Academic Law Librarianship
- Marketing and outreach are critical mechanisms for educating patrons and stakeholders about the library’s services and the library’s value to the community
- Library fairs, speaker and panels events, and a roving reference desks are common types of marketing and outreach efforts.
- At the end of each marketing or outreach program, it is important to assess what worked and what did not work
Why Outreach and Marketing Are Important
Law libraries, academic and otherwise, are often misunderstood. If patrons and stakeholders think of libraries at all, they seem to envision libraries as a large room with dusty books. Stereotypes and misinformation shape the perception of law libraries and law library services. We encounter patrons and stakeholders who do not understand our role and our profession. Librarians are largely seen as quiet intellectuals who are trustworthy but also viewed as Google-hating print book pushers.
Marketing and outreach are important to law libraries because they are a critical mechanism for educating patrons and stakeholders about the library’s services and the library’s value to the community. Marketing and outreach can work to disrupt a false narrative or correct misassumptions. Libraries are many things, but fundamentally, they are a service. Marketing and outreach allow library personnel to tell the library’s story and establish the library’s brand. Outreach, in the form of community engagement, also allows us to create or grow relationships with our patrons. These relationships can make the library seem more accessible to those who might otherwise have seen barriers. Most importantly, marketing and outreach, and by extension, the relationships formed by outreach and marketing, are the library’s key to becoming, or remaining, relevant in your institution.
Understanding Your Audience
Like other library types, the patrons of academic law libraries are not monolithic. Understanding the different patron types and their individual needs is critical. For example, 1L students have very different information needs than 3L students. 1L students may be interested in using study rooms and borrowing study aid materials to prepare for their first law school exams. 3Ls, on the other hand, is usually doing work that is more experiential or clinical in nature and are often looking for help with real-world problems or advanced research assignments. Furthermore, both of these patron groups’ needs are different than what a professor may need from the library. Learning about and understanding the difference in patron information needs is critical to planning marketing and outreach activities and advertisements.
Understanding your audience also means learning and respecting their timeframes and schedules. For example, professors are notoriously busy grading at certain times of the year. Planning a faculty outreach event during grading times may frustrate your efforts and your faculty. Another way to look at this is that some patrons may be more susceptible to outreach attempts at crucial times. For example, in week 1 of the semester, new law students might not be interested in learning about the different resources available for writing exam essays. However, a program of this type around Thanksgiving may be very popular. Learning the different rhythms of the different patron types can help make marketing the library’s services more efficient and effective.
Further still, understanding your audience means developing a sense of how patron groups, or even individual patrons, may differ regarding method or style of communication. Some patrons or patron types may prefer social media outreach while others may prefer in-person communication. Developing a communication plan which focuses on style, medium, and substance may take into account these differences. Trial and error or surveys in your institution may help inform such a plan.
In an academic library, it is important to think about the different communities in the school when thinking about outreach and marketing. Sometimes the most effective way to outreach your patrons is by teaming up with a student group or other departments. For example, if you are planning a book talk on Paul Butler’s Let’s Get Free you might consider if it would be a better attended and more effective outreach event if the law library chooses to partner with the Criminal Law Society, the school’s ACLU chapter, and the school’s Black Law Student Association. While every institution is different about how outreach events are planned and how budget items can be shared with student groups and other departments, it is wise to consider entities outside the library to increase attendance at events and further grow library relationships.
Types of Outreach & Marketing
There are many kinds of outreach and marketing efforts that you can do to promote your library’s collections and services. The best efforts focus on your audience and brand, but also allow you to use creativity to showcase your product. To start, concentrate on what service or part of the collection you want market, determine who you are marketing it to, the content of the advertisement/program, and how you are going to communicate your message. Additionally, at the end of each marketing or outreach program, it is important to assess what worked and what did not work. If only six students show up to an event, you need to reassess the time, place, content of the invitation and how the event information was disseminated.
When starting a marketing or outreach project, ask yourself these questions:
- Who is my audience? Is it students, faculty, or the community at large?
- What am I marketing? Is it a new or reoccurring service, event, or part of the law library’s collection?
- What is my message? Think about your brand, tone, clarity, visuals, etc.
- How should I send the message? Email, social media, signage around the school, or all of the above?
Staying in the Library
The goal of many marketing and outreach initiatives is pull your users into the library. Hosting events is a great way to get students and faculty into the library while also putting the library in a positive light. Events can range from open houses and library fairs to speaking engagements and National Library Week celebrations. A great way for 1Ls to get a sense of what the library has to offer is through an open house. This event allows students to get to know the librarians, the layout of the library, and some of the resources the law library has to offer. Many open houses include food, games, and giveaways to provide a fun introduction to the law library. Scavenger hunts are a common way for the students to learn about the layout of the library and where to find specific resources.
Furthermore, library fairs are great events to showcase your law library’s collection. Stations are set up throughout the library detailing various databases/resources in the library’s collection. The stations can be staffed by librarians or vendor representatives. Students and faculty can then walk around to each station talking to the librarian or vendor about the resource (as well as picking up a few goodies). Some fairs include giveaways and food with door prizes.
Another way to promote the use of the library as a space is through speaker and panel events. Law librarians can work with faculty and student organizations to create speaking programs that bring the law school community into the law library. Librarians can also coordinate speaking programs that are of interest to students and discuss issues within librarianship such as copyright, free speech, and access to justice. Using special days or weeks to plan festive events or activities can bring more patrons into the law library. Many law libraries celebrate National Library Week with giveaways, contests, food, and promotional items to celebrate the library, the student workers, and the work of library staff.
Getting out of the Library
No matter how many emails you send or ice cream socials you have, some students will not set foot into the library (I am looking at you night students!). In this instance, you may need to bring the library word to the people. Here are some ideas of how you can get out of the library and remind the students and faculty of what a great place the law library is.
One of the best things you can do is be a part of your law school’s community. This means attending events and talking to students and faculty not just about research and the library, but also about their classes, interests, and home life. Become an advocate of student organizations. Being chatty and approachable outside of the library reminds students that the law librarians are there to help with research and law school life, generally.
If the students won’t come to the library and ask questions, sometimes you need to bring the reference desk to them. Roving reference is the concept of providing reference outside the library. You can set up a temporary station in the law school café or in one of the law school clinics. You can provide reference at a pop-up desk in a classroom hallway. You can take your marketing and outreach party on the road by bringing goodies and information to the students and faculty. Hang out in the law school café with candy and information about your newest database. Stop by faculty offices with baked goods and say hello with a handout about the library’s digital repository.
Law libraries all over the country market the amazing research skills of their librarians through library liaison programs. Librarians are matched with faculty members to conduct research, help with database access, and interlibrary loan requests. Liaison programs are different in every library. The staffing ratio of faculty to librarians can determine the types of services that the librarians are able to provide to faculty members. As part of this program, some libraries train faculty research assistants. Some librarians supervise their own research assistants who help with faculty research and Bluebooking. This type of program works best when librarians develop a relationship with their faculty members.
CONCEPT IN ACTION: EVALUATING POTENTIAL EVENTS
Stanislaw is a second-year law student who has contacted the library about hosting a poetry slam event in three weeks. He wants to call the event “Poetic Justice.” The librarian responsible for outreach makes an initial consultation with Stanislaw. At this meeting they work to answer a series of questions in preparation for the event.
- Who would the audience be for this event? Is this event likely to draw a crowd?
Consider inviting legal writing professors and market to the student groups.
- Is the name appropriate?
This is the same name as a famous movie. Will consider some other options to avoid possible confusion.
- What is the relationship between this event and the library?
The library will provide a space and create a display spotlighting a few relevant materials in the collection.
- Is this event “on brand”? Is it part of the plan for the year? What is our relationship with this student?
Event will help increase foot traffic to the library, which supports our current marketing goals for the year.
- What resources might you need?
Student will work with Comms re: marketing and library will work with IT for AV equipment.
- Do you have the staff and monetary support for this event? Is this the best use of staff time and library budget?
Limited resources and staff time will be needed, and
- How might you promote this event?
Library will promote on library social media, while student and their group will post flyers and recruit by word of mouth.
- Are there any conflicts? Are there other events happening at the same time? Is this too near midterms or finals?
No conflicts for the three suggested days.
Everyone communicates differently and some faculty members prefer a quick email detailing the program and how the librarian can help them advance their scholarship. Other faculty members prefer one on one meetings to discuss research goals and how the library can help. While these liaison programs are generally seen through the lens of reference or collection development work, they are also tools of outreach. Networking and socializing with your faculty members is paramount to developing a relationship and can help evangelize for the law library.
Social media can be an effective and efficient way to promote your brand and advertise your library’s services and collections. Whether you connect with the law school community via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, it is important that you provide original content that connects with your audience. When deciding on social media for the law library, here are a few things to think about.
- What social media platforms do your students and faculty members use?
- What are your school’s policy on social media? Does it make more sense to send posts through the law school’s social media accounts instead of creating an account for the law library?
- What services or collections will you promote via social media?
- Who will be posting? Will there be an editorial process?
- What kind of schedule will you post on?
To determine what social media platforms you should use, formally or informally survey your population. You may find that students prefer to follow the law library on Twitter where they have a more professional presence versus Facebook or Instagram where they connect with family and friends. Faculty members may only use Facebook or prefer to engage with the library over LinkedIn. Once you determine which platforms you plan to use, research the best way to engage users and communicate through social media. Enlist colleagues or the law school’s marketing department to help you. Determine a daily or weekly posting schedule and organize visuals and language to post. Find a colleague to help you edit your message for tone and clarity.
Once you have your account set up and you start posting original content, you need to get the students and faculty to notice or follow your account. If you are just posting about the library, you may not get as many eyes as you hoped for. To remedy this, for every post you have about the library, you should have two about the law school or community. Use social media to become the archivist of your law school by taking photos at law school events, congratulating faculty on new scholarship, or promoting the great work of the students and student organizations. You can share and retweet these celebratory posts from the social media accounts of the law school or student organizations. Many vendors have social media accounts as well that contain good information about their databases or product. Follow their accounts and retweet or share when you need additional content or you think your audience will be interested in the information.
Another way to increase visibility is to post photos and videos. Make sure to use photos and videos that advance your brand and show your library in the best light. These days everyone’s smartphone has the capability to capture award-winning photos and videos, through the use of filters and video editing apps. Hashtags are a great way to connect your posts to others, support your audience (#MondayMotivation #YouGotThis), or creatively start a conversation (#ThrowbackThursday, #AccessToJustice). Contests are also a great way to increase traffic to your social media. Send out a trivia question once a week with prizes for the first to answer correctly or create a scavenger hunt in your library that asks students to take a shelfie with a specific resource for a prize. (#ProTip: Tell your vendors about your marketing efforts and ask them to provide the prizes.)
Finally, make sure to promote your social media! At orientation, links to your social media pages should be prominent on orientation materials. Create signage to display in and out of the library. Social media links should be easy to find on your library’s website. You can even paste links in your email signature. Get students and faculty talking about your posts (in a good way). The more fun or interesting items you post, the more students will notice and talk to other students about it.
Social media is always changing, so it is best to keep up with the newest trends and know what platforms your audience is using. You can easily adapt your message across multiple platforms to reach all parts of your audience. However, you need to pick and choose your platforms so as not to be stretched too thin. The more active you are on the platform, the more original content you post, the more you try to connect with your audience, the more successful you will be.
Other Helpful Technology
There is a wealth of helpful technologies to aid you in getting the word out about how great the law library is. Many law libraries use blogs as a way to provide more information about a topic of discussion. Posts can be cross-promoted on your social media platforms. Videos are a fun way to show the creativity of your library and staff. You can easily create videos and edit them directly on your smartphone. There are a variety of video editing sites that are free or low cost, such as Windows Video Editor, Apple iMovie, and YouTube Studio Editor. YouTube provides an easy, free, and accessible place to store your videos. You can create easy-to-remember links through bit.ly. Flyers and newsletters (both print and digital) get an upgrade through easy-to-use graphic design programs like Canva, PosterMyWall, Sway, or FlipHTML5. You can create screencasts, using software like Snagit, Camtasia, or Kaltura. The screencasts can showcase the library catalog or a specific database. Upload the video to YouTube and then disseminate it on your social media accounts.
Consider all of your resources, specifically your law school’s informational technology staff. Many of the outreach and marketing tools mentioned may already be used by the law school’s or university’s marketing staff, so you may already have access to many of the platforms discussed. The informational technology and law school/university marketing staff may also have job aids and tutorials to help you learn all this new technology. The best thing you can do is take on one new platform one at a time. Start with a blog. Once you have the blog mastered, then move onto a social media platform. Then, create a newsletter and post it on your blog and social media. Try experimenting with videos and screencasts, promoting the final project on your blog, social media, and in your digital newsletter. And so on and so forth…
Developing Goals & Brand
Outreach, marketing, and engagement can be done without a plan. However, they are done most efficiently and most effectively with a plan. For example, my library has a yearly plan which considers the events we plan to hold, the social media campaigns we expect to run, the supplies we are requesting from the library budget, the other entities or departments we plan to engage, and the general timeline of the year in terms of other key events in the institution’s lifecycle. As part of this planning process, we also include outreach and engagement goals for the year.
Thinking strategically about, and allowing library leadership to have input into, what your department or library’s goals are regarding outreach is an integral part of the planning process. One is more able to gain access to resources, financial and otherwise, if the outreach plan is shared and approved in a deliberate way. Also, the process of creating and communicating these goals may illuminate areas of possible growth or areas of possible need beyond what is obvious. Still, further, the planning process can help communicate to others what is expected of them and what is expected of the outreach librarian. For example, in some libraries, the creation of marketing material for an event may be the task of the person holding the event (like a reference librarian who holds a pre-emption checking event with student writers interested in publishing) while in other libraries, it may be the task of a marketing/outreach librarian who is responsible for promoting the events that other staff members are themselves hosting. Still further, creating marketing materials may be something done outside of the library itself in a school’s communications office. In all of these scenarios, allow these parties to have access to the plan, and perhaps even input in the plan. Allowing these team members access and input can improve the working relationships between all of those involved.
You may be wondering, do all libraries have a fully developed marketing and outreach plan? The answer is no. However, all libraries do some marketing and outreach and plan for it in some ways. While not all libraries have a written, formalized plan, all libraries have some sense of what their goals are regarding outreach/marketing/engagement. One might find information about the marketing and outreach goals of an organization by looking at the library’s website, reading the library’s mission statement, reviewing the library’s strategic plan, reading the library’s annual report, or speaking with the library leadership.
Another aspect of developing a plan for marketing and outreach is contemplating the library’s brand. There are many aspects of a library’s brand from their website design choices, to their logo, to their reputation around campus. Some libraries have a more formalized brand statement. For example, see the Harvard Law School Library logo contest and subsequent logo winner. Another example would be when an institution has a brand that must be strictly adhered to. For example, see this University of Texas at Austin brand book and toolkit. It is critical when doing outreach and marketing work that the librarian not only respects the brand of the school and institution, but also plans events that are furthering the brand in the eyes of the audience, administration, and other stakeholders.
Developing Personal Relationships
Hosting programs and posting on social media are obvious parts of outreach discussed at length in this chapter. Another part of outreach, which is perhaps less obvious, is developing personal relationships.
Successful outreach and marketing are genuine and work to further connect the library with others. These outreach and marketing attempts can ring hollow and be ineffective if they are not backed by a library staff that genuinely wants to connect with its patrons. One important aspect of outreach is relationship-building. Marrying programming and social media strategies with a personal connection is key.
One of the best ways to develop personal relationships with others in the law school community is by being active in the life of the institution. Attending the events of other departments is one way to be active. Another way to be active and informed about the community is to sign up to be on the email lists of student groups. Still another way to be active in the law school community is to volunteer to attend or work at events where you know you will have high student and faculty contact. For example, consider volunteering at an alumni event or staying after work to see a speaker brought in by a student group. Being visible and attending events helps you stay informed about the priorities and interests of students, but it also shows your patrons that you are interested in the extracurricular work they do, as well.
Another way to develop personal relationships is visibility in the library itself. One way to achieve this visibility is through architecture. Some libraries are designed in such a way that the staff is very present. Another, less expensive solution if your library is not built in a way that facilitates visibility, is to intentionally walk around the library and chat with students, where appropriate. One strategy I have is that I take the opportunity about twice a day to walk a loop around the library. I do this in a way that is open and friendly (I don’t look like I am on a mission, I just saunter through the library and smile). The students become used to seeing me in the stacks, but they also begin to associate me with openness and friendliness. This is something very simple you can do to promote visibility to your patrons.
Finally, part of developing relationships is networking. Actively and intentionally working to form relationships with other departments, the local bar association, other libraries on campus, alumni, and student groups is another way to make your outreach and marketing successful. Your marketing campaigns and outreach events can be more successful when they are more widely attended and more frequently viewed. Creating a network of students, faculty, attorneys, and staff willing to attend your events and cross-promote your resources is invaluable. For example, as a librarian promoting our new e-book study aids platform, I may be able to reach some students. However, the Academic Success Department at my school promoting the same products may be able to reach more or different students and may be able to reach them in a way and at a time I cannot. Still further, students hearing about our e-books through other students who have used them for studying may be more receptive to hearing what a librarian or academic support specialist is saying. Developing relationships can turn those in your network to your best advocates.
Marketing and outreach are an important way to showcase your library’s services and collections while promoting your value to stakeholders. First, you must understand your audience, through surveying, networking, and engagement, so you can effectively market the library to students and faculty. There are a variety of ways to market the library through events, contests, roving reference, or library liaison programs. A way to disseminate the library’s message or brand is through social media. Posting advertisements, photos, and videos can get students and faculty to engage with the library online. Think strategically and plan out your yearly events and marketing campaigns. However, always keep in mind that sometimes the most effective marketing and outreach is in developing personal relationships with your students and faculty and having a good reputation for high-quality service and support.
- AALL ALL-SIS’s Marketing and Outreach Toolkit
- White Paper on Library Marketing and Outreach Submitted by the ALL-SIS Task Force on Library Marketing and Outreach:
- Noe, Nancy. “Party with a Purpose: The Library Open House.” College and Research Libraries News, April 2016.
- Holahan, Alisa, Joe Noel, and Lei Zhang. “Lights! Camera! Action!: Creating Screencast Videos That Engage Viewers .” AALL Spectrum, 2020.
- Hunter, Caitlin. “AALL 2017 Recap: Social Media Use in Law Libraries: Learn from Our Successes and Failures.” DipLawMatic Dialogues, July 31, 2017.