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E-book use at the Mona Library of The University of the West Indies: Marketing made a difference

By Pauline Nicholas, The University of the West Indies at Mona | June 01, 2011

Main Library at The University of the West Indies at Mona.

Marketing has become a popular practice in libraries and is the buzz word for connecting library users to services. It carries several meanings and is often used interchangeably with terms such as promotion, public relations and publicity. Marketing can be described as a process of identifying and satisfying human and social needs — needs that may be fulfilled through creating, communicating and delivering value to the customers. For libraries, marketing translates as selling or promoting services, where the customer is the center of the activity.

Why e-books?

Mona Library embraced the virtual library concept because the university:

  • Offers courses that can be supported via electronic resources
  • Includes teaching sites spread over a wide geography
  • Comprises a diverse and distributed student population

In 2005, the library began supplementing its online learning environment with electronic books. Remote learners can access e-books anytime, anywhere, and the e-books offer rich functionality, such as links to multimedia resources.

Taking the users' pulse

Despite these benefits, there was a major concern. The university's e-books were underutilized. In 2008, two librarians conducted an exploratory survey to investigate whether students were aware that the library provided e-books. Secondly, they wanted to learn why students were not using the e-books despite their attractive features and the literature showing that students born in the digital age prefer electronic resources.

The survey, conducted over a week, captured data on student usage, awareness and perceptions of e-books. One key finding was that only 67% of students were aware of the service. Even then, this did not translate into usage, as only 36% ever used the service. Significantly, most of those who were aware of and used e-books requested training.

The marketing campaign

Based on these results, the library determined marketing would be a critical factor to create further awareness and improve usage. We planned and implemented an aggressive public awareness drive, including:

  • Training staff, faculty and students
  • Adding links to the library's website
  • Writing articles for the library's newsletter
  • Broadcasting short messages via Campus Pipeline (the UWI intranet service)
  • Printing fliers and placing them on notice boards around campus
  • Targeting key individuals, such as faculty deans and department heads, and sending them informational letters

The integration of e-books in the Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) further facilitated discovery and access to the resources. The library was careful in sensitizing faculty to the benefits of e-books. As educators and patrons themselves, they are able to make a valuable contribution in marketing resources that support teaching and research.

And the results show…

E-book usage increased significantly as a result of the marketing strategies. The number of titles in the collection also increased. Faculty members are now involved in the collection development process, recommending textbook or course material purchases and subscriptions. Additionally, titles purchased are more relevant and reflect Caribbean issues.

Librarianship is a business and, like any public service enterprise, it is important to let people know about the offerings. Faced with competition from the web and users' belief that Google is the panacea, libraries are no longer the first place users go for information. Academic librarians are now pressured to have the competitive edge, achieve high levels of customer satisfaction, and enhance the perceived value of their services - and then blow their own trumpets about the results. This requires aggressive and consistent marketing using all possible means. Lack of marketing is indeed where many academic library services are failing today.