Library Marketing for Public Libraries from the Ohio Library Foundation
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Public Relations

How do you want the library to be seen in relation to the community?

Communicating, influencing, building relationships

Marketing is customer oriented and has a primary purpose of selling a product. PR concentrates more on selling the library as a whole, developing a corporate identity or image, and disseminating a clear message to the community about library mission and goals. Marketing audits and market research are useful in the development of a corporate identity, and careful planning is required. Larger libraries may have separate PR departments and budgets.

A Definition

Glossary of Marketing Definitions from IFLA defines public relations as "the form of communication management that seeks to make use of publicity and other non-paid forms of promotion and information to influence feelings, opinions or beliefs about the agency/library and its offerings. This is a traditional form of communication for library management, as paid advertising media is rarely used."

Promoting your message

The same methods used in marketing are used in public relations to let people know who and what you are and to build relationships with the media. Examples include press releases, newsletters, brochures, annual reports, or well-designed publications. Plans may include:

  • Establishing favorable press relations to get news out about the library on a regular basis.
  • Creating publicity for specific services and resources and to create and maintain awareness of library capabilities in the community.
  • Representing the library and participating in community planning and organizations, to establish the library as a player in community development.
  • Establishing regular communications channels to promote an understanding of your organization internally and externally.
  • Maintaining awareness of laws and regulations that affect libraries and lobbying to ensure legislation that helps libraries provide effective services.
  • Watching for community and national trends and issues that impact the library's image, and informing library administrators.

Not everyone loves libraries! Not everyone uses libraries or finds them worthy of funding. Sometimes successful public relations involves overcoming negative attitudes.


Advertising involves a purchase from a media source (newspaper, TV station, web marketer). Libraries can prepare their own advertising and pay for placement, or pay to have the advertising materials developed by the media retailer. Public relations more often relies on free publicity instead, and some libraries have a policy of using only free publicity.

PR and library image

PR helps establish the library's image and position within the community. Public libraries "provide services and programs that support literate, productive, and informed communities" in these ways:

  • Libraries are great places for kids.
  • Libraries bridge the "information divide."
  • Libraries protect our right to know.
  • Libraries connect people with ideas, information and each other.
  • Libraries are for everyone.
  • Libraries are a shared community resource.
  • Libraries support lifelong learning.
  • Libraries support a productive workforce.
  • Libraries are community information centers.
  • Libraries foster community identity.
  • Libraries are a source of community pride.
  • Libraries are a "port of entry." to learn more about their new community.
  • Libraries support a community of readers.
  • Libraries provide global reach and local touch.

ALA Fact Sheet, "Libraries Build Community," Sarah Long, past president, 2000-2001.

These are the concepts that good public relations can communicate, establishing a clear corporate identity or image, and disseminating a clear message about library mission and goals.

Public relations involve promoting the library as a whole, developing an identity and image, and communicating library goals and mission to the community. For marketing, public relations, or advertising the ultimate goal is the same -- let the community know what you have to offer.


The Communications Standard of the Ohio Public Library Standards, part A, Public Relations, states that "All Ohio residents should be made aware of and encouraged to use the public library's services. The library provides a coordinated effort to communicate a positive image of the library and to promote the availability of the library's materials, programs, and services."

  • Find out how your library carries out this standard.
  • What specific methods are used?

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