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Public Relations

Marketing for Libraries: Part 9: Public Relations from Annette Lamb on Vimeo.

Public relations (PR) involves building long-term, positive relationships between users and libraries. Its purpose is selling the library as a whole to users and keeping customers coming back for more. Public relations involves developing an identity and image that reflects the mission of the library, then sharing a clear, ongoing message with the community about this overall vision.

Developing a positive, productive organizational culture is at the core of public relations. Each staff member and volunteer must consider public relations at the top of their responsibilities. To develop an excellent quality of service, everyone from the custodian staff to storytellers should seek the satisfy library customer needs.

In this section, we'll define public relations and explore ways to create positive, long-term relationships with library customers.


Key Questions

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

What is public relations (PR)?

Public relations serves as the foundation for your promotional activities to come. Without a positive relationship with your audience, all the promotion in the world won't draw in library customers. Users must see the library as a place with value that they can go to for information, resources, services, and programs.

The photo below shows people at the Homer Township Public Library learning to knit.


Dinesh Gupta (2006) states that public relations involves "influencing perceptions, attitudes, and opinion by transmitting information about the benefits of using the library's products and services".

While large libraries or library systems may have a separate PR department, most library directors are on their own. The IFLA defines public relations as:

"the form of communication management that seeks to make use of publicity and other non-paid forms of promotion and information to influence feelings, opinions or beliefs about the agency/library and its offerings. This is a traditional form of communication for library management, as paid advertising media is rarely used."

In Marketing through the Ordinary and the Extraordinary, Valerie Aggerbeck (2012) stresses the importance of thinking about daily activities as opportunities for public relations. She identified five rules of marketing through ordinary activities of the library (2012, 10):

  1. Pay careful attention to the direct requests you get
  2. Manage customer expectations skillfully
  3. Do well at whatever you do for all the members of your primary user community but especially for the opinion leaders within that community
  4. Solicit feedback from your patrons
  5. Be mindful of your attitude and demeanor.

Looking for more generic information about public relations? Consider the following resources:

How is marketing tied to public relations?

While marketing is customer-oriented and often focused on a particular product or service, public relations is focused on selling the library as a whole. A specific marketing plan may be tied to the some aspect of the overall public relations plan.

"Implementing a successful virtual reference service begins with marketing it to potential users. As with marketing other library services, a good PR campaign can remind patrons that the library provides valuable resource and services that relate to the user and the university's mission. Marketing virtual reference service varies with library budgets and service types." (Almquist, 2011, 162)

According to the Ohio Library Council, activities of public relations include:

Example: Public relations activities can be woven throughout the marketing program. Women attending a book club meeting might be encouraged to participate in other activities such as sharing their reading experiences with friends. Small things can make a big impact over time. The photo on the right shows a group at the San Mateo County Library.

Book club

How is customer service tied to public relations?

Providing quality customer service is an important element of public relations. The West Palm Beach Public Library suggests four steps to quality service:

bridgeRead the West Palm Beach Public Library World's Nicest Library brochure.
Do you think this brochure covers the key elements of good customer service? Is there anything you would add?

bridgeExplore Mid-Hudson Marketing & Public Relations.
Examine their examples.

Customer Service is much more than simply providing a positive transaction experience.

How can contacts be organized?

It's impossible to speak personally with every member of your community. However you need to start somewhere. Tools like LinkedIn help librarians build professional networks.

Begin by creating a list of contacts.

Personal Contacts. Who do you already know in the community? Who do you know at the local school, at the Chamber of Commerce, or in upper university administration?

Friends of Friends. Who do you know that knows other people? How can they help you connect to a new group of people? If you don't know who they know, use Facebook. You'll be amazed at the connections you'll find.

The Bump. Who are important community members you need to get to know? Where can you "bump into them" and meet them? Attending a PTA meeting is the first step in getting to know active parents in the community. Attending a town council meeting will help you meet a wide range of people interested in local activities.

Example: Find people who overlap multiple organizations such as The Friends of the Library and the Senior Center crowd. Use these people to bridge these two groups.

Cold Calls. Sometimes there's not an easy way to establish a new contact. Rather than simply sending an e-mail out of the blue, think of a reason to make an initial contact. Identify a personal or professional connection to the library. People love to be flattered. Let them know that they're important to the library.

Recruit. There are people out there who want to be involved. They just need to be invited. Use your website and blog to solicit input. These active people can become wonderful advocates.

Organize these individuals into groups. Who are you missing? Meet with your planning committee to see if the holes can be filled.

It may take several years to build your contact list, however it's worth the time. This isn't an email list, it's a contact list that can be used to target specific people for specific purposes.


How can Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM) be used to extend impact?

It's sometimes difficult to get community members, faculty, and other potential partners interested in collaborating on projects. It can also be difficult to get students to use the many wonderful tutorials and resources available. The key is Word Of Mouth Marketing (WOMM).

"People trust the recommendations from people they know over those of a stranger." (Dowd, Evangeliste, & Silberman, 2010, 2)

Example: Brian Mathews (2009, 68) provides the example of an undergraduate engineering course. The faculty member wasn't interested in using class time for research instruction.

"My big break came while helping one of his students at the information desk. After our reference encounter I created a five-minute video clip highlighting the various databases and basic strategies that we covered. The students appreciated this effort and forwarded the clip to others in his class. Over the next week I heard from several of his classmates who had follow-up questions about using particular databases and advanced search strategies. The video had piqued their interest and also caught the attention of the professor. The next semester he asked me to produce a similar clip on a different topic...

... the video was successful only because the student shared it with his peers. If I had sent the tutorial to the professor or simply placed it on the library's website, it would have been far less effective."

Dowd, Evangeliste, and Silberman (2010, 3) state that "the trick to a successful WOMM campaign is to make sure that you reach and give tools to spread the word to the 10 percent of people who will influence the other 90 percent."

This is where your contact list comes in handy. According to Dowd, Evangeliste, and Silberman (2010, 3), "to create a successful WOMM campaign, we just have to get those influencers on board, give them the proper information, and provide the tools to help them share that information."

"Libraries' information consumer market share continues to freefall despite the opportunities that have emerged with the arrival of the Information Age. We've built digital libraries, offering access to immense digital collections of quality resources, and online service desks staffed by skilled experts, but the crowds are not coming. Marketing missteps are largely to blame for the declining role of libraries in people's lives. There is an awareness gap between the offering of digital libraries and the communities they serve. Word-of-mouth (WOM), or referral marketing, modeled on blogs like Slashdot (, is the key to increasing traffic to licensed digital library resources. Face-to-face and electronically mediated WOM marketing can turn back the tide of falling market share, and regain lost positioning, in the communities a library serves." – Buczynski, 2007

Basic elements of WOMM have been identified by Dowd, Evangeliste and Silberman (2010, 9-17),

  1. Identify the influencers. Find people who enjoy sharing and get them involved. Search the web for people who are talking about the library. Give people public recognition for their work. Provide simple incentives from candy to Facebook LIKES.
  2. Create simple ideas that are easy to communicate. Stick to a simple, memorable story that others can share including a call to action. For instance, use photos of happy people using your services.
  3. Give people the tools they need to spread the word. Provide ways that influencers can easily share your ideas by providing RSS feeds, widgets, YouTube videos, and Facebook items to share.
  4. Host a conversation. Invite influencers to both online and offline opportunities to exchange ideas.
  5. Evaluate and measure. Measure things relevant to marketing and be sure to consider online analytics.

bridgeRead Contagious Marketing: How libraries can get more word-of-mouth buzz by Peggy Barber.
This about some WOMM strategies you think would be effective in your library type of interest.

How are relationships established with media organizations?

It's important to have a personal contact with media organizations. They are one of your most important ways to get the word out about your library.

bridgeRead 21st Century Librarians Make Allies of the Press by Kimberly Matthews.
Think about how you would handle a phone call from the press.

Create an e-mail list of local and regional newspapers. Remember to include free newspapers as well as subscriptions. In some cases, online newspapers exist that don't have print equivalents. Be sure those are on your list. Include the city newspaper even if you live in an outlying area. They may not pick up all your stories, but they may find out they want to feature.

In addition to your standard outlets, also consider special contacts for particular situations. For instance, if you're featuring a product, send the press release to your vendor contact. If you're highlighting a staff member, include the press release in the alumni association newspaper where they went to college. A high school focused topic might be sent to the high school newspaper.

News Reporter. News agencies have cut back on their reporting staff, but they still have reporters who are focused in different categories of news. Talk to the newspaper and ask who would be your best contact. Establish a phone or email relationships. Get to know their preferences. Some reporters like to work from press releases, while others like to get out in the field and do interviews. Find out the preferred approach of your reporter.

News Photographer. Your reporter may also be a photographer. However at larger newspapers, you'll find a separate photographer. Some photographers love to photograph children, while others prefer public meetings or outdoor events. Find out your photographer's preference.

News Station. Television stations are looking for action. Does your event include activities that would make a great visual story? Are there interesting people that could be interviewed or music being played? When you contact the news station, be sure they're aware of these interesting features.

The image (courtesy Flickr Christchurch Library) below shows the grand opening of a new library in Christchurch New Zealand. The media were invited to the event.

news station

How are relationships established with individuals and groups?

Seek out individuals that can become part of your marketing team directly or indirectly. These don't need to be well-known local figures or people of authority. Sometimes the most effective relationships are found in mystery book lovers, cookbook fans, and retired teachers who love the library and just want to help.


The photo above shows a group of library volunteers at the Aurora Public Library. Volunteers are great Word of Mouth Marketers! (Courtesy the Travelin Librarian).

chessAccording to Dowd, Evangeliste, and Silberman (2010, 4), authoritative sources are only one way to capture the attention of individuals and groups.

"For many librarians, the idea that people would choose to listen to a nonauthoriative source goes against the fundamental belief that people need experts as guides. Those librarians might hesitate to use the full power of personal recommendations... If we want to deliver a message, we need to know what people want, develop the product that fills that need, and then give people the tools to spread the word for us."

Get children and their parents into the library as part of a chess tournament. The photo above right shows a tournament at the Allen County Public Library (Flickr). These kinds of experiences bring good will to the library.

bridgeRead Masuchika, Glenn (2013). Reference desk, points-of-sale, and the building of loyalty: applications of customer relationship management techniques to library marketing. The Reference Librarian, 54, 320-331.


read posterIt's great to have celebrity endorsements, however you can create your own celebrities with an ambassador program. Ask the mayor to pose for a READ poster or feature local sports heroes talking about their favorite books on a promotional video.

The photo on the right shows "Mrs. Rucker, Social Worker, featured with "Love, Football, and other Contact Sports by Alden R. Carter and a football helmet signed by her son Mike Rucker." - Melissa Corey

Connect with local photographers, authors, quilter, artists, and craftsman. Feature their work in the library and promote resources in their areas of expertise.

In Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, he describes three prominent personality types: connectors who have social ties, mavens who accumulate knowledge and expertise, and salesmen who have charisma and influence others. These types of people make great library ambassadors.

Open Meetings

From an open house to a casual "thank you coffee", think of informal ways to connect with your audience. Invite frequent users for coffee and rolls. Celebrate new materials with a cake. Everyone loves food.

The photo by Carol VanHook shows special cake to celebrate National Library Week.

library cake

Example. The Medical Library Association recommends using these informal gatherings as a way to promote materials:

"We were able to help our internist, Dr. Smith, identify an unusual rash by searching the literature for skin conditions that matched his patient's symptoms."


How can face-to-face and virtual one-on-one (i.e., chat) interpersonal encounters be used in developing service relationships?

Although many communications can be shared electronically, live interpersonal contacts remain critical. In his article Library Outreach and the Italian Beef Sandwich, law librarian Eugene Giudice (2012) stresses the importance of "being seen" and reminds librarians that 'half of life is simply showing up.' Giudice states

"Librarians must be present at as many practice group and department meetings as possible. This might involve some negotiation with leadership, but it is well worth the effort. A librarian’s presence at a meeting does not mean that the librarian needs to speak at each meeting. The important things to listen for at these meetings are the vocabulary of the particular department or practice group as well as the clients mentioned. This will come in handy to help better understand the nature of their work.

Another way to be seen is to attend any on-site continuing legal education that might be available. Again, a librarian’s presence will demonstrate real interest in the work of the attorney and help the librarian do better work for the attorneys because they will have a better intellectual framework to rely on when doing research.

Finally, one simple way to be visible is for the librarian to make his or her own deliveries. Personally, I try to use interoffice mail as little as possible when delivering books from our collection. In addition, I always tell attorneys to call me when they are finished with the books I have delivered, and I go in person and make pick-ups so that they do not have to use the interoffice mail to return materials to the library."

Example. The Medical Library Association recommends using a technique called "grand rounds." Although this is specific to the medical profession, it could easily be modified for use in other situations.

"Be an active participant in grand rounds. Many of you already sit in on grand rounds. Take this responsibility seriously. Look for ways to help and then respond as quickly as you can. Again, don't overload people with more information than they need. If you are uncertain how much data is needed, get back to the person with a short summary and let them know you can provide more information if necessary."


How can support be rallied through conversations (i.e., elevator speech)?

elevatorMany public relations books suggest that librarians need to have a "elevator speech" ready for opportune moments. An elevator speech is a very short story (30-60 seconds, 100-200 words) that expresses the value of the library. It then uses a specific example from the current marketing campaign.

Elevator speeches generally have four parts:

Consider the following elements:

Skim examples:

Read Not Good With Elevator Speeches? Try 'Taxi Chats' by Kathy Dempsey. Think about how the elevator speech idea could be extended.

How can participatory technologies (i.e., wikis, forums, online clubs) be used to establish a virtual presence?

Form virtual relationships with library users. Websites like Library Thing and Good Reads provide an environment that encourages online book clubs and interactions. It's also possible to build your own discussion forums using tools such as Ning.

Example: The Glen Falls New York Online Book Discussion Group has both book discussions and general discussions.

Example: Albion College Library has a Good Reads page where participants including library staff share reviews and hold discussions.

From suggestion boxes to book reviews, encourage people to participate in online activities.

"In 2007, public librarian Dave Pardue launched Slam the Boards!, a monthly call for librarians to enter online answer boards such as Yahoo! Answers and answer questions, announcing to the public that they are librarians. Graduate library and information students participated in this required assignment in a basic reference class. Students reported that this experience caused them to reflect on guiding reference documents and their own career plans as they gained confidence in engaging in remote reference service. Recommendations for future involvement calls for in-class demonstration of answer boards, rehearsal, and monitoring of answer boards." – Roy, 2010

Example: Post a box on your website asking for input on an upcoming speaker series, new service, or other topic. Offer a free iTune download, coffee shop coupon, or other incentive. Get to know the people who participate in these "calls for assistance."

Example: The Duke Law Library website has a suggestion box. Suggestions and responses are posted on the page.

Building a virtual presence is much more than simply providing an online catalog and links to databases. However it can be time consuming to develop all of the online content yourself. Instead, consider how participatory technology can be used to involve library users in the process of building content. There are pros and cons to this approach. It's a wonderful way to involve volunteers and other with specific expertise. However, it can also be a problem when dealing with security challenges and intellectual property issues.

Begin with simple participatory elements such as allowing comments on your blog or providing a suggestion box. Next, ask library users to become guest bloggers or submit subject guides. Finally, involve special interest groups in coordinating their own projects such as a recipe review area to go with a cookbook page.

Example: Involve your local historical society in collecting and scanning images for a digital photo collection. Use a content management system that allows participants to have a username and password to access the system and upload images and data.

Example: Use wikis for user-generated content such as book reviews. Establish areas of interest by genre and encourage individuals to take charge of sections of the wiki.

These types of participatory projects involve users in content development and make their feel a part of the virtual library.

"The emergence of Web 2.0, with its emphasis on user-generated content, has tremendous potential for library marketing, services, and community building. However, the open nature of these communications and the ambiguous nature of authorship creates major privacy and security challenges." – Neiburger, 2010

How is social media used to nurture relationships (i.e., Facebook)?

Social media can be used to establish and nurture online relationships with current and potential library audiences.

bridgeRead Crawford, Walt (2015). Chapter 1: Social Networking in Public Libraries. In, Successful Social Networking in the Public Libraries. ALA Editions.

Are you interested in learning more about social networking? You can browse Crawford's ebook.

Social networks such as Facebook are a great way to connect with the types of people who are likely to participate in online activities. They are also a nice way to help library users connect with each other.

Rather than using an individual's profile page, set up a Page for your library. Users can LIKE the page. You can add discussion areas to your library's page that can be used for interaction. You can also set up events and invite those people who have liked the page. This is a nice way to direct users to both physical and virtual activities.

However in your enthusiasm to get LIKEs, keep in mind that Facebook's marketing strategies are changing. They want you to pay for showing up in user's news feeds.

Example: The Brooklyn Art Library Facebook page has over 1200 "likes". Their page contains frequent postings and comments. The site provides information about resources, services, events, and programs.

Example: The State Library of Queensland Facebook page has over 2800 "likes". The page posts information, photos, events, and many people make comments.

bridgeRead Facebook for Libraries, What Can you Do With A Facebook Page? by David Lee King and read Sorry Librarians But Your FB Likes Don't Matter Anymore by PC Sweeney.

Think about the kinds of posting that would providing the most buzz.

Explore a few examples. Notice how they are using their page to nurture relationships.

bridgeRead Academic Libraries on Facebook: An Analysis of Users' Comments by Michalis Gerolmos in D-Lib Magazine (2011).
Read Read Bodnar, Jonathan & Doshi, Ameet (2011). Asking the right questions: a critique of Facebook, social media, and libraries. Public Services Quarterly, 7, 102-110.

Because social media is now an important part of a Public Relations program, it's important to have policies related to how it should be used by staff.

bridgeRead Creating a Social Media Policy: What We Did, What We Learned by Elizabeth Breed.

Think about your library setting of interest. What kinds of policies regarding social media do you think are important?

Learn more about Social Media at High Tech Learning.

How are multi-user virtual worlds and live video used to develop relationships?

While some people are most comfortable interacting face-to-face, others preference virtual communication.

Live, interactive video has become a common way that libraries reach beyond their walls. Over the past couple years, Facebook Live has become a popular way to connect library users with programs as well as a means to draw people into the physical library.

bridgeRead Live from the Library by Jennifer Koerber.
Think about all the ways that live two-way video can be used in the library setting as a way to build relationships, provide programs, and draw in new library users.

MUVE (multi-user virtual worlds) go beyond web pages and chat for communication. Second Life was the first large-scale example. Participants create an avatar, explore virtual libraries, and interact with voice or text communication. In the late 2000s, this tool peaked in popularity. However many libraries continue to support these virtual sites and activities.

To learn more about Second Life, download the software. Use their search tool to locate libraries of interest that you can visit in Second Life. Some sample screen shots from Second Life are shown below. Learn more about Multi-User Virtual Worlds at High Tech Learning.

Second Life


How can value be added through virtual content communication?

It's important to create a plan virtual content communication. Think about how the marketing content your library currently provides. Then, consider how you can enhance this content systematically.

As you expand your virtual content, you won't be able to do it all yourself. Recruit staff members and volunteers with specific areas of expertise to develop content. Involve a teen with technology skills to build and maintain your social media tools.

Handley and Chapman (2011, 59-61) suggest creating a schedule detailing daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly elements. In addition, you'll want to create an annual report and other yearly documents and communications.

At Designing Better Libraries, they suggest that librarians need to "do what you can to create a blended online and on-site experience that seeks to give the consumer the best of both worlds."

bridgeRead Blending the Physical and Virtual for One Much Better Library Experience.
Think about the value of the physical and virtual library experience. What do each provide that the other lacks?

Many clients are unaware of the electronic resources available at the library. Communications such as subject guides and pathfinders help users locate and use these valuable resources.

Although web design skills are helpful, librarians can create quality online materials without technology skills. One of the easiest approaches is through the use of a content management service such as LibGuides. In Making the Most of LibGuides in Law Libraries, Melanie Cofield and Kasia Solon (2012, 17) point out that LibGuides is a great way to "simplify the creating and updating of guides while handling a variety of media".

LibGuide Examples:

bridgeLooking for more ideas?
SKIM Chapter 6 of Lucas-Alfieri, Debra (2015). Marketing the 21st Century Library: The Time is Now. Chandos Publishing.


Aggerbeck, Valerie R. (July 2012). Marketing through the Ordinary and the Extraordinary. AALL Spectrum, 9-11.

Almquist, Sharon (2011). Distributed Learning and Virtual Librarianship. ABC-CLIO.

Buczynski, James (2007). Referral marketing campaigns. Serials Librarian, 53(3), 193-209.

Cofield, Melanie & Solon, Kasia (March 2012). Making the Most of LibGuides in Law Libraries. AALL Spectrum, 17-18.

Read Crawford, Walt (2015). Successful Social Networking in the Public Libraries. ALA Editions.

Dempsey, Kathy (2009). The Accidental Library Marketer. Information Today: Medford, New Jersey.

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

Forrestal, Valerie (2011). Making Twitter work: a guide for the uninitiated, the skeptical and the pragmatic. Reference Librarian, 52(1/2), 146-151.

Giudice, Eugene M. (2012). Library Outreach and the Italian Beef Sandwich. AALL Spectrum, 16(8).

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

Handley, Ann, Chapman, C.C. (2010). Content Rules. Wiley.

Iverson, Marsha A. (2009). Improving our media relations via strategic communication plans. In K Dempsey (ed), The Accidental Marketer, 249-260. Information Today: Medford, NJ.

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

MacDonald, Karen I., vanDuinkerken, Wyoma, & Stephens, Jane (2008). It’s all in the marketing: the impact of a virtual reference. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 47(4), 375-385.

Mathews, Brian (2009). Marketing Today’s Academic Library. ALA Editions.

Scott, David Meerman (2011). Web-based communications to reach buyers directly. The New Rules of Marketing & PR (third edition). Wiley, 35-134.

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

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

Wan, Gang (Oct-Dec 2011). How academic libraries research users on Facebook. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 18(4), 319-332.

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

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