What Is Content Marketing and Why Should Libraries Care?

As a librarian at a public library, why should you care about content marketing? 

The answer is simple: you should care because the way your community accesses content — whether for education or entertainment — has changed. Individuals expect great content to present itself when they need it, and to be contextualized in a way that is relevant to their interests.

Content marketing is how businesses are adapting to this change.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, we should first answer the question: What is content marketing?

Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience — with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

The Content Marketing Institute

In short, content marketing is about delivering value that is relevant and timely. You want to attract and appeal to consumers even when they’re not looking to buy something. Effective content marketing encourages conversion, without disrupting or outright “selling.”  


Why Traditional Advertising Stopped Working

Traditional advertising strategies — like newspaper ads and billboards — worked incredibly well for a long time. The problem is, modern consumers (and modern library patrons) have totally changed the way they discover new products and services. 

Research from Gartner found that buyers now spend only 17% of the buying process actually talking to potential suppliers, whereas 27% of their time is spent researching independently online.


Do the results apply to your patrons?  

Yes. In an era when nearly everything can be purchased or accessed online, including books, movies, and other items and services the public library provides, there’s a good chance your patrons’ consumption habits have changed along with the participants in Gartner’s study. 

Consumers have greater access to free or nearly free content on the internet (i.e. Netflix, Instagram, and Wikipedia). The rise of e-commerce giants like Amazon has made shopping more convenient than ever. But these channels provide more than just access: they offer additional information — like reviews, high-quality photos, synopses, and related items — that not only guide consumers towards a purchase decision, but also make them feel good about their choice. 

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With communities across the globe turning more and more to the internet to consume information, it’s important for public libraries to ask themselves this question: How does our online presence compare to the competition?


Enter Content Marketing

This is where content marketing shines. With fun content, public libraries can grab — and keep — their community’s attention online. By highlighting your role as a trusted source of knowledge and entertainment through great content, you’re more likely to guide a patron towards checking out a title (or several). 

But how do you create great content?

Step 1: Locate the experts

First and foremost, effective content delivers consistent value to your target audience. Content marketing isn’t about churning out content as quickly as possible — think quality over quantity. 

You can create high-quality content by identifying the experts and enthusiasts at your library who have a unique, but relatable point of view. The best content is specific, but approachable, and delivers value that only you could provide. Is there a history buff at your library? Ask them to think of interesting ways to talk about history — for example, during Women’s History Month they might create a list of biographies about women’s rights activists throughout the 20th century. The possibilities are as diverse and broad as your staff’s imaginations.  

Step 2: Define your strategy

A great way to approach content marketing is to split your strategy into two categories: evergreen content and seasonal content.


Evergreen Content

Evergreen content offers lasting value no matter the time of year. A great example of evergreen library content is an online book list that includes classic romance novels. After all, literature like Pride and Prejudice or Wuthering Heights aren’t going out of style any time soon. 


Seasonal Content

Seasonal content, on the other hand, is relevant to specific times during the year. Seasonal content can center around the seasons, holidays, traditions, cultural heritage observances, or other events that are recurring and/or time-sensitive. 

When choosing a seasonal event to create content around, consider how it reflects your local community. For example, a library in New Mexico may feel more inclined to feature a book list of prominent Hispanic writers. On the other hand, the New York City Public Library might emphasize Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah more than libraries in other regions. 


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Our new guide Best Practices for Seasonal Content Marketing breaks down content marketing principles, approaches to seasonal content, and the real-world content strategies used by Chicago and Saint Paul public libraries. CLICK HERE to get your copy!