Earlier this week, myself and Emma Illingworth (@wigglesweets and half of Librarians on the Loose) presented a joint workshop at CoFHE/UC&R Joint Conference 2010 titled “Your library brand and the student experience”. Although neither of us are directly involved in this sort of work in our institutions, it’s something we’re both passionate about and spend time researching, so we wanted to pull this together and share some of what we’ve learnt with others.

Overview of the session

As the title of the workshop suggests, there were two main strands; the library brand itself, and its relationship with the student experience. We spent the first part of the workshop with activities and discussions about the library brand, including sharing some of the useful theoretical aspects to building and maintaining a strong brand. Emma and I were keen to emphasise the brand as the concept – the story of the organisation/library, rather than just the visual elements that people immediately think of. This seems to be a big hurdle though, and even myself at times have been known to initially think about logos and slogans when I hear the term “brand”. It’s about so much more than that though, and I think in many libraries (and other organisations), consideration of the brand (and marketing in general) comes low down the list of priorities and is thought of purely as the visual promotional tools such as logos, slogans, leaflets, posters, powerpoint presentations etc. In reality, everything the library does – every single interaction with a user or potential user will have an impact on the library brand. We don’t own the brand; it exists in the mind of the user, and the decisions we make about all aspects of the organisation will have an impact on brand perception, whether it’s in a positive or negative way. I really liked this quote from Howard Schulz, CEO of Starbucks in 1998:

Authentic brands…emanate from everything the company does, from store design and site selection to training, production, packaging and merchandise buying. In companies with strong brands, every senior manager has to evaluate each decision by asking, “Will it strengthen or dilute the brand?

We also touched upon creating the brand strategy using layers – visual value, and emotional – as mentioned in Mathews (2009), and used an academic library example (information literacy programme) to illustrate this, before discussing some of the elements of a strong brand:

  • Clear, meaningful, unique message
  • Consistent message
  • Commitment from all staff
  • Ongoing effort to deliver
  • Visual elements to complement the brand

After we’d covered the basics of what the library brand means to us, we had a short quiz about library brands where people had to identify the brand based on some of the visual elements we identified (logo, strapline, library layout, colours etc.).

Then we moved on to discuss the student experience and how the library brand can impact on the student experience. This is something Emma and I had struggled with a little bit whilst we were putting together the workshop (well, I did!). We spent hours trying to come up with a model which illustrated the complex relationship between the library brand and the student experience, which was the core focus of our presentation. In the end we realised that none of the models we had conceptualised fully explained the relationship between each of the influencing factors. We decided on the key factors which we felt were included in this relationship – student needs, schools and services, and brand perception – and recognised that the relationship between these and even within them was too complex to demonstrate in a simple form. We settled on a funnel model, showing that each of these factors contribute (in possibly varying amounts) to the overall student experience. Emma found loads of great research about the student experience and how the library and its brand impacts on this, and presented a summary of each of the aspects we chose for the model and how they relate to the student experience.

You can see the slides from the presentation below:

The collaboration process

Emma and I had discussed working together following the New Professionals Conference 2009, where it was clear we had similar professional interests. We’d wanted to collaborate on marketing, something which we are both passionate about, and put together a proposal for CoFHE/UC&R Conference when we saw the call for papers – we were amazed when we found out we’d been chosen to present at the conference, and then the hard work began. We’ve been planning it for a few months now and despite the geographical distance (West Midlands and Brighton!) we’ve managed to meet a few times to discuss the workshop, and the rest has been done online. Meeting in person definitely helped us formulate the structure of the session and get our heads around the different research we’d found and concepts we wanted to bring to the workshop. I’ve really enjoyed working with Emma, and although we both had doubtful moments throughout the process of putting the workshop together, I think it was (mostly) a success. We’ve definitely learnt a lot from the experience – in terms of planning the content and also the actual workshop itself.

Lessons learnt from the workshop

We weren’t really sure what to expect from the workshop but having experienced Emma’s presentations before I was keen to ensure we included activities to break up the session (she’s great at coming up with these!). The session was fully booked quite quickly, which we were really pleased with, but meant that the room was fairly cramped and stuffy. We made sure to let as much air into the room before the session (it was after the lunch break), but had to shut the blinds during the session as people couldn’t see us by the window – not a bad thing I thought but the attendees seemed keen to see us! I would have liked more opportunity for engagement from the participants but think the size of the group and the layout of the room may have been better suited for group work (we had 5 mins group work at the beginning but not really much time). I think in future maybe it would be preferable to have alternative ways of achieving the same (e.g. quizzes on PowerPoint or on paper like a pub quiz), and adapting the style depending on the room and the group – definitely something I’ll consider in future. Despite our nerves, our style was quite informal and I think this suited the style of the conference workshops in this case. It was great to have the support of a friend and colleague to present with, and think it also helped with the organisation, particularly with a larger group.

What next?

There’s always more to be done and work to be improved on. I definitely hope to continue presenting at conferences, and would like to continue collaborative work with colleagues from the profession (and potentially outside the profession too). Two minds are better than one, and I think we both learnt a lot from the experience in terms of content about the topic and also in conference workshop planning and presenting. I’d certainly like to work with Emma again, and we have discussed continuing the research and possible publishing a paper in future.

Please let us know what you think, especially if you have any further thoughts about the relationship between the library brand and the student experience or views on the model. You may also be interested to read an attendee’s view on the workshop.

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