Communicating the Evolution of the Library

The publics demand for library services is great, but budgets remain under pressure, Susan Hildreth points out in a recent Huffington Post article. She argues that libraries need to change and evolve to ensure future success, and she sets out three goals: provide engaging learning experiences, become community anchors, and provide access to content even as the devices for accessing that content change rapidly.

Id add a fourth goal: Communicate.

As Hildreth points out, people need and are using libraries more than ever, with per capita visits rising 24 percent in the first 10 years of the century, and circulation up by 26 percent, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ report on the FY2009 Public Library Survey (PLS), a census of American public libraries.

These are numbers that can change the tone of a conversation and win support for budget initiatives. When faced with budget pressure, your average household will look for items that they perceive to be little used or of little value; for example, reducing the cable bill by cutting little watched premium channels.

When approving budgets, voters apply the same logic. If they perceive that libraries are not contributing to the community, they will vote to reduce or eliminate the line item.

Libraries are certainly serving their communities. Communicating the ways in which libraries are evolving and meeting community needs is essential. Here are a few strategies for doing this.

  1. Public Relations. Develop good relationships with local reporters and bloggers by speaking to them regularly and providing them with information they need. Journalists love facts, and the survey referenced above and other more recent library industry studies provides them in abundance. When combined with your own library statistics, this makes a powerful local story.
  2. Advocacy.  Relationships with local politicians and community groups also need to be cultivated. This should be a dialogue, and you should listen as much as you share information about your librarys success. Its also important to recognize that this is not a one and done type of communication. That is, reach out regularly to understand concerns, not just when you have something to say. Another great advocacy tool is tapping into local meet up groups within your community. Check out and find a group near you. Invite them to conduct their meetings at your library, or even offer to present at an upcoming meeting. A young business professionals meet up group would be eager to hear about your FREE business and career databases. A mommy group would also be interested in learning about your childrens and youth services. Not to mention the wide variety of interesting and sometimes quirky groups that you may be able to lure into your doors by meeting an information or research need or providing a service that may be beneficial to their cause.
  3. Cultivate community champions. Third-party endorsements are very powerful. Theyre used frequently in business because they add credibility.  Identify your biggest fans and keep them up to date on changes in your library and your successes. And dont be afraid to ask them to show their support by speaking to the press or at town meetings.

In future posts, Ill get into more details on how to implement each one of these strategies.

It is essential for libraries to evolve and change, but future budgets and therefore success is dependent on how well libraries communicate the ways they are meeting the needs of the community.

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.