17 No. 1 — Jan/Feb 2003
Running a Successful Library
Card Campaign: A How-To-Do-It
by Karen S. Cullings
Running a Successful Library Card Campaign: A How-To-Do-It
by Patrick Jones
New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2002. 215 pages. $55. ISBN: 1-55570-438-7
In the preface of this How-To-Do-It Manual, Patrick Jones indicates that one
of the biggest mistakes librarians can make is taking for granted that everyone
wants to have a library card. Statistics tell us otherwise. Adult usage is on
the decline and many of us are in the position of having large numbers of our
service population who are not card-carrying library users. That's the situation
this book is designed to address. It focuses on how
to "sell the sizzle" when it comes to your library card, i.e., how to market
the services accessed via the card in the most compelling way possible. To do
this, it looks in-depth at the methods and results of a number of library card
campaigns conducted by large, urban libraries (Houston, Philadelphia, etc.) and
summarizes those of mid-sized and smaller libraries.
There is, as Jones suggests, no one best way to conduct a library card campaign,
as each library's goals and approach will vary. This manual will prove helpful
in deciding whether your library needs to do such a campaign. If the answer
is yes, it also offers what you need to ground a library before beginning what
is likely to be one of the most ambitious marketing efforts it undertakes.
Libraries must set goals, of course, but in Chapter 1 the author wisely suggests
first asking some critical questions. Those questions should define the audience,
help staff recognize barriers and determine which can be changed, determine
who will be involved, decide who can help or partner, and settle on a timetable.
Once such questions have been answered, you can begin setting goals and planning.
Jones says this book is less a "how-to-do-it" manual than a "how it was done" manual,
and that distinction is an important one. This is an exploration of what has
and has not worked for other libraries. As such, it is a valuable resource
for libraries planning campaigns, but it's not a prescription.
If you are a smaller library, start with the preface and chapters 1 and 2,
then move to Chapter 14, "Just Because Something Is Tiny: Winning Library Card
Campaigns from Smaller Libraries." You'll find this approach less daunting
than diving immediately into the description of Houston's Power Card campaign,
which is huge in scope and detail and rich in partnership information, but
possibly overwhelming to imagine for those with limited time and other resources.
Having said that, however, it remains that some of the most helpful aspects
of the book are the detailed descriptions of large, urban campaigns. From these
you can gain insight into some common practices that produced notable results:
appropriate goal setting and periodic evaluation, active community partnerships,
proper planning, and team-based implementation, to name a few. The detail is
also helpful for imagining whether the players in your community might participate
in a similar manner. Visualizing that in advance is important to framing an
approach to a prospective partner.
Another important aspect of the larger campaigns is to see that they did not
shy away from recognizing that meeting large goals requires additional resources.
In the case of Houston, for instance, the Power Card group asked for increased
income (and received a 13 percent increase in funding) because their plan recognized
that not only would they need money for all those additional cards (they had
a goal of doubling their number of cardholders), but that the library would
require additional staff to serve all those new clients. This is where proper
planning at the outset pays off. It's important to project not only what the
campaign itself will cost, but what impact its success will have on the library's
Following the descriptions of library campaigns big and small comes a jewel
of a chapter titled "What Works and Why: An Alphabet of Best Practices for
Library Card Campaigns." This well-conceived "alphabet" listing moves beyond
the nuts and bolts of goal setting and planning and touches on less tangible
but just as critical issues. It makes suggestions about morale, staff involvement,
rewarding staff effort, political support, and more. And best of all, it offers
the information in succinct nuggets of a paragraph or two. This chapter will
serve as a touchstone for library planners as they plot their course.
But that's not all. There are pictures, too! The final segment of the book
is a "gallery" of items from successful library campaigns. Everything from
promotional library card applications to invitations, newsletters to fliers,
tray mats to report forms is included here. There's a sample of a parent letter
and a teacher letter. There are tally sheets and fact sheets and, of course,
Whether you represent a large urban library center like Philadelphia, which
conducted a three-phase, yearlong campaign with the ambitious goal of 500,000
cardholders, or a smaller one like Dickson County Library in Tennessee, which
offered a December campaign that encouraged parents to get library cards for
their children as holiday gifts, you will find something relevant and inspiring
in this manual. It's a wonderful snapshot of "how it was done," and it will
inspire you and assure you that the process can be a manageable one. Just remember
what Houston discovered: Library cards truly are "power cards."
Karen Cullings is the community relations director for the Dauphin County
Library System in Harrisburg, Pa., and a frequent contributor to Harrisburg magazine
and other publications. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.