4 Ways to Raise Awareness About Library Learning Programs

Libraries are centers of learning. We’re committed to constantly raising the bar, always finding new ways to serve the educational needs of all members of our communities. The sharing of knowledge, after all, is in our DNA.  

Yet, according to the 2016 Pew Research Center’s Libraries and Learning report, a significant share of respondents isn’t aware of the educational programs offered by U.S. public libraries.   

For example, although 90% of public libraries have e-book lending programs, nearly one in four respondents said they weren’t aware if their library offered them. Forty-seven percent said they weren’t aware if their library offered programs on starting a new business, even though 33% of libraries nationwide do. And while 62% of libraries offer online career or job resources, only 41% of survey respondents said they knew their library offered these materials. 

Such low levels of awareness point to a need for more marketing of these services. Fortunately, the Pew report includes additional data that can help libraries develop more effective awareness campaigns. 

Pew also broke down its findings by demographic, and these insights indicate the need for more targeted awareness campaigns. For example, those most likely to say they don’t know if their local libraries lend e-books are men, rural residents, and those without college degrees. And the data indicate “men, blacks, Hispanics, people living in households earning less than $30,000, and those whose education stopped with a high school diploma” are unaware their libraries have career-related resources. 

These insights about audiences are critically important. By pinpointing groups with low awareness, we can segment our audiences and design marketing activities to reach each group more effectively. Consider these steps to build a more targeted program. 

Start with research.

Try to gain a better understanding of the pain points and motivations of your target audience. While secondary research is a useful place to start, the most valuable –and accurate – information is gained by directly questioning your target audience. Interviews and surveys are low-cost and easy methods any library can use, and you may be surprised by what you learn. Often, direct feedback will challenge what we think we know. For example, some groups may tell you they don’t read the main newspaper in town. Instead, they may be more influenced by what they hear at religious or community gatherings.  


We don’t often think of incorporating advertising into our public library marketing campaigns because of its high cost. Traditional advertising, such as newspaper ads, billboards or television, is often out of reach for many library budgets. And while digital and social media advertising may be more affordable, it may not be particularly effective in reaching some groups. 

Low-income families, for example, may not have ready access to digital devices. In this case, a limited advertising campaign could have a high return on investment. During their work commute, members of this audience are likely to encounter bus stop or local billboard advertising more frequently than other types of media. Advertising in these places may have a greater impact – and be a better use of budget. 

Community outreach.

Culture plays an important role in influencing outcomes. In ethnic communities, work with influential community leaders to build grass roots momentum. Activities that generate interest and awareness include community events, public service announcements, and town halls. 

Local employers.

Create opportunities to partner with businesses in and near your community. Employers of all sizes value the opportunity to build workforce skills. Promote your services in break rooms or through information sessions in the workplace. 


The results of the Pew survey illustrate an important point about marketing: It’s not one size fits all. Marketing to different audiences requires unique strategies for each. By segmenting our audiences and designing messages and campaign activities specific to each, we’re more likely to be successful at raising awareness. 

About Tiffany McClary

Tiffany McClary is the Director of Communications, Marketing & Outreach for the New Jersey State Library. She coordinates marketing and public relations initiatives in order to enhance the reputation of the State Library, and promote the value of NJ libraries and the services and programs that they provide to residents.