to satisfy those 4 searches and 3 book orders? So, when writing your reports or passing on the statistics to upper management, sometimes it might be worth breaking down the requests by time as well by person / department / complexity.

Marketing: Newsletters, Flyers and Bulletin Boards

In order to highlight services to the general populace of the organisation you work for, it may be a good idea to produce newsletters, flyers or use the Intranet to issue bulletins. There are other ways to market your services of course, including inductions, refresher internet training, presentations and talks, however, given some of our organisations are spread across many parts of the state, and in some cases, different states and countries, then the printed (or email equivalent) newsletters and bulletins are essential.
When considering the format of your message, there are several things to consider:
•    How long does it need to be? Bear in mind, most people skim read (far too much information to cope with)…too much may be too much and people may click delete before getting to the important information. However, too short may be just as bad as you may not convey the important information in a way your readers can comprehend.
•    Do you use a website style with a header, abstract a click for more information? This does work well for Intranet style bulletins, it may not work as well in an attached PDF for instance.
•    How regularly do you intend to send it out?
•    What will you cover?
•    Will you write it yourself or will you have guest writers?
•    Will you use graphics? Will they render properly on all pc’s (if electronically sent)?
•    Do you need to produce a TEXT only version? Or print as well as electronic?
In all forms of marketing, but especially the written word, it is a very good idea to re-read what it is you are writing before you send it out. Sounds obvious, yet there are many instances where we hit send before we’ve had time to compose our thoughts properly, we may have forgotten to run spell check and our choice of words may be a little less professional than we had hoped. So a few suggestions:
•    Emails – use the draft function. Always save to draft and leave time between writing and sending so you can re-read the text.
•    Written work in general needs to be written one day and left at least over night so when you come to re-read / edit back – the words you see are the words you think should be there.
•    Read it out loud. You can do this – literally, or you can read it aloud to yourself (without making a noise) but out loud is better as you really do pick up where the full stops and commas should be.
•    Once you have read the item from start to finish, then read it backwards…sounds odd, but bear with me. Starting with the last paragraph, choose the last sentence – does it stand alone as a complete sentence? Do you have the right choice of words? Take each sentence in reverse order and complete. It’s amazing how some sentences read perfectly well when in a paragraph, but do not work as a stand alone sentence – and they should.
If you think this is a little extreme, bear in mind that a spell check does not pick up correctly spelled words if used in the wrong context. You may find it through a grammatical check, but not always. Employing these simple tricks allows us to portray our services in the professional manner we would like, and as a result we may get more (or better) support.