At the busy Public Library Association (PLA) Conference in Philadelphia last week, EBSCO Publishing and its NoveList group introduced a completely new sort of product called LibraryAware. It’s a software tool full of customizable templates that guide librarians through the process of creating professional-grade press releases, fliers, bookmarks, emails, letters, and more for various audiences and events. According to NoveList, LibraryAware “will revolutionize the way libraries promote their programs and services.”
At the well-attended launch party on March 15, the group also announced a companion award, the LibraryAware Community Award, cosponsored by Library Journal. It will celebrate communities that are “LibraryAware” and that understand the value of their libraries. The LibraryAware Community Award will be an impressive one, with a top prize of $10,000, a second prize of $7,500, and a third prize of $5,000. Details will be announced later.
Why and How the Software Will Work
LibraryAware project lead Nancy Dowd is the former director of marketing at the New Jersey State Library, where her work won many awards. While at the state library, she created campaigns that helped many librarians design promotional materials and communicate with their service populations. So Dowd knows just what sort of guidance librarians and para-professionals need as they try to tackle these tasks, and she brought that expertise to this product.
As Dowd explained at the launch party, many community groups (the media, elected officials, etc.) don’t know that your library is transforming lives. And since few librarians have backgrounds in marketing and promotion, they don’t always tell their stories effectively. LibraryAware has been designed to help with that. During a one-on-one demo, I learned exactly how that will happen.
LibraryAware is a simple tool that takes public librarians step-by-step through the process of creating print and electronic materials. The first screen asks what target audience the item is for (children, teens, adults, seniors) and what type of item you want to create. There are many materials to choose from:
- Catalog inserts
- Email blasts
- Evaluation forms
- Letters to the editor
- Op-Ed pieces
- Social media content
- Sponsor requests
- Thank you letters
The next screen allows you to choose from a handful of professionally made templates; each has been designed to appeal to the audience you’ve chosen. For example, there are colorful photos of kids on the children’s materials, more business-like designs for others, etc. One major feature of them all is that they have the library’s customized “boilerplate” information embedded—the name, logo, contact info, etc.—all in the library’s official colors and fonts. The LibraryAware team will work with each customer to set up this section to ensure proper branding across all of an organization’s materials; then it can only be changed by the users who have administrative access to the software. Keeping fonts, colors, wording, and overall branding consistent is something that large systems constantly struggle with since so many people end up creating materials on their own, making this feature an especially attractive one.
Once a librarian has chosen an item’s template and begins to enter the information into the open fields, another time-saving, consistency-enabling feature kicks in. All of the data entered (event name, time, place, description, etc.) is saved to automatically populate other materials designed for that campaign. In other words, if you want to create bookmarks, fliers, social media posts, and invitations for one event, you can key in all the vital data on one item’s template and have it show up on all other items in that project's folder. LibraryAware will even work with your calendar software (Evanced is the first partner) so that the press of a button will export an event’s data into your calendar.
While the boilerplate info and overall look are static, other things can be changed. Within a chosen template, librarian “designers” can pick from various fonts and colors. Photos are especially customizable. Many high-quality, prelicensed photos come with the product, and you can load your own or even add book cover images.
Dowd explained that she and NoveList did lots of work with potential users, asking what they needed and then watching them try the product as it was being designed. She claimed that totally new users were able to make a bookmark, flier, or email in 10 minutes. “It was just so easy for them,” Dowd emphasized. In fact, as my demo and interview were ending, two PLA attendees came to EBSCO’s booth and asked for a demo. I took the opportunity to stick around and watch as they viewed LibraryAware for the first time. They asked many questions, and their overall reaction was overwhelmingly positive. A few minutes into the demo, Amy Mather from Omaha Public Library exclaimed, “I totally want to play with this!” Near the end, Mather declared (unprompted), “This will help us manage the unmanageable.”
Other online components will enable users to write email blasts and social media posts and then schedule them to go out at future times. There are ways to create and control various email lists for different projects. Another interesting feature is free content—links to library quotes and stats will be built in to provide fun fillers and facts.
I also spoke to NoveList executives, positing that a marketing/promotion product was a departure from the company’s signature readers’ advisory tools. Duncan Smith, NoveList's vice president, assured me that wasn’t the case, saying that LibraryAware was developed to fit a need in the marketplace. The company is using what it’s learned from past product development to fulfill its mission to “create tools and resources public libraries need to be successful.”
Purchasing, Pricing, Training
LibraryAware is not available yet; they’re trying to have it ready to order in June. Pricing will be determined by population, but has not been finalized. Dowd assured me, “Don’t worry, we’re going to make it affordable.”
While the product appears to be quite simple to use, training is always important. Dowd said there would be webinars and individual help with customized set-up—by marketing people, not by techs or salespeople. Her team is concentrating on making point-of-need help available: “We’re going to build a community of constant communication.”
Right now, LibraryAware is only for public libraries (singles and systems) since it’s been designed for their specific needs. The vendor will look at developing new modules for other types of libraries, “but we want to be sure we are excelling with public libraries first,” Dowd said.
Some have questioned whether this software package could make marketing departments unnecessary. NoveList wants to assure librarians (and funders) that this is not the case. LibraryAware is a tool designed to allow diverse people to design collateral more efficiently, consistently, and professionally across an organization. But there’s a lot more to true marketing than that. When employees can spend less time writing and finding artwork for fliers and brochures, they can spend more time on strategizing, planning, and evaluating—the vital activities that many marketers currently skip due to time and budget constraints. Having one resource and one process for designing and delivering materials simplifies the promotion and publicity parts of the marketing process. The goal, Smith said at the launch party, is to “Help your community begin to imagine how the library can change their lives.” And a community that is “library aware” is one that can help ensure sustainable funding.
The selection of screenshots illustrates the main steps of creating promotional materials with LibraryAware.
1. Begin by deciding which project to do for which audience.
2. Choose what type of material to make from the list, then choose a predesigned template.
3. Fill in the fields with text and choose photos, fonts, and colors.
4. See all creations at a glance, choose what to print, or schedule an email or social post.