Taken for granted but popular – public libraries!

From the American Libraries Blog –

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:08 am by Leonard Kniffel

Every librarian knows that today’s libraries—although venerable places of learning, innovation, and opportunity—face contradictions in many areas of public perception:

  • While libraries are popular, they are often taken for granted.
  • While libraries are ubiquitous, they are not often visible.
  • While libraries are unique, they face competition.

Out of these challenges was born @ your library: the Campaign for America’s Libraries, the American Library Association’s multiyear public awareness campaign to promote the value of libraries and librarians. The campaign was launched in April 2001 to enlist library workers in reminding the public that effective libraries are dynamic, modern community centers for the pursuit of knowledge, information, entertainment, and lifelong learning.

During National Library Week this year, ALA launched the @ your library website, designed not as a tool for librarians but as a direct pipeline to the general public, aimed at increasing and improving the use of libraries by reaching out directly to all kinds of people of all ages and building on direct outreach efforts the campaign has already undertaken, ­including multimedia celebrity public service announcements, and partnerships with such nationally known outlets as Woman’s Day magazine, Univision Radio, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum. The website’s implicit and often overt message is simple: Visit your library often, in person and online.

The new website is a pilot project funded by a $270,700 grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York to advance ALA’s long-stated goal of outreach directly to the public, at www.atyourlibrary.org/.

Through the creation of a public-awareness website that is easy to use and that publishes topical and relevant articles not about libraries but about what is available to patrons through them, ALA is using online social media to stimulate library usage, raise awareness of libraries as essential community resources, and create the library users and advocates of the future.

In many ways, the @ your library website represents the goal of the Campaign for America’s Libraries: ALA outreach directly to the public. The website aims to deliver engaging content and to showcase the wide array of resources, services, programs, and other lifelong learning opportunities that libraries offer. For its debut, it was stocked with material focusing on four broad areas, called:

  • Family Life
  • Career Development and Job Searching
  • Teen Spotlight
  • Kidding Around

Recent features around these themes have included: “Tips for Keeping Your Child Safe on Social Networking Sites,” “Summer Fun on the Cheap,” “Create Your Own Cartoon,” and “How to Negotiate Your Salary.” Clicking under Quick Topics in the right-hand navigation reveals a menu of choices, with a push to the library as the number one source for authoritative and accurate information, a reliable resource that’s there for the asking. New content is posted regularly on a companion blog and in the “What’s New” section, which addresses the four specific target audiences in a spirit of inclusiveness.

Statistics show a sharp rise in library use across the country, especially in the area of job-seeking and self-improvement to compete in the job market. Given the country’s economic crisis, the timing of this component of the site was particularly fortuitous. The @ your library website and associated social networking are tying into and supporting a growing phenomenon—the quest for library resources that help job seekers acquire new skills and find work. Public demand is the best assurance that our nation’s libraries—which outnumber our ­nation’s McDonald’s—are utilized to their fullest and subsequently supported and funded.

The site also offers recommended books, movies, music, and games for users looking for the latest media. These are authoritative recommendations, many from units of ALA, such as Newbery and Caldecott winners. Most media resources mentioned on the site are also linked to the WorldCat database, which lists the nearest libraries that own the item.

The website has been designed to answer questions that first-time  ­library users may have, such as:

  • “What’s at the Library?”
  • “How do I use the Library?”
  • “Why use the Library?”

In order to encourage people to visit libraries, a search function was incorporated in the top navigation. This enables users to find libraries near them.

The riches that bring the Campaign for America’s Libraries to life lie within our libraries and in the real-life stories illustrating how libraries and librarians positively impact the individual’s quality of life. Since its founding in 2001, the campaign has been embraced by over 20,000 libraries of all types in all 50 states, in addition to those being reached by the 31 countries that have signed on for the Campaign for the World’s Libraries.

ALA’s hope is to not only enrich the content of the website but spread links to related organizations eager to partner with libraries. Major activities planned for the next phase of the project include the creation of more interactivity, including an e-newsletter. A Flickr page is in the works, and social media, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, are being used to attract parents, kids, and teens to the site. A logo that can be used on library websites to link to ­@ your library is also available.

All types of libraries are included in the @ your library campaign to emphasize the craddle-to-grave continuum of lifelong learning that library use represents. This national program provides the foundation from which a series of targeted campaigns are being built. These campaigns provide the flexibility and the tailoring necessary to ensure that the Campaign for America’s Libraries is engaging all members of the library community and reaching out to new users. In 2002, an Academic and Research Library Campaign was launched. A School Library Campaign followed in 2003, then a Public Library Campaign (“The Smartest Card”) in September 2004 and two phases of a campaign for children’s librarians (Kids! @ your library) in 2006 and 2009. Also in 2006, a new toolkit for librarians in rural areas debuted, and in the fall of 2007 a toolkit for young adult librarians was created.

On the Campaign for America’s Libraries website at  you’ll find programming ideas, sample press materials, downloadable artwork, tips and suggestions for National Library Week and other promotions, press releases, photos, videos, campaign updates, and more to help you help library users help themselves.

These promotional materials are free and designed to be customized by your library to help you conduct your own marketing and public relations efforts. If you have any questions about the campaign or any of the resources available, contact ALA at atyourlibrary@ala.org. Come and see what’s new at www.atyourlibrary.org and let the campaign staff know what you think.

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