Marketing & Public Relations

Selling People the Car They Own.

What is the most important thing for running a small public library? Not finances because no matter how much money you have, if you don't have people using your library it just doesn't matter. Not the collection because you can have the most wonderful, organized, and easy to use collection in the world, but without people using it you're wasting money, time, and effort. A public library, especially a small public library, is for the people. You are a service organization first and foremost and if people aren't using the library, it's a failure no matter how nice it looks, how well equipped it is, or how well run it is. I know that if you advertise, if you market yourself well, you get swamped with people and you don't have the staff to keep up. As an organization which doesn't charge for each service you provide, when you get more people in you get more work without any extra money to do it. However, with the community being actively involved and using the library, the money will come and your library will be better positioned to help more people now and in the future. The biggest thing is trying to get the word out in as many ways as possible, as often as you can, to let people know what the library has to offer. There is something at a small public library for even the most well off or the most ignorant, so spread the word and let them all know. You don't have to be an electrifying speaker, a whiz at sleight of hand, or the greatest showman on earth to market your library to the people it serves, you only need to inform as many people as possible in as many ways as possible about what the library is doing. Every conceivable avenue is available so where do you start and how do you build up contacts and visibility?

First, a few definitions: Marketing deals with the movement of materials from the producer to the customer, or patron, and focuses on the promotion, through advertising and more, of the materials and services offered. Public relations involves promoting goodwill between the library and its stakeholders, i.e. the community it serves or the funding sources allowing it to operate, originally through the press release, although the field has expanded greatly from this starting point. Librarian Christopher Hart puts it this way, "marketing is the advertising of your goods and services to the public to encourage their use while public relations is the marketing of your organization to other organizations to garner support (such as budget increases, millage proposals, volunteers, board members, etc.). Both marketing and public relations rely upon library staff joining efforts to create a comfortable, welcoming environment that the public wants to come enjoy and with which sponsors want to associate themselves."

The chapter begins with getting the word out through word of mouth and being visible in the community. After these are discussed, ways to market your library, its services, and its materials are covered. Be willing to toot your own horn and share all the great things happening at and made possible by the library, this is an extremely important public relations tool. Finally, weed your collection constantly! A small public library exudes respect and confidence if its collection is up-to-date and looking sharp so weeding is one of the most important marketing tools available to every small public library.

Word of Mouth

Word of mouth is by far the most important means of reaching your community.; people are more likely to believe those they know and trust over any flier or ad. Make your library as friendly as possible with a smiling face and willingness to help, whatever the question. The staff IS the library to those patrons who use your services and a good experience using the library brings them back and might encourage them to tell their friends. You can't budget for good word of mouth, but there are some simple things you can do to encourage it.

Give away small freebies when patrons check out making sure the library hours and contact information are on each of them, your web site included — this can be as simple as card stock bookmarks printed off at the library or magnets, mouse pads, magnifying bars, tissue packs, flashlights, ornaments, hair clips, shoelaces, compacts, ice scrapers, bug spray, kites, and pet toys. Give each patron one, if they want, when they check out. Besides giving them something to hold onto, there is a good chance others will notice it too and stop by the library to see what's going on. Change the give away every few weeks; it's been pretty effective for the fast food industry so why not use it for libraries.

Linda Wallace and Peggy Barber propose seven simple steps to make the most of word of mouth: "1) enlist the whole library family; 2) have a simple clear message; 3) build the buzz; 4) [ask those pleased with the library to tell someone else]; 5) give people a reason to talk [give aways, contests, and special events]; 6) send a message with your message; and 7) seek out experts."1 I also recommend making sure the library web site is always up-to-date with the latest in library news and offerings listing your new materials and printing out copies for the library — this lets people know what is available even if it is already checked out of the library and also alerts them to place their name on the waiting list for titles they really want to read.

Remove Barriers

Work to make the library friendly and easy to use from arriving in the parking lot to leaving with an item or an answer. Some barriers to this may be policy barriers and need board approval while other barriers will be staff just doing things the way they always have. Many people started working in libraries when they were stuffy, quiet places where the books were more important than the people. You can always replace a book, but you can never replace someone's impression of the library. Word of mouth works both ways as those who have a bad experience are just as likely to tell their friends not to go to the library.

Exterior Visibility

Locate the library in a convenient location where many people go, or go by, with the word library clearly displayed on the outside of the building and at the street. Fly a library logo flag and a U. S. flag to attract attention from greater distances. Purchase and arrange for installation of directional street signs guiding people from the main traffic routes to the library and if necessary put a map on bookmarks, flyers, and giveaways

Easy, Pleasing Access

Maintain a large, bright, marked parking lot to accommodate regular usage having the staff park at the far end of the lot, or down the street, so more spaces are available for others; make and publicize alternate parking arrangements for overflow crowds. Design and communicate for smooth traffic flow with painted arrows on the pavement, planted islands to separate traffic, or other signs. Provide free parking for library patrons, validating if you must and budgeting to cover any costs. The building is easy to get into, from the parking area, for all people at all times with reliable, easy to maintain, automatic or push button doors at the main entrance and with all sidewalks kept clean and power washed regularly. A drive-up book return should be provided and well-labeled so patrons can easily return materials at any time looking into options for any time drive-up pick-up too, such as coded lockers. The landscaping is appropriate for the area and maintained, avoiding exotic plants requiring regular irrigation or extra work.

Information at the Entrance

Library hours are clearly posted at the clean, bright, and neat entrance where upcoming library events and programs are posted. It should be easy to tell when the library is open even from the street perhaps with a simple neon "open" sign. Library hours should be convenient for your community with as many evening and weekend hours as possible and easy to remember, i.e. the same every weekday.

"Ground Rules" for Outside Behavior

* Treat others with consideration, kindness, and respect
* Put litter in the trash can
* Keep rocks in the landscaping by the building
* Skate, bike, and blade away from the entrance area
* No smoking on library property
* Stay off the landscaping by the building
* Look at the flower gardens - do not walk in them
* Be safe

Welcoming Interior

Create a welcoming library interior to greet patrons when they open the doors perhaps having an interior decorator volunteer their time for a library make over. Budget for updating the furnishings, painting the walls, and replacing the carpet including "comfort" furnishings and treatments, i.e. overstuffed chairs, couch, fireplace, wood trim and accents. Have bright, but glare free, lighting throughout the building and pleasant restrooms — remodel if the staff cringes when they have to use them. Ensure library basics are clear just by looking around since most people will never talk to a staff member: clear, professional, modern signage in both words and pictures that stands out from its surroundings; signs explaining the basic layout and operation of the library, especially book return and check out locations; signs pointing out commonly used equipment such as printers and copiers; and staff visible and easily identified with name or library badges. Keep the public areas of the library free from clutter and constant signage since too much information is as bad as too little. Make sure everyone is greeted and welcomed when the enter and leaves with a reminder containing the library's name, hours, and contact information.

Online Presence

Have a web site for the library with your catalog, new items, hours, location, and general reference links. Provide remote access to patron accounts to they can see and renew items and to your resources, i.e. items, holds/requests, interlibrary loans (ILL's), and databases — consider sharing a system with other libraries so people have even more resources available to them. Arrange it so people may donate and pay with credit cards online or in person. Still be willing to do things for people even if they can place holds / make requests by themselves.

Great Staff

Let everyone have fun at work encouraging them to make eye contact and always be willing to drop everything and listen. Staff must be helpful in all cases, even if you don't have the answer and need to refer the patron to another resource or community organization. Write notes to communicate with other staff about work in progress, changes, items waiting for someone to return with their library card or ID, etc. Always introduce yourself to people and talk with them getting to know their names and interests. Partner with people in searching and solving problems following up to make sure they found what they were looking for or had their questions answered. Staff should dress similarly to office workers and professionals in your community.

Be Visible in the Community

Make yourself visible in the community since the community as a whole generally knows little about the library. It is not uncommon for everyone to support the library and care about it without ever really knowing what the library can do to help them or how they can take advantage of the resources and services offered. People still walk into libraries and ask how much a library card costs, inquire about a membership instead of a card, or want to know how much it costs to get on the Internet — they see the library as a country club or service organization with regular dues and restricted membership. Charge for very little and allow everyone with a library card from anywhere in your entire state to check out materials as if they lived locally. Share the story of library resources and benefits at every opportunity.

Find out who controls the library's funding and get to know them. If the library is financed through a court system get to know the judges. If funds are funneled through the county then get to know the county treasurer and governing body. If the library is financed by the city introduce yourself to the city manager, mayor, and the rest of the governing body and if it's a combination of groups get to know them all. Know what they are interested in and let them know you are there for them, whether or not they support the library. Keep them updated on the work of the library and the services you offer definitely sharing your success stories.

Try to figure out which service group, lodge, or fraternal organization in town has the majority of the people making the real decisions — look for the business people, lawyers, and professionals then join that group! Get to know them and have fun with it as it is a great opportunity for both you and the library. Recruit at these groups for your Friends of the Library organization too. Since it is part of your job to represent the library in the community get involved with any visitor's council or area promotional group. The public library is one of the things everyone should be promoting because, if it is supported and run well, it can be a highlight for any community and draw visitors to the area.

It's also good to get to know your state and national elected representatives. The best place to start might be with their local staff: keep them informed about the library, its programs, and its benefits and share the personal testimonies of people whose lives have been changed for the better by their contact with your library. Staffers can share information with the representative and can connect you with them for major events, meetings, or quick tours of your library. Staffers are the people the representative sees and listens to on a regular basis and if you can get them on your side, chances are your representatives will follow. Also invite your representatives to meet with citizens at the library when they are in town.

Share the Library Message at every Opportunity

Now that the people with the power and the funding know who you are, you need to introduce yourself to the community at large. There are a million ways to introduce yourself so start in your comfort zones and work out to include the whole community. The State Library of Iowa has placed their Telling the Library Story Toolkit online at It helps if you hit the circuits: Lions Club, Jaycees, Rotary, Kiwanis, Elk, Moose, Eagle, American Legion, Chamber of Commerce, Visitors Bureau, Professional Business Women's Group — talk to ALL of them! If you are uncomfortable speaking in public, this will get you over it. It would be a good idea to brush up on your skills with friends or family first also having them videotape you and reviewing your own performance. Get the word out one group at a time; if you have a very small town and the time to do so, get the word out one person at a time. Each individual is different and will respond best to different aspects and presentations of the library. Take brochures or flyers to hand out such as a brief summary of your talk with a short list of library services.

Speaking in Public

Plan your talk using a simple four-part formula:

1. Hook the audience's interest with a story, questions asking for a show of hands, startling information, or unique statistics.
2. Tell the audience what you are going to say, giving them any background or other information needed to comprehend the content.
3. Say it.
4. Tell the audience what you said, restating your main points and calling for any action you want.

To further increase the impact of your talk, customize your remarks for your audience and include some form of audience participation such as comments and questions, walking among them, or fill-in-the-blank handouts with your main points. Provide your content both verbally and in writing so everyone has a reminder to take with them. Consider using a flip chart, whiteboard, or other simple visual instead of getting hung up on fancy visuals. Know how to channel your nervous energy into your talk and always stay within your allotted time.

Attend local community gatherings, especially when you're starting out in a new area or starting out as a library director — be at the parades, concerts, plays, football games, bowling leagues, 4-H shows, business gatherings, and business open houses. Let everyone there know who you are and always be willing to answer questions about the library. Take along a few suggestion/complaint forms just in case as some people are just waiting to vent. Get to know the people putting on any concerts and plays in your town since they have costumes you might borrow and contacts who may be wonderful programs or story hour guests at the library. If you work it right, some concerts and performers can show up at the library as well as their main gig. Better yet, don't just attend the community events, be IN them!

* Visit all the school classes every year or have them visit the library if they are close enough to walk; making sure to send something home with the kids each time. This is one of the best ways to get people into the library.
* Hold contests (at times with the schools or another local organization involved) for a library logo, bookmarks, slogan, art and photos for the walls, and more. People will hear about the library from the contest announcements, get interested as they or those they know participate, and hear about it all again when you announce the winner!
* Walk in the local parades with a library banner carried in front of the group. Get the children to go with you having them decorate their bikes, dress up in clown costumes, or wear silly hats. Even better, do this yourself first by wearing the silly hat or the funny costume. If you can, do cartwheels along the parade route or some other unexpected skill or feat to get people talking.
* Consider going to movie openings and plays based on a novel or story available in your library wearing an appropriate costume and reading from the novel in the lobby while people are filing in and out. Talk to the theater manager or owner first to arrange it.
* Attend the local arts openings (whether it's an art show, dance recital, or fly tying demonstration) to make an appearance and talk about the library.
* Attend some of the local school concerts and take in the bands at the local bars. Invite them to perform at the library and see if they will let you up on stage or at least point you out. You can also bring in bands the community would never normally see, everything from a classical string quartet to a death metal band. Have them talk about the history behind the music they are playing.
* Watch out for fun fundraisers you can get involved in. Many groups have celebrity softball games, celebrity server nights, or other times when local people come together to give each other a hard time and raise money for a good cause.
* Share your talents. If you can play the guitar provide background music for business gatherings. If you can sketch caricatures work the local fairs at a library booth. If you have a virtuoso voice then sing the national anthem for baseball games or at the start of races. Everyone has some talents so brainstorm how you can use yours to get free publicity for the library.

Sponsors for Library Programs and Publications

WARNING: The library is a neutral member of the community and should focus on being a forum for ideas from all sides. While getting businesses and community groups to sponsor library programs is wonderful, and a great way to stretch advertising and programming budgets, do not let the sponsors dictate what materials are available in the library or what programs take place there. Policies set by the board with your input set forth how the collection is assembled and what types of programs are allowed. Let the sponsoring group choose what they support, but don't avoid programs or materials simply because you can't find a sponsor.

Ask local businesses to partner with the library in paying for programs and publications. A local printer or copy shop might be willing to donate their services in exchange for an ad on the back half of library calendars or newsletters. A public service minded manufacturer might underwrite the cost of distributing said calendars or library newsletters for similar ad space or just a line mentioning their support. Many companies want to help and give back to the area where they operate and where their employees live and play; remind them of the benefits the library provides and the goodwill associated with it. Do not get discouraged if you hear "no" often, but keep asking. You are not begging, you are offering the opportunity to connect with one of the most supported and loved institutions in American history, local public libraries; consider providing your supporters with library sponsor window clings to place at their business.

Restaurants will often donate refreshments for library events and local arms of fast food chains are known to give certificates for free food and other prizes to many summer reading programs. A realtor might cover the cost of your welcome package and a group of realtors might distribute them to every new homeowner in the area. Lawyers, doctors, optometrists, dentists, and other professionals may have donations for the library or be interested in supporting a program series — a local hospital or health care professional may be willing to do a series of health programs and financial advisors often have a series on investment questions they can run. The possibilities for sharing local talent and knowledge at the library are endless so keep your eyes and ears open for possible programs when wandering around your community.

Many local service organizations raise money year round to help in the community and library programs are a perfect opportunity for them to give since libraries are freely open to everyone and known for doing great work with children of all ages. Service organizations are also great sources for letters of recommendation or matching funds for grants. Partner with other local organizations to bring entertainers and speakers to a wider audience than would normally attend at the library alone: take some of your workshops and entertainers on the road to the local senior center or bring authors and entertainers with a strong educational and self-esteem message into the schools. While introducing the program, let everyone know what else is going on at the library and the services and materials available to them. Many schools will send home flyers about summer reading with their students and teachers can be turned into promoters of your programs, just make sure to check with the main office first for any approval procedure you need to follow.


Create your own brand — never attach the good will of the library to someone else's brand. Every library needs a simple, eye catching logo with enough depth you can talk about the meaning behind it. Try to find an image which captures the community as well as the library and its goals. If you already have a great logo and no one knows what it means, create a good story to go along with it. For more on library branding see William J. Schroer's wonderful presentation at

You will also need a press kit to help spread the word and the mission of the library with contact information easily visible at the top of each page. Cover the history of the library, your current facility, what services the library offers, the different materials available at the library, and the goals and objectives you are working towards including a couple of personal interest stories or quotes from people who have been willing to share how the library positively impacted their lives — check twice with them to be sure it's okay to include their story in the press kit since there is a decent chance some reporter will want an interview. You may also want to include information on your partnerships with other community organizations, facts on your collection and usage, or an actual library card for the recipient. Create a single page sheet and an e-mail attachment to include with all correspondence making sure it includes your logo or a photo of the library.

The American Library Association has many more ideas online at sample press releases, many different logos using the @ your library® brand, and public service announcements in both audio and video. Make sure you read over their conditions for using this registered trademark; they are very willing to let you use @ your library so long as you do your best to use it correctly.

Your Advertising Budget

"Promotion is an essential tool for competent library service. It can make the difference between a library being a warehouse where books are stored or a resource that people use to full advantage."2 Make sure there is a line in your budget for advertising. As a community centered, non-profit, service organization libraries often receive advertising space or time for free but for a little bit more, you can make a friend of the outlet and double or triple your advertising. When you are a paying advertiser you should get the same treatment and be able to make the same stipulations — location, time, and frequency — as the other paying customers. At the very least, have enough money in the budget to print up a few banners and posters or run off hundreds of bookmarks or postcards since people need to know about the library to be helped by it! Follow these steps to set up your own advertising "department."

1. Purchase an easy to use digital camera in the 1 Mega pixel or greater range. Purchase a desktop publishing program, such as Microsoft Publisher, and learn how to use it.
2. You will also need a quality color printer to make the most of your brilliant designs; don't automatically assume color is better since printing black text and designs on colored paper works well too.
3. Finally, you need to get your work out to the community so fax press releases to newspapers, radio, cable, and TV, e-mailing the information if they prefer, and hit the main community organizations through the mail encouraging them to pass the word on in their newsletters and bulletins and to mention library events at upcoming meetings.

Being able to send out pictures with your news articles the day they happen is invaluable: children enjoying the library, little ones reading, people of all ages having fun, story hour participants, visiting authors, and performers. Send these to the newspaper twice or more a month to get some coverage, perhaps even front-page coverage if the paper is nice and the photo is particularly cute. Use your pictures in professional looking publications and flyers created with your desktop publishing program. It is usually much cheaper to do your brochures, fliers, and other handouts internally than to have a print shop design and create them, but if someone wants to volunteer their time and skills let them keeping final say over anything going out with the library's name on it.

The 6 Features of Graphic Design that Sell

1. One thing dominates the page
2. Minimize typeface variety — stick to one, or two if you must, for each work
3. Leave white space
4. Easy-to-read text layout
5. Use relevant illustrations
6. Clear, visible logo and call-to-action — easy to find, but not dominating3

Focusing your efforts in the following order will give you the greatest reach.

1. Keep your current patrons, meaning your patron groups not each and every individual person. Advertise and market to them first through brochures, flyers, displays in the library, the library web page, or an email list as they are the most likely to respond.
2. Reach out to groups who would benefit from the resources and services at the library.
3. Add new resources and services, if possible, to meet the needs of underserved groups in your community.

Get to know your local newspaper reporters and ad managers along with any radio, cable, or TV personalities in your area. Make sure everyone knows about the library and your services so they can put their advertising expertise to work for you. Take them some cookies or chocolate and help them out with any research or questions they may have; it's the library's job and also a great way to get on their good side. Always send releases and articles out to as wide of an audience as practical as even regional papers pick up good stories. Work to know the right contact person at each outlet and give them a call after sending the press release — the less a release is passed from one person to another, the fewer chances it has of getting lost or ignored.

Let me stress, it is important to have clear and uncluttered signage in your library so make sure people can easily figure out where to go when they enter your building. Use shelf talkers, small signs under or next to the books, to promote parts of your collection, particular books or authors of note, and upcoming library events and programming. Displays placed near the book return, computer sign in, or other heavily trafficked area in the library are another way to bring people's attention to a particular part of the collection. Displays can also come from local historical societies and hobby groups with a list or display of related materials available at the library.

Handouts at the library are an important advertising avenue especially keeping your newsletters on a regular schedule and always placing them in the same location in the building as well as around town. "For a public library newsletter, invitations should be sent to the mayor, members of the town council, and legislators. From congress people representing the district, ask for articles that touch on the importance of the library. If your representatives are too busy for such an assignment, (i.e., they haven't assigned it to one of their staff), mention should be made in the newsletter that, "Senator X has been invited to write a piece on the importance of reading in this district. We look forward to reading his encouraging words." Make sure that Senator X gets a copy. After weeks have passed and no column appears, mention it again…The editor of the local newspaper should also be asked to write for the newsletter. The invitation is not only in good taste, but also encourages involvement beyond lip service in the library's activities."4 Bookmarks, postcards, fliers, and other giveaways will keep your name and information in front of the public. If you print out receipts with the due date information, magnets to hold those slips to people's refrigerators are a wonderful gift; the receipts can also remind patrons they can call in or log onto your web site to renew their materials if needed.

Post fliers and leave brochures at local gathering spots and high traffic areas, such as county courthouses, post offices, bars, grocery stores, banks, restaurants, department stores, and bakeries. Find out what works in your community and try to consistently post information there about the next big thing at the library. As soon as the event has passed, make sure the fliers and posters are removed since no one wants to see old news. Some of the same places where you post your information are potential sponsors of library advertising and programs so get to know them. You can make your own posters or rely on an outside source for them — a nice color printout attached to bright poster board makes a great inexpensive poster. If you don't have a laminating machine in the library, ask your local elementary school if you can run posters and signs through theirs offering to pay for any time or materials used. Put posters up in the most visible places you know of such as on the door to the library or grocery store, in windows on the main street, and at the post office. A few very visible posters can go farther than flyers at every junction. Try to have handouts available where the posters are so people can take a reminder with them instead of having to remember or write it down.

6 Steps To Free Publicity

1. Find a news angle for your headline.

something new about your library

what's distinctive or different about you or your library

an upcoming event

connection between what you offer and the big current news

survey or poll research, local history, literature research

a contest or award

tie-in with a holiday or anniversary

connection between what you offer and a current trend

controversial or surprising claim

humorous announcement

2. Present the basic facts for the angle of your headline in paragraph one.

answer who, what, where, when, and why/how

indent paragraphs and double space lines

one page on plain white paper with no letterhead

3. Gather or create a lively quote elaborating on the basic facts for paragraph two. Often, you will be the best person to quote. Write it down and attribute it to yourself!

4. Elaborate further on the basic facts in paragraph three.

5. End with the nitty-gritty details.

address, cost, dates, time, phone number, how to register, web site, email, etc.

6. Send it out.

print labels from a computer database, get volunteers to help fold, stuff, seal, and stamp

if the outlet prefers faxes or emails, do so

Additional Tips

* Keep the tone objective, not promotional.
* Proofread rigorously.
* Produce different versions of your release for separate, distinct audiences.
* Plan to be available after you distribute your release.5

Public libraries want to reach patrons and potential patrons and to open minds with a local aim and additional regional coverage as many local citizens receive their information mainly from regional sources. Determine who you want to reach with each message then aim to appear in places they are likely to pay attention. To get an editor or reporter to pay attention to you, you need to tell them why their readers, listeners, or viewers would be interested in your information NOW — your headline needs to grab their attention and then the story needs to be short and focused with only one main point so spread several main points out over several press releases. "While timeliness is paramount, a few other factors can heighten the appeal of your story to the media. Will your story push the public's emotional buttons, either with tragedy or uplift? Editors and producers like to leaven death, doom, and destruction with classic crowd-pleasers like children, animals, and chocolate."6

Newspapers, Radio, and TV

It is important to be comfortable and quick in writing press releases and public service announcements for your library. If other staff are eager to take on this responsibility let them making sure they have the appropriate information regarding events at the library. Usually your local paper is the best place to start, however, don't sit back waiting for them to cover the great activities and services offered at your library. Local reporters only have time to cover major events such as dedications, building projects, and the all-popular visiting dignitary or celebrity; the weekly story times, after school programs, speakers, new collections of materials, and other excitement regularly occurring at your library will go unnoticed unless you take the matter into your own hands, literally. Brush up your writing skills and take photos with your digital camera — these are your public relations department for getting the word out. Write up a great program, talk about the opportunities for volunteering, or mention meetings taking place at the library, including .jpg photos, the cuter the photo the better, as often as possible with the article. E-mail the results of your hard work or drop a disk off at the paper on your trips around town. You can also volunteer to write a regular book review or other informational column for the paper. Enjoy seeing your work in print, but don't worry if you never get any credit since you're doing this for the library, not for yourself.

If you are lucky enough to have a civic-minded local radio station, put their public service announcements and community calendars to work for your library. Call and get to know them volunteering to chat on the air any time they need. Your neighborhood station may have a regular talk show featuring people in the community or be interested in the latest books with you doing a regular feature. This works for local TV stations as well since librarians make great subjects, especially if you're willing to fill in at the last minute — always be ready to talk about what is going on at the library. If you are at a little library in the middle of nowhere, even national writers vacation and may be passing through your town so have connections for them and other travelling business people to dial in or link up to their main office. You'll be remembered for your helpfulness and convenience and likely to get some good press out of the visit.

Look for local classes or groups with video production experience and make a video of the library showing highlights, giving the general feel of your building, and mentioning ways people can get involved. This video can be shown at local meetings, clubs, service organizations, and even on TV or the local cable access station. Book talks, story hours, and fact shows can be a great vehicle to get the word out on cable access or, if your cable access channel runs a PowerPoint type presentation, look up interesting facts and trivia and write it up to air on the channel, followed by the answer. Of course every show and slide needs the library logo and contact information in it. The same presentation can be run in local movie theaters. For really big events, work hard with your contacts to get some television coverage; it's not always easy, especially if you are far away from the station, but it is worth it. Those people using the library and supporting it will be proud to see it on the news and others who never knew what the library offered will stop by after they see it featured.

Sample Press Release

For _ Library, _ (Street), _ (City), _ (State) __ (Zip Code)

Contact _, _ (Phone)



City, Date, Year - People are regularly seen walking out of a local building with their arms full of books. Others wander out with shopping bags full of videos. Even those only taking a book or two appear unfazed by the ever-increasing cost of the latest novel. When asked how much their cargo cost, they look at you blankly. "It didn't cost me a cent," they often reply.

How does this group stay in business? They rely on these people to return the books and videos they borrow after a week or a month. The items are then returned to the shelves until another lucky person walks out with them for free.

Wish you had a building like this in your neighborhood? Chances are good that you do. It's your local library, where for decades books have been available for free. By pooling the resources of a whole town, libraries can purchase the latest best sellers and provide them to the general citizenry free of charge. The taxes supporting most public libraries cost families no more than it would to purchase one new book each year. For this minimal investment, people can take advantage of a huge selection of books by various types of authors and on all sorts of subjects. They also have access to books on cassette or CD, videos and DVD's, and high-speed Internet connections. You get all that for the cost of one new book each year!

The _ Library in _ was visited by over _ people last year and circulated materials worth well over _ (circulation X $20) dollars. Programs were held introducing children to the love of reading and reconnecting adults with music. Kids learned to sew, laugh, and create. Daily, people are helped with creating email accounts or scanning and sending family pictures to loved ones around the world. Stop in some time and see what is possible.

(Hours. Location and basic directions. Home page address on the Internet. Phone and email) for more information.

See the online press release form for first time users at CSRwire,

Sample Public Service Announcement



For _ Library, _ (Street), _ (City), _ (State) __ (Zip Code)

Contact _, _ (Phone) , _ (Email) , _ (Fax)




  1. # #

_ Library is a non-profit, public service organization freely open to the public. _ Library offers children's book, audio, and video (and other services) rentals for free to anyone in their service area. They also hold special programs besides story time throughout the year and annually have special events during their summer reading program.

See the PSA information at from the Online Women's Business Center.

Toot Your Own Horn

No one can know what a great job you're doing and how much you mean to the community unless you share it with them so toot your own horn! Work to keep a positive image in front of everyone in the community. Mention the library's benefit to the community at every opportunity as everyone can find some benefit in their public library, even if it's just a yearly meeting place.

Collect Personal Testimonies

Collect personal commentaries and testimonies from people well served by the library. When you hear someone extolling the virtues of the library, ask them if you can quote them on that and share what those people who really appreciated your service have told you or other staff members. For people whom you know love the library, but are too busy or would rather not bother coming up with their own quotes, feel free to write quotes for them and then ask if they would approve it. Run contests with prizes for the best entries such as "Why I love my library," "The library change my life by…," or "I never knew…" with facts or library services people have discovered. Edit the comments you get, removing all but the strongest idea getting rid of any repetition or extra words — always get permission to use the edited blurb once you are done. When people can see a name instead of just numbers, they are affected and more likely to remember. The stories and lives of people helped by the library have an impact much larger than just the fact a lot of people are using the library and are especially important whether dealing with funders, granting organizations, or politicians. Make sure each quote is:

1. Attributed: full name and identifier such as the person's location, organization, occupation, or title add weight
2. Enthusiastic: each word reinforces the main point so edit and approve any changes with the source
3. Pithy: three sentences or less packing as much praise as possible
4. Specific: examples, benefits, results

Also collect book recommendations people are willing to share with the world, even children can share with the help of an adult or older sibling. These recommendations can be posted on a bulletin board at the library for others to browse or included in a newsletter or web site and are a great way to show how much reading and the library mean to your community and how books and the library have impacted lives.

Mention the Community's Savings

Of course, let everyone know a lot of people do use the library and value its services along with letting people know how much is saved through library use. What would the cost have been if the materials circulated were purchased by each person separately; how much would it cost for everyone to have an up-to-date computer with high speed, broadband, Internet access; what if people had to pay for the meeting room and gathering spaces in the library; what was brought into the community in terms of programs and lecturers; and what would it cost to have someone commercially research and answer the questions the library handles on a daily basis?

Here are some numbers you can use for these calculations: average cost per item is $15, $20 when staff processing time is included and $25 for individuals to purchase the items themselves while reference books, which are the majority of in-house usage, usually cost much more; monthly Internet access runs around $20, not counting depreciation on your computer as it becomes slower, older, and eventually no longer can keep up and many copy stores allow computer access at $12 an hour; meeting room and space access can be calculated at around $100 a pop and makes a great in-kind contribution for grants; and most reference questions are quick and to the point, but a private firm would charge at least $5 just to look it up and read it to you, if you only count those questions your staff actually has to think about, use $12.50 or more per question. The market value of your library service adds up quickly and will be much more than the actual cost of running the library, often over a million dollars in savings!

Library Savings = (circ X $20 + in-house circ X $50 + computer users X $12 + reference questions x $12.50 + meeting room uses X $100 + $ spent on programming including staff time) - cost of running the library

Dr. Charles McClure has calculated the return on investment for many different public libraries and never found it to be lower than $10 coming back for every $1 spent on library services. His calculations take into account the services offered to the community by its library, money spent in town by people visiting the library, and the reputation boost given by a good public library making the community more attractive to everyone, residents and visitors alike.

Remind local businesses of the tax and public relations benefits of supporting the library — remind people of the tax and good feeling benefits of supporting their local library in money, time or materials. Everyone, from the richest to the poorest, can support their public library and take advantage of the services offered there.

Brag About Your Hot Items

Have the latest best seller that everyone's been talking about for months, let everyone know and highlight any different formats it's in! It's one thing to have the best seller and quite another to have it in large print for readers with poor sight and on audio for people who have to keep their eyes and hands on other things, such as driving or knitting. How about great videos not available anywhere else in the community, share that with people as there are many videos in public libraries not available at any of the commercial video rental businesses around. You now know of many ways to communicate with the public so put some of them to use on a regular basis informing people of new materials at your library. Some times even old materials become hot again when an author passes on or comes out with an amazing new book and people want to read other titles they've written.

Respond to Negative Comments and Rumors

"Three rules of press relations:

1. always tell the truth;
2. never volunteer information; and
3. never speculate."7

Immediately disclose whatever is eventually going to become public maintaining control of the situation. As soon as you hear about a negative comment or rumor regarding the library, respond quietly with information without mentioning the comment or rumor directly: write an article about what the library has changed recently that dealt with any negative comments, make an informational flyer about what the truth at the library is and post it in your location as well as at government buildings, or write a letter to the editor of your local paper with library information and improvements. It is best to keep working to inform the people about the great things available at the library. If it was a staff issue and the staff member is no longer at the library, mention the library was sorry to see them leave — never mention why the staff member left or was fired since most people don't care and will just be happy to use the library again without conflict. If you know where the negative comment or rumor came from, talk to the source and see what you might do to appease them.

Surveys and Feedback

Perform a regular survey developed with input from those involved with the library and from someone experienced in designing surveys such as people at local businesses, chambers of commerce, schools, or colleges. Ask a few people to review your survey before sending it off into the wide world. You can work with schools and colleges to find helpers for performing phone surveys or compiling information from any survey, putting the resources in your community to work for the library.

Install a suggestion box, nicely made and prominently placed, in your library and assign a staff member to ensure the suggestion box always has paper and writing implements so people can leave their thoughts, good or bad. Feedback is vital for meeting the needs of, and keeping up with, your community. Regularly compile the results of these suggestions to share with the library board and always seriously consider suggestions for material purchases while making sure people know you cannot purchase everything and asking if they would like to borrow the item from another library if you can't purchase it.

Weeding - Yes, It's a Marketing Tool

Weeding and shelf reading are very important marketing tools. If you have the library's books:

1. neatly ordered and arranged,
2. in good condition, and
3. only the titles and subjects people want

then you will have raves and great reviews throughout the community. Get rid of old, musty, or worn books so your patrons don't have to peer through them looking for the one title they want. However, as the only public outlet in town for classic literature and the great authors, have staff double check any item pulled for weeding so you do not remove older titles likely to experience occasional demand. Consider asking for a donation, or making a purchase, of one in good condition for older titles still being used but looking poorly.

Candidates for Weeding

* Any book with major damage or with any evidence of mildew needs to go — these are not so much candidates as they are casualties and many of these can be replaced if they have seen recent use.
* Any fiction that hasn't gone out at least once in the last year or at least 3 times in the last 3 years (your choice) including picture books, videos, music, audio books, etc. Try to keep award winning titles and as many titles as possible by perennially popular authors.
* Any non-fiction that hasn't gone out at least once in the last 3 years or at least once in the last 5 years (your choice). Try to keep titles in as many subject areas, representing as many opinions and viewpoints, as possible and to keep award winning titles and as many titles as possible by perennially popular authors.

From among these candidates, weed as many as possible and remove them from your collection.

Easier to Locate and Find Items in Demand

Getting rid of older books no one normally wants allows easier use of the library and saves time and hassle, for the staff as well who no longer have to file the one book checking out regularly in a shelf full of unused titles biding their time until someone finally gets around to weeding. Regular and thorough weeding does a great job showing off the possibilities of a library collection: timeliness, usefulness, and desirability. If done amazingly well, you'll be even better than a bookstore since people can:

1. enter the library;
2. see the books they want, not having to bypass multiple copies or similar items the store is trying to move;
3. pick out their book; and
4. be on their way without paying a cent!

In a small public library you will mostly have single copies of the books people want and only those in extremely high demand and threatening to stay that way are candidates for extra copies. Having multiple copies of the titles everyone is looking for gives you a better chance of having one available when asked, lets people spot them quicker on the shelves, and makes it obvious what titles everyone is looking for, a.k.a. the brand new releases. You could also put signs on the shelves, where these books would be, letting people know they are currently checked out allowing them to add their name to a waiting list. If you list similar books and authors to the currently hot titles, your patrons can explore these options while waiting their turn.

Disposing of Weeded Materials

Take advantage of the books you are removing from the library to gain more support in the community by having a book sale and selling them cheaply. If you don't have a Friends group, find some volunteer to take on the book sale then once a year have a big weeding party pulling the unused, out-of-date, and worn books out of the library and selling them the same week. If you have newer books you are getting rid of or older classics, consider sharing them with other groups in the community that may want them such as the senior citizens' center, nursing homes, government offices, doctor's offices, or schools.


1. Linda Wallace and Peggy Barber, "The Smartest Card. The Smartest Campaign," Public Libraries (September/October 2004): 296-298.
2. Bill Katz, editor, The How-to-do-it Manual for Small Libraries (New York: Neal-Shuman, 1988): 316.
3. The 6 features of graphic design that sell (Washington, D.C.: United States Postal Service, 2002).
4. Bill Katz, editor, The How-to-do-it Manual for Small Libraries (New York: Neal-Shuman, 1988): 308.
5. Marcia Yudkin, 6 Steps to Free Publicity, Revised Edition (Franklin Lakes, N. J.: Career Press, 2003).
6. Marcia Yudkin, 6 Steps to Free Publicity, Revised Edition (Franklin Lakes, N. J.: Career Press, 2003): 21.
7. Marilyn Gell Mason, Strategic Management for Today's Libraries (Chicago: American Library Association, 1999): 59.


* Schroer, William J. Customer Service or Customer Servant. Battle Creek, Mich.: WJ Schroer Company, 2002, available at Accessed 1 October 2004.
* Yudkin, Marcia. 6 Steps to Free Publicity, Revised Edition. Franklin Lakes, N. J.: Career Press, 2003.

© Edward J. Elsner, 2005

Edward Elsner Library Consulting

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