Six Questions with Kathy Dempsey

TheAccidentalLibraryMarketerFor this edition of  the 658.8 Interview, I reached out to Kathy Dempsey, library marketing consultant and author of The Accidental Library Marketer.  I’m a longtime follower of The M Word, a blog co-written by Kathy and Nancy Dowd.  Kathy’s consulting business is called Libraries are Essential and if you aren’t already following her on Facebook, stop what you’re doing and go do it!  You’ll get lots of great ideas and information every day.  Done? Okay, now you can read her answers to my six questions.  

1. Where did you get your library education? (And I’m not talking about where you went to library school, if you did go to library school!)

My unofficial library education started in high school, when I joined the Library Club. We were a small (geeky) group who spent some study-hall periods helping the librarian, Mrs. Hower. Then, at Temple University’s Ambler Campus, I had my work-study job in the library for 3 years, so I learned a ton of things. At that time (late ’80s), the TUAC library was switching from its card catalog to its first online catalog, and I helped check the books and link them to the proper MARC records.

After graduating from Temple with my Journalism degree, I accepted a full-time job in the library where I’d been working. I handled all the Reserves processing and ran a laptop loaner program. In later years, I added to my skillset by simultaneously working with Serials at Shenandoah University’s Smith Library and by being a part-time circ clerk at Winchester Public Library (both in Winchester, VA). I helped with electronic transitions at those two libraries too—and each was using a different OPAC vendor, so that got pretty interesting!

In the early ’90s I joined Information Today, Inc. and began editing the Marketing Library Services newsletter. Over the years there (almost 19 now!), I also edited books, wrote for the Information Today newspaper, and worked my way up to Editor in Chief of Computers in Libraries magazine. There’s nothing like working on publications that report on the latest news and cutting-edge technologies to give you a well-rounded education in a field. Running publications forces you to stay abreast of a wealth of information and to understand how it all fits together.  

2. Who has taught you the most about libraries and/or marketing?

Back in my Temple days, it was definitely Sandi Thompson, TUAC’s main reference librarian. She taught me all the reference resources so I could help students with questions during the night / weekend hours that I worked without professional staff present.

As far as marketing, which has become my professional niche, nobody surpasses Dr. Christie Koontz of Florida State University, who has taught library marketing for years. I hired her to write Marketing Library Services’ first regular column, “Customer-Based Marketing,” and reading her work really solidified my knowledge. So much of what I do today goes back to Christie’s lessons.

The great thing is, I still get together with both Sandi and Christie at ALA conferences, and I’m so lucky to have these lasting relationships!

3. What’s the best book about marketing you’ve ever read?

It would seem arrogant to name my own book, The Accidental Library Marketer, but it would seem silly if I didn’t mention it. Honestly, I think TALM is an outstanding book because it covers the topic more completely than others, and it’s based on the Cycle of True Marketing that I created to help librarians understand how the process really works. And there must be something to it, because some universities are using TALM as a text for their MLIS marketing classes, which is quite an honor.

As for other books, there’s a collection of papers from SCONUL, the U.K.’s Society of College, National, and University Libraries, that really impressed me. It’s called Marketing Library Services—a SCONUL Working Paper.

4. What’s the title of a marketing book that needs to be written?

That’s a dangerous question! Let me see … as an impatient realist, I’d like to see Stop Making Cute Posters and Do REAL Marketing! or maybe You Need Marketing to Save Libraries in the Internet Age.

Chapter titles would include “Please Give Marketing a Budget!” and “If Directors Made Marketing a Priority, Life Could Be Easier,” along with “It’s Not About What YOU Want, It’s About What Customers Want.” OK, maybe those are less chapter titles and more what I wish I could scream to every administrator and board member in the world. <wink>

5. What’s the best marketing campaign you’ve ever been a part of?

That would have to be the one that won a John Cotton Dana award in 2010! I consulted on the New Jersey State Library’s “Tell Us Your Story” campaign, which asked libraries to get statements and stories from users about why they loved the library. It was more than that, though: Once the stories were written or recorded, subsequent steps asked the librarians to use them for publicity. Some stories stayed local, and others were picked up for a statewide campaign that reached citizens, legislators, etc. Some of the stories and videos were amazing.

The NJ State Library, under the guidance of marketing director Nancy Dowd, planned the whole campaign, doing surveys to see what would work, creating a brand and providing collateral materials to all participants, offering free marketing training, and planning a gala award ceremony that got good press coverage. It was the whole package.

6. What marketing campaign do you wish you’d been a part of?

Many of the initiatives that people refer to as “marketing campaigns” are really communications or publicity projects. So if I want to honestly answer what marketing campaign I wish I’d been able to work on, that narrows the field.

Library-wise, I’d have to say it’s “Building Your Base” from the Mid-Hudson Library System (MHLS) in New York state. This well-thought-out project reached out to various target markets with effective messages to educate them about public library services and ultimately to convince them to vote ‘yes’ when funding measures came to the ballot boxes. Rebekkah Smith Aldrich from MHLS did a great job with it, and has continued to take it to new heights with related follow-up campaigns that demonstrate how true marketing really works.

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