The Best in Library Branding

Winners of the 2011 John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award wow judges and their communities

May 27, 2011

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The John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award (JCD) turned 65 years old this year and celebrated this milestone with the Midwinter announcement of the 2011 winners. Five vibrant libraries demonstrated innovative, outstanding marketing strategies in campaigns ending in 2010: Anythink Libraries of Adams County, Colorado; Edmonton (Alberta) Public Library; Loudoun County (Va.) Public Library; University of California/Santa Cruz Library; and Worthington (Ohio) Libraries.

With continuous support from the H. W. Wilson Company since 1946, the JCDs are the longest-running sponsored awards given by the American Library Association. The winners will be honored at a reception at the 2011 ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans, June 23–28, and each will receive a $5,000 grant from the H. W. Wilson Foundation. The contest is administered by the Public Relations and Marketing Section of ALA’s Library Leadership and Management Association.

The dough of Deadheads

Many academics consider the John Cotton Dana a public library award. However, the University of California/Santa Cruz Library wowed the judges with a fabulously successful campaign to build a Grateful Dead archive. The library received an $8 million donation of comprehensive Deadhead memorabilia from surviving band members. However, funds were needed to catalog the collection and make it available to the public.

The university developed three goals: to reach out with targeted fundraising, to achieve “academic and cultural credibility” for the collection, and to build a Facebook fan base. A unique collector’s piece nicknamed “the Grateful Dead pizza box” was sent to selected potential donors. The label noted: “The Music, The Memorabilia. All We Need Now Is the BREAD.” A singing pop-up centerfold housed a hard drive with a catalog of 200 Grateful Dead songs. Approximately 25 donors jumped at the opportunity to participate at the $5,000–$35,000 level. Campaign highlights included a major exhibit at the New York Historical Society, accompanied by tie-dye-designed lights atop the Empire State Building and phenomenal mainstream media press coverage. The archive has reached over 150,000 people, garnered more than 50,000 Facebook friends, and raised an astounding $1,379,674 in donations.

Anythink, anytime

Anythink” is the revolutionary Rangeview Library District in Adams County, Colorado. A winning tax levy positioned this traditional 20th-century library for 21st-century superstardom. Total rebranding, coupled with a vigorous customer service policy, increased the number of active cardholders by 18%. The library was energized by a manifesto noting that staff, trustees, and volunteers are: “Part Wizard, Part Genius, Part Explorer.” This wasn’t just bureaucratic mumbo jumbo. A whopping 42% increase in visits, coupled with a 67% increase in circulation, also garnered this library a 2010 National Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Spread the words

Many libraries subcontract marketing and often abdicate campaign responsibility to consultants. Alberta’s Edmonton Public Library is a prototype for sensible integration of outsourced and in-house marketing. A dynamic rebranding featured a stylish new logo and a catchy slogan. “Spread the Words” took the library to the streets with an innovative guerilla marketing campaign complete with a “flasher” in a trench coat who walked around town and flashed a library T-shirt. Director Tina Thomas was pleased that, in a post-campaign survey of approximately 2,800 individuals, over 75% of respondents agreed that they preferred the new brand and logo. Watch this video to see Edmonton Public Library’s empowered staff touting the campaign.

Find yourself here

Ohio’s Worthington Libraries also won for a distinctive rebranding effort called “Find Yourself Here” that informed patrons that “No matter what you’re looking for, you can find it at Worthington Libraries!” From social media to library gear to print, the library was positioned as an exciting and inviting destination. Worthington Libraries moved from inconsistent marketing to a clearly defined contemporary look. Through total branding of all library communications—including print, electronic, and social media, community engagement, and staff support—the campaign has been effective in positioning the library as not only a source for information, but as an inviting destination with something for everyone. Bright graphics, a positive attitude, and a sense of community laid the groundwork for this successful campaign. Leaving nothing to chance, a staff communications manual clearly articulated appropriate use of the brand. Impressive statistical results capped the award. The evaluation noted that the number of registered borrowers increased 23% and website traffic increased 16%.

The ultimate poetry slam

Many libraries have done “One Book One Community” programs. Loudoun County (Va.) Public Library both expanded and targeted the concept with a year dedicated to poetry, called “Try Poetry 2010.” Breaking boundaries, the library encouraged the residents of the fastest-growing community in the nation to keep reading until—to paraphrase Emily Dickinson—they found a poem that made them feel as if the tops of their heads were taken off and their bodies were so cold no fire could ever warm them. There were lots of live poetry events featuring local artists and community members, as well as multi-award-winning author Nikki Giovanni. A Washington Post feature showcased library Poet-in-Residence Kwame Alexander leading high school students through the publication of their work. Community members shared favorite poems in a variety of languages both in person and on YouTube. Residents in the Loudoun County Juvenile Detention Center were also an integral component of the program that celebrated the “borderless conversation” of poetry. A total of 110 poetry programs were presented in the community.

Winners all

In the John Cotton Dana award’s 65 years, there have been many memorable entries. A small-town Texas librarian perched on the courthouse roof seeking increased funding. ZZ Top serenading students at an academic library. Garfield the cartoon cat becoming an official elementary school mascot with permission of creator Jim Davis.

Themes have changed. In 2011, rebranding is in and large galas, grand openings, and lavish programs are out. Staffs and supporters sported logo T-shirts and caps that built morale and sold the brand. Libraries relied on everything from word-of-mouth marketing to social media to position their libraries and capture market share. The judges chose five very different libraries for this year’s John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award. All offered clearly articulated, groundbreaking examples of library marketing that fit the tone for 2011.

JUDITH GIBBONS is a library consultant and freelance writer. Retired from the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, she was president of the Southeastern Library Association and the Kentucky Public Library Association. She is a member of the ALA Council and a judge for the John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Awards.