Pipeline to the People: Public Awareness Is the Key to More and Better Library Use, Leading to Stronger and More Powerful Advocacy

By Kniffel, Leonard | American Libraries, October 2009 | Go to article overview

Pipeline to the People: Public Awareness Is the Key to More and Better Library Use, Leading to Stronger and More Powerful Advocacy


Kniffel, Leonard, American Libraries


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

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* 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.

Straight to the user

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.

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The site also offers recommended books, movies, music, and games for users looking for the latest media. …

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