Being Visible & Vocal – Marketing the School Library

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Prior to enrolling in my MSLIS degree program, there were so many aspects of the Librarian’s job that I had never considered or been aware of. I had never considered the complexity of collection development, the inevitability of book challenges, how much the social-emotional needs of the students would affect what I do, etc.

I had definitely not considered how important Marketing & Branding skills would be.  As an avid library user myself, I had not realized that Librarians actually have to go to pretty great lengths of advocacy and marketing to bring people in, obtain adequate funding, and even to educate people on exactly what we do and why it is valuable.

Now, seven years after I began this journey, I look back and shake my head at my younger self.  Clearly I entered this profession with basically no idea about the realities of the job itself.  All I knew was that I wanted a job where I could put my love for research skills to use.

Luckily my MSLIS program knocked off some of my rose colored glasses and prepared me adequately for all of these unexpected Librarian roles and duties. In my 4 years at my HS, I’ve put considerable time and effort into advocating for, marketing, and branding my library program.

These efforts have been successful in the following ways:

  • Increase in student library resource use (of physical & digital resources)
  • Increase in # of students visiting library each day
  • Drastic increases each year in # of classroom-collaborations
  • Circulation of books has increased 30%-250% each year
  • Administration support of library program is high
  • Community support of library program is very  high
  • Successful advocacy for increase in funding
  • Successfully earned 2 grants and 1 large donation
  • Library transformed into heart of the school

General Advice for Marketing & Branding

Be Vocal & Visible

To have your library program succeed, you must be highly visible and highly vocal. Pretty much all the time.  Otherwise everyone forgets about you and the library, the great resources you have available, the awesome events you have planned, and your ability to collaborate with teachers.  The old stereotype of the quiet and shy Librarian hiding behind the circulation desk, or of the book dragon librarian whose main priority is to guard and protect the collection from all comers just doesn’t really fly in the modern age. Especially in school libraries.

Sadly there is always going to be some Board members or Administrators who don’t automatically see the value in you or your program, and who will be putting the library at the top of the list for budget and staff cuts whenever cuts become necessary.  The only possible way to fight back against this is to consistently be loud with your advocacy and marketing. Be constantly reminding your community of the library’s value and what it has been doing that has been positively impacting students.  The library should be the heart of the school, and the librarian is the brain that keeps the heart beating. But no one is going to know or accept that without seeing proof. Lots and lots of proof, all the time, constantly shoved in everyone’s face. And if they don’t know how important the library is, how much work the librarian does, and how that work impacts student’s lives and learning — well then they simply won’t see why the library needs proper funding, support, and staffing. They will not understand these things unless you are blatantly telling them. Just remember the cheerleader’s motto: “Be Aggressive, Be Be Aggressive!”

Make it a Priority

Just as with everything else in life, there are always more duties than time to accomplish said duties. And this tends to be even worse for Librarians, as we generally wear more hats and fill more roles than anyone else in the school. Deciding how to prioritize our time can be complicated.  Marketing and branding your program is undeniably time-consuming. It is, however, worth prioritizing.  Your library can have the most awesome staff, the best top-notch resources, and the most beautiful space in the school.  But if no one knows these things, it doesn’t do any good.  If teachers don’t know what you can do, they won’t think to bring you in to collaborate. If students don’t know what resources you have, they won’t know to use them. If admin doesn’t understand how much behind the scenes work goes into what you do, they will keep adding more hats to your head, thinking “well there’s not much going on in the library, she can handle this additional duty.”  Marketing and branding are critical components of the school library program and must be considered a priority.  We can’t really waste our time complaining about how no one really understands how valuable librarians and libraries are. Instead we need to use that time to change people’s minds.  This is the reality of the profession at this time.  I’m extremely glad that the professors in my MSLIS program made this clear to me, so I knew what I was getting into when I pursued this career.  Advocacy is a huge part of the job.


Specific Examples

I do a lot of Marketing and Branding through the year. I use a variety of methods including traditional, verbal, and digital story-telling methods.  I’ll walk through some of my methods below!

Digital Storytelling

I use social media for a lot of my advocacy, marketing, and community building. Instagram (@gvhslibrary) has been the most successful method for me, though I also use twitter (@gvhs_librarymc), goodreads, and this blog.  I have recently joined TikTok (@gvhslibrary) as well, and have had a few of my videos go viral (one has more than 1 million views!).  Tik Tok has really gotten the students excited, and I guess they have been sharing the videos with their parents and teachers because I’ve been getting TONS of positive feedback from parents, administrators, and teachers about the Tik Tok videos.

The most difficult part of using social media as a way of advocating for your program is just getting people to follow it initially.  Once you get them following you, though, it is an awesome method for disseminating info on why your program is awesome.  My administrators and superintendent LOVE following the library on social media. Students and parents also love it.  You can get more specific info on my social media use on these two blog posts: Getting Students to Follow Your Insta and Amping Up my Social Media Game.

When posting on Instagram, I pretty much post about EVERYTHING positive thing I can think of. I post about new resources (making sure to share photos of students using the resources, not just the resources themselves). I post about when I do PD sessions, or when I present at conferences.  I post about when we’ve earned grants. I post about when the library has been featured in the newspapers or yearbooks. Brag, Brag, Brag!! There is no room for shyness or humility here :).

Verbal and Face-to-Face

The best way of marketing and advocating for your program is verbally and in face-to-face situations. You really SHOULD always have a 30 second “elevator speech” ready to go at all times, in case you run into an administrator or stakeholder unexpectedly. Positive news and information about your program should be ready for sharing at a moments notice.

Attending Meetings and Speaking Out

One way that I do this is by attending the following weekly department head meetings, various department meetings, and monthly faculty meetings. I attend as many of these as I possibly can, and I try to speak up at as many as I can to relay information about library news, events, resources, recent successful collaborations, future collaboration ideas, etc.  Sometimes I even just do a quick book talk to two of books I think staff might like.  Anything I can think of to make sure myself and the library are visible and vocal, as often as possible.

“Good News Pop-Ins”

I also do what I think of as “Good News Pop-ins” with my administrators. Meaning that I regularly walk through the main office and if I see an administrator that seems not too busy, I pop my head in their office to chat for a minute or two. The purpose of which is to just share something positive about the library program. I want my administrators to associate me with positivity, good news, and hard work. So I’ll pop my head in and to say “hi and how are you” and then when they ask how I am, I take that opportunity to say something like “Great, we just had an awesome media lit collaboration with 11th grade government,” or “Busy! We’ve been doing awesome non-fiction book buffet’s with 12th grade AP English,” or “Excited! I just got accepted to present at a conference this year!” etcetera etcetera.  I always feel like whenever people in a school ask each other “how are you” the answer tends to be of the complaint-variety. I like to take the opposite tack and make sure I always share good news or something positive when I am asked that question.

Face-to-Face Admin Meetings

I do sit-down meetings with my principal a few times each year. Sometimes it is because I am seeking approval for something, or because I am seeking additional funds for something, and other times it is more of an annual conference about the goals for the year. We’ll discuss things like what has been successful this year, what I hope to accomplish in coming months or years, and what resources I need to make those goals reality.  In particular I have found it is very helpful to bring statistics and budget info to these meetings, as I have found that administrators generally don’t really understand how much $ library resources cost, nor do they understand what kind of resources we are lacking due to insufficient funding.

My principal, for example, had no idea that research databases and technologies cost about 70% of my annual budget, with supplies taking on about 10%, leaving only 20% for actual book purchases.  I then explained exactly how many books can be purchased for that amount of money, and compared that to the number of outrageously outdated books we currently have in the library.  These kinds of concrete numbers and comparisons have really helped my admin to understand the kind of funding the library needs.

One piece of advice I have for when you do face-to-face meetings, is to always do the “Happy Sandwich” method. Meaning that I always start the meeting by sharing good news/success stories, then I do the concerns/needs portion, and finally I always end the meeting with more positivity/good news. I think administrators are so used to people only meeting with them when they have complaints or grievances, so I always try to make sure all of our interaction start and end with positive information.  That way they come to associate meeting with me to be a largely positive experience.  Everyone likes to get good news.

Yearly School Library Month Celebration

One of my favorite advocacy and marketing methods to organize is my annual staff party each April for School Library Month. I purchase snacks, create a powerpiont with stats, photos, testimonials, etc. Print out a bunch of fact sheets. I do a few “did you knows” at the faculty meeting the week before to get teachers interest.  I do fun things like have my makerspace stuff out for teachers to engage with, offer giveaways, etc.  I invite admin and district admin too. Last year our Superintendent came and stayed for the entire 45 minutes! I was able to give her a tour and show off the library a little bit.  — see this blog post for more detailed info on the way I celebrate School Library Month!

Saying yes to opportunities:

One more habit to get into is to saying “yes” to various advocacy opportunities as they come up. For instance, saying “yes” when the district asks teachers to submit articles for the monthly newsletters to parents, agreeing to present at board meetings or PTA meetings, offering to give PD sessions, etc.

I have found that offering PD sessions for teachers has been one of the best ways for increasing collaboration requests. Once teachers see what kind of lessons I can do, what type of resources we have, etc I’ve found that the amount of collaboration requests I get tends to skyrocket.  I’ve done a bunch of PDs on Media Literacy, Research Skills, Social Media, etc.

Traditional

Finally, there are the traditional marketing methods such as:

  • Newsletters (always embed them into body of email, ppl do not open attachments)
  • Brochures to have out at Back to School Nights
  • Custom Bookmarks
  • Handouts
  • Posters

You can see some of my physical marketing posters, handouts, newsletter, etc below! Some of these documents are emailed out, others are made into posters and laminated for each teacher to put in their classrooms, others I enlarge and put on the library doors, or hang in the hallways, etc.

Newsletters: (click on images to view full size, links will not be clickable)

5 comments

  1. These are all fantastic ideas for promoting the library and sharing the services and resources available. While this is a high school setting, and students and parents are being “marketed” to via social media, I can see that many other opportunities might be more appropriate to elementary parents and students. I love the ideas of promoting new resources through Instagram (an equivalent might be promoting new resources on classroom websites or blogs, or if the school has a Twitter account that parents receive, the library could post special events or author visits), promoting when you are giving Pro-D sessions, attending department meetings (Primary/Intermediate/K and Pre-K), and ensuring that you meet with your Principal 2-3 times per year to update and educate them. I really resonated with the idea of what Kelsey Bogan calls the “Good News” pop ins as you walk through the office. I also find myself in the office at least once/per day, and almost always, one of my administrators asks me how my day is going. This is a great opportunity to share something positive that is happening in the library, and to inform about successful collaborations, special “aha” moments that students have had, share new ideas, or just to remind them of what you do with students on a day to day basis. I had not thought of this 20 second encounter before as an opportunity to inform and remind my principals of all the good things happening through my work, but I think it’s a great way to highlight student and program successes, share new ideas or remind them of the importance of everything the library has to offer!

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  2. You mentioned research databases. This is my first week as librarian in our high school, and we only have Gale Opposing Viewpoints. I just removed 4,000 outdated articles from old SIRS binders. If you had your wish, what would you choose at a database for a small high school or would you have one at all? Right now, the teachers just have students look on the internet. Thanks so much. You’re blog is my inspiration and go-to:)

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    • Aw thank you! Sorry for the delayed response :). Its hard to choose just one database because they all have different specialties and so different ones are good for different disciplines and research assignments. A lot of our ELA and social studies classes do “issues/controversies” research so Gale Opposing Viewpoints is probably the one I would choose. JSTOR is also a great choice just because of the sheer size of it and because it is multidisciplinary.

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