By Josh Nicholson, Co-Founder and CEO of scite
Librarians and vendors both want their services and tools to be used. Whether it is a journal, a database, or some other tool, its helpfulness is a direct outcome of its use. Getting the right resources to students or faculty at a university can be challenging. Indeed, students have expressed apprehension about asking librarians for help. This apprehension might have many sources, including generational willingness to simply ask someone for help, confusing terminology or product names such as “Open Athens” or “Shibboleth”, and an unclear hierarchy or distinction between different librarians or even students (really, how many students and faculty do you think actually know the difference between a scholarly communications librarian, an e-resource librarian, and a reference librarian?).
How can librarians and vendors work together to overcome the challenges of working with students and faculty and better serve their patrons/users?
Without being too prescriptive, I think one obvious shortcoming of most publishers, vendors, as well as librarian services, is that they are not reaching out to where the students actually consume most of their information. Thus, the first step seems like an obvious one: go where the students and faculty are and speak their language. Vendors and librarians should share strategies and marketing tips as well. The knowledge that librarians have around the student population is likely something that a vendor can’t replicate and vice versa.
One surprising marketing channel that we’ve discovered at scite has been TikTok. While you might think that TikTok is mostly viral dances and memes, you’d be wrong, or at least partially wrong. Indeed, this was the incorrect assumption we had made until hundreds of students started writing to us asking for student discounts in a matter of days. Digging into it deeper, we discovered that we had gone viral on TikTok, with a single video amassing over 440,000 views.
Digging deeper we found a world where students and peers shared various tips, “hacks,” and learnings organized and discoverable by the hashtags “studytok” or “studyhacks.” The conversation about problems librarians and vendors are trying to solve was happening and it was loud with over 2.5B views under the studytok hashtag alone. We just weren’t listening. We now use TikTok as a way to reach new students and update our current users about new uses and features. These videos can be shared not only on TikTok but in newsletters, chats, and other more traditional marketing channels. And don’t worry, you can be effective without learning the word “yeet!” Is your library on TikTok? Is your tool on TikTok?
Share data about what works!
As a vendor, we know what works on our side for reaching out to faculty and students but we don’t know what has been most effective always from the university’s perspective. Thankfully, some universities have shared their strategies with us or simply asked for different types of training videos and/or guides. This ultimately leads to more effective marketing collateral that we as a vendor can provide to libraries as well as new integrations and partnerships. Accordingly, scite is partnered with Lean Library and the adoption of scite at a Lean Library institution is significantly larger at non-Lean Library institutions because it brings scite into an already established workflow. Simply adding a new database onto your database list or writing a libguide might be easy but also might not be enough.
Some of the most effective marketing is probably some of the weirdest. Make fun videos about how the library works! Dance in the stacks! Share strange resources the library has to show the breadth of coverage. Or use your meme-skills to tweet like AJ Boston, who recently shared a comparison between libraries and bras, a tweet that got thousands of likes.
In general, research is a serious endeavor, but that doesn’t mean that all communications about tools, services, and advice have to be dry and drab. We have a wealth of technology at our fingertips and new ways of reaching one another, it’s up to us to improve how we do our outreach. If you have any interesting or particularly exciting ideas that you want to try or have experimented with in the past, please share them with us using the hashtag #charlestonlibrarytips!
About the Author: Josh Nicholson is co-founder and CEO of scite (scite.ai), an award-winning research tool that helps users better discover, understand, and evaluate research through Smart Citations. Previously, he was founder and CEO of the Winnower and CEO of Authorea (acquired 2018 by Wiley), two companies aimed at improving how scientists publish and collaborate. He holds a PhD in cell biology from Virginia Tech, where his research focused on the effects of aneuploidy on chromosome segregation in cancer.