Libraries and LEGO have gone together for ages, but libraries made of LEGO bricks are much more rare. So when I received a box containing a little library constructed of LEGO bricks, it got my attention. That alone is a win for any marketing initiative—getting someone to tune in. Good marketing is hard to do, and harder for organizations such as libraries that do so much already with limited resources. When it’s done right, however, both the community and the library benefit.
The box, from Tompkins County Public Library, Ithaca, NY, also carried a nomination for LJ’s first Marketer of the Year Award, sponsored by Library Ideas. This award was designed to celebrate the individuals behind the potent marketing happening in libraries—and as the Tompkins example indicates, there is much worthy of praise. Perhaps more important, however, the award is geared toward helping to enhance marketing savvy across the profession by detailing the work of these exemplars, showing samples of their output, and sharing both strategic insights and meaningful outcomes.
From a highly competitive group of nominees, LJ judges selected one winner and two honorable mentions (announced in “Maximizing the Message“). While Tompkins didn’t win, the LEGO initiative did garner the library’s LEGO Build Marketing Team members a special mention for their creativity in raising awareness, engagement, and actual dollars for the capital fund. The special little library composed of LEGO bricks (pictured) is a set, complete with instructions, available for purchase for $60—one of the finer touches of this fundraiser.
Meanwhile, the winning team has been hard at work helping North Carolina’s Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (CML) spring back stronger after the dire cuts it faced in 2008–11. As the library started to rebuild, a smart decision was made to enable—with a special line item in the budget—the marketing department to do strategic work, from informing the library about who is using the library and who isn’t (yet) to developing critical messaging that connects the library to the community over time. The marketing and communications team—Cordelia Anderson, Sarah Goldstein, Angela Haigler, and Katy Rust—has made the most of it. The beautiful collateral that is the public face of the department’s work caps a vital flow of research, analysis, vibrant storytelling, and ongoing communication that has helped reestablish the reality and understanding of the library as a thriving resource that helps everyone it serves to thrive as well.
Its model illustrates just how intertwined marketing can be with the success of an institution. On the flip side, naturally, it points out what can be unrealized or lost if this critical piece is missing. It’s a case for investment in this aspect of the work of our libraries.
On a tactical level, the winners offer much for marketers, no matter what title they hold, to learn from and put to use at home. Among the tools in every marketer’s kit is email, which the CML team has refined and used to reengage lapsed users. According to EveryLibrary’s Patrick Sweeney, email is the linchpin when it comes to using the Internet to connect to an audience or stakeholders. In his detailing of how to make the most of digital outreach (“Email Is the Key”), Sweeney shares how to use it to drive involvement across social media platforms—itself key to marketing in our hyperconnected age.
Marketing is one of those persistent challenges for any organization. Great marketing is even more elusive, as it requires constant attention, demands a particular set of skills, and is ever changing. Nonetheless, great marketing is worth trying to achieve, and those who are successful help create strong libraries that are in concert with their communities.