Market Orientation, Part Two

In my previous post, “The Future of Libraries? Adopting a Market Orientation“, I stated that the future of libraries is identifying the wants and needs of our communities and stakeholders and meeting them. Market orientation is taking this concept (the “marketing concept”) and making it central to the goals, objectives, and mission of an organization. I received a lot of positive feedback on this post, with many librarians agreeing that this is an optimal “way forward” for libraries that have been historically concerned more with products — collections, services, spaces, etc. — than with finding the wants and needs of their communities and meeting them.

I also received some thought provoking negative feedback on the post, mostly from those who have concerns about the use of business terms in librarianship, the “commercialization” of public good organizations like libraries, and basing what we do in libraries on “market forces”. If we as librarians and library professionals feel that we need new terms to describe these concepts, then let’s create them. Furthermore, adopting a market orientation is no more “neoliberal” than using standard accounting practices or sound financial advice for investing library endowments. I liken marketing and the marketing concept as a “way of thinking” that has proven results in satisfying wants and needs. Our market orientation, as libraries, is how central we are making this concept to what we do on a day-to-day basis.

As I said in follow up comments and tweets, I’m not advocating that libraries adopt a “laissez-faire” attitude and base everything we do on the whims of the market. As professionals, we need to guide and inform the wants and needs of our patrons. Even in business, customers often come to a firm with no clue about their individual wants and needs. Market orientation is a way to be aware and focused on these wants and needs, while guiding and informing our communities and the stakeholders we serve.

These ideas are more fully fleshed out in an article in the Journal of Library Innovation published today by Arne J. Almquist titled “The Innovative Academic Library: Implementing a Marketing Orientation to Better Address User Needs and Improve Communication“. Dr. Almquist details how the university library at his institution, Northern Kentucky University, has made the marketing concept central to the mission and strategic plan of his library, and some of the results of these actions. He also dispels the myth that I have seen quite prevalent in librarianship that marketing is only promotion and advertising. While these are important they are only marketing functions, and the marketing concept is much richer than promotion and advertising.

I would highly recommend that any librarians interested in preparing themselves for “the future”, read this article. I firmly believe that employing the marketing concept, and developing a market orientation, is a strategy that libraries can employ for years to come to truly meet the wants and needs of those we serve. Without our stakeholders — patrons, communities, students, faculty, and the like — libraries are nothing. Meeting their wants and needs will truly illustrate the values of libraries, and make us stronger as organizations and as a profession.

Librarianship as Vocation

Let’s Play Library

When I was younger, my brother and I “played library”. We had a small collection of books, and after a trip to the local public library and discovering the simple elegance of the Dewey Decimal System, I “cataloged” the books, but rudimentary Dewey numbers on them, created a “shelf list” and set up shop. Armed with the date due stamper I borrowed from my parents, I was the librarian and my brother was the patron and I dutifully stamped the date due in the books and circulated them to my brother. While I don’t remember levying any fines or having to lean on my brother to return his overdue books to our library. This exercise instilled in me a deep connection to libraries and the work of librarianship at an early age.

This was further strengthened and refined upon numerous visits to the Niagara Falls Public Library armed with my own library card and the opportunity to check anything out of the collection. A special treat for me around the age of 10 or 11 was a “behind the scenes” tour of the library courtesy of a friend of my father’s who served as the circulation librarian. I was fascinated by the card catalog, the circulation machines which took a microfilm copy of your library card and the books that culminated in a large thump, and the work of the library. The only place I felt the same type of awe and reverence at anything was in church, and my time in the library as a child was nothing less than transcendental.

Over the next number of years, I pursued a number of vocational and professional goals. My interest in architecture and urban planning sustained me through high school and ultimately is what brought me to the State University of New York at Buffalo. While there, I discovered many different subjects including computer science and information technology, history, and English literature. My love of reading and writing on what I had read culminated in a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, but I had no clue where I wanted to go after that. I applied to business school, law school, and to other programs. I thought a lot on what I wanted to be when I “grew up”.

During the last year or two of my undergraduate degree, I found myself helping friends and others complete the dreaded “library workbook”, a library skills exercise required of all students before graduation. I breezed through the workbook and never had any issues finding information in the library. Library work seemed to come naturally to me, but I never considered a career in librarianship until a good friend of mine suggested that I look into a Masters in Library Science as an option. I did some research, applied to some schools, and ultimately decided to stay at SUNY Buffalo to complete my MLS. This seemed like a perfect fit for me, and I was quite happy as a library school student.

When I graduated, I could not find a job in a traditional library setting and worked for library automation vendors for several years. It was during this period that I began to reconsider my vocation, moving back to architecture, or urban planning, or business, or theology. I wasn’t working as a librarian, per se, so I did not feel the connection to librarianship that I had sought in grad school and earlier, and since I have interests in many areas, I considered them all. My career path eventually brought me back to libraries, and I bounced around to a few academic libraries for a few more years before landing the tenure track position at Penn State.

About the same time as I got the job at Penn State, I had begun to seriously consider the priesthood in the Episcopal Church as my true vocation. I had always had a deep relationship to the church (more about that here), and I felt a strong calling to the priesthood. I knew that I needed to continue in my position at Penn State, so I put my efforts and energies into the promotion and tenure process, which had its fair share of ups and downs. Over the last year, it seemed that I was being drawn more and more to the priesthood, and I entered the discernment and application process to become a priest.

Simultaneously, things began to fall into place in my vocation as a librarian: I was tenured and promoted and awarded the University Libraries Diversity Award for my research and work in diversity. Newer librarians that I had mentored over the past few years were expressing gratitude to me for the advice and guidance I provided. I had articles, and book chapters, and papers published and was building a reputation on diversity in librarianship and higher education. I was becoming a leader in the profession through my work in ALA and other professional organizations. And ultimately, I saw librarianship as my true vocation.

I have ended my pursuit of the priesthood, for the time being at least, to concentrate on librarianship and library and information science. I know this may shock many of my friends and family, especially those I know through the Episcopal Church, but I feel deep in my heart and know deep in my psyche that this is the right path for me to follow at this time. Librarianship is something deeply ingrained in me and my true vocation is to develop and nurture and further this calling in me — to serve others through providing information and connecting them with the resources needed to live a full and productive life. This is my true vocation and I am excited about all the possibilities for me in the future this field.