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Book Review: The Accidental Library Marketer

Jayne Williams
Columbia, Missouri

book cover

Marketing is pertinent in the library profession today, but many librarians who have inadvertently found themselves as their library’s marketer are not engaged in the true marketing process. In an effort to fill the gap in librarians’ education, The Accidental Library Marketer, by Kathy Dempsey, presents the process of true marketing and provides the knowledge and basics of marketing as it applies to libraries. Dempsey is a writer, editor, consultant, and passionate library advocate. She holds a degree in Journalism from Temple University and has years of experience working in libraries and publishing companies. Since 1994 Dempsey has been the sole editor of the Marketing Library Services (MLS) newsletter, published by Information Today, Inc. The MLS newsletter covers related topics in addition to marketing such as advocacy, fundraising, promotion, public relations, and outreach. The Accidental Library Marketer introduces the concept that the library profession should start thinking of libraries as businesses.

Dempsey starts with describing the current climate and the general public’s perception of libraries simply as non-essential book repositories run by shushing spinsters. This image is entirely too familiar in part because little has been done that refutes the ugly stereotypes with clear and more complimentary images. Dempsey cites the lack of marketing education and marketing courses in MLS or LIS programs as contributing to this problem. Librarians become accidental marketers due to the lack of formal training and the necessity for libraries to communicate their value and services. The chapters that follow serve as a guide through the process of true marketing for accidental marketers at any library with varying experience levels.

Most libraries are not engaged in true marketing, which is defined as the “process of asking people what they want, then creating and delivering it, then asking people how well you did it”. The first step is assessment. If you’re don’t conduct needs assessments, then you have no proof that the library provides any value to the public. Dempsey recognizes that assessment is likely to be the most difficult step in the process and provides a foundation, which readers can work from. For every assessment method Dempsey provides, she explains its value, instructs how to begin, provides useful resources, and offers advice based on experience. There are ideas for collecting quantitative and qualitative data to fit every budget. Especially helpful are the numerous checklists for getting started, which cover everything from the library’s physical and online environment to collections and services. A value calculator, created by the Massachusetts Library Association is another useful assessment tool ( Value calculators are easy-to-use and are effective way to show stakeholders a return on their investment. For an example see one on the National Network of Libraries of Medicine MidContinental Region’s web site ( You don’t have to do everything at once nor do you have to go it alone. Focus on one goal at time, communicate its message to your patrons, pay attention to their feedback, evaluate it, and repeat. She suggests to emulate best practices of other libraries and to study their methodology.

Dempsey is often frank in identifying what libraries think they’re doing and what they need to start doing. Readers frustrated by library staff attitudes of doing what they have “always” done will find this refreshing. Although she relates library services to businesses on a few occasions, the concept of library as business is not forceful. An effective marketing strategy is one grounded in the fundamental business practices. Libraries as business are ones are more readily to adopt continual assessment processes that will ultimately save time and money from making evidence-based decisions. Libraries as business will continually evaluate and write plans that align with the organization’s purpose and mission.

Dempsey brings her knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm for libraries together to guide the accidental marketers through the marketing process. The Accidental Library Marketer is an insightful guide for those lacking any formal training or experience in marketing to seasoned promotional staffers.

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