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David Lee King

Who Are Your Competitors?



Library Rentals?Who are your competitors? Umm … David … we don’t have competitors … we’re a public library. I think you DO indeed have competitors. You probably have more competitors than you ever did, for that matter.

Think about it for a sec.

If I want a book, where can I go? The public library… unless it’s a popular book. Then I’m put on a waiting list. Or, I could just visit Barnes & Noble or Amazon and buy the book. I could even hang out at a Barnes & Noble for awhile, and read it there without buying. And drink a latte while reading, for that matter.

How about movies? Well, some libraries don’t carry blockbuster hits, so there’s really no competition there – come get your old documentaries here!

But my library carries new popular movies. And we have competition. The local Blockbuster and Hollywood Video rental stores are certainly alternatives. Also those Redbox movie dealies that are installed a couple places around Topeka. And Netflix. Which delivers to your door for a small monthly fee. You can even rent a movie from iTunes. Why spend any money? I can simply visit Hulu or YouTube for a quick video fix.

Music? Same thing. iTunes, blip.fm, last.fm, Pandora. Etc.

Gaming – surely that’s something we have down better. Possibly. Unless you have a mega-church in town. They probably have a better gaming setup than you.

Hmm … reference. That’s what we do well. Unless you venture online (see previous posts). Here, we are usually the last resort – people go to friends, family, and online services before us (read the OCLC Perceptions report for more info on that).

OK – so libraries have competition. What can you do about that? Here are some thoughts – please add more:

  • What do you do better than everyone else? Focus on that. Prioritize that.
  • You’re a natural community gathering place. Focus on your community. Feed it. Grow it.
  • Ask people why they don’t use your library. Use that information to improve your services.
  • Find your largest population segment of “potential patrons” and focus on growing patrons there.
  • Don’t focus on yourself or your stuff – instead, turn your focus on your customers and their needs.
  • Maybe it’s something as simple as rearranging your stuff so normal people can actually find things. We can do better than LC or Dewey call number order. Really.
  • Work on improving the experience at your library – both in the library and digitally.

What are you doing to compete for your patrons’ attention? And … since it’s a competition – what can we do to win?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/ Aaron Tay

    Hmm, how does this analysis change if we are talking about academic libraries? I guess we have fewer competitors than Public libraries? Or am I being complacent?

  • http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/ Aaron Tay

    Hmm, how does this analysis change if we are talking about academic libraries? I guess we have fewer competitors than Public libraries? Or am I being complacent?

  • http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/ Aaron Tay

    Hmm, how does this analysis change if we are talking about academic libraries? I guess we have fewer competitors than Public libraries? Or am I being complacent?

  • davidleeking

    Aaron – good question! Academics, help me out … but I think academic libraries have competition, too. Google, B&N are definitely competitors. Google for basic research, B&N for alternative university commons.

    Possibly, there’s less competition at the graduate level and up… But for undergraduates, I think there’s some steep competition going on.

  • http://ramblibrarian.blogspot.com/ Martin

    I agree totally. I think public libraries are entering a time when competition from all the places you suggest will fundamentally change what libraries do.

    If I could expand on your idea of focussing on what we do best. The OCLC Perceptions report found overwhelmingly that people see books as the library brand. We must make sure that we make it increasingly easy for people to get hold of books from the library to ensure our future.

    Secondly, many public libraries collect local material that is not readily available anywhere else. If we can improve access to this material (I’m thinking digitisation here), rather than keeping it locked away in an archive, libraries could draw in new customers. We’ve seen the results that cultural organisations have achieved by adding historical photos to the Flickr Commons. The future involves making unique data and services available in the cloud and letting the customers find us.

  • http://ramblibrarian.blogspot.com/ Martin

    I agree totally. I think public libraries are entering a time when competition from all the places you suggest will fundamentally change what libraries do.

    If I could expand on your idea of focussing on what we do best. The OCLC Perceptions report found overwhelmingly that people see books as the library brand. We must make sure that we make it increasingly easy for people to get hold of books from the library to ensure our future.

    Secondly, many public libraries collect local material that is not readily available anywhere else. If we can improve access to this material (I’m thinking digitisation here), rather than keeping it locked away in an archive, libraries could draw in new customers. We’ve seen the results that cultural organisations have achieved by adding historical photos to the Flickr Commons. The future involves making unique data and services available in the cloud and letting the customers find us.

  • http://ramblibrarian.blogspot.com Martin

    I agree totally. I think public libraries are entering a time when competition from all the places you suggest will fundamentally change what libraries do.

    If I could expand on your idea of focussing on what we do best. The OCLC Perceptions report found overwhelmingly that people see books as the library brand. We must make sure that we make it increasingly easy for people to get hold of books from the library to ensure our future.

    Secondly, many public libraries collect local material that is not readily available anywhere else. If we can improve access to this material (I’m thinking digitisation here), rather than keeping it locked away in an archive, libraries could draw in new customers. We’ve seen the results that cultural organisations have achieved by adding historical photos to the Flickr Commons. The future involves making unique data and services available in the cloud and letting the customers find us.

  • http://bwesty.com/ Brook

    I watched Michael Porter present at a conference and was really intrigued at the idea of picking up more digital services like the ones you mention. Make it easier to use digital books and movies (none of this Windows-only install fussy proprietary software stuff with the ebooks). Totally great idea. It’s important to constantly morph with peoples’ interests so they’ll continue to support us.

  • http://bwesty.com/ Brook

    I watched Michael Porter present at a conference and was really intrigued at the idea of picking up more digital services like the ones you mention. Make it easier to use digital books and movies (none of this Windows-only install fussy proprietary software stuff with the ebooks). Totally great idea. It’s important to constantly morph with peoples’ interests so they’ll continue to support us.

  • http://bwesty.com Brook

    I watched Michael Porter present at a conference and was really intrigued at the idea of picking up more digital services like the ones you mention. Make it easier to use digital books and movies (none of this Windows-only install fussy proprietary software stuff with the ebooks). Totally great idea. It’s important to constantly morph with peoples’ interests so they’ll continue to support us.

  • Karen Wanamaker

    Academic libraries have many of the same competitors as public libraries for the social aspect of the library. For the academic role, we have a huge competitor with the Web and such things as Google Scholar and Wikipedia.

    We need to focus on educating students about WHEN to use the Websites for information and when to stick with online resources such as the databases we provide or refer to print materials. We also need to lure them into the building and educate them (AND the faculty) about our services. It is a waste of time and money to offer so many services and resources and not publicize them to the patrons so that they know to make use of them.

  • Karen Wanamaker

    Academic libraries have many of the same competitors as public libraries for the social aspect of the library. For the academic role, we have a huge competitor with the Web and such things as Google Scholar and Wikipedia.

    We need to focus on educating students about WHEN to use the Websites for information and when to stick with online resources such as the databases we provide or refer to print materials. We also need to lure them into the building and educate them (AND the faculty) about our services. It is a waste of time and money to offer so many services and resources and not publicize them to the patrons so that they know to make use of them.

  • Karen Wanamaker

    Academic libraries have many of the same competitors as public libraries for the social aspect of the library. For the academic role, we have a huge competitor with the Web and such things as Google Scholar and Wikipedia.

    We need to focus on educating students about WHEN to use the Websites for information and when to stick with online resources such as the databases we provide or refer to print materials. We also need to lure them into the building and educate them (AND the faculty) about our services. It is a waste of time and money to offer so many services and resources and not publicize them to the patrons so that they know to make use of them.

  • Wil

    What a good exercise, yes, even for academic librarians. Part of what all libraries do best is good service, going the extra mile to assist, to facilitate. And the basis of that could be looking at our patrons and focusing on their needs,–and not clinging to our historic ideas of doing things (LC or Dewey , e.g.) I agree with all the suggestions given. And, since I’m in an academic library, can see so many potential applications of these ideas. Digitization of primary archival materials as local historic photos & manuscripts; starting a book club (why should this be a uniquely public library thing ?), and hosting other cultural programming, to name but a few.

  • Wil

    What a good exercise, yes, even for academic librarians. Part of what all libraries do best is good service, going the extra mile to assist, to facilitate. And the basis of that could be looking at our patrons and focusing on their needs,–and not clinging to our historic ideas of doing things (LC or Dewey , e.g.) I agree with all the suggestions given. And, since I’m in an academic library, can see so many potential applications of these ideas. Digitization of primary archival materials as local historic photos & manuscripts; starting a book club (why should this be a uniquely public library thing ?), and hosting other cultural programming, to name but a few.

  • Wil

    What a good exercise, yes, even for academic librarians. Part of what all libraries do best is good service, going the extra mile to assist, to facilitate. And the basis of that could be looking at our patrons and focusing on their needs,–and not clinging to our historic ideas of doing things (LC or Dewey , e.g.) I agree with all the suggestions given. And, since I’m in an academic library, can see so many potential applications of these ideas. Digitization of primary archival materials as local historic photos & manuscripts; starting a book club (why should this be a uniquely public library thing ?), and hosting other cultural programming, to name but a few.

  • http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/ Aaron Tay

    I only have a vague idea how OA publishing works, but I suppose if every journal goes OA, one huge value academic libraries provide to academics (access to paid material), disappears.

  • http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/ Aaron Tay

    I only have a vague idea how OA publishing works, but I suppose if every journal goes OA, one huge value academic libraries provide to academics (access to paid material), disappears.

  • http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/ Aaron Tay

    I only have a vague idea how OA publishing works, but I suppose if every journal goes OA, one huge value academic libraries provide to academics (access to paid material), disappears.

  • http://www.LibrariesAreEssential.com/ Kathy Dempsey

    I agree with you, David, that libraries have plenty of competition. Like Rebecca Jones, who commented about this post on your Facebook page, I also ask librarians to ID their competition when I walk them thro the steps of writing a marketing plan. ALL types of libs have competitors, and if you don’t realize who or what it is, how will you ever out-do it?

    In this post, you list many organizations that offer the sorts of services that libs do (netflix, B&N, iTunes, etc). But we also compete with people: When students, scientists, and others have been asked where they DO go for info, one of the top answers is “others like me” or “my peers.” In other words, they ask their buddies in the next room or office. (“Hey Joe, remember that article we read about stem cells last week? Do you recall what that was in?”) Academics “compete” (indirectly) w/ faculty who don’t require or recommend that their students use primary sources from the library. We compete with others who present themselves as “experts” such as those who man online answer boards.

    Another way of looking at this is, what / who do we compete with for students’ / patrons’ attention? The answers here are nearly endless: 24/7 cable and online news outlets, TV, social networks, etc. The actual time and attention people used to reserve for real reading (more than 140 characters at a time) and the pursuit of knowledge is now being spent elsewhere.

    I could name lots of other types of competition, but I don’t want to be tooo depressing. ;-( The point is this: Everyone needs to ponder, identify, and face their various forms of competition. If you don’t know what you’re up against, you can’t tell potential users how you’re better or more useful or more appropriate. For each target market you want to reach, you need to understand what services they use instead of you, so you can explain why you rock more than they do!

  • http://www.LibrariesAreEssential.com/ Kathy Dempsey

    I agree with you, David, that libraries have plenty of competition. Like Rebecca Jones, who commented about this post on your Facebook page, I also ask librarians to ID their competition when I walk them thro the steps of writing a marketing plan. ALL types of libs have competitors, and if you don’t realize who or what it is, how will you ever out-do it?

    In this post, you list many organizations that offer the sorts of services that libs do (netflix, B&N, iTunes, etc). But we also compete with people: When students, scientists, and others have been asked where they DO go for info, one of the top answers is “others like me” or “my peers.” In other words, they ask their buddies in the next room or office. (“Hey Joe, remember that article we read about stem cells last week? Do you recall what that was in?”) Academics “compete” (indirectly) w/ faculty who don’t require or recommend that their students use primary sources from the library. We compete with others who present themselves as “experts” such as those who man online answer boards.

    Another way of looking at this is, what / who do we compete with for students’ / patrons’ attention? The answers here are nearly endless: 24/7 cable and online news outlets, TV, social networks, etc. The actual time and attention people used to reserve for real reading (more than 140 characters at a time) and the pursuit of knowledge is now being spent elsewhere.

    I could name lots of other types of competition, but I don’t want to be tooo depressing. ;-( The point is this: Everyone needs to ponder, identify, and face their various forms of competition. If you don’t know what you’re up against, you can’t tell potential users how you’re better or more useful or more appropriate. For each target market you want to reach, you need to understand what services they use instead of you, so you can explain why you rock more than they do!

  • http://www.LibrariesAreEssential.com Kathy Dempsey

    I agree with you, David, that libraries have plenty of competition. Like Rebecca Jones, who commented about this post on your Facebook page, I also ask librarians to ID their competition when I walk them thro the steps of writing a marketing plan. ALL types of libs have competitors, and if you don’t realize who or what it is, how will you ever out-do it?

    In this post, you list many organizations that offer the sorts of services that libs do (netflix, B&N, iTunes, etc). But we also compete with people: When students, scientists, and others have been asked where they DO go for info, one of the top answers is “others like me” or “my peers.” In other words, they ask their buddies in the next room or office. (“Hey Joe, remember that article we read about stem cells last week? Do you recall what that was in?”) Academics “compete” (indirectly) w/ faculty who don’t require or recommend that their students use primary sources from the library. We compete with others who present themselves as “experts” such as those who man online answer boards.

    Another way of looking at this is, what / who do we compete with for students’ / patrons’ attention? The answers here are nearly endless: 24/7 cable and online news outlets, TV, social networks, etc. The actual time and attention people used to reserve for real reading (more than 140 characters at a time) and the pursuit of knowledge is now being spent elsewhere.

    I could name lots of other types of competition, but I don’t want to be tooo depressing. ;-( The point is this: Everyone needs to ponder, identify, and face their various forms of competition. If you don’t know what you’re up against, you can’t tell potential users how you’re better or more useful or more appropriate. For each target market you want to reach, you need to understand what services they use instead of you, so you can explain why you rock more than they do!

  • http://www.radicalpatron.com/ Jean Costello

    Competion around public library funding has also become intense, with many communities being asked to choose between their library and other departments such as police & fire.

  • http://www.radicalpatron.com/ Jean Costello

    Competion around public library funding has also become intense, with many communities being asked to choose between their library and other departments such as police & fire.

  • http://www.radicalpatron.com Jean Costello

    Competion around public library funding has also become intense, with many communities being asked to choose between their library and other departments such as police & fire.

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    Tejas Shah
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  • http://vvpedulink.ac.in/ Tejas Shah

    I am very glad to know your activities for LIS professionals. Please include me in your mailing list if possible and send the emails.

    Tejas Shah
    Librarian
    VVP Engineering College
    Rajkot-Gujarat-India
    Ph. (0281)2783394

  • http://vvpedulink.ac.in Tejas Shah

    I am very glad to know your activities for LIS professionals. Please include me in your mailing list if possible and send the emails.

    Tejas Shah
    Librarian
    VVP Engineering College
    Rajkot-Gujarat-India
    Ph. (0281)2783394

  • http://vvpedulink.ac.in/ Tejas Shah

    I am very glad to know such activities done by you for library professionals. Please include me in your mailing list and send me such emails.

    Tejas Shah
    Librarian
    VVP Engineerring College
    Rajkot-Gujarat-India
    Ph. (0281)2783394

  • http://vvpedulink.ac.in Tejas Shah

    I am very glad to know such activities done by you for library professionals. Please include me in your mailing list and send me such emails.

    Tejas Shah
    Librarian
    VVP Engineerring College
    Rajkot-Gujarat-India
    Ph. (0281)2783394

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  • davidleeking

    Aaron – good question! Academics, help me out … but I think academic libraries have competition, too. Google, B&N; are definitely competitors. Google for basic research, B&N; for alternative university commons.

    Possibly, there's less competition at the graduate level and up… But for undergraduates, I think there's some steep competition going on.

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