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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > January/February 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 17 No. 1 — Jan/Feb 2003
How To

Running a Successful Library Card Campaign: A How-To-Do-It Manual
by Karen S. Cullings

Running a Successful Library Card Campaign: A How-To-Do-It Manual
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 operating budget.

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, bookmarks.

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

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