The MLS Book Review •
Making the Case for Your Library: A How-To-Do-It Manual
Reviewed by Karen Cullings
When my computer shifts into screen-saver mode, one word cavorts across the screen to remind me of something I have found to be crucial. The word is "persist." Perhaps because of this, Making the Case for Your Library truly struck a chord with me. If there is a core message in this manual, it is to persist.
Written by Sally Gardner Reed, director of the Norfolk Public Library in Virginia, this latest in the popular Neal-Schuman "How-To-Do-It" series is a succinct guide to raising your library's profile within your community. The guide has all the components of a manual designed for practical application. Each section is short and centered around one clear message. It offers clear directions. It provides good examples. It acknowledges common difficulties and offers advice on overcoming them, or at least mitigating them. In short, it is an effective tool for libraries that have recognized the need to market themselves.
Marketing libraries is hardly a new idea. But Reed makes an important distinction in her preface. Today, marketing libraries is not simply a good idea, or a good business practice--it is a matter of survival. Most of us have encountered the attitude that most threatens public and other libraries: People think that, with the advent of the Internet, libraries have become superfluous. Library staffs know that the Internet has significantly changed the way that libraries are used, but it has not eliminated the need for them--far from it. But that's a message that the public at large has yet to understand. This manual addresses that need directly, making the point that libraries should change their focus from touting the services they offer to explaining the relevance of those services to the community. "What" is not as important as "why."
The manual begins with this premise. Chapter 1 is directed at designing a message that explains, in a clear and compelling fashion, why libraries are relevant and how the library contributes to the vitality of its community. Good marketing and advocacy techniques are in evidence here, with solid advice on considering the desired outcome, the audience, and the audience's agenda.
Once your library's message is developed, consult the manual again for guidance on how to share that message with various groups. The author explores the difference between conveying the message to "insiders" like staff, Friends, and trustees; and communicating it to "outsiders," many of whom may be in key positions to support the library and to convey its message to others. Reed offers important insight here, making the point that getting the message out is not necessarily about building the user base, but about building credibility. For example, she offers a brief but telling paragraph on image. Historically, the public image of librarians (kept alive by the media, which loves the idea of "library police") has been a hindrance in terms of fundraising and political clout. Reed's frank acknowledgment of that, along with her advice to always present an image as polished and sophisticated as possible, may be one of the most important points of this book.
The next section of the guide focuses on delivering the message--over and over again. "Creating the Continuous Campaign" is where the need to persist enters the scene. For a library's message to be effective, it needs to be presented repeatedly and in many forms. Developing the message is only the beginning of a process that is "a marathon, not a sprint." The manual offers advice on how to adapt a message for use in newsletters, letters to the editor and op-ed pieces, television, radio, annual reports, and other library brochures and printed materials. The author has compiled a selection of these items to serve as clear examples of techniques like delivering a relevant message, using powerful quotes to convey the library's value, and using images effectively.
The guide also recommends that you prepare a simple visual presentation that can be used by various library staffers and supporters to deliver the library's message to groups like legislators, area civic organizations, and service agencies. Chapter 4 is dedicated to explaining how to create a powerful presentation that's adaptable to various public speaking styles. Advice on training the presenters and a short presentation checklist are helpful additions.
The final section of the manual takes a look at targeted projects such as advertising campaigns, referendums, and capital campaigns. This section is perhaps the most sketchy. This is due, in part, to the author's point that creating an effective continuous campaign is key to having a successful targeted campaign. Point well-taken. This chapter offers guidance on building public support through a variety of familiar methods such as letter-writing campaigns and media events. While not an in-depth discussion, it will serve as a good overview for libraries about to embark on such an endeavor.
Making the Case for Your Library is a good tool for those of
you who are ready to embrace the notion of continuous marketing. The advice
it offers will help librarians position themselves politically so they
can unapologetically continue their important mission in the age of the
Internet and beyond.
Karen Cullings is the community relations director for the Dauphin
County Library System in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and a frequent contributor
to Harrisburg magazine and other publications. Her e-mail address
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