February 16, 2018

Rural Libraries Gain New Advocacy Tools | ALA Annual 2012

The Small But Powerful Guide to advocacy for rural libraries has been updated to include sections on social media and data collection, the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) said at a panel at the American Library Association conference in Anaheim, CA. The Guide for tribal libraries is in the process of being similarly updated and will be released soon. The panel also outlined inexpensive and impactful techniques that rural and tribal libraries can use to “amplify their value” as Jennifer Peterson, community manager of WebJunction, put it.

One powerful tool is digital photo frames, which can display a short, graphic message. They’re very inexpensive, particularly after Christmas, and in addition to being placed around the library to draw attention to services, they can be placed outside the library. Fruitful partners for this kind of cross-promotion include the local Chamber of Commerce, workforce center, state or county offices, senior center, family services, day care, doctors’ offices and community colleges. Another effective and inexpensive tool the panel suggested is advertising on diner placemats.

As to the message to be conveyed via these channels, success stories of library patrons strike a chord. Librarians are encouraged to tell the patrons they help that they want to hear what happens, to create a pool of possible marketing stars who can truthfully say “I found a job”, “I got into college”, or “I resolved a health question” at the library.

Librarians can also make maximum use of their meeting facilities by advertising them on social media – and then placing a book cart full of books related to the subject of the meeting in the room during the event.

Fundraising is, of course, a topic of perennial interest. The St. Paul Friends of the Library, which is a hybrid Friends and Foundation, started a consulting arm called Library Strategies to help with library fundraising, and found that smaller, rural libraries were some of its biggest customers. So they’ve created “Frontline Fundraising” guidelines at ALA’s suggestion, according to Peter Pearson, president of the St. Paul Friends.

Pearson’s number one suggestion is to create an annual fund by sending a powerful, one page letter at the end of the year, when people are thinking about tax deductions. Some 75 percent of donations are from individuals, according to Library Strategies. Libraries that also have a membership drive can keep both, but make sure they are staggered by several months. The letter should be as personalized as possible; use first class postage, and include a SASE. Donors should be thanked promptly—within 48 hours if possible.

(For an example of how powerful gratitude can be, look to Florida, which staged a campaign to save state library funding using ALA’s CapWiz tool. After they won, they used CapWiz again, changing the message to thank legislators for their support, according to John D. Hales, retired director of Suwannee River Regional Library. When they went back the following year, legislators told them “y’all were the only people who thanked us last year. Pretty much don’t worry about state funding this year.”)

For those libraries who already have an annual fund and want to do more, memorials and tributes, often known as a “bookplate” program, are the next easiest form of fundraising, according to Pearson. Online donations will probably not be a big source of revenue –only 5 percent of donations are made that way—but it’s easy and cheap to implement, and people expect it. The most advanced form of fundraising is “planned giving”, in which people leave larger amounts to the library after their death than they could afford to do in life. Tips for instituting planned giving include knowing your target audience—it is not usually rich people who make planned gifts, but those who have given a small amount for at least 10 consecutive years, making Friends of the Library a prime audience. For those who don’t want to go to the expense of getting an attorney to change their wills, designating a portion of their retirement plan or life insurance can be a free way to achieve the same result.

For those who find event-based fundraising more effective, focus on your local assets and try to find something not so labor intensive that it burns out staff, Janice Kowerny, director, Laguna, NM Public Library suggested: after attempting dinners and fashion shows, Laguna found that the golf tournament is its natural niche: popular and not too hard to put on.

Kowerny also suggests not neglecting traditional marketing venues: Laguna has had great success with info booths at events, promotional items, and a monthly column in the local paper.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

The Latest Trends in Library Design
Hosted in partnership with Salt Lake County Library and The City Library—at SLCo’s Viridian Center—the newest installment of our library building and design event will let you dig deep with architects, librarians, and vendors to explore building, renovating, and retrofitting spaces to better engage your community.


  1. Thank you, Meredith! I wanted to mention that the slides for the session are now posted here: http://connect.ala.org/node/182132

    And I hope folks consider joining ARSL and the fall conference in Raleigh, September 26-29. For more info visit http://arsl.info/