A few months ago, the Urban Library Council’s Marketing and Communications team organized a conference call with library marketers across the United States. Part of the conversation focused on diversity in library marketing. It’s an important topic and frankly, I had nothing to contribute to the conversation. In fact, I’m embarrassed by my ignorance. Libraries serve a diverse population. Why haven’t we done a better job of working that into our marketing?

This year, my staff began a concerted effort to include more diverse faces and stories in our marketing. But I had this nagging feeling that there was a lot more we could do. I just didn’t know where to begin or how to frame my thoughts. The ULC conference call made me realize I wasn’t alone. It also made me realize that there is an expert in this area; a library marketer who has pushed her team and her library to look for ways to be inclusive on all fronts of marketing.

Kim Crowder established a communications department as Director of Communications for the Indianapolis Public Library. She is the winner of multiple national awards for her work and has spoken on panels and given talks covering a variety of marketing and communications topics. Prior to her role at the library in Indy, she spent 15 years working in marketing and communications for several Fortune 500 companies and was a published journalist for one of the largest newspapers in the United States. Her experience includes working with national and international media on outlets such as Conde Nast, The Oprah Winfrey Show (Yes, she met Oprah!), MTV, BBC London, CBS News, The Learning Channel and more.

Kim believes diverse points of view, flexibility, and creativity are keys to producing the best marketing and communications strategies possible. Kim took a lead role in the conversation on that ULC conference call and afterwards, I asked her to share her thoughts on diversity in library marketing with us.

Libraries inherently serve a diverse population, yet we don’t always include diversity in our marketing. There’s a bit of a disparity there! Why is diversity in marketing important for libraries?  The populations we serve are diverse, and our marketing efforts should be inclusive and truly represent our audiences. This is basic marketing 101. And I’m not talking about only focusing on certain populations for certain services and events. That should happen too, but this is more a conversation about overall strategy. Typically, public funding pays for libraries, which means acknowledging citizens of ALL backgrounds, because it is their dollars that keep our lights on. And we are all (or should be) aware of campaigns such as #weneeddiversebooks. Also, the American Library Association cites equity, diversity and inclusion as key action areas. For us to be unified on this topic, we must embrace it fully.

As our country becomes more diverse in a plethora of ways (not only regarding race) and knowing that it is predicted that in 2040 we will be majority-minority nation, libraries must plan now to stay relevant in the future. To do that, we must demonstrate our necessity and make as many people as possible aware of our benefit to their lives; it makes good business sense to be inclusive. Diversity in marketing is a needed and necessary aspect that must be earnestly examined and executed. And frankly, it’s the right thing to do, period.

Diversity in marketing is more than just making sure we include people of different races, religions, and abilities in our marketing photos and campaigns. What other ways can we market to a more diverse audience? This is a great question! Here’s where nuances matter. For instance, knowing what is important to certain populations and targeting specific programs and services to those markets by using the language, messaging, and imaging that most speaks to them is imperative.

An example of this would be to create marketing campaigns that are translated into different languages and really working with a native speaker (if possible) as well as a translator, to be sure the interpretation is correct, including knowing which regional dialects are most common in your market. Also, being aware of the vernacular that is correct when addressing the LGBTQ+ community, such as using sexual orientation instead of sexual preference. Making sure that you are aware of holidays and times of celebration and using social media to point to those is paramount. These are only a few ways to reach audiences in ways that are respectful and inclusive. It really is about intentionality and research to respect different groups within your service area and to make sure you have a real sense of who those segments are.

Will diversity in library marketing help to change the mindset of communities and how people view their fellow citizens? What an interesting thought! My answer is that it could help, absolutely. Change takes time and a village, and libraries can certainly contribute to the greater conversation. And remembering that diversity includes more than race, disabilities, socioeconomic status, gender, etc., but also includes experiences as well, should be acknowledged and considered. The more commonalities within humanity that are highlighted, the better.

Think on themes such as wanting great educational tools and programs for kids; a place anyone can feel safe to learn freely; and the ability to find books, movies, music, and more that speak to people’s core values. All these are ways to make library services more connected on a human-interest level to the populations in which we serve. The more stories that are shown using real customers, the more engaging. Finding a way to create emotional connection, whether through video, a news story, social media, community partnerships, print materials, blogging, etc., is key, and can certainly create an environment of shared interests. At the end of the day, we are all people, and finding that common thread using diverse representation is the way to go.

How do we convince our library colleagues that diversity in all areas that the library touches, like programming, exhibits, and services is important to our mission and to our cardholders? Everyone receives information differently, so think about the myriad of ways in which this fact can be demonstrated. Whether it is through anecdotes about individuals we serve or looking at pure data to find out the population breakdown in your service area, this case is best won by combining these different forms of information so that people can get a full view of the importance of diversity and inclusion.

And having them think through target audiences as they are planning services, exhibits, programming, etc., allows real dialogue about who these different groups may be so that the conversation of diversity is immediately valuable to the person doing the planning. And convey the message again, and again, and again, throughout your department and the system overall, as well as finding staff who will be ambassadors who speak to this as well. The more managers who are on board and empowered to pass along this information to staff, the better. Particularly, we have an African American History Committee and a LGBTQ+ Committee, run by staff members, who plan events and speak on behalf and are allies of minority groups.

What role does diversity in staffing play in the way libraries market themselves? Let’s start by acknowledging the elephant in the library world. Most of the workforce in libraries only speak English, are women, white, and not considered disabled, so naturally, there are going to be blind spots. Blind spots would be so no matter who the majority were. There are, however, some real statistics about why a diverse workforce is so important. And diversity is at its most valuable when gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation are combined with acquired diversity that is gained from experiences like living and working abroad or regularly interacting with a marginalized group. There are also statistics that state a lack of diverse leadership means women are 20 percent less likely than straight men to receive support of their ideas; LGBTQs are 21 percent less likely; and people of color are the most vulnerable at 24 percent.

The impact is that staff who would notice missteps in the way a group is messaged to or represented in campaigns, including recognizing lack of representation, may go ignored because they do not have the support when they do speak up. Having several points of view in any situation is extremely helpful, and a more diverse staff who can contribute and truly be heard, naturally creates an environment for this.

Can you give us some examples of how you have worked diversity into your marketing at the Indianapolis Public Library? We are constantly working on this, and it isn’t always simple, comfortable, nor easy. In 2018, all my staff participated in a racial equity training given by a third-party community partner that was extremely eye-opening for all of us. I wanted us to have context as to why we were focusing more heavily on this topic and to be able to has some real data on the issues. The first step was to be willing to openly have conversations around this, and to invite others to do so, resulting in bettering our marketing and communications efforts.

Regarding marketing tools, social media is a big part of how we do this; particularly focusing on highlighting diverse materials and topics in posts and event listings. Using kid-focused materials is a great way to introduce diversity to wider audiences, as it tends to disarm people a bit more. Also, making sure that we use videos to tell stories about our patrons being touched by library services is major strategy. We highlight users from all walks of life, knowing that stories connect on a human level, even beyond initial differences.

We are extremely conscious of this when in situations such as building a new branch or closing one in a neighborhood that is largely minority or has high numbers of residents below the poverty line (this is happening currently, and it’s not easy nor pretty). The goal is to always respect and honor people and that community overall, no matter what. And equally as important, being sure to position the Library as a support to those communities, not a savior or a “fixer.” We must be sure we are always viewed as a partner coming alongside those who are already doing great work and living in these communities. We are supporters who are always actively listening. That means our messaging must uphold that secondary position in the most respectful way possible, and if we miss that mark, we are immediately transparent about it and ready to learn however we need to. We are here to serve.

Kim is a native of Houston, TX (and VERY proud of it), and a lover of music and social issues dialogues. When Kim is not enjoying her professional endeavors, you can find her singing at church or jazz at a bar (with the occasional musical and national anthem at a sporting event sprinkled in here and there), listening to podcasts and audiobooks, Latin dancing, brewing tea, attending an artsy event or live concert, shopping, enjoying the sunshine, or laughing hysterically with family and friends. Her Instagram is the bomb! You can also email Kim at Kimberly.Crowder@live.com and say hi!

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