Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you first become involved in the information profession?
I used to want to be a Careers Advisor, and I was doing unpaid work-experience for a Careers Service when my wife and I found our ideal house. Suddenly we had a mortgage so unpaid work experience wasn’t such a good option! So I just sort of fell into librarianship because I needed a job sharpish, and it turned out to be much, much more interesting than I’d anticipated…
We understand you’ve recently written a book on marketing for information professionals. How did you first become interested in marketing?
I think a lot of newer professionals have an interest in marketing the library because they’re so acutely aware of the need for it these days. What with the need to market ourselves as info pros, and the current push towards library advocacy (a close cousin of marketing), marketing is very much on the radar of anyone entering the profession in the last decade or so. What really kicked things off for me was when (SLA Europe’s) Laura Woods and I started to write and present on marketing libraries outside the echo-chamber – it was largely off the back of that that Facet Publishing approached me about writing the book.
How did you find the process of writing the book? What advice would you give to someone looking to write their first book?
I found it incredibly difficult, a lot of the time… I’ve got so used to blogging, where I just write it as it comes out of my brain, as it were, without putting in any planning and without redrafting much. But when it’s a book, there’s a feeling that every sentence really has to be THE definitive pronouncement on whatever subject it’s about! There’s such a big difference between knowing / thinking something, and being able to articulate it to a publishable standard… So that, and simply finding the time to write a book outside of work-hours without neglecting my family, was really tough; I’ll certainly not be writing another.
All that said, it was fantastic to really learn about a subject again, to investigate things in-depth, to be able to crystallise and develop ideas about marketing. Best of all was the chance to work with amazing people from around the world – there are 27 case studies and they read like my ideal wish-list of who I wanted to talk about each subject. Organisations like the British Library, New York Public Library, Cambridge University, and the National Archive, and individuals like the SLA’s Rebecca Jones, like David Lee King, Aaron Tay, Terry Kendrick – they all said yes, and I absolutely love what they wrote. The end result is, I hope, a toolkit of ideas that can easily be applied to every type of library – you don’t need a huge marketing budget and a team of specialists to attempt the techniques and tips the book contains.
In terms of advice to a first-time author – talk to someone who has done it. I found the insight of people like Phil Bradley really useful for planning mine. And I’d recommend the ‘contributor case study’ route – as opposed to editing a book which seems to be just as much work as writing one entirely solo… Being the author with sections contributed by others (rather than whole chapters) felt like a great way to go, for me. It meant I wasn’t writing the whole thing and could let others speak for me where they knew more than I did.
You were one of SLA Europe’s Early Career Conference Award winners in 2011. What would you say the main benefits of this award were for you?
I’m not sure I could have written the book without attending the conference! It was just SO, so useful in giving me a better understanding of marketing as it applies to the Special Libraries sector. Just the chance to attend such an epic conference with so many relevant themes was the biggest benefit short-term – I absolutely loved the experience. Long-term though it’s got me involved with the SLA in general, which I love – I’m serving on the Online Content Advisory Council for 2012 and it’s great to be working with people from North America as well as the UK.
What one piece of advice would you give to an information professional who was new to marketing?
Market the benefits, not the features. It’s so straightforward, but as soon as you start doing that (and realise how seldom libraries and librarians get this right) you start thinking like a marketer. There are a million and one examples of how to do this but the one I refer to in the book is Mary Ellen Bates’ – the fact that we subscribe to a load of databases is the feature; the fact that we have access to information Google cannot find is the benefit. We need to promote the benefits of our services, and make it really easy for people to see how we can help them in their daily lives.
In terms of advice for those who want to find out more about marketing in general, look online for marketing blogs that aren’t about libraries – it’s good to learn from outside the sector.
What do you think early-career professionals bring to SLA that more experienced professionals may be unaware of?
Just a different perspective, more than anything – in SLA everyone seems really well integrated, and everyone networks with each other without any barriers in the way. I think the ‘new professionals movement’ has been really useful in giving new profs a voice, but my experience with SLA has been that we’re all just professionals, sharing great stuff with each other.
If you were to give advice to an LIS student, or someone thinking about starting out in the information profession, what would you say?
I’ve said it all here! I’d basically say, however competitive and full of amazing people you think this profession is, double it and then readjust what you think you need to do to succeed accordingly. Seriously.
What excites you most about the profession today?
The profession itself. The community. We’re predisposed towards helping people and sharing, and we’re technically savvy enough to successfully use the tools that facilitate this – what could be better!