“Because Transformation Is Essential to the Communities We Serve” is the introductory tagline of the webpage promoting the American Library Association’s (ALA) newest attempt at establishing the essential link between libraries and their constituents. Launched in Washington D.C., in October 2015, the multiyear Libraries Transform campaign is “designed to increase public awareness of the value, impact and services provided by libraries and library professionals.”
The main ideas governing this ALA-driven initiative—increasing awareness and funding support for libraries and advancing information policy issues that are in alignment with ALA’s advocacy goals—are not new; the organization has rolled out similar programs (e.g., Ilovelibraries.org, Libraries Transforming Communities, and Library Champions) in recent years.
Libraries Transform is comparable to earlier campaigns, and it is certain to capitalize on past successes and the groundswell of public trust and support for libraries as repositories of knowledge that offer democratic access to all communities. However, there are noteworthy differences in the program’s purpose, marketing strategies, and key messages. These components have been crafted into a campaign with three broad objectives: awareness, perception, and engagement. These objectives were developed explicitly to change existing perceptions of libraries “from ‘obsolete’ or ‘nice to have’ to essential” and to send a clear message that in the digital age, the “transformed library leverages its assets to open up new possibilities and go beyond informing to dynamically [engage] communities,” ALA states.
Transforming Libraries With the Help of Social Media
In an increasingly competitive online environment, it is common practice to use easily accessible and affordable social media tools to initiate and sustain public awareness programs for niche audiences. Thus far, Libraries Transform has accomplished this by integrating “provocative branding” via popular social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to successfully launch a marketing strategy aimed at engaging ALA members and stakeholders in campaign planning and promotion. ALA has also worked toward capitalizing on well-established assets such as National Library Week and Library Card Sign-Up Month as major tentpole events during the campaign.
National Library Week
The 2016 National Library Week theme, Libraries Transform, was deliberately chosen to align with the ongoing campaign. For the observance, library supporters and advocates were actively recruited to show support and “spread the word about the important role of libraries in people’s lives” in creative ways, including the following:
Libraries Transform Toolkit
In its bid to energize and engage recruits for this task, ALA provides a ready-to-use Libraries Transform-branded toolkit, which offers “messaging, programming ideas, social media tools, downloadable art, and a link to products in the ALA Store,” according to American Libraries magazine. It says the availability of this toolkit on the campaign’s website makes it easy for “library professionals to get involved, and to connect the campaign to existing initiatives such as National Library Week.”
Libraries Transform: Real-Life Stories
The ability to like, share, or favorite a product or service is a staple of most social media platforms. The use of these features increases the product’s legitimacy and can lead to additional endorsements from peers, family members, or friends. Adding real-life stories or testimonials to a public awareness campaign can have a similar effect by injecting some emotional appeal into a seemingly banal project. Collating and sharing real-life stories from patrons “of all ages and backgrounds” is another effective promotional strategy interwoven into Libraries Transform.
Supporters can share stories about how libraries are transforming to meet the needs of their communities and how libraries have transformed their lives. The Share Your Story webpage has been carefully developed to garner immediate responses from key demographic groups in rural, suburban, and urban communities. Supporters have shared intimate stories of visits to local libraries in their communities to consult with staff for help with completing assignments and complex research projects, to acquire job-hunting skills and search for employment online, to access the internet to connect with family, to start a business plan, or to find a comforting “third place” to read and relax.
The Libraries Transform website has a Real Stories section that features these testimonials. For example, Jenn from California writes, “The library has been a staple part of our activities and schedule for as long as I can remember being a mom. What could be better than meeting up at your local library for storytime with other moms who are looking for something fun, organized and free?”
“Delaware Public Libraries are simply wonderful. They, of course, have all accoutrements of a library, books, CDs, DVDs, computers, magazines, special programs and more. However, they also go well out of their way to help the community each and every day,” writes Robin from Delaware.
Another testimonial is from Carolina in Texas: “Students at Elvis Ballew High School are creating poetry with the spines of books. As a librarian I work hard to help students connect to stories, literature, and poetry.”
The Fisher family from Washington writes, “I have come to appreciate the library as a way to connect with our larger community—a community that values reading and learning.”
Showcasing the Transformative Nature of Today’s Libraries
Judging by the buzz generated at the 2016 ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits when Libraries Transform was first advertised, ALA may well have achieved its goal of becoming the “one clear, energetic voice for [the] profession, showcasing the transformative nature of today’s libraries and elevating the critical role libraries play in the digital age.” In reaching this goal, ALA may also have perfected the fail-safe formula for designing a public awareness program that encapsulates what library advocates have long been voicing: “Libraries today are less about what they have for people and more about what they do for and with people.”