Written by Cole Zrostlik
It’s easy to get distracted in small-town Wisconsin. In the grocery store, bank, pharmacy, or even the library where I work, as you enter the building, there are flyers tacked on top of flyers stapled on top of help wanted ads, public notifications, and pancake breakfast reminders. There are also racks of brochures, TV monitors with scrolling messages, yard signs, light-up kiosks, and postcards promoting everything from meat raffles to bowling leagues, special guest speakers, polka bands, and quilting guilds. Rural Wisconsin’s love of signage (and desperate attempts at mostly-ineffective marketing) both drives me crazy and endears me to the place I live; still, it’s exasperating as both a marketer and educator to see the frustrations of small business owners, community organizers, and, especially, librarians translated into desperate experimental marketing.
I never wanted to choose between doing what I loved and preparing myself for something bigger—so I didn’t, choosing to work in libraries while also pursuing my MBA in Integrated Marketing Communications at St. Kate’s. I have a background in fine arts and communications, and began my library career in the same place as many of my colleagues—lacking the acumen to reach the people who needed the library in the same way that the library needed them, and without a lot of time or financial resources. Any social organization, library, or small business that cannot effectively communicate with the people it serves is not only neglecting the people who need it most, but stands to lose valuable resources and essential advocates as revenue, circulation, program attendance, audience numbers, or donations decline. Over time, I’ve learned how to be a better marketer and now I am in a position to create incremental and positive change in small and rural communities by empowering librarians and library staff to do the same.
Although a marketing mindset does not come naturally to all people, one can be learned—and given the right tools, librarians can reach users and non-users alike, raise and maintain organizational funding levels, earn loyal supporters, and help to make their communities better and more engaged. As natural storytellers, collaborators, connectors, and information enthusiasts, all that librarians need to be successful marketers is creative ingenuity, time, and a willingness to innovate.
My Capstone project examines and defines marketing practices that librarians and library staff need and want to learn while also identifying useful and useable marketing strategies and tools for librarians, library staff, and other non-marketers. Using survey data collected from 64 library professionals working in the Indianhead Federated Library System, a 52-library consortium in Northwestern Wisconsin, I was able to translate insights from the project into six focus areas:
- Design, Signage, and Branding
- Digital Storytelling and Social Media Strategy
- Connecting with Communities
- Basic Content Creation and Content Marketing
- Advocacy, Fundraising, and Friend-raising.
Ultimately, I will use these insights to both teach useful, usable, and measurable marketing skills to librarians and other non-marketers, and as evidence while I advocate for a systematic change in the way small libraries get the things that they need and librarians learn essential marketing skills. Although this part of my project spanned the month of January in 2017, this is just the beginning.
Interested in learning more about or reading my (as of yet unpublished) research? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com. I love to talk about libraries, learning, and to give marketing advice (whether warranted or not).
Cole Zrostlik started the St. Kate’s MBA in Spring 2015 with Cohort 3 and will graduate with an emphasis in Integrated Marketing Communications in May 2017. She lives in Northwestern Wisconsin where she has worked in public libraries since 2010 as a children’s librarian and, now, as a programming librarian and coordinator of the Kleinpell Gallery at the River Falls, Wisconsin, Public Library.