Attracting Students to the High School Library
Kathleen A. Manz
San Jose State University
This paper looks at a variety of ways to attract students to the high school library. Marketing strategies used to promote meeting the needs of students through an inviting environment and useful resources, advertising via technology, and advocacy create an effective way to reach students and attract them to the school library. Each way on its own is a viable way to meet the needs of the students. However, when used together and with marketing strategies they not only meet the needs of the students, they increase awareness to all in the community of the importance of the school library.
Attracting Students to the High School Library
The American Marketing Association Board of Directors defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large” (Marketing Power, 2007). Marketing is a way to promote customer interests in a company’s goods that have value to the customer. Through marketing a business is able to find the needs of the consumers and cater to those needs. Without marketing its products a company would have a difficult time attracting customers to the products. Marketing is often looked at as a manipulation to convince a consumer to purchase an item they really do not want nor need. But that is not what marketing is about. It is a way to bring customers the products and service that they do want and need. “Marketing is about understanding the needs of your customers and providing a product or service to fill those needs at a place and at a price they are willing to pay to complete the exchange” (Fischer, 2006, p. 24). But marketing does not have to be used for the sole purpose of profit. Marketing can also be used by non-profit agencies as well. “Libraries, museums, hospitals, zoos, schools, and universities are faced with the need to utilize diminishing public funds more efficiently, to provide materials and programs conveniently and effectively, and to serve diverse and demanding clientele within an ever-changing competitive environment” (Koontz, 2008, p. 77).
In the high school library marketing strategies can be used to make the materials and services the library freely offers known to the students and faculty. Like a business the high school library also must attract students through marketing. Furthermore, by marketing the high school library the school librarian can increase usage of the school library. While the library may be the only one on campus, the school librarian needs to understand that there are entities off campus that should be viewed as competitors. “Although this thought may not be easy to accept, libraries are indeed in competition, not only with bookstores but with other departments on campus or other public departments providing services to the community” (Fischer, 2006, p. 25). In talking about marketing it should not be confused solely with advertising. While advertising is part of marketing, marketing also includes understanding the needs of your customer, brand or reputation, and advocacy.
Finding ways to attract students to the school library has taken many forms. Some of the ways of meeting the needs of the students are cost prohibitive while others are not. Feinberg & Keller (2010), Bolan (2009), and Erickson & Markusin (2007) look at designing a new library and are only useful if a new library is going to be built. Ikin (2010), Weinberg (2009), O’Driscoll (2000), look at how to re-design a library however some major construction and major purchases are still involved. For most school librarians, Winslow (2007), Evarts (2006), Braxton (2002), and “Welcome to” (2001) are more useful in what a school librarian can do without major expenses. In addition, Evarns (2008) explains ways to meet the needs of the library user through the resources available.
Another factor in attracting students to the school library is brand or reputation. Bourke (2010), Gall (2010), and Doucett (2008) look at how the reputation of the library, the librarian, and the library staff can influence how students feel about using the library.
The use of advertising especially advertising via technology is a way the school librarian can inform students as to what the library as to offer according to Doyle (2008), Lamb (2008), Palfrey & Gasser (2008). Advocacy from Sullivan (2010), Hunter& Applegate (2009), Siess (2003), and Yucht (2001) may also be looked at as another form of advertising. Rather than being targeted at the students, however, advocacy is mainly targeted at administrators and parents.
In the high school library, marketing strategies can be used to bring the physical space and resources, the library’s brand, and advertising and advocacy all together. Marketing defined by the Marketing Power website, Koontz (2008), Fischer & Pride (2006) allows for an effective means to convey what the library has to offer.
An often overlooked area of the school library is meeting the needs of the students. The teachers give their input as to what reading materials are needed to meet the curriculum requirements in their area. Architects design the building the students will be using. But the required reading materials for a course will not bring the students to the library on their own time and a room that is unappealing will not attract students either. The question to ask is what is it that students want at their school library? Or, what are the needs of the students that must be met in order to attract them to the school library?
By understanding the needs of the students the school library can create a useful and inviting environment. “Learning to recognize teen behavior and needs, likes and dislikes, is essential in understanding what is necessary and appropriate for the ideal young adult area” (Bolan, 2009, p. 1). It is essential that the needs of the students be met if the school library is to be a successful asset to the school. Students know what they like and what they need; get them involved in arranging the library spaces. The Bethesda Public Library in Maryland did just that. Input was gathered from teens when it was decided that the library would be re-designed. The teens worked together with designers in creating the ideal library space for teen use. “Shelving was almost doubled, and placed in such a way as to define but not enclose the area”(Weinberg, 2009). The re-design with teen input was a success and the young adult library is busy.
Additionally, the Santa Cruz County Public Libraries in California have also allowed teens to have input in the re-design of their libraries. Janis O’Driscoll describes it has having a recipe for creating teen spaces.
- 1. Youth Participation: It should start with a needs assessment, and continue in meaningful ways through analysis, design, development, and operation of an effective plan.
- 2. Community: Partnerships with community organizations strength the library, while young people become aware of the network and how groups work together to solve problems.
- 3. Build on what you have: Spend the time to make evaluation of what the library already offers in YA services.
- 4. Technology: The way to a teenager’s heart is through a T-1 line.
5. Experimentation: An expectation of the unexpected is an asset to the library staff who wants YA service.
6. Keep asking: Even when things finally seem routine, keep assessing; YA service always has late-breaking developments. (O’Driscoll, 2000)
Both Weinberg and O’Driscoll demonstrate that teens do not need large spaces, smaller spaces are actually preferred, but they do like defined spaces. Additionally, it is best to have teens and professional designers work together in order to come to an agreeable design. Furthermore, working with teens to design the school library’s layout and décor will give the library a uniqueness that reflects the teens of that particular school. For instance, an influence of southwest designs may work in areas of Arizona and New Mexico but may not work well in California or Nevada. Although all of these states are in the southwest portion of the United States they do not all share the same school mascots, landscapes or cultural references. “The tastes vary not only regionally but from neighborhood to neighborhood in urban areas and from town to town in rural areas. What is great for one community may be horrible for the next, according to teenagers” (Feinberg, & Keller, 2010, p16).
Although all of these design ideas are for a public library they can be incorporated into a high school library as well. The high school librarian may borrow these design ideas for re-designing along with keeping in mind that there will have to be larger areas for class instruction and a large computer area. Rolf Erickson raises his concerns on school library designs in his book Designing a School Library Media Center for the Future. Erickson points out that poor facilities can be a huge detriment to a school library no matter how talented the staff and how great the programs. Erickson has designed over eighty school libraries and has noticed that while the usage of the school library has evolved the design of the school library does not always evolve. “Too many school libraries are being designed solely by architects and school administrators” (Erickson, 2007, p. x). As a result the designs of new school libraries are not fully meeting the needs of the students because the designs are based on outdated expectations. He also agrees that the students should have a role in designing the school library. “Too many fail to provide what students want because we have not included them in the planning process; as a result, we risk alienating our primary customer case” (Erickson, 2007, p. xii). In order to meet the needs of the students they should not be left out during the planning process. “The building committee should represent all interested parties; administrators, teachers and librarians, staff members, school board members, parents, and students” (Erikson, 2007, p. 7).
While there are large areas for class activities the school library needs to have spaces for individual and small group activities so that students and classes do not interfere with one another. Areas for group work are as important as study carrels for individual work. Though the school library is a much larger library than a teen area in a public library it can still be arranged in such a way as to have the smaller areas that teens are comfortable in and have the larger areas that are necessary for classes. Comfortable seating for students who would like to read is also important. Often students need nothing more than a place to get away and get lost in a good book. Many of the students who come to the library are looking for a quiet somewhat hidden place. Students who are the victims of bulling are particularly intimidated by large groups of students. These are the students who seek out the library has a place of refuge. “Young people can be isolated in one of two ways: self-isolated or actively isolated by their peers” (Evarts, 2006). By providing a comfortable school library these students will have a place they can go and feel safe. “The library can simply provide a safe space and resources for students who are self-isolated. Because the librarian can be very proactive about harassment, peer-isolated students can feel safe as well” (Evarts, 2006).
When the Dudedin City Library renovated their teen space they realized they had made a mistake in placing computers and tables close to the entrance. “Quieter/shyer teens felt intimidated by what appeared to be a large crowd of sometimes unprepossessing looking teens”(Ikin, 2010). This is especially important to keep in mind when designing or rearranging a high school library. The purpose of the library is a place for all and small, defined spaces become important to those seeking their own space. “A poorly designed school library is often the consequence of insufficient planning. Without a well-defined comprehensive program plan, you will end up with a facility where the function follows form, where the program is limited by a dictated architectural design” (Erikson, 2007, p. 10). By taking in to consideration the needs of the students the school library can be a safe, inviting, comfortable environment for students to spend time in. “A well-designed library facility provides both an aesthetically compelling and an intellectually engaging place for students that motivates them to come to be in the library to learn through the library, and to maximize their opportunities for success” (Erikson, 2007, p. ix).
Having a major renovation may not be conceivable at all school libraries, but there are still ways that school librarians can transform the school library into an inviting area that the students will use. The renovations mentioned earlier are costly and time consuming. Without resources the idea of transforming a school library may seem impossible. When Helen Cox took over her school’s library she enlisted the aid of parent volunteers to help rejuvenate the library. Additionally, “Cox scrounged and scrubbed furniture from foreclosed properties. She weeded extensively, discarding book that hadn’t been checked out since the 60s. The remaining books were so dirty they had to be scrapped with sandpaper” (“Welcome to,” 2001). By doing these things she was able to transform an uninviting library that students did not want to use into a welcoming library that students want to use.
Moreover, the arrangement of the furniture and displays promoting specific books can also affect the students desire to use the library. “Kids don’t choose books that look like they have “don’t touch me” signs on them… Kids choose books that scream “Choose me!” and show off the glorious colors on their covers, or peek out from behind displays that just entice exploration” (Braxton, 2002). Barbara Braxton and Betty Winslow are both school librarians in different schools. They both promote using displays and decorating the library in a way that will make students want to be in the library. Winslow does what she calls shoestring decorating. Most of the items she decorates with are discards from bookstores. “Just recently, I have seen Star Wars and Harry Potter stand-ups, as well as posters for all sorts of books, and publishers often inundate bookstores with more displays, posters, and doodads than they can use or find room for. The store manager may be willing to give them to you, if you simply ask” (Winslow, 2007) Likewise, Braxton also encourages making displays out of card board and paint. “I made Hogwarts from cardboard boxes, plastic cups, Christmas decorations and a can of silver paint!” (Braxton, 2002). What all of these librarians have done is create a place that students want to come to on their own time.
Making the school library a place students want to be does not end with the physical appearance and comfort of the library. The resources available in the school must meet the needs of the students if they are going to be expected to use the school library. There are many different ways to meet the needs of the students and the school librarian must understand the various needs in order to be successful. Students are not going to come to the library if there is nothing of interest for them. However, by meeting the needs of the students the school library will become a valuable resource. Understanding the four ways to meet the needs of the students will aid the school librarian in developing a useful collection.
The first need in collection development is normative needs which use expert recommendations. These are the books that the experts, or teachers, think the students should read. However, these may not be the books the students want to read. By using the recommendation of the teachers the school librarian removes much of the responsibility as to what books are in the collection. “Focusing on such needs does reduce the pressure on you to get to know and understand your service population as well as a way to justify a decision in case of a challenge to something you have added to the collection” (Evans, 2008, p. 88). The problem with relying heavily on normative needs is that the school librarian does not get to know what it is that the students really want to read. Inadvertently the school librarian is not meeting the needs of the students.
The opposite of normative needs are felt needs. Felt needs are what the students who already use the library want to read. “A felt need may or may not be realistic or even “good” for the community. You should be cautious in weighing the importance of strongly articulated felt needs – small highly vocal groups can sometimes drown out larger but less organized community groups”(Evans, 2008, p. 89). Those expressing felt needs may only be a small portion of students who come in the regularly. By only acquiring what they want the larger student body may be left out. Thus the school librarian will not be attracting a large number of students to the library. Again the librarian is inadvertently not meeting the needs of most of the students. Those students who do not see their needs being met will not make use of the school library.
Next, there are expressed needs. These are the books that students may say they want because they think these are the books they should read for school when, in fact, these are not the books they want to read and will not read. “A very simple example of the difference between felt and expressed needs in the library context is where people claim that “classic literature” is what they read and that libraries should stock that type of material” (Evans, 2008, p. 89). The problem is that these are not the books the students will actually read. Consequently, funds and shelving space will be wasted on materials that nobody truly wants or needs.
The last type of need is comparative needs. By looking at other school libraries, young adult libraries, and teen bestseller list the school librarian can get an idea of what teens in other schools and towns are reading. With this information the school librarian can order books that the students may have missed out on. “Looking at what other like services make available to their communities can provide some guidance for your collection building activities” (Evans, 2008, p. 89). The school librarian may only have the budget that allows for a small portion of these books to be ordered. By comparing several lists a smaller list of the most common books can be made. Additionally, using the school library’s automated circulation system can easily generate a report of what types a books students are reading. All of the information can aid in collection development.
By finding a balance of using the four needs the school librarian can build a collection that will bring students to the library to browse, read, and otherwise use for their school work. Teachers can give their input as to what they think will be useful for the students in their studies. Students can request books that are of interest to them. And book lists from other sources may be used to determine what books the students will be interested in reading.
Additionally, the brand of the school librarian will either bring students in to the library or keep the students at bay. “Technically, brand is a mark, or logo, combined with specific colors and fonts that identifies a particular product or service to potential users. More generally, a brand is shorthand for the story an organization wants to tell potential users about how it can meet a need in their lives” (Doucett, 2008, p. 3). The story is the role the library plays in the lives of the library users. Brand is another way of saying reputation; it is what students think when they hear school library or school librarian. While a logo is not the brand it is a part of the brand. The logo is what brings the library to mind. For instance, the American Libraries Association created the “@ your library®” logo and encourages libraries to use the logo. The idea of the logo is to have a universally recognizable symbol for all libraries.
The visual aid of the logo brings to mind the story and the brand of the library. What is strived for is that the brand is positive and users or students will come to the library. A negative brand will have a negative impact on the library no matter how well the library is designed. Understandably, students do not want to be an environment that is not friendly. “Library staff can make or break the library experience for users. The most brilliant youth space and resources will not compensate for surly, unfriendly or unhelpful staff” (Bourke, 2010). Furthermore, students are not shy about telling others what they think. A student who expresses a need to use the library can be swayed by other students who point out how unpleasant the librarian and the library staff are. Additionally, students will make their feelings known to parents, teachers, and administrators. The negative association attached to the librarian can also carry over when it is time for budget planning. “Savvy librarians have long known the advantages of building relationships with library users, ensuring their satisfaction and encouraging not only return business but also their support with funding agencies” (Gall, 2010).
Through advertising the school librarian is able to inform the students about what the library has to offer. One way to do this is by hanging fliers throughout the school. But be selective about where fliers for particular books or services are placed. For instance, advertising books about presidents will be more useful near social studies classes than near welding class. Conversely, advertising books about trade careers near the welding class will be of more value to the students than advertising them near the social studies class. “Imagine a library that markets its services to teens by posting fliers in a senior center and does its outreach at bingo halls – it is no surprise the library would have trouble finding teens in these places” (Doyle, 2008). By going where the students are and advertising books that are relevant o that location, the school librarian can attract students to the school library.
In addition to in-school advertising the school librarian needs to go off campus. Through technology this can be done without leaving the school library. This generation of teens has been defined as “digital natives” by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser in their book Born Digital; Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. This generation does not know a time when there was no internet or cell phones. They are instantly connected to many forms of communication throughout the day. “Major aspects of their lives – social interactions, friendships, civic activities – are mediated by digital technologies” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008, p. 2). This generation is continually in touch with friends and often times with people they do not know. “Today, most young people in many societies around the world carry mobile devices – cell phones, sidekicks, iPhones – at all times, and these devices don’t just make phone calls; they also send text messages, surf the Internet, and download music” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008, p. 3).
Because these teens spend so much time in the world of technology it is only logical that those who want to communicate with them go to the same realm. “Priests and pastors, imams, rabbis, gurus, and even Buddhist monks have begun to reach their faithful through their weblogs” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008, p. 3). It seems obvious that the school librarian should do the same. By now most schools and school libraries have a webpage, but the students are not spending their time looking at their school’s webpage. Students are on Facebook, MySpace, and several other social networking sites. These are the very sites the school librarian needs to become a part of for the school library. “Much more than a static webpage, a web presence provides an ongoing, virtual connection with students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members” (Lamb, 2008).
Additionally, by using technology the school librarian can add short instructional videos to the library’s website and social networking pages. These short videos will give added help to students who prefer to work online or may have questions when school is not in session. Teachers may also not know of certain resources the school library has to offer. “Use your web presence to communicate events and opportunities to students, educators, and the larger learning community” (Lamb, 2008).
In addition to advertising the school library the school librarian could also use a social networking site to link to authors who are also using social networking sites. “Young adult authors have clearly discovered social networking sites as terrific places to promote their books” (Doyle, 2008). This will help to increase the students’ awareness to authors they may enjoy and, as a result, bring the students to the school library in search of a particular author’s books.
The only setback to advertising on social networking sites are the laws that ban the use of these sites in schools receiving public funding. “Bills have been introduced in several states and at the federal level to require schools and libraries to block these types of sites. Many school districts have already banned the sites, arguing that they are dangerous and could contain inappropriate content” (Doyle, 2008). As with other dangers that teens face it is better to educate students to be safe rather than try to isolate them from the online world. Just as children are taught from an early age not to talk to strangers they should also be taught not to chat with strangers. “Social norms play a crucial role in how young people interact with their friends and with strangers online. And these facts also suggest that, rather than treating the online environment as an exotic space that presents wholly new dangers, we must recognize the situation and redouble our efforts to follow tried-and-true approaches to keeping kids safe from psychological and physical harm, whether online or offline” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008, p. 98).
While the students may not access these sites from school computers they are able to access these sites though home computers and mobile devices. Through the online social networking sites the school librarian can instantly update students as to events in the school library. Furthermore, the school librarian can keep the students informed as to when new books arrive and are ready to be checked-out. A quick message to a specific student can inform them when an item they placed on hold is ready for them to use. “Social networking sites might be getting a bad rap right now, but I think their notoriety is starting to fade as people realize that, like any technology, they can be put to either positive of negative uses. We should be thinking about how we can use these powerful tools to get the word out about the library and what it has to offer” (Doyle, 2008).
Creating the space, ordering the books, and advertising all are obvious parts of marketing, but an area that may get overlooked for marketing is advocacy. All the other previous mentioned areas are mainly in-school for the students and the teachers. But advocacy brings the high school library to the attention of district administrators, parents, and others outside the school. These are the people who have a great amount of impact on the school library during budget cuts and budget booms as well. During budget cuts a library that is not well known outside of the school is easily cut because the relevance of the library is not understood. Those doing the cutting may not think about the importance of the school library because assessment tests are not done on how to use the school library. The school librarian understands what a vital resource the library is to the students and the school. Thus it is the responsibility of the librarian to be a proactive, not reactive, advocate. “The problem is, while we know that what we do is important to students and teachers, the reality is that when difficult budget cuts have to be made, the library program is first on the chopping block” (Hunter, 2009). What is not looked at when the library budget is being cut is that the students are using the library as a resource for their school work in the classes that do have assessment tests. By cutting the funding to the school library the district is in fact damaging a vital resource that the students need in order to be successful in their academics. Because libraries are so easily cut it is vital that the school librarian advocates for the library before there is a budget cut. If the importance of the library is known then administrators will have a more difficult time justifying cutting the library program.
In her book The Visible Librarian Judith Siess discusses how important advocacy is because too many people only see a small portion of a librarian’s job. “Our customer’s see us handling books, chatting with a customer, and enforcing rules” (Siess, 2003, p. 91). The same is true in school libraries. The students, teachers and administrators all see the school librarian in their own perspective. The administrator does not see how the school librarian interacts with the students and the students do not see how the school librarian finds the resources teachers need in the classroom. The impact of this is that because each of these groups of people has a small view of the school librarian’s job nobody is actually seeing the whole job of a librarian. The parents have even a more limited understanding of the school librarian’s duties because they may only hear a small percentage of their child’s perspective about their experience in the school library.
It is through advocacy that the school librarian can make the duties of being a school librarian known to all. This is what Alice Yucht refers to as “priming the pump”. In her article of the same name Yucht defines “priming the pump, “According to the American Heritage ® Dictionary of Idioms, to “prime the pump” means to ‘encourage the growth or action of something’ by first providing a similar substance or lubricant to facilitate the desired results” (Yucht, 2001). What this means is that in order to get more of what you need you have to give something. “Put together a page of practical websites for the parent newsletter. Provide booklists for recreational reading. Do a workshop on Internet search skills for your Parent-Teacher organization. Make sure that everyone remembers the library as an integral part of the educational process when it’s time to vote on the school budget!” (Yucht, 2001). Through advocacy administrators will have a greater appreciation for the school library. The appreciation will be shown in less budget cuts or a greater budget. The more the school librarian makes available and makes known will come back as opportunities to purchase new resources. The more resources the school library has the more use the students will have for the school library.
Additionally, in Margret Sullivan’s article Are Schools at a Tipping Point?” she examines Gladwell’s three rules of change. To aid the school librarian with advocacy there are three types of people the librarian should be in contact with. The first are the “Connectors; they have a large social network and they like to stay in touch. The world not only picks up their text or email messages, and looks at their frequent postings on FaceBook, but Connectors also get invited to social and political functions where they “work the room.” They spread brand awareness” (Sullivan, 2010). The connectors will spread the school library’s reputation to through their social network. The next type of people is the “Mavens – people who understand concepts, data, enjoy accumulating knowledge, and are willing to share their knowledge” (Sullivan, 2010). Mavens will share lesson plans they have created and other information that makes the school library successful. The last type is the salesmen. “Sales people make you truly want to buy what they are selling. They enjoy presenting at conferences to other school librarians and school administrators” (Sullivan, 2010). Through the salesmen the school library can be promoted in the most persuasive way. By knowing and utilizing these three types of peoples the school librarian can promote and the school library program.
By making the school library more visible, all of the various groups who use the library will gain a greater understanding of the value of the library to the school. Students, teachers, parents and administrators will realize the full scope of the school librarian’s responsibilities. Through advocacy a parent who had a very limited view of the school library will now have a much broader view of the school library. What’s more, the parent will no longer view the school library through their child’s filter. Instead when their child needs resources the parent will know the school library has the resources needed.
It is through marketing that the school librarian can promote the school library. Marketing is meeting the needs of the consumer, just as the school librarian must meet the needs of the students. By using marketing techniques the school librarian can discover the needs of the students and work to meet those needs. What’s more, by having a comfortable, inviting, and friendly library the school librarian will be able to attract students to the school library. The students will in turn share their experiences in the library with other students, teachers, parents, and administrators. Furthermore, advocacy is a great marketing tool to make more people aware of the school library and its role in the school. By keeping the library relevant and known there is less likely to be budget cuts in lean times. Through marketing the needs of the students can be identified and met.
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