Marketing and Market Research for Digital Library Collections

Before you begin a digital project there are a series of questions you should ask. Usually, questions regarding users and marketing are glossed over, but they important and, in my experience, too little effort is spent on them.

Who Are Your Users?

A catchall as to whom will benefit from a digital collection is: scholars, teachers, and students. This one sentence response may be for an internal project proposal or just a simple justification; however, it’s useless. Are you building a collection just to build it, because it interests you? Or, are you building a collection to create a resource for a specific group of people? How does a college student interact with online information versus an elementary school student? What might a faculty member at a research institution find useful versus a professor at a community college?

HTML and CSS are easy. If you’re taking the time to create a digital collection, why create one interface? The backend is the most complicated. Why not have interfaces designed for your different user groups, instead of one interface that may now leave some of your users clicking elsewhere? Are libraries adopting the use of stories from scrum? If not, why not?

The Field of Dreams Mentality

Just because Google and Bing will index your site, doesn’t mean you don’t need to proactively market your digital collection. Researchers, students, librarians and community members will not randomly come across the resource you created. If you build a collection with a group of users in mind, you need to reach those users afterward through a sustained campaign. How do you do that?


Okay, you can email a listserve and tell your mom, but you need to do more. Does your collection have a blog? Do you and your project members actively use social media to promote the collection? Have you reached out to public radio and television stations? Have you visited schools and given demonstrations or lectures? Do you write Wikipedia articles based on your content? And, instead of doing this stuff once, do you actively publicize the collection?

These are just a few ideas. I’d love to hear from other librarians about their process when developing digital collections and how they market them afterward.

If you’ve been involved in digital library collections, who are your users and how do you market your project?


6 thoughts on “Marketing and Market Research for Digital Library Collections”

  1. Nice post. I’ll share one thing that we’re doing at Duke with digital collections and Pinterest. We set up a Pinterest account for the Duke University Libraries last May, without any particular goal in mind. We created some boards, pinned some stuff, followed some people. We were trying to push content out there, including digital collections, but we really had no coherent strategy in mind.

    Gradually, a strategy emerged on its own. One of our conservators suggested that we incorporate share buttons with all of our digital collections. Our digital collections staff only started doing this a few months ago, but some items are already getting pinned a lot. (Example:

    The hottest content seems to be vintage advertisements, documentary photography, historical sheet music, and Duke history. These are all areas where we have strong library collections. This is also the type of content that lends itself well to Pinterest. (Our text-focused digital collections aren’t getting a lot of Pinterest love, obviously.)

    It turns out that Pinterest is actually a pretty good tool for promoting digital library collections, and one that capitalizes on our strengths as an institution. As librarians, we describe everything we digitize with detailed metadata. That metadata helps the digitized items show up in Google search queries and get pinned.

    We have no way of knowing if people are pinning our stuff for any legitimate research purpose. But to some extent, who cares? Use is use. And if it makes our collections more visible and reinforces our reputation, all the better.

    Pinterest lets you see a stream of things being pinned from any “source” domain. Here’s what people are currently pinning from our library site:

    Best of all, this is marketing that other people are doing for us. We don’t have to “push” these digitized materials out there. We just make them shareable, and they spread organically as people come across them.

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  5. Great post! But how do you frame your survey questions to get the right responses from your target audience? Thanks

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