At the height of the dot-com boom--a decade ago, in other words--some observers couldn't see a real role for public libraries in a world of digitized media. By now libraries have found their place, assuming new roles and new importance in the digital age, with Internet access and electronic resources that bring the world's knowledge, history, and new ideas to users' fingertips.
Many market themselves on the basis of multimedia collections that include print, audio, and video materials. The Playaway audiobook (shown above) is a good example. Instead of borrowing audio books on cassette tape or CD, library patrons can borrow a tiny preloaded Playaway, smaller than an MP3 player. Just plug in a headphone or speaker and listen while on the go or doing something else. Local libraries often have extensive DVD collections, including how-to videos, PBS dramas, Hollywood movies, and much more. Often these multimedia collections are as popular as or more popular than books in the collection.
Valuable ideas for library marketing come from vendors such as ProQuest and Gale, which supply information and databases, plus newsletters such as those by Information Today. Many blogs offer advice about and share best practices of library marketing, including The M Word and Bubble Room from Library Journal. Libraries are taking up social media marketing and using every tool at their disposal to serve their "customers," including pre-school kids, students, adults, job-seekers, entrepreneurs, and businesses.
Today libraries are successfully positioning themselves as hubs of intellectual and cultural life, not as mere repositories of books. They deliver educational programs, reading clubs, fun-filled kids' events, and much more. No matter how the technology changes, libraries will continue to evolve to serve the needs of their communities--which is, in the end, the essence of marketing.