Telling Your Library's Story
"...Libraries in general, and public libraries in particular, serve a uniquely central role in the universe of stories. It's not the only role of libraries - but it may be what you do better than any other institution. Books are only the beginning; stories are central. You need to tell your story. Whether you call it storytelling, marketing, advocacy, promotion, or community outreach, you need to make the library's story heard in your community. You also need to make sure you understand your community's and patrons' stories and how your library can serve those stories, both through participatory networks and other new tools and through more traditional means..." Walt Crawford
Telling the library’s story will ensure that the library in your community is seen as an essential city service. On the State Library of Iowa’s web site is a whole section on Telling the Library Story. Here you will find a plethora of information to help you with public relations.
Examples of articles you’ll find here include:
This annual report from OCLC examines the economic, social and cultural impact of libraries in the United States. As the current economic environment is impacting library budgets and library usage is increasing, particular attention is paid to the role that libraries play in providing assistance to job-seekers and support for small businesses.
All this talk of recession and economic downturn is a bit scary isn't it? As a librarian, I look at what is occurring and begin to wonder how it will affect our budgets in coming years. But I couldn't help but think of all the ways libraries can help their communities and actually increase patronage during tough times through the "free" services we offer. – by Christine Ayer
A new web-based resource has just been
released that will help library advocates make the case for libraries during
times of economic downturn. The “Advocating in a Tough Economy” toolkit is available
. Updates and improvements will be
implemented as new information and new success stories become available.
- What funding sources want to know about your library from a Gates sponsored Rural Sustainability Workshop at a Public Library Association Conference
Clip art sources, annual report and budget templates (Word and PowerPoint), and much more are available.
- Photo Consent Form that you can customize for events in your library.
- And MUCH more.
There has been much written about the power of word of mouth marketing. Here you will find an overview of how this simple, practically free practice may be one of the most powerful marketing resources you will ever use.
Use of Statistics
When used knowledgeably, statistics can help tell the library story. According to Keith Lance, there are five strategies using statistics proven to win support for libraries.
1. Presenting figures from the user’s point of view.
Presenting library statistics from the user’s point of view is an easy way to make them meaningful to decision-makers. For example, provide a per capita circulation figure, such as, “The library checked out an average of eight items to each community resident.” You could also include what those eight items might have been by listing eight popular titles on a variety of topics. You could even include the monetary value of those items to show that the library is a bargain for the community.
2. Presenting trends for your library.
Include comparative statistics on a service over a certain time period. For example, compare the number of people using the library’s public access Internet terminals in 1999, 2000 and 2001 to demonstrate the demand and show the need for additional Internet workstations for the public.
3. Comparing one library with another (or group of others).
Compare your library’s materials budget to the budget of a few other libraries or to the average for libraries your size. The libraries you select for comparison purposes should have instant credibility with your audience. For example, they might be located in towns that are your high school’s sports rivals.
A good resource for these types of comparisons is Iowa Public Library Statistics published by the State Library each year. The State Library also makes available an electronic version of statistics called Bibliostat Connect. “Connect" enables libraries to make comparisons between their libraries and others in Iowa and nationally and use those comparisons to create effective charts and graphs for use in presentations, budget proposals, and monthly reports. Software for this program is free of charge to interested Iowa public libraries. For ordering information, see http://server.silo.lib.ia.us/survey.html
4. Relating the library to its community, institution, or the economy.
To further make the case for your library, compare the number of children enrolled in the summer library program to the number involved in an activity popular in your community such as Little League. Number of visits to the library compared to swimming pool visits could also put the library in a good light. By being familiar with your community, you will know what comparisons would be effective.
Another approach in this category is to compare per capita funding of the library to costs of alternatives. For example, compare per capita funding to the average cost of a hard cover book, the cost of a large pizza, movie attendance, etc. Emphasize that for the per capita funding amount, each person in the community has access to unlimited use of your library’s resources all year long.
5. Using graphics to present statistics.
As the old adage says, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Decision-makers are bombarded with information. Presenting information that is easy to understand and remember goes a long way toward making the case for your library. As mentioned in number three above, Bibliostat Connect can help you create effective graphs and charts.
- Use graphics, pie charts, bar graphs when presenting statistics
- Use clip art and photographs whenever appropriate
- Present information with bullets, using long narrative sparingly
- Offer comparisons, but make those comparisons work for you
- Promote traditional library services as much as new technology
- Always be upbeat and positive
Lastly, avoid talking or writing in library jargon or reporting raw numbers and statistics without any basis for comparison. Interlibrary loan, for instance, is simply borrowing books from other libraries because you don’t own it.
Word of Mouth Marketing
George Silverman, President of Market Navigation, Inc. said word of mouth marketing. “Getting people to talk often, favorably, to the right people in the right way about your product is far and away the most important thing that you can do as a marketer.” There’s no more powerful communication technique than the simple act of one person talking to another. Learn more about this important marketing tool.
Using Social Media
More and more, public libraries are finding that websites, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media are enabling them to communicate with their customers. Various web 2.0 techniques can be used to enhance relationships among people. For example, they can
- Inform the public and libraries about the library's resources and activities
- Provide a forum for interactive communication with customers
- Provide information and discussion to supplement other communication sources such as newsletters, brochures or newspaper articles.
At the very least, you should develop a website. It will provide easy access to all the information the public wants to know about you, your resources and your services. For more information about setting up a website, visit Putting Libraries on the Web (PLOW).
Lance, Keith Curry, “Building a Sound Case for Support: Statistical Evidence and Its Attractive Presentation,” Politics and the Support of Libraries. (New York: Neal-Schuman, 1990): 206-217.