Sunday, 19 June 2011

Are we flogging our USPs enough?

Challenged, as I was, by my deputy, about the fact that someone somewhere should write a little something about unique selling points and Cambridge libraries, here I am putting pen to paper (so to speak).

Actually I wasn't going to do this, as I am part cynical (yep - the powers that be will just rip the heart out of the service whatever I try and do), and part so passionate about the whole thing that I feared I would just rant and end up in a truly volcanic state. Those that know me well would suspect the latter would dominate the former.

But I decided to take up the challenge! Is it possible to be dispassionate and objective about how and why library services in Cambridge have USPs that should be valued, treasured and above all - recognised - in the face of the impending doom of financial cuts and economic cuts?

(The problem is that as soon as you start talking about USPs it's so hard NOT to be passionate! After all offering a 'unique' service is terribly attractive to me.)

On behalf of the Faculty I have been running focus groups for all year groups of undergrads to talk about the teaching they receive from the Faculty. All groups were really clear about two things - firstly the supervision system here in Cambridge is unique and special, albeit time-intensive on teaching staff, and that's one reason why they come here; secondly the off-the-wall, way-out lectures by eminent profs in the field that make them think, are another reason why they choose Cambridge. They were - yes - passionate about the impact that these things have on them. I would say these are unique selling points.

Unique selling points imply that there is a specific benefit to be gained. A USP is, of course, 'unique' which means that it is not offered elsewhere. It is compelling enough that people will be drawn towards what is on offer almost without realizing that they are, and inevitably many follow to find what's available. Cambridge clearly offers the undergrads a unique and beneficial teaching environment; the University's USP is vital for the future when undergrads will inevitably ask what they are getting for their 9K. However the Colleges, who pay for much of the supervision system are calling for a reduction in supervisions; they are running out of money just like everyone else. But if it is true that supervisions are one of the highly regarded USPs in Cambridge, perhaps it is a slightly short sighted solution. After all removing a USP may mean fewer future applicants. Cambridge needs to find all the USPs it can and market them unmercifully.

And so to libraries in Cambridge. What are our USPs? Which of them will disappear under a new regime of federalistion? Will we be in danger of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater in our short sighted attempt to save money? Will we throw out exactly those things that unwittingly our users are most attracted to?

In our Faculty Library the students tell us:
"I would go first to a librarian in the English Faculty for support re: resources, referencing, finding books than ....other places"
"the little touches of the screen with the daily quotation, the merchandise, the effort made on special occasions like Valentine's Day create the most fantastic atmosphere: your passion and energy is evident and really admirable"
"staff go beyond the call of duty time and time again - far from just providing books, the faculty library is a powerhouse of resources and accumulated wisdom"

Selling our services in Cambridge is such an important thing to do - we should get stuck into advocacy, gather our Library champions around us and tell Cambridge applicants that they will get a better deal here from the Library services than anywhere else.


  1. I didn't realise my comment made such an impression! I was also thinking of how academic liaison librarians in "normal" universities (such as the ones I went to) would love to have the close (at least geographical) connection we have to our faculties. The potential for proper embedding of the library in faculty work is so much greater when you're literally the other side of a door, and the degree to which we can tailor our services to the specific subject needs of our students has to be one of our most important assets.

  2. you want to watch that deputy of yours!

    I x

  3. yes it's an asset but I'm not sure that it is a USP.

  4. Great blog Libby - our Education students say similar things - time to start articulating Ed Fac Library USPs I think! And a good discussion topic for the next FDL meeting?