February 17, 2018

Building A Future Vision

I’m sitting at the airport in Columbia, South Carolina, thinking about libraries. I’ve spent a great day with around 40 library directors throughout the Palmetto State who gathered together to wrestle with big issues. Melanie Huggins, director of the Richland County Public Library hosted, and Denise Lyons from the State Library of South Carolina brought me here.

We talked about creating powerful value messages, getting buy-in from staff and stakeholders and crafting message points.

I am amazed at two things: 1) we are all trying to crack the same nut; 2) libraries are eager to figure this out using limited resources – while understanding the value of a clear and concise marketing message.

Seems like everyone understands the need to define ourselves outside the usual parameters of value: historically we’ve said that libraries are where the public accesses reliable information sources. “We help navigate Google.”

Yet nearly all in the room agreed that this is no longer enough – maybe even true – because these aren’t the kinds of questions we are being asked today. Our public has learned to navigate the web and Smart phones; the library has to be about something more:  something tied to community goals.

Figuring this out isn’t easy. It requires discipline to ask tough questions and honest assessment. What are the important issues facing your community today and how can you position your library to be the unmistakable answer to the problem?

Alison Circle About Alison Circle

Alison Circle is director of marketing communications for Columbus Metropolitan Library. Previously she was an Account Director at Jack Morton Worldwide, a global branding agency, and her primary client was Target Stores. Prior to that she was the National Marketing Director for Minnesota Public Radio and "A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor." She has advanced degrees in English and Fine Arts, and is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant.



  1. Alison – I need to start this reply by saying, “The opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect TCPL policies and procedures.”

    As a lifelong communications professional with only 6+ years of library experience, I think part of the success of public libraries will require that they stop thinking of themselves as somehow separate and/or different from their communities.

    Tippecanoe County is a fortunate and proud community. In TCPL customer materials and communications, I try to capture that same combination of gratitude and optimism. As often as possible, I try to connect library advances directly back to the customers, local corporations, and institutions that make this all possible.

    When you to explain marketing/communications for other libraries to emulate, it loses something in the translation, so I’ll give you an example of this morning’s discussion.

    Mango is expanding its language offerings, so I was asked to send a press release. I had received an e-mail with this information two weeks ago and had had time to really think through what would be most effective. Since our local newspaper has been impacted by economic and industry downturns, there are less pages per edition. Senior staffers are also leaving. Rather than send a “boilerplate” press release to less experienced reporters, I realized they needed a human interest story from TCPL. So, I put out the word to library department heads that we are looking for customers who are using Mango. Could be home school families, high school students, and/or adults. If people some are using it from home, that adds another layer of interest to the story — technologies.

    In marketing, this approach is called “testimonials.” The TCPL release will not be a complete article, but it will be enough to capture the attention and imagination of a writer or editor.

    If all goes well, in mid-January, I will receive a call and our library will be assisting our local media. we will have names of customers willing to be interviewed about Mango. It may then run as a human interest story about local citizens (of all ages?) who are enterprising enough to learn languages on their own time and with the assistance of TCPL/Mango offerings.

    For me, this approach exemplifies in multiple ways why Tippecanoe County is a proud and fortunate community. We are aware of and responsive to a variety of local needs. We try to be proactive and creative in our responses to these needs. We are grateful our library budget and private donors provide enough for us to be able to offer the community a variety of resources, and acknowledge local generosity as often as possible

    Turning a routine release into a human interest story takes time and experience. Helping public libraries through this transition can sometimes seem overwhelming. But it sounds like the group in the Palmetto State is asking the right questions. Sorry if this response sounds a bit like a Beatles anthem or Pollyanna story, it’s because I really enjoy the work!