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Community Outreach and Advocacy

Marketing for Libraries: Part 13: Outreach and Advocacy from Annette Lamb on Vimeo.

Like public relations, community outreach and advocacy are closely connected to marketing.

In her article Outreach is (un)Dead, Emily Ford (2009) notes that the definitions for outreach and marketing are every similar. She states that "our product is our service. To many librarians marketing can be a dirty word and outreach almost saintly." She goes on to say that "we should embrace marketing for what it is, and let outreach diffuse into our daily routine."

If our marketing plan has effectively analyzed the community and potentials audiences, then what would normally be called "outreach" is already part of our marketing strategy. Providing quality services and making our audience aware of these services is one of the most effective ways to nurture library advocates.

bridgeRead Outreach is (un)Dead, Emily Ford (2009).
Think about the connection between outreach, advocacy, and marketing.

In this section, we'll explore the connections among outreach, advocacy, and marketing.

Key Questions

Each of the following questions will be addressed on this page. For quick access, click on the question of interest.

What is community outreach?

cookingCommunity Outreach involves reaching out to non-users, under served, and people with special needs in the community. Groups such as immigrant populations, older adults, institutionalized persons, home bound populations, and those with disabilities would also be potential target audiences for programs.

The photo on the right shows a cooking class for Spanish speaking participants at the San Mateo Public Library.

Example: The Hennepin County Library provide services to senior housing in the community. Santa Clara developed Bi-Folkal Kits for older adults. Search of Bi-Folkal Kits for lots of ideas.

These program provide opportunities to work with community leaders and organizations to enhance all library services. An early literacy program may be useful to children but may also meet the needs of their parents.

Get started by developing a plan.

Outreach involves going where the current and potential users are. If you want to reach parents, make a connection through the school. If you want to encourage senior citizens to participate in a new project, go to the senior center monthly lunch meeting.

Example: Dowd, Evangeliste and Silberman (2010, 61) suggest recruiting teens through their parents. The soccer field next the library provided a great forum to promote teen programs. The library talked with parents watching the games and distributed fliers. Once teens were in the library, they were asked about their interests. Programs were designed to meet these needs. Teens were encouraged to provide their email addresses so they could be easily contacted about future events. This simple outreach blossomed into an active teen advisory board.

bridgeWatch the Library Engagement Framework video by Brian Mathews.

Keep in mind that social media can play an important role in today's library outreach.

bridgeRead Mason, Marissa (2014). Outreach 2.0: Promoting archives and special collections through social media. Public Services Quarterly, 10, 157-168.

Looking for ideas? The Outreach Librarian is a great blog with lots of ideas.

How can digital badges be used in outreach?

From summer reading sticker walls to scout merit badges, everyone is familiar with the use of badges for motivation and demonstration of achievement.

A badge is a special symbol or recognition icon that signifies an accomplishment or skill. Badges are a way to recognize and reward library users.

Digital Badges in Outreach

Often used as part of a larger marketing plan, digital badges may be applied in a wide range of situations from rewarding young readers to recognizing volunteer work. They’re an effective way to actively engage library users, motivate readers, and share successes.

Individuals collect and display icons known as digital badges. These are awards based on specific criteria such as the number of books read or the number of hours of volunteer work. They can also be connected with fun activities such as scavenger hunts, web explorations, geolocation games, or other types of active participation. A badge might be awarded for solving a mystery or collecting a bag of cans for recycling. Many MOOCs and library workshops reward participants with badges rather than grades.

Open Badges involve verifying skills, activities, or achievements prior to awarding a digital badge. These badges can be shared on websites or in personal profiles. Software such as OpenBadges,, and Canvabadges are used to track progress and award badges.

EDUCAUSE has created a page focusing on examples of Badges in teaching and learning.

Use digital badges to connect with particular audiences. Draw in seniors with a digital badge program focusing on geneaology and family history. Participants who aren't mobile can work from their homes using online databases. Connect with language learning adults with a project that rewards acquiring and applying language skills in particular situations. Persuade teens to join a program that rewards reading books based on movies.

bridgeRead 7 Things You Should Know About Badges from EDUCAUSE. Available:

bridgeRead Ferrari, Ahniwa (February 21, 2014). Badging the Library: Part 1. OCLC WebJunction. Available: and Ferrari, Ahniwa (April 11, 2013). Badging the Library: Part 2. OCLC WebJunction. Available:

bridgeSchool Library Interest: Read Hallett, Karin Schreiber (October 12, 2013). Motivating Literacy: Digital Badges in the School Library. Liquid Literacy. Available: and Hallett, Karin Schreier (September 8, 2014). Creating a Community of Readers. Liquid Literacy. Available:

bridgeAcademic Library Interest: Read Pagowsky, Nicole. Keeping Up With… Digital Badges for Instruction. ACRL Available:

Badges in Libraries and Learning


Example: The Bellingham Public Library Summer Reading for Adults program gives badges in categories such as Demo Daze, Genre Drifter, and Master the Elements.

Example: The DC Public Library offers 16 badges as part of their summer program in categories including Artistic Endeavors, Community Crusader, Cover to Cover, and Tech Mastery.


Example: The Marcellus Library teen summer programming includes “Make Your Summer” badges.

Example: The University of Central Florida pilot project awards digital badges for Information Literacy Module completion.

Example: Delaware County Community College uses badges to reward people for participation in campus workshops.

Example: YALSA is using badges as an approach to micro-credentials to help library staff gain skills related to YALSA’s Competencies for Serving Youth in Libraries. They earn badges for activities like learning to use Twitter, building youth collections, or writing an elevator speech.

Example: The Chicago City of Learning project is a collaboration among schools, libraries, and other organizations. The badges focus on learning across the city.

The Digital Media & Learning Research Hub posts articles about badges, digital media, and learning.

The P2PU (Peer-to-Peer University) uses badges to reward online learners. They even have a class in making badges.

bridgeRead Digital Badging.
Think about the connection between digital badges and outreach.

The Software

Mozilla’s OpenBadges at is probably the best known open source tool for creating badges. Unfortunately, the page is dated. is another option for creating badges. To learn more about it, go to

The Badges

Many websites are available to help librarians create badges.

Begin by exploring existing badge designs that you can repurpose for your project. Do a Google Search for “library badges” for ideas.

Consider using a tool specifically designed to create digital badges such as Open Badge Designer at

Graphic tools like Inkscape and Pixlr can be used to design badges from scratch.

The following websites are useful for identifying interesting icons.

What is advocacy?

Advocacy generates support for specific proposals or issues associated with libraries such as funding and privacy rights through getting people who have good opinions about the library to speak on its behalf about the value of the organization and its services.

According to Dinesh Gupta (2006, 16), advocacy "is a planned, deliberate and sustained effort to address an issue... it is a continuous process during which support and understanding of the issue are gradually increased over an extended period of time".

The Libraries Transform campaign from the American Library Association is an example.

Like other types of marketing, it's important to know your audience.

bridgeRead the American Public Libraries & Community Internet Access infographic.
What other data would be useful in planning for advocacy?

bridgeRead Walter, Suzanne & Jackson, Kent (2013). Chapter 9: Advocacy for Libraries. In, Breakthrough Branding: Positioning Your Library to Survive and Thrive. ALA Neal-Schuman. If you're interested in reading the rest of this chapter, go to the ebook for IUPUI students.

Skim the Millennial Impact report. It focuses on how best to engage the Millennial generation to volunteer, donate, and get involved. They found that 71% of millennials have raised money for a non-profit, 70% would prefer to make donations online, and 72% would like to learn about volunteer opportunities through email.

millennial impactmillennial impact

According to Dowd, Evangeliste, and Silberman (2010), an advocacy campaign doesn't need to be expensive. Consider an online approach:

  1. Set up online presence (i.e., website, wiki, blog). Use a free tool like Wordpress.
  2. Determine your call to action. Connect to political leaders (i.e., ask people to call leader offices), legislators (i.e., link to their website and provide a message they can use), or get a petition going (i.e., use a tool like GoPetition).
  3. Provide supporting materials for taking action. Post related document at your special page, wiki, or blogsite. These materials include PDFs of fliers, bookmarks, impact statements, agenda items, contacts, and thank yous. Scibd can be used to upload documents for free if space isn't available on your website.
  4. Make your case. Be sure to provide documentation to support your stand. Include a one-page overview that includes the key talking point. It should also include links to materials.
  5. Let other people tell their story about your library. Incorporate quotes, video clips, and personal stories whenever possible. Photos can also be persuasive.
  6. Provide opportunity for supporters to join your cause. Use an online poll or survey tool to collect supporter information. Or, place a form on your web page. Google Forms is an easy to collect data. The information becomes part of a database.
  7. Set up a social network page. Facebook page, LinkedIN connection, Flickr group, YouTube channel, and links to your website are all important.
  8. Set up a media page. Post all news releases and contact information on the library media or news page.

Examine the Advocacy Planning Worksheet from OCLC.

Be sure that users are aware of their legislators. Use links to their websites as well as maps.

Example: The Save Ohio Libraries campaign contains many of these elements. Explore their blog, materials, and social network links. Explore other SaveTheLibraries projects.

The American Library Association has an Office for Library Advocacy with online materials. ALA maintains a list of Save Libraries in Your State.

Facebook has become a popular tool for advocacy. Explore the following examples:

bridgeThe ilovelibraries campaign is an American Library Association advocacy campaign.
What resources and approaches do you think are most effective? Why?

bridgeRead one of the following articles:
Speaking Up for Library Services to Teens: A Guide to Advocacy
Inviting Legislators into School Libraries

Infographics are an important tool in advocacy. AASL has created some templates to help with building infographics.

bridgeExplore the template for the School Library Snapshot project.
Brainstorm ideas for this type of advocacy campaign.


How does advocacy build support?

trained librarianAdvocacy builds support by creating a joint rallying cry among supporters. The key is finding those grassroots individuals and groups to share the message. Consider the following dozen supporters:

  1. regular library users
  2. irregular library users
  3. library volunteers
  4. staff members
  5. administrators
  6. community partners
  7. corporate partners
  8. government agencies
  9. friends of the library
  10. national and international advocacy groups
  11. donors
  12. people who have been messengers in the past

Some of the most effective advocacy materials are simple.

The poster on the right was created by Sarah McIntyre for use in a school library lobby!

Customer retention involves marketing aimed at developing and nurturing long-term relationships between the librarian and users.

The library website is also an important tool for advocacy.

Example. The Allen County Public Library has a donation button on the entry page of the website that lead directly to a donation page.

Skim the Public Library Advocacy page from Wikipedia.

bridgeWatch four videos from ALA that connect libraries with early literacy. Think about these videos can be used as tools for advocacy.

Read an article and watch a video: Beyond Awareness Campaigns.

bridgeRead Beyond Awareness Campaigns: Marketing Library Services Today in Library Journal.
Watch the videos in the article and think about the value of going beyond awareness campaigns.

How is community building related to advocacy?

An important part of community building is establishing good will.

Friedenwald-Fishman and Dellinger (2009) state that

"Public will building is a communication approach that builds public support for social change by integrating grassroots outreach methods with traditional mass media tools in a process that connects an issue to the existing, closely held vales of individuals and groups. This approach leads to deeper public understanding and ownership of social change. It creates new and lasting community expectations that shape the way people act, think, and behave."

In their chapter Building Public Will For Libraries, Friedenwald-Fishman and Dellinger (2009) identified four principles of public will building.

Example: The Swing into Stories program at the San Francisco Public Library connects reading with active movement. By partnering with the San Francisco Recreation & Parks, the library and parks both benefit.

Example: In Grand Rapids Michigan, the Bookfest runs concurrently with the Festival of the Arts.

The Thomas M. Cooley Law Libraries developed the Food for Fines campaign that involved community outreach.

"The Food for Fines method of payment was made available to three categories of library patrons: students, attorneys, and alumni. Each campus location created a list of acceptable food items tailored to the needs of the local community. Fines were reduced for those who preferred to pay cash, which was also contributed to the food banks.

Window displays, a brochure, and posters helped to publicize the campaign. The participating food banks were very grateful for the efforts of the library. In addition, the positive response of the students, faculty, and staff has convinced the library to conduct a Food for Fines initiative every fall. This campaign, which was designed to serve others while addressing the issue of unpaid fines, resulted in promoting the library, the school, and the profession." - Brunner (2010)

A sense of community is particularly important in rural areas.

"Small rural libraries face an increasing range of challenges with often fixed or even reducing resources. Being sustainable might mean just surviving — let alone adopting new technologies, attracting more resources, forging community partnerships, garnering political support, and promoting children's and youth activities... cultural sustainability is also important to small rural libraries and their communities, and the need for them to focus on their communities, marketing and partnerships." – Amberg, 2010

bridgeRead Where Angels Fear to Thread: A Nonlibrarian's View of the Sustainability of Rural Libraries by Penny Amberg.


What role do friends groups, liaisons, and committees play in advocacy?

Groups such as the Friends of the Library are a great way to market library resources and services. They are also an important part of the overall public relations and advocacy efforts of the library.

According to Deborah Schander (2012, 8), it's important to involve students in library decisions and policies that impact them directly. She suggests the formation of Student Advisory Councils contains 10 to 15 members. Schander states that

"the cost and time considerations are often small, especially in comparison with the return. By inviting a small group of students to offer their insights about library outreach efforts, your whole student body will benefit."

Go to Ways to Advocate as a Friend for ideas.

Go to Ways to Advocate as a Trustee for ideas.

bridgeLooking for more ideas?
SKIM Chapter 9 of Lucas-Alfieri, Debra (2015). Marketing the 21st Century Library: The Time is Now. Chandos Publishing.


Alman, Susan W. (2007). Crash Course in Marketing for Libraries. Libraries Unlimited.

Amberg, Penny (2010). Where angels fear to tread: a non-librarian’s view of sustainability of rural libraries. APLIS, 23(1), 28-32. 

Antin, Judd, & Churchill, Elizabeth F. (2011). Badges in social media: A social psychological perspective. Human Factors, 1–4.

Barber, Peggy & Wallace, Linda (2010). Building a Buzz: Libraries & Word-of-Mouth Marketing. ALA Editions.

Barker, Bradley. (2013). Digital badges in informal learning environments. ICIW 2013, Eighth International Conference on Internet and Web Applications and Services. Available: leid=iciw_2013_11_10_20013

Braun, Linda. (2013). Going back to school with badges. YALSA Blog. Available:

Brunner, Karen (2010). Promoting Excellence.

Dellinger, Laura K. Lee (2009). A values-based approach to successful library advocacy. In M. Gould (ed), The Library PR Handbook, 81-93.

Dempsey, Kathy (2009). The Accidental Library Marketer. Information Today.

Diaz, Veronica. (2013). Digital badges for professional development. EDUCAUSE Review.

Dowd, Nancy, Evangeliste, Mary, & Silberman, Jonathan (2010). Bite-Sized Marketing: Realistic Solutions for the Over-worked Librarian. ALA Editions.

Friedenwald-Fishman, Eric & Dellinger, Laura (2009). Building public will for libraries. In Mark Gould (ed), The Library PR Handbook, ALA Editions, 23-37.

Gupta, Dinesh, Koontz, Christie, Massisimo, Angels & Savard, Rejean (eds.) (2006). Marketing Library and Information Services: International Perspectives. Die Deutsche Bibliothek.

Lovelock, Christopher & Wirtz, Jochen (2010). Service Marketing. 7th edition. Prentice Hall.

Mathews, Brian (2009). Building Relationships. Marketing Today's Academic Library. ALA Editions, 68-85.

Matthews, Joseph (2002). Communicating the value of a special library. The Bottom Line: Determining and Communicating the Value of the Special Library. Libraries Unlimited, 143-147.

Reed, Sally Gardner (2001). Making the Case for Your Library: A How-To-Do-It Manual. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

Schander, Deborah (June 2012). Student advistory councils. AALL Spectrum, 7-8.sac

Siess, Judith (2003). The Visible Librarian. ALA Editions.

Smallwood, Carol (ed) (2010). Librarians as Community Partners: An Outreach Handbook. ALA Editions.

Waibel, Günter & Erway, Ricky (2009). Think global, act local – library, archive and museum collaboration. Museum Management and Curatorship, 24,4.

Waibel, Günter & Massie, Dennis (2009). Catalyzing collaboration: seven New York City libraries. OCLC Research.

Walters, Suzanne (2004). Library Marketing that Works! Neal-Schuman Publishers.

Woodward, Jeannette (2009). Creating the Customer-Driven Academic Library. ALA Editions, 152-171.


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