Library Marketing: From Building Public Relations to Becoming Visionary Storytellers

Marketers are in the driving seat of bringing their library’s vision to life by steering the messaging, reaching out to the community, creating pathways for the library’s voice and personality to rise to the top, and, not least, cementing the library as an important part of people’s lives. 

Every library is a home to impactful stories about real lives. It’s often a familiar starting point for many who just joined the community. It’s a lively hub for those seeking to learn, develop, and grow. It’s also a place to help teach the next generation while also providing a safe space. Finally, libraries are a reliable place to find resources and programs many in the community might not have access to otherwise.

Marketers are deeply aware of all these aspects of their libraries, and now, they want to communicate that to everyone else so that people see the library as not just a key part of their lives today, but tomorrow too.

Patron Relationships are Critical

The real magic of libraries lies in their deeply rooted community-driven nature. Although every staff member is dedicated to creating VIP experiences for patrons, it’s the library marketer who amplifies these efforts, ensuring that every patron feels not only valued, but also becomes an ambassador of the library’s mission and offerings.

Savvy library marketers – like Heather Kearns at Lawrence Public Library (LPL) – know that their patrons are spending a significant amount of time online. In fact, Americans spend nearly seven hours a day on the internet. Libraries like LPL know that many of their current and potential patrons prefer connecting with them online rather than in-person, at least at the start of their journey with the library. However, if your online presence doesn’t properly facilitate that engagement, then you could miss out on engaging a large number of potential patrons.

It's a new (and constantly evolving) reality. Building the bridge isn’t easy. However, your library already has the groundwork and materials. These inputs just sit across different parts of your organization, such as with IT, for example. Library marketers champion the work to align these departments, especially on vital assets such as the website and online catalog. Doing so ensures that you’re not only delivering the best-in-class experience for patrons, but that more people start knowing about it.

Balance Tradition with Innovation

Libraries are unique and distinct spaces. As a result, applying the best marketing practices from other industries doesn’t always land in the library space. In fact, libraries have their own strengths, like their ability to engage at a local level and that they’re open and accessible to all. Library leaders, especially those from other industries, actively rethink their approach so that they can uncover those strengths.

For example, think about your library website. It shouldn’t be a separate world from your online catalog; to the patron, there’s no difference between the two. To them, it’s all about browsing the library online. Yet, a library catalog functions in a specific way and has unique needs and characteristics. So, the key is imagining seamless online experiences for the patron. Regardless of whether they’re looking for a book or reading a recent blog post, it should feel like a seamless experience.

It's not just about having a website, but empowering patrons with the right type of website so that they leave with a rewarding and inclusive experience. Not only would this drive them to keep returning and strengthen their ties with the library, but it’ll drive them to advocate for the library in their community. Thus, accessibility across all platforms is critical.

Lead Your Key Stakeholders

Strong library marketers mobilize their fellow leaders to commit to their vision. Marketing will look at the website as an important asset, but your other library teams need to carry the same mindset. Marketing leaders achieve this by showing how each team can achieve their goals with the right digital experience.

Public Services

Remember, as far as patrons are concerned, the library website is no different than the online catalog. For them, it’s all about “visiting the library website,” be it for books or to check out events, blog posts, and library resources. Your public service team does a phenomenal job helping your patrons find what they need and access library resources. The high-quality experience your staff provide is a key reason why patrons keep returning to your library in person. It’s your job to elevate the website and catalog experience to mirror the positive experiences your public services staff provide in person.


Many libraries are finding a lot of growth in the use of their digital collections. For example, American e-book and audiobook consumption has gone up 5% and 3%, respectively, between 2019 and 2021. Hence, it makes sense for libraries to further invest in the online catalog and website experiences to build on the growth. Ensuring that patrons readily find and check out the digital items they’re looking for is key when building your digital experience.

There’s also an opportunity to leverage the digital experience to drive more interest in your physical collection. MARINet, for example, found that by just improving the cataloging experience, patrons were spending more time on the library website to explore and look for things. In turn, patrons would find things in the physical collections and drive an increase in holds for older items.

Oftentimes, patrons may not know of or appreciate how much you have on offer because it’s rarely – or in some cases, never – presented to them. Marketing leaders empower the collections team with blogs, reading lists, and powerful tools to inform and engage patrons. Lawrence Public Library, for example, does this really effectively by providing personalized readers’ advisory services to its patrons.

IT Leaders

While the IT department is mandated to service the library’s technology stack, this effort needs to tie back to the strategic goals of the library. Your library’s digital experiences aren’t just technologies that need to be set up and maintained, but critical assets for creating and spreading your library’s story. IT needs to support these assets under the umbrella of the library’s marketing mission.

Successful marketing leaders proactively provide input and guidance to their library’s IT department to ensure the technology drives the strategic vision. Marketers push IT for projects that elevate the user experience, expand accessibility to include more patrons, and amplify the library’s story.

This can influence many facets of the digital experience. Consider, for example, the user experience: Patron expectations have evolved in just the past five years, and they’ll shift again over the next five years. To stay on top of these changes, marketing leaders make sure that the library’s website and online catalog adopt best practices, established web standards, and new technologies.

Next Steps

Marketing is a critical force that propels both the immediate and long-term ambitions of a public library, carrying its story to the public and influential decision-makers. When this story resonates with the right audiences, it invites a wave of resources and support, fostering the library’s continued growth. Successful libraries owe their gains to proficient marketing leaders. They guide strategies across all teams to cater to patron needs while simultaneously amplifying the library’s influence in the community.




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