MLA 2012: Surviving & Thriving

Surviving and Thriving X3: How an Academic, Public and Special Library Are Using the Economic Downturn to Improve Communication with Customers

Joyce Garczynski – Communications and Development Librarian, Towson University
Heidi Gillis – Marketing and Development Manager, Baltimore County Public Library
Jamie Peacock – Outreach Librarian, National Library of Medicine


  • Late 2009 – Joyce is a new librarian. Got a new provost then, too (now leaving though).
  • Database funding – one-time money from the provost every year. Not in the budget. What is the new provost going to do? What do we do if we don’t get the money?
  • All this happening during the recession – everywhere is cutting back.
  • Joyce started to prepare for potential cuts. Get faculty involved (to the extent they want to be) – having faculty on board makes it much easier to also reach students. Also minimizes any anger & surprise.
  • Looked at the literature for guidance – tons on journal cuts but nothing on databases.
  • Created an online survey – rated communication, rank cutback options (admin creates initial list & all faculty has opportunity to comment; admin creates list & selected faculty representatives comment; admin creates list, faculty create list, we hash it out together), who should be involved in cutback decision (library reps, students), demographics. Sent out one email to faculty list – “survey about potential resource changes in the library.” Also an appeal to help a new faculty member do research.
  • 25% response rate. Faculty grossly underestimated database costs (median guess – $50,000; actual – $2 million). Chose to be involved, variation by college though.
  • In the end didn’t need to make big cuts in 2010/2011. Happened when Middle States was accrediting – said the one-time funding model is not good. Added to the budget now.
  • But . . . now planning to cut from journals. Dept chairs & library reps were notified & asked for recommendations. But also – we haven’t done a review of journals in 20 years, and need to look anyway.
  • Important to let people know that we have to make cuts & solicit help. How can we best provide what you need? Providing a list of costs and usage stats.
  • Also have this in the library newsletter next week – students, staff, faculty, alumni will know this is happening.


  • BCPL – very diverse, urban, suburban, rural. 3rd largest land area in state, largest population.
  • Circulation has gone up for four years running. 18 branches, 19th under construction.
  • 2009 workgroup to reposition in the face of the economic changes. New service model
  • Move to more self-service tech (way more) & communicate value of it. It’s easy!
  • Start by working with staff – gave talking points highlighting advantages. Faster, privacy, convenient, more time if there’s a complex issue or request. Kids think it’s fun!
  • Customers – remove barriers. Lots of people don’t bring their library cards with them – just give their name or librarian just knows them. Need card for self-check. Had an ad campaign “Get Carded @ Your Library” and lots of verbal communication & reminders from staff.
  • Self hold pickup – had to rearrange at a few branches.
  • Pay fines & fees online and at self-check.
  • Did a video podcast to demonstrate, and lots of one-on-one instruction. There’s still always an option for help checking out, but not the most convenient anymore.
  • Tried to make sure that instructions were as clear and succinct as possible.
  • Expanded this to look at overall branding.
  • Along with this, standardized hanging signs. Same language every branch you go into. Tried to use more general language “Music & Movies” vs “CDs & DVDs.” Removed library jargon.
  • Also looking at secondary signage, posters, etc. Trying to standardize subject signs so more bookstore like. Still trying to communicate that last minute requests are OK. Have also included some standard signs for common things like printer problems, etc.
  • 90% of items from July 2011 – March 2012 were checked out at self-check.
  • Still looking at how best to disseminate information internally – almost 800 people to get on the same page.
  • External communications – less is more. Less printing promo items, more talking to people.


  • NLM is the largest biomed library in the world & part of NIH.
  • Economic downturn is just now starting to hit the federal gov’t. Can’t print, can’t hand out swag, limited attendance at exhibits. How do you do outreach? Better communication.
  • Which online resources might be helpful for family caregivers? When making hard decisions, encouraged people to research above their education level. MedlinePlus, PubMed, LactMed, telephone hotlines, find clinical trials, chemical content of household products, DailyMed.
  • Loved one has a health event. Caregivers are doing info seeking. Very motivated.
  • Looked at basic social activities & how they are interpreted online – listening, responding, speaking, sharing. (On Twitter & Facebook – use HootSuite – need these tools to manage all this stuff)  @NLM4Caregivers | Facebook
  • She’s critical of what they say you “have” to do. Do want you need to do.
  • Twitter hashtag library. Find out what hashtags the people we want to reach are using.
  • TweetChat – great way to participate in a hashtag conversation easily. Fast paced though!
  • Twitter lists – can be used to have a “trusted” list – can more easily vet things.
  • Tweet Bank – bank your tweets & reuse them.
  • Experiment, be patient, assess, promote, establish relationship, automate & reuse, be realistic, fail.
  • Communication isn’t enough – need a place to send them.
  • Moer experimentation, more connection, more research.