Marketing Your Databases

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

OK, so I’ve been asked to be a panelist for a session on “Marketing Online Databases” at the MDK12 Digital Library Summit, to be held in mid-June. I will be representing the academic librarian’s viewpoint, and will be joined by a public librarian and a school library district administrator.  I agreed to be a panelist because the commitment is minimal (60 minutes total, so probably 15 minutes of talking plus time for questions) but I have to admit I haven’t thought much about how (if at all) we market our online databases to our customers.

At our university, marketing of the libraries and their resources is done at a more general level; e.g., giving out highlighters and Post-Its with the homepage on them at orientations, etc. I think most of our resource-specific “marketing” is done through our library instruction programs. We rely on the history subject specialist to inform the history students about Historical Abstracts, the English subject specialist to talk about MLA and ABELL, the art librarians to alert the art students to ArtSTOR and Art Abstracts. If a database doesn’t get used, I think most of my colleagues are happy to cancel it and look for something that is worth the cost, rather than spend time and energy marketing a database that no one wants to use.

One idea is to use cross-training of librarians to make sure that patrons will be connected with the most useful databases for their topics. This is especially important in institutions where you have a wide range of subject areas and a large number of electronic resources available. You could use a series of simple”brown bag” workshops (e.g., “Top 5 Databases in the Humanities,” “Digital Resources in the Life Sciences,” etc.) in which librarians train one another on the best databases to use for their subject areas.

What other ideas do you have? What are your experiences with marketing your databases to students and faculty? Do you spend much time thinking about how to get more of your patrons to use MLA, World Shakespeare Bibliography, or other electronic resources?

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5 Responses to “Marketing Your Databases”

  1. Tiffany says:

    You might also want to look at some of the promotional materials provided by the databases specifically for this purpose. Database providers want to encourage use, so they might have promotional materials and strategies available to librarians. I know that Project MUSE (disclaimer: I work for them) has some resources for librarians specifically geared towards helping them promote the use of MUSE on their campus.

  2. Thanks, Tiffany! That’s a great idea. I know we’re always getting things from Gale and ArtSTOR (those are just 2 that spring to mind first.) On ArtStor’s “Support and Training” page, for example, they offer to hold training sessions at your institution, which sounds like a great marketing activity:
    I’m sure the other vendors would happily give out extra pens, post-its, etc. if they’re likely to end up in the hands of end-users.

  3. Amanda Rust says:

    Our library had this idea but couldn’t quite get it together for last fall: a database vendor fair. We’d invite representatives from our most-used databases in for Welcome Week, provide booths and goodies, and try to get undergrads and grads in to see what we have to offer.

    We’re also working on something like a “Resource of the Month” to be published on our blog / website.

    I also really like the cross-training idea. Internal promotion is important, too.

  4. Liorah Golomb says:

    We do a Resource of the Month , and the subject librarian usually does the workshop. Generally we’ll offer two sessions to accommodate people’s schedules. They’re advertised in the daily campus-wide e-mail, with a little display on the library’s Help desk, and by e-mail alert to potentially interested departments.

    The attendance varies. I gave two workshops on LION this past semester. Four people attended the first — three of my librarian colleagues and one member of the English Department. The English prof was impressed by all the things the db contained beyond what she was already familiar with. She left the class with handouts for her colleagues. I expected to see some of them at the second session. But no. I had two takers, another librarian and an administrator.

    I don’t take it personally. I might have, but it turns out this lack of turnout isn’t unusual. It’s similar to the problem of getting instructors to bring in their subject librarian for BIs, I guess.

    As for giveaways, our CD assistant asks vendors straight out for swag. Surprise surprise: Web of Science’s goodies were far superior to LION’s (nifty pen/notepad combos vs. brochures).

  5. Tim Hackman says:

    Thanks for the great ideas, everyone. I made the presentation yesterday at the MDK12 Digital Library Summit, and it went great. My fellow panelists represented the public and school library perspectives, and it was interesting to hear that we had all come up with some of the same strategies.

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