She Geeks Libraries
Jenny Powell was winding down a six-and-a-half-year position with the marketing and communications giant Leo Burnett USA, working with General Motors, when OCLC contacted her about putting her experience to work for libraries.
Soon she had left the automotive industry for “library land,” as she calls it, and in early 2009 she became field marketing manager for Geek the Library—an elegant, quirky, highly effective marketing program designed to highlight the value of public libraries. Powell started traveling the country to help libraries promote themselves, and she has never looked back.
Supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Geek the Library is sponsored by OCLC in partnership with Leo Burnett USA, which created the marketing materials with help from celebrity photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. The Gates Foundation supported research that led to campaign development, an initial nine-month Geek the Library pilot, and dissemination to U.S. public libraries. Most recently, it showed its commitment with a more than $1.9 million grant to fund the program through June 2015.
During the pilot, the indefatigable Powell visited some 50 libraries, brandishing potent marketing tools, along with her marketing moxie from 25 years of experience in the business. She has not slowed down. Fortunately, she says, “I geek traveling!”
And she ensures success. An attentive coach, Powell “made sure that all 13 of our library locations had a Geek kit with everything they needed,” says nominator Elizabeth Breed, marketing and communications director, Capital Area District Libraries, Lansing, MI. That includes Geek the Library T-shirts, stickers, poster and Powerpoint templates, and postcards. She also “made sure that we had larger marketing pieces in place, such as building banners for the many outreach events,” says Breed.
While libraries can use posters featuring head shots of celebs including singer Lou Reed and actor Brian Dennehy, Powell urges them to put local faces on their poster campaigns. “It could be a blogger, it could be the mayor or a local baker. We’ve had gold medal Olympic people,” she says.
Such personal attention yielded results for the Wallkill Public Library, NY, as well. With Powell’s support, “Our library…forged a collaboration with 21 other public libraries to underwrite the cost of sponsorship for a local Hudson Valley Renegades baseball game this past summer,” says nominator Mary Lou Carolan, Wallkill PL director. “We brought the message of public libraries to over 5,200 audience members in…two hour[s] and have been reaping the rewards ever since.”
More of the 850 participating libraries in over 40 states have shared their success stories online through Geek the Library case studies and on Flickr.
“My job is to empower [librarians],” Powell explains, and to transform communities’ perception of their libraries. So “when there’s a referendum or a millage” involving the library, people pay attention.