The most serious challenge we have as virtual librarians is marketing to increase visibility. For the most part, marketing means getting our virtual library and information services in front of our patrons, at the right time with the right information as they need it. Marketing means keeping our patrons aware of the services we offer, providing help to meet their needs.
Virtual librarians—those who work in offices away from the main work force—must market regularly to remind researchers, staff, and clients of services, content, products, and training sessions. The challenge is to market regularly without losing your patrons’ attention or interest.
Marketing regularly (without losing the client base)
As virtual librarians we must hone our marketing message. Emphasize assistance with:
- Identifying initial research problems and projects,
- Mapping out the research process,
- Acquiring statistical sources, and
- Exploring additional questions and tangential topics.
The whole idea is to market to remain visible—to keep information services front and center.
As seasoned professionals, we know there’s a difference between helping the patron find the information they need and doing the research for them. It’s a fine line information professionals walk, particularly when working in a virtual mode. Virtual librarians often provide both research advice and retrieval of information, depending upon the complexity of the query and the speed with which clients require information. The ultimate challenge for the virtual librarian is to keep patrons asking for assistance in retrieving materials on diverse reference topics.
In this era of Google and Wikipedia, databases and reference tools are often the last resource our patrons consult. As virtual librarians, we must model the use of subject specific free and fee-based reference resources. By providing regular, targeted, and practical training sessions, we encourage researchers to consult the virtual information center even when other, more generic resources are easily available. Regularly announcing new (and reviewing established) reference tools and databases reminds clients that virtual librarians can access specific subject research needs. Honing training and sharing knowledge keeps virtual librarians ‘front and center’ when clients think speed is of the essence, especially in this era of “good enough.”
Report on usage of virtual information services on a monthly basis. Memos and reports should emphasize and demonstrate the benefits of the provider-end user partnership. Examples within the reports might include:
- Case studies of tightly targeted research results
- ROI and cost benefits of virtual information services
- Improved accuracy of research strategies and retrieval through virtual information center contacts
- Use of multiple communication avenues, phone, e-mail, text, video
Use weekly e-mails and blog posts to increase visibility of virtual reference services. Develop written, verbal, and visual training and marketing materials that include:
- Defined standard services and specialties with examples from real queries.
- One to five minute videos about:
- Retrieving information efficiently
- Using the help feature effectively
- Asking questions
Internal challenges (giving them what they need)
For the virtual information professional, the challenges are never-ending. The variety of queries depends upon the contract and the working environment. There are two primary types of virtual librarians; those working for a corporation or organization distributed across a wide geographical area, and those working through a number of contracts with a diverse group of businesses. In both instances, the variety and diversity of queries may be the same, as is the challenge of marketing and visibility. Ultimately, virtual information professionals must be able to juggle a variety of reference requests and deliver each set of results in a timely manner, thereby fulfilling marketing promises.
The continuing challenge remains staying visible, and marketing to the needs of researchers within the organization or those who contract for reference services. Marketing is a constant two-fold initiative; creating awareness of the virtual reference service itself, and training on the various databases, and catalogs to cultivate a high level of reference skills for patrons.
Summing it up
Remaining visible while working as a virtual librarian is a continuing challenge. Targeted and concerted marketing is the key to remaining visible—and an integral part of any research initiative. Providing services to help researchers brainstorm, look for new resources, and find existing resources are imperative. Delivering promised services in a timely manner is equally important. Visibility for virtual librarians includes marketing and emphasizing flexible reference services and providing specialized research skills in a timely and efficient manner.
My next post will be about building skills as virtual librarians using diverse communication channels.
Miriam B. Kahn, MLS, PhD provides education and consulting for libraries, archives, corporations, and individuals. See Miriam’s pieces for Lucidea covering library technology and skills for special librarians. For more on how to succeed in a virtual library, please read this post on librarians and versatility in virtual library settings.
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