Libraries lost one of the great pioneers of marketing and promotion when Margaret Barber passed away on Aug. 25, 2019. Known nationwide as Peggy, she succumbed to complications from lung cancer just short of her 76th birthday.
|Peggy Barber, library dynamo
Peggy Barber’s Legacy
Even if you never knew Peggy, you definitely know her work. Her accomplishments were legion, and they formed the basis of ALA’s promotional presence. She was responsible for launching these initiatives, among others:
- National Library Week (NLW)
- Celebrity Read posters
- The universal library logo used on street signs
- ALA Public Information Office (PIO)
- ALA Public Programs Office
- ALA Graphics
I’m writing this remembrance with information from an article in Library Journal (LJ; http://bit.ly/Barber-LJ-Obit), an obituary in the Chicago Tribune (http://bit.ly/Barber-Tribune-Obit), and personal memories.
Barber’s Background and ALA Work
Barber had a B.A. in English from the University of California–Riverside and an M.L.I.S. from Rutgers University in New Jersey. She began her career as a coordinator for the Orange County Cooperative Library System (Calif.) and as a reference librarian for the Bay Area Reference Center at the San Francisco Public Library.
In 1970, Barber joined ALA as director of the Office for Recruitment. Soon after, she established the PIO, which she oversaw for 30 years before retiring from the organization.
“In her role as associate executive director for communication, she launched two of ALA’s major initiatives: National Library Week, which had previously been a publishers’ program, and ALA’s annual communications audits, which help guide its public programs,” according to LJ.
ALA’s NLW campaign launched in 1975 with the theme “Information Power.” There were posters, bookmarks, print ads, and radio public service announcements (PSAs).
In 1980, the first Read poster appeared. It showed Mickey Mouse reading by a fireplace with his dog Pluto beside him, atop the simple message, “Read.”
The following year, Barber did something brazen—she wrote to Henson Associates asking for permission to use one of the Muppets, the popular Miss Piggy, as “America’s Library Spokespig.” Barber explained in a 2003 article she wrote for American Libraries: “The poster was shot in New York City. New York Public Library provided books for the set, and the Henson folks created some wonderful new titles like The Days of Swine and Roses and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Frog.” Today, sales of Read posters fund ALA’s year-round public relations program.
In 1993, Barber and Linda D. Crowe co-authored Getting Your Grant: A How to Do It Manual for Librarians for Neal-Schuman Publishers. In 2010, with Linda Wallace, she co-authored Building a Buzz: Libraries & Word-of-Mouth Marketing for ALA.
She left ALA in 2000 and founded her own consulting firm, Library Communication Strategies, which she continued until 2015. During those years, she and I loved to plot about ways to improve library marketing. Barber was a longtime subscriber to Marketing Library Services and even helped me with a behind-the-scenes project (pro bono) to promote the newsletter and increase its readership. She told her own story in the Nov./Dec. 2011 issue of MLS in Interviews With Marketing Masters. Once when I asked why she was still doing so much work after her long and successful career at ALA, she quipped that she was “bad at being retired.”
In 2009, Barber was the head of Friends of Libraries USA (FOLUSA), and Peggy Danhof was the head of the Association of Library Trustees and Advocates (ALTA). That year, both ALA groups combined to form the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF), and both Peggys served as copresidents. ALTAFF later became United for Libraries, which is still ALA’s division that serves both Friends groups and foundations.
The Legacy Lives On
Patricia Glass Schuman, 1991–1992 ALA president, told the Chicago Tribune that Barber was “a consummate innovator and a pioneer,” adding, “Peggy’s efforts changed the way librarians and library supporters think about communication and advocacy—and she pushed us all with determination, style, and grace.”
Back in 1999, Barber received the Lippincott Award for distinguished service to the profession. In August 2019, friends and colleagues worked to honor her again by establishing a tribute fund within ALA’s Cultural Communities Fund. Barber was instrumental in creating that fund and said she contributed to it herself, not only in life, but also in her will (www.ala.org/aboutala/donate/plannedgiving/why-i-give-planned-giving-stories).
This new Peggy Barber Tribute Grant for Libraries will recognize and fund outstanding cultural programming in libraries, and it has already brought in more than $19,000 from those who respected and loved her. To learn more and to donate, see www.ala.org/aboutala/offices/ppo/ccf/culturalcommunities. This is a powerful way to ensure that our colleague’s legacy of library support lives on.