How to Develop a Marketing Plan for an Academic Library

    Learn how to develop a marketing plan for your academic library. This practical guide helps you define goals, examine current practices, and determine an effective way to have your voice heard among all of the noise generated by competing academic, public, school, and special libraries. Based on CMLS’s Marketing Library Survey data, this free publication is full of examples and helpful tips.

This essay takes a look at the development of a marketing plan for an academic library. Marketing plans often begin with a SWOT analysis done independently by a library staff member. The SWOT analysis provides a framework to envision a marketing plan and it allows a library to examine its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Why Marketing?

Information professionals must understand
that it is essential to actively market their
services. Library marketing is critical for any
information professional in order to spread the
word about their library. It doesn’t matter
what library type, it doesn’t matter how large
or small the library is — you need to call
attention to your library, your services, your
worth to your community, your
administration, your staff, and your users!
It is important to understand the
organization’s mission to produce effective
marketing material that builds the library’s
brand and image, drives traffic to your web
site, and differentiates your library from its
competitors. That’s why in this highly
competitive industry marketing plays a very
important role.
The crux of marketing is to find out your
customer’s real needs and desires and then to
create and “sell” a product or service which
fulfills that need and desire. It is a proactive NOT a reactive function.
We’ve developed a fairly uncomplicated description of the marketing process and have
included a template to help you write that marketing plan. It can be used as a stand-alone
document or if you wish to write a more formal plan, the information can be taken from
the template and incorporated into a report format.


None of the above need be onerous or costly. “Research” can be as
simple as taking comments; “segmentation” begins with acknowledging the different needs of students, faculty, and administrators;
“promotion” includes old favorites like tabling and libguides; and
“assessment” might mean nothing grander than counting and reporting yeses and nos, and adjusting future efforts accordingly.
Consider a hypothetical example:
A library has posted online libguides geared toward students fulfilling first-year requirements, but click-through rates are low. In order
to better determine the usefulness of this tool, library liaisons meet and formulate three questions to be incorporated in Welcome Week
information sessions—two for students, and one for faculty:

  1. Do students know what a libguide is?
  2. Does the libguide, as shown to students in this session, look
    useful to them?
  3. What would the faculty member like to see in libguides, to
    make them more supportive of instruction?
    Marketing librarians tally yes/no answers and jot down detailed
    responses; they write a paragraph or two summarizing the findings,
    which they share with colleagues. Existing libguides are edited to
    reflect the information gathered, and two brief emails are drafted:
    one to all faculty members who teach first-year requirements, and
    another to all first-year students.
    The first email stresses the library’s role in supporting faculty’s instruction mission, presenting the improved libguide as a tool in that effort;
    the second introduces the libguide to first-year students, presenting
    it as an aid to first-year success. Click-through rates are assessed again
    over the next few months, and when possible, students and faculty are
    asked one or two follow-up questions. All of that information is used
    in creating the library’s next marketing plan.
    Each of these stages requires time, follow-through, and a certain
    amount of faculty buy-in, each of which can admittedly be precious,
    but when adapted to the specific needs and parameters of individual institutions, such ideas can be adopted by nearly any academic
    library looking to implement marketing principles.


As should by now be clear, there is, simply put, no one-size-fits-all
way to build a marketing plan. For reference, links to sample marketing plans are listed in the appendix section of this report. Many
other tools and resources have been compiled in ACRL’s “Libraries
Transform” toolkit and ACRL’s Library Marketing and Outreach
Interest Group’s resource page.
But what if you’re that one marketing librarian at a school with
2,000 students, no budget to speak of, and only a handful of
It’s important to remember that a marketing plan doesn’t have to
be fancy or formal to be a plan. It can be a Word doc pinned to a
corkboard in which you organized your thoughts.
Typically, you’ll start by reverse-engineering from your goal. Let’s return, one last time, to our hypothetical, and reimagine it as a series
of questions and answers meant to guide a preliminary toe-dip into
library marketing.

  1. What’s my goal? Increase online libguide usage among firstyear students.
  2. How does this goal align with library and institution
    priorities? Encourages student use of library services, which
    supports academic success among first-year students, in turn
    supporting student retention and graduation rates.
  3. How can I research current libguide usage? Track current
    site visits and click-through rates on website; solicit input
    from first-year students and faculty.
  4. How will I conduct that research? Add the libguides and
    simple questions to first-year requirement information
  5. How will I document my research? Tally responses; write
    brief summary.
  6. How will I use the results of my research? Edit and relaunch
    libguides in keeping with student and faculty comments.
  1. How will I promote the new libguides? Differentiated
    emails to first-year students and faculty who teach first-year
    requirements; poster featuring new libguides in all first-year
    dorms; collaboration with student tutors and liaisons.
  2. How will I assess my efforts? Continue to track site visits
    and click-through rates, and conduct informal follow-up conversations with students, faculty, and student tutors/liaisons.
    Produce a report of these findings six months after launch of
    new libguides.


Developing a marketing plan for an organization is not easy. It takes some brainstorming, some prioritizing, some organization, and some legwork. This guide has the information you need to get your marketing plan off on the right footing. Learn about key players in the academic library, priorities of the stakeholders in the library, and more.

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