Book Review: Marketing Today's Academic Library: A Bold New Approach to Communicating with Students

Marketing Today's Academic Library: A Bold New Approach to Communicating with Students.
Brian Mathews. ALA Editions,  2009.

marketing today's academic library book cover image Many librarians do not think that libraries need to advertise, and Brian Mathews is a part of this group. He posits that students will always be drawn to the library as a place. Instead of attempting to sell the reader on the idea that libraries should advertise out of a need to attract students, he frames a discussion on the power of marketing to create a meaningful, passionate relationship between the library and the user. Mathews describes methods through which the library and librarians can become, as he calls it, ubiquitous--meaning to become a salient source of reliable help and scholarly inspiration to those within our campus communities, rather than operating simply as the sum of our resources and services.

Mathews is aware that some readers will have a difficult time applying concepts from the business world to libraries. In reaction to this, he deftly begins each chapter with an example to clearly identify why a particular business model or idea is appropriate for use in libraries. One striking instance of this can be found in Chapter 7, “Developing Brand Strategies.” Before laying out a plan to assist academic libraries in understanding and intentionally creating brands, Mathews shares a personal account of his golf game: as a self-identified terrible golfer, he purchases the same club that Tiger Woods uses, a Nike driver, and though he knows that his golf prowess has not dramatically improved, his outlook on stepping up to the tee has been enhanced. Then he presents a chapter that empowers librarians to create brands with visual, value, and emotional layers to inspire in users that same kind of assurance. With the ubiquity of search engines like Google and Bing, which have clear brand recognition, it is wise for libraries to develop and promote appealing brand strategies for our services that users can identify.

This book has clear appeal to libraries and librarians who wish to take control of their image. Yet, in guiding a reader to that seemingly finite goal, Mathews proposes a process that takes a holistic approach to reviewing a library’s relationship with its users, its self-identified services and values, and the effect and/or effectiveness of marketing strategies. By advocating and directing libraries to conduct market research, assess their users, and build partnerships with campus units and students groups, the author ensures that a library has mechanisms in place to provide feedback more substantive than anecdotal accounts of how it is used and perceived by campus constituents.

It would be easy for a book on library marketing to fall short of a reader’s expectation by espousing theory without providing sensible plans for implementation. The reader of Marketing Today’s Academic Library, however, will not be disappointed as Mathews not only provides detailed explanation of marketing actions throughout, but he also devotes an entire chapter, “Putting it All Together,” to provide complete marketing plan examples using the models previously described.

This publication is an exceptional read for new academic librarians, as Mathews writes with a conversational ease. His tone is convivial, like a colleague giving advice. Though this is not a how-to guide on library marketing, Mathews effectively begins a well-informed conversation on the topic. However, it is arguable that the advice he offers could be used in any library setting. Of course, the text and examples have an academic library focus, but the core of the models could easily be adapted and applied to public, special, and school libraries. Essentially, this book is about finding ways to better relate and interact with library users and shaping a community’s perceptions of the library. Marketing Today’s Academic Library is a helpful, informative work with far reaching value.

For more from Brian Mathews, see his blog The Ubiquitous Librarian.

Reviewed by: Willie Miller. Willie is an Assistant Librarian and Liaison to the School of Informatics and the School of Journalism at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI). He is a graduate of the School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. Feel free to email him (wmmiller @ with any comments or questions.