28 March 2009


The subtitle of Brian Mathews’s new book is a bold new approach to communicating with students. And that is what this book is. First of all, there is Mathews’s job title—user experience librarian (at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta). How much better is this than reference librarian, or technology whatever, or even outreach librarian? Georgia Tech obviously understands that the quality of your collection or building is irrelevant if the user experience isn’t good, because no one will use what you have.

Then there’s the dedication: “to college students around the world, who deserve better library experiences.” The foreword isn’t by a librarian, but by the vice president of distribution marketing for the InterContinental Hotels Group. He makes a thought-provoking statement: “I think of someone picking up Brian’s book in fifteen years, reading this foreword, and mistaking it for a user’s guide to some kind of museum of antiquities. Will anyone even be reading then…?”

Mathews’s has discovered that some students are not interested in using the university’s computers to search for information—preferring to search using their mobile phones or PDAs. But they couldn’t reach much of the library’s resources. “…students actually visited the library regularly but had no clue how to use it or about the full range of tools and services available to them. Entering this social sphere of students expanded my point of view. I was no longer bound behind the reference desk or limited by the classroom setting.” He went to the students and faculty and found out about their needs and ways of gathering information—what he calls “becoming ubiquitous.” (Check out his blog, The Ubiquitous Librarian.) This book is the result of his ubiquitousness.

He starts with a controversial statement, “Let’s be honest: libraries don’t need to advertise. Students will always be drawn to the library….” But as a place, not necessarily as a resource. But he isn’t trying to convince you to market the library, but to establish” an emotional and interactive connection with our users” to make the library “a premier campus destination, rather than just a place that students have to go.” What he’s really talking about is repositioning the library in its users’s minds. He rightly understands that “you’ll never change perceptions through countless committee meetings…. Video games, iPods, DVDs, and other gimmicks are also not the solution. No, the process begins when we stop pretending that we know what students want and instead genuinely attempt to understand their needs and preferences—and speak to them in their language.” HE IS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT!

The rest of the book follows the usual path of marketing books: Defining the user, student need states, the library as product, conducting marketing research, building relationships, developing brand strategies, promotional building blocks, designing messages, measuring the impact, putting it all together. But it is all focused on what Mathews calls “a social approach to marketing.” This is where the strength of the book lies.

Other features: an epilogue: Staging academic experiences and an afterword by a Georgia Tech student. Index. There is no bibliography, but references are included at the end of each chapter.

Bottom line: This doesn’t just apply to academic libraries. ALL libraries have to listen to their users—especially as the Gen Yers/Millennials and their successors come into the workplace. If you’re already a marketing expert and your library is full and loved and used, this is an optional purchase. But if you think you could serve your customers better, especially the younger ones, BUY THIS BOOK!

Bibliographic information:
Mathews, Brian, Marketing today’s academic library: a bold new approach to communicating with students, Chicago: ALA Editions, 2009, ISBN 978-0-8389-0984-3, US$48.00.

To order the book: http://www.alastore.ala.org/detail.aspx?ID=2596
Brian’s blog: http://theubiquitouslibrarian.typepad.com/

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