Photo courtesy the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library

I’ve spent days trying to land on the right words to describe the amazing week I’ve just had.

I attended my first Public Library Association conference this past week in Portland, Oregon. It was glorious, wonderful, exhilarating, inspiring, transformative… and about 100 other adjectives.

Honestly, I felt like a kid attending her first week at a new school.

The sessions at PLA were mainly focused on equity, diversity, and inclusion practices. We also heard from experts about fighting censorship and first amendment challenges.

These are incredibly important and urgent problems facing the library industry. But there was a huge piece of the puzzle missing from the session offerings at PLA, and other library conferences I’m planning to attend this year.

Marketing and promotion are a critical part of all the work we do to be inclusive and to protect intellectual freedom. We need more library conference sessions that provide tips and inspiration for library promotion.

Megan Bratton, Marketing and PR manager for Natrona County Library, agrees. “It would be more valuable than most people realize,” she told me in between sessions at PLA. “Libraries do so much across so many spectrums and for so many demographics. It touches literally everyone in the community.”

We must make sure people know that our spaces, programs, and collections are open to all. We must share the message that we support EDI practices in our hiring process, collection development, and creation of services.

And to protect our libraries in the fight against censorship, we must do promotions to clearly explain the policies we put in place to ensure intellectual freedom is secure.

Marketing is an essential part of this work. It’s the job of everyone working at the library. And every library conference needs a marketing track.

The new friends I made a PLA agree with me. They shared a list of marketing struggles they’re facing that could be addressed through promotional-based sessions at library conferences.

Amy Cantley, assistant branch manager at Seminole County Public Library says she struggles to get information about her library’s services to people outside of her building’s wall. “We do social media promotion,” she explained. “However, we don’t do any outside promotion beyond that. So, unless you’re on our website on our social media channels you’re not hearing about it.”

Lisa Plath of Collierville Burch Library says her library does a great job of marketing her collection to current cardholders. So, this year, she’s focusing on expanding her library’s message.

Lisa says she is working on “… getting the word out to people who don’t use the library so that they know all the good we have to offer. The people who do use the library, knowing what we offer besides the books they come in to check out.”

Megan Maurer of Scenic Regional Library faces a similar challenge. She struggles with “… promoting things that people traditionally think about the library, but we don’t necessarily do a good job of reminding people we have. We don’t promote our collections or our databases.”

Katie Rothley of Northville District Library has seen the effectiveness of good storytelling in the for-profit marketing sector. She wants to replicate that for her library.

“I really want to tell a story about each service, but I want it to be a story of the person (who)… was able to solve the problem by using a library resource,” Katie said. “Connecting with people with stories is the most effective way to spread awareness and increase empathy and prove effectiveness so I want to figure out a concise formula so I can do that. I want to connect with people emotionally and feel empowered in their own life.”

As for Megan of Natrona County Library, she says she would like to see more library conference sessions on creating messages and convincing everyone on her library staff to share them. “Everyone in your organization should be sharing the same story,” she observed. “Libraries are very narrative-driven, and everyone needs to be speaking the same language. But people don’t understand the value of marketing until the marketing doesn’t do something they want it to… like their program doesn’t get enough attendees.”

There is a demand for answers to these big marketing hurdles libraries are facing today. Library conferences need to add more sessions focused on promotion to their agenda. A marketing track should be part of every library conference.

Marketing courses are typically not included in most library degree programs. Library staff needs help with marketing. It’s critical to our industry’s strength and survival.

So, I hope library conference organizers will take note and actively seek out more promotional-based sessions to add to their agendas. There are a lot of libraries of all sizes and shapes doing great promotions. I’d love to see more of these folks sharing their advice and stories at library conferences.

Do you agree? What is your favorite library conference? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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