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?