One of the good things about the course I am taking is that you (eventually!) have the option to break away from the mandatory modules and choose one of the many option modules that are available. The two modules I went for are Digital Information (which I am still working on….still haven’t managed this “write up an assignment and don’t endlessly redraft” thing I keep telling myself to stop) and Marketing of Services. I chose both because I thought they were essential in terms of the future of the service. The former because of increased digitisation, the latter due to decreasing usage and budgets.
The marketing module has certainly thrown up some interesting things to mull over. One of the most interesting theories brought up in the readings so far is the so-called “leaky bucket” model of customer retention and defection. Palmer, in his book Principles of Service Marketing, argues:
A bucket that has holes in its sides and bottom will leak water, so if a stable level is required, this can only be achieved by topping up the bucket with fresh water. This may be an expensive process, so it would make more sense to prevent water escaping in the first place, perhaps by investing in a better quality bucket that does not leak. So too for businesses that ‘lose’ customers.
Palmer appears to be suggesting that it is better for a service to concentrate on improving the service for existing customers rather than in investing time and money in trying to “top up the bucket” with new ones. In other words, libraries should concentrate on their existing customer base than trying to attract new users to the service. I’m not sure where I stand on this argument. I firmly believe that we should do what we can to promote the service to non-users, although not with a lecturing, Victorian “we know best” type attitude. One of the reasons I am keen on the use of web 2.0 technologies in libraries is because I believe it can help the service to reach parts of the community who have lost interest in what the library service can offer. Social networking is the primary communication tool for many people now, and it is vital that the public libraries have a presence in this arena. I also believe that there should be a national advertising campaign to raise awareness of public library services. The lack of awareness is quite striking and such a campaign, in my opinion, would have a massive impact in drawing in non-users.
On the other hand, are we just waiting our time preaching to those who will never have an interest in using the library service as they just do not believe that the service is relevant for their needs. Should we really invest time and energy into encouraging non-users to adopt the service? Is it just frittering away resources that would be better directed and improving the service to existing users? Should we just cut our losses and focus on those that do use the service?
I’m not sure I know what the answer is. I think there is too much of a tendency to equate the public library service with a corporate entity. How the private sector operates is very different from the public sector and there should not be an attempt to ape every strategy employed by the business sector. Yes there are things that could be learnt, but there are things that are just not right for libraries to adopt. Maybe this is one of those things, maybe it isn’t. I would be interested to hear what other people think about this in the comments section below and in completing my (very un-scientific) poll here.