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Wales - a National Promotional Strategy for Libraries

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To (too?) Public: library Marketing and Public Relations in Public Libraries Today. Presentation by Alan Watkin, Chief Officer for Libraries, Leisure and Culture, Wrexham Borough Council 1996-2011

To (too?) Public: library Marketing and Public Relations in Public Libraries Today. Presentation by Alan Watkin, Chief Officer for Libraries, Leisure and Culture, Wrexham Borough Council 1996-2011

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  • 1. Wales: a national promotional strategy for librariesBBC Wales reported at the end of February that public libraries in the countrywere increasing their usage levels with in 2009/10 some 14.7 million visits and atotal of 681,000 active book borrowers – an increase of 5.4% on the previousyear. (The population of Wales is approximately 2.5 million) The increase inusage contrasts to the experience of our neighbours England who saw adecrease of 1.6% in the same year.This picture of increased use continues, with for example, Wrexham, my ownAuthority, experiencing a probable further 5% increase in 2010/11. This increaseis across all elements of the service including book use, information research, ITand as a community meeting space.This positive trend reflects a deliberate central government policy positionwhereby the Welsh Assembly Government identified the library service as a keypart of the cultural, social and educational infrastructure of Wales – it is to meone of the most commendable impacts of our country gaining its first nationalparliament for 500 years when the Assembly was created in 1999. Interestinglyanother Assembly initiative has been a publishing programme the Library ofWales – which they have subsidised so that twentieth century literature in theEnglish language by welsh authors has been reprinted often after being out ofprint for decades.In this very brief presentation I will try and outline the context of the Welsh libraryplan, give a very quick overview of the library plans (the third 3 yr plan will comeinto effect this summer) and focus on the marketing programme and one of itsparticular facets’.ContextPublic library services in the UK (with the exception of N Ireland) are deliveredand managed by the local authority whose responsibility is to provide anappropriate service and determine the level of expenditure. In 1996 most libraryservices in Wales were struggling having suffered several decades of underinvestment particularly during the Thatcher era of public expenditure reductions:in consequence buildings were tired, stock and resources severely depleted andsome were predicting their demise. Our new government in developing its ownindependent policy position sought to reverse this period of decline not out of anysense of nostalgia but rather as already noted, from recognition of the key rolethat libraries could play in Wales of the twenty first century. 1
  • 2. Following extensive consultation with the sector, the Assembly created a newadministrative department – Cymal, which has the responsibility for developingpolicy and advising the Minister in respect of museums, archives and libraries.This new division was and is largely staffed at managerial level by professionalsfrom the sector – it also has a Ministerial advisory board made up ofappointments from the sector in Wales which crucially is always chaired by theMinister, thus allowing direct access to our most senior level of government. Inrelation to our sector, Cymal developed a library plan which incorporated anumber of elements for example:-Library standards – endeavouring in qualitative and quantative terms to provide abase line for what constituted an acceptable level of services for today – thiswould include, for example, levels of usage, investment in resources, distributionof and opening hours of libraries, staffing levels and qualifications etc When first introduced there was considerable discussion in the sector that theapproach would lead to a lowering of standards to a minimum common level andfrom a political point of view that it represented undue government interference inthe affairs of local authorities: my experience is that the standards have beengenuinely beneficial in raising performance and the level of resources. Thus inWrexham, the level of investment in stock doubled in the period of the first libraryplan and has been maintained at that level. I and I think most of my colleagues,are delighted that the Standards remain as a central element of the libraryenvironment in Wales even though in England they have been abolishedAnother element in the Plan is enhancing and improving the Building Stock – avery simple and inexpensive grant programme was introduced whereby some £3million per year (approx 3.5 m Euros) was made available in modest amounts,namely £100,000 for a small library and £300,000 for a large, regional library withup to 90% funding to modernise existing libraries. In Wrexham, this together withthe one and only European funding source we have been able to access in thelast 15 yrs has meant that 9 out of our 11 libraries have been transformed in thelast decade. In each case the Assembly’s contribution has acted as a catalyst toextract a significant capital contribution from the authority, for example ourcentral library received a grant of £300, 000 with the County Borough Counciladding some £180,000 (I would note that the design of the libraries has beenheavily influenced by the work of our marketing programme team).The third element workforce development - a self explanatory element the valueof which you will I know readily appreciate. This has included the developmentand delivery of an annual national programme of training events, particularly inrespect of professional and technical skills, funded attendance at diploma andgraduate levels (including an ICT diploma developed by our colleagues inScotland which has been delivered by colleges in Wales) and speciallycommissioned programmes to meet specific and changing skills needs. 2
  • 3. The fourth element is the development of national ICT held resources forexample one portal for all library services in Wales, the joint procurement ofinformation resources and databases etc. and perhaps most importantly anational marketing initiative which has seen some one and a quarter millionpounds invested by the government in the programme in the last 6 yrs and evenin the current difficult financial reality of public expenditure in the UK furtherfunding being provided for this new financial year- one of the last but mostpleasing little tasks that I performed at the end of March was signing a contractfor the 2011/12 marketing programme for some £150,000.Perhaps. I should explain why I am signing the contract. When Cymal launchedits marketing initiative, they concluded (I believe absolutely correctly) that it wouldbe inappropriate and potentially ineffective for a civil service dept to endeavour torun day in day out such a programme. They thus invited tenders from interestedparties. We decided to bid for this work based on our experience as aDepartment of Leisure services, Libraries, Culture Heritage and Communicationin which we had since its inception in 1996 specific marketing posts held byindividuals with professional marketing qualifications and skills. (An approachwhich I would recommend) I felt very strongly that we had much to offer theprogramme and that it would be beneficial locally in at least three ways:-  It would allow us to understand and be aware of national developments and projects at the earliest possible stage  It would significantly enhance our local marketing effort  And, not to be forgotten it created employment opportunities locallyThus, starting in 2005/2006, a small but one hundred per cent dedicated teambegan work on the Wales marketing programme – they were supported ( I thinkthey would agree with that verb) with direct strategic advice from myself and theWrexham library officers, staff at Cymal and an advisory sector group withrepresentation from across the country.In the time remaining, rather than run through the chronology of the programme’swork over the last six years, I intend to focus on one particular aspect namely themotivation and up skilling of staff throughout the country so that a nationalworkforce of marketeers was creates so as to reach each and every element,branch and mobile of the library services throughout Wales.Very briefly the project began with a thorough and expert analysis of wherelibraries were in respect of marketing (with one or two notable exceptions) I amsure that you can guess – the concept of the hand written poster and theoccasional photograph in the local press were alive and well!! An analysis of thetarget audience, our potential customers, which identified a series of key 3
  • 4. moments in our lives when there is significant change and thus we are mostopen to new ideas and initiatives and an assessment of staff and managementattitudes throughout the country. Some of the elements which the programmecreated includes:-  Development of an online staff toolkit (bilingual) which has became an excellent resource for staff to access information, documents, training manuals, presentations and evaluation reports. This has become a vital component of the national campaign as staff can download artwork, logos and information.  Development of the bilingual portal library. wales.org which is a single point allowing the public to access information about public library services including the latest news and information about national campaigns, It also has reference resources AskCymru, catalogue search facilities and the facility for people to join the library  Introduction of an annual campaign, this is something that has enabled staff to brand existing events or put on new events under an umbrella message/ theme using quality artwork designed nationally. Thus in autumn 2008 we launched “Happy Days” – this was a bilingual awareness campaign for public and academic libraries. It included; 1. Using real library users in artwork and strap lines encouraging people to take a fresh look at their library and the reason why libraries make them happy. 2. Dedicated pages on library.wales org and a staff toolkit. 3. Celebrity events in four regions of Wales including a high profile launch with the Heritage Minister. Using different celebrities to target different audiences – Ruth Jones and Gethin Jones from the world of television, Cerys Mathews – pop star and lead singer of Catatonia and Colin Jackson Olympic medalist and athlete. This generated exceptional press coverage both nationally, regionally and locally in all media. 4. National library user survey asking why libraries made people happy in order for us to compile a top ten list of reasons which has resulted in a searchable database of personal stories being available on library.wales.org for public view which colleagues across Wales can access for advocacy purpose. 4
  • 5. Happy days came second in the 7th IFLA International marketing Awards 2009 –only being beaten by the Bank of Singapore’s work which I suspect hassignificantly greater funds.  The identification of major events of interest to the Welsh nation and linking libraries to such events, for example for the first time ever the Ryder Cup Golf match between Europe and the USA was hosted by Wales last October. This created a huge level of public interest and media coverage. A special campaign was directed at golfers which attracted some 10,000 new members – the hook for the promotion was that if you joined your library and used your membership your name was entered in to a free draw for tickets- which were a rare and much prized commodity  All of the events/programmes and activities are supported by the national team, for example through the creation of national marketing materials available on line. And national press releases which are so designed as to need local quotes and data to be added: this simple device has resulted in significantly increased press, media and social network coverage whilst ensuring consistent and professionally presented messages are used throughout Wales.However, as I have already mentioned, I believe that the major element in thesuccess of the programme – success which is attested to through the increasedusage levels of the library networks and also via the scrutiny and assessmentprocesses of the govt each year before they will agree to offer resources and acontract for another year’s activities is the development of the skills of libraryworkers across the country.As we all know, one of our greatest strengths is that we have committed andenthusiastic colleagues in direct face to face contact with their customers eachand every day. The team firmly believe that the most effective way forward is touse colleagues’ local knowledge, commitment and networks whilst ensuring highstandards across the country, It was self apparent that the marketing programmeneeded to mobilise the front line work force although there were one or twobarriers to overcome, thus some of the workers themselves felt that they werealready too busy to undertake what at first they saw as additional duties.However a greater barrier was often their line manager dare I say it qualifiedprofessionals who saw the empowerment of their teams as in some waypersonally threatening. 5
  • 6. Regardless of these initial barriers, much has been achieved, particularly viaprogramme of training which has up skilled and enthused colleagues. Keyelements of this development process were:-Stage 1Marketing and user focus training which had the following aims:-  To enable key staff to have an understanding of marketing and how it relates to their role, responsibilities and aims and objectives within the library service  To understand how marketing practice can benefit the service  To enable key staff to incorporate marketing into management planning and operational delivery  To engender a marketing philosophy into all areas of service deliveryWith the following desired outcomes:  The development of a marketing culture across the library’s service  A culture which informs strategic decision making and future planning processes  Skills development for librarians and library supervisors  A legacy of a training package that could be used locally for the induction of new staffStage 2Retail Innovation TrainingThe introduction of approaches and skills from the retail sector delivered,Authority by Authority by a specialist retail trainer. The programme allowed staffto take a new look at where they worked and empowered them to act as most ofwhat was needed did not require additional resourcesThis programme included;  De cluttering – libraries act as centres of the community and in doing so display a wealth of material from partner organisations, community groups and individuals. This sits alongside governmental information, local information, and tourist information. There is often a requirement for literacy information, education information and specific library promotions. This amounts to a level of “promotional noise” that creates clutter and confusion. 6
  • 7.  Zoning – Libraries cater to a wide variety of audiences and must acknowledge that one size does not fit all. People with different requirements need different environments. There was a general consensus of opinion during the initial consumer research that libraries should be suitable and welcoming to all, but provide areas or zones to cater to different groups. Zoning will be possible to different degrees in different libraries but should be adopted in every library. Successful and cost effective techniques formed part of the training programme.  Merchandising – merchandising (stock display) programmes have been successfully implemented. Popular lines of stock need to be promoted; stock should be showcased and not hidden. Merchandising policies must take account of the fact that people browse in different ways and require different types of display to fulfil their needs.  Signage – research highlighted a lack of clarity in library signage. Library signage has been improved nationally both in terms of visual style and placement. Attention also needs to be paid to the placement and wording of signage. Clarity and ease of access are crucial in developing new customers and retaining existing ones.  Atmosphere – The atmosphere of libraries is created from the moment people enter the building. Negative messages had to be removed e.g. “No smoking” “No food and drink”. Supermarkets and bookshops don’t feel the need for this type of signage, yet they are not full of smokers.Stage 3 AdvocacyAdvocacy is one of those frequently used words in the library sector that is opento wide interpretation. It is also a powerful and invaluable communications tool forall organisations. If understood and incorporated into development strategies andplans, advocacy can play a vital role in a developing organisation whether itseeks to enhance political support, to work collaboratively, to improveengagement with existing and new audiences or to sustain and developresources. Advocacy – say it loud and clear was a one day seminar designedto develop the, marketing champions’ skills base but which has now been madeavailable more widelyThe course covered;  Introduction to the concept  Exploration of its practical application in more detail  A range of case study material drawn from complementary sectors  Took delegates through a series of workshops and discussions through which they develop a practical framework for their own advocacy strategy relevant to their work context 7
  • 8. One word of explanation regarding Marketing Champions, this is a network ofindividuals with at least one in each of the 22 library services in Wales – they canbe at widely different levels of the service- from front line workers to heads ofservice. They are identified by the Authority as the lead “enthusiast” for theprogramme and act as a two way communication channel to and from eachservice, as a national sounding board for ideas and initiatives and as the catalystfor local activity.A brief snapshot- of the Wales national promotional strategy – a case study-which has worked for us. The programme has:-  Raised the public profile of libraries with government, ministers and local politicians  Helped develop key national partnerships for example with the BBC  Has enabled local library services to deliver effective and affordable marketing at local levels whilst drawing on quality products initiatives and materials produced nationallyAnd, above all else, is raising the profile of libraries with our current and potentialcustomers and increased our customer base and usage.THANK YOU FOR LISTENING 8