A basic tenet of good library public relations is to seize every possible opportunity to penetrate the consciousness of the general public and community leaders with a positive message about the library. The over arching theme of library history public relations is that the library has been in the business of changing lives and improving the quality of life for the residents of your community for a long time, and that it continues to build on that heritage.
After a basic or compete library history has been compiled (or even before), the library should take advantage opportunities to put your library's history in front of the public. Special library anniversaries are obviously a major opportunity, but those don't come around that often. Other occasions that lend themselves to promoting your library through history include national events such as National Library Week, Archives Month. Preservation Month, ALA Preservation Week, National Bookmobile Day, and National History Day. The library can tie its history into other major library anniversaries. In 2000 libraries throughout Wisconsin and the nation helped the Library of Congress celebrate its bicentennial. This year is 175th anniversary of the birth of Andrew Carnegie who helped fund 65 libraries in Wisconsin. This is an opportunity to promote library history if your community benefited from a Carnegie grant. The Wisconsin Library Association will have its 120th anniversary in 2011 and its 125 anniversary in 2016, both provide opportunities to tie your library's history to this influential library organization.
The library doesn't need to have a major anniversary or occasion to promote its history. Library history can be incorporated into the library's ongoing marketing plan especially using Library 2.0 techniques.
Some ideas for using library history to market the library are provided below.
Traditional Marketing and Public Relations Techniques
Any of the traditional marketing and public relations techniques for promoting libraries can incorporate library history. There is a tremendous amount of information readily available about these techniques.
Although they have not done so to any great extent, state and national library organizations could provide leadership in using library history to promote libraries. The American Library Association sponsorship of National Bookmobile Day and Preservation Week are two models for doing this.
Marketing Ideas for Your Library's Website and Blog
Include something on the masthead for your website relating to the length of time the library has served your community. Examples: "Serving the Jonesville Community for over one hundred years" or Making a difference in the lives of Jonesville's residents for more than 5 decades". If possible link the statement to an online history of the library. This would be especially appropriate for the celebration of a significant anniversary.
At a minimum place a library history timetable or basic history on your website. Use the two click approach. After opening the library's home page it should take only two clicks to get to a library history. It would normally be included in the "About" or "About us" or "About the library" drop down menu. Home - About - Library History. A good example of this is the website of the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire.
If your library has a blog, you're probably aware that its success is dependent on regular, interesting posts. Why not create some posts related to your library's history and intersperse them occasionally with your other posts. If you already have a good library history, pull some stories from that history. Examples of library history posts can be found on the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center home page and on the Library History Buff Blog.
Create a separate blog for special anniversaries. Although most libraries don't have at their disposal the resources of American Libraries, that publication developed an excellent blog to celebrate its first 100 years. In 2000 to celebrate its 125th anniversary the Madison Public Library collaborated with storyteller Dr. Bob Kann to create a website on which Kann told a different story from the library's history for 125 days. You can invite library users to share their memoirs of using the library in the past on a specially created blog. The Appleton Public Library did something similar to celebrate its centennial in 1997. The Library created an "I Remember" scrapbook in which library patrons could write down their special remembrances and the scrapbook was placed online.
Many libraries are digitizing special collections and loading these into local and state digital collections. Very few are digitizing their own library history collections. The Marathon County Public Library is an exception. See the Libraries and Schools in Marathon and Lincoln Counties collection at http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/WI.EducationFacilities . Once your library history collection has been digitized, images can be incorporated into a number of other marketing efforts including the use of Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr.
Make use of your written library history on Wikipedia. Using guidelines from the web based encyclopedia Wikipedia develop an article on your library's history. Google and other search engines almost always return Wikipedia articles in their highest ranked search results results.
Library History Exhibits
Exhibits, both physical and digital, can be used to make library users and the public aware of the contribution the library has played over the years. These can be in conjunction with special anniversaries and occasions or at any other time.
A library can develop its own exhibit featuring various in-house artifacts and artifacts from other sources. A good first step is doing an inventory of the artifacts in the library that could be used for this purpose. Thse artifacts could include basic historical documents, photographs, library souvenirs (postcards, china, spoons, paperweights), library tools, equipment, and supplies of the past. The use of an old traveling library book box in a display at the Crandon Public Library led storyteller Stuart Stotts to write Books in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Traveling Libraries of Wisconsin. An entire exhibit was built around a Tabard Inn Library revolving bookcase at the Menasha Public Library.
When the Fond du Lac Public Library hosted the Wisconsin Library Memorabilia exhibit, it developed its own exhibit of "then and now" photographs. This is a great approach to an exhibit.
More information about library exhibits can be found HERE.
Work with the local post office to create a pictorial postmark related to the library's anniversary. Create a souvenir envelope to go with the postmark and include an insert with the history of the library.