Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I'm Not Breaking New Ground Here

(photo from iStockWizard)

Nor am I re-inventing the wheel, but when I went to Office Max last night to pick up some shipping supplies, I was struck by a few things as I walked up to the store:
  • They have partnered with Sprint and are now selling phones/service with them
  • They prominently displayed that they were a FedEx delivery location
  • They have a print center where they can make everything from business cards to t-shirts
  • Lots of ads for the Blackberry Playbook (as well as one in store which you could NOT interact with...grump)

I'm sure you see that list and think, "Well yeah, it's an office supply store, why wouldn't they offer those services?"

But that's exactly my point. Which of those items is really an office supply? Maybe the print center, but the rest of the things are not office supplies. Yes, they are things an office/business might need/use, but they are not pens, pencils, paper, ink toner (they can refill your empty cartridges for you!), chairs, desks, and so on.

At some point office supply stores become a place where you could get everything from pens and pencils to computers and printes or candy and plants. They offer as many services that can used by the general public than those that can be used by the business community. And many of them have nothing to do with the items you'd put in your desk so you can take notes at your next meeting.

It's all nearly ubiquitous now that when you think of an office supply store, you assume you can ship something from there, that you can print brochures, that you might be able to buy a mobile phone w/service from them, that you can buy technology at the store, and much much more.

That much much more is almost a mantra I hear from librarians about what the library is. Yes, it has books, but it's much much more. I'd like to be more like the office supply store. No, I don't necessarily want us to start selling mobile phone plans or shipping things for patrons (but let's talk about printing brochures or providing technology, or heck, combining the two and helping patrons make ebooks etc.).

No, what I want is for us to a better job of getting our services out there for people to see. Libraries have traditionally been averse to advertising. I think this stems, legitimately, from the fact that many of us are public employees and it feels weird (or wrong even) to advertise like we're selling cars or widgets. But we do offer a lot of services for our patrons, and we need start "selling" those to the people.

We probably can't afford television ads, but have you asked? What about an ad on a nearby mall kiosk? How about a checkout station at a local science fiction convention? Could your consortium afford a billboard off the highway? A ad during a baseball game on the big board? The local newspaper? Sponsor a program on NPR?

There are a lot of creative ways to advertise your services (one of my favorites is to place ads on the inside of pizza boxes) but they only help if you actually use them.

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