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close this bookInternational Reader in the Management of Library, Information and Archive Services (UNESCO, 1987, 684 p.)
close this folder3. Planning the service
close this folder3.4 Public relations
View the documentLibraries and the world outside
View the documentPublic relations in libraries: the Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon (Lyons City Library)

Libraries and the world outside

When librarians think of public relations in a superficial manner and they think superficially on this topic all too often - it is nearly always considered in the simple light of relations between libraries and their users, or their potential users. But this is an oversimplification of the problem. Of course it is a fact that the ultimate objective of library public relations is to ensure that the maximum number of people know of the existence of our libraries, where they are located, what they contain, what they do, and how they can help users to acquire more information and generally become more literate and better-educated members of the community. Yet any public relations programme which begins and ends by concentrating solely upon readers and other library users, actual or potential, can never hope to be more than a partial success.

When writing a public relations programme, the librarian should face the brutal fact that users, present and future, must come near the bottom of the list of PR targets. This may sound ridiculous, but a little thought should convince the librarian of its cogency. Of course users are important to us, they are the last vital link in the chain of library provision, but there are other links which merit prior consideration in the PR plan.

The fact is that libraries, if they are to continue to develop, must be projected in many directions and to many different targets, not merely to individual users or groups of potential users. They must be projected internationally, nationally, regionally, locally, and sectionally with such related activities as central government, the Civil Service, education, local government, vocational training, the social services, the book trade and, by no means least important, the library staffs themselves.

It is not until one becomes a senior librarian that realisation comes of the vital importance of this aspect of public relations for libraries vis-is the world outside. As a junior member of the profession it is perhaps all too easy to confine library public relations in the mind to a programme concerned only with users of our services. But as one gains more professional experience, the wider aspects of PR for libraries become more obvious and more important. Perhaps it is only when one becomes a chief librarian or a director of library services that the fullest appreciation of PR and its range and influence is attained.

Unfortunately, just as this full appreciation is attained, the director finds himself without the necessary time to devote to guiding personally the PR programme. If he attempts such personal direction he will find himself neglecting other aspects of his job. Ideally, every library needs a public relations officer working closely with the director of the service. The latter should certainly devote lime to planning, encouraging and initiating a PR programme for the service but, like a good military commander in the field, he should not become too bogged down in administrative detail. He should make time to sit down and plan the broad lines of strategy and development, and to do this effectively he must be capable of seeing the library service in its international, national and regional context, as well as in its purely local and domestic role.

Sitting back, however, does not mean becoming office-bound. On the contrary, the director should endeavour to take part in the activities of' international and national library associations; for only in this way will he have the opportunities of keeping abreast of library progress throughout the world. There are those who belittle the idea of international and comparative librarianship, but this is an attitude to be regretted and indeed to be avoided. There are many facets of librarianship which have a universal application, and public relations is one of these. In whatever country we operate, in whatever type of library we serve, public relations is one aspect of our work in which we can learn from each other. That is the justification for not ignoring library PR work in countries other than our own.

Coming to more local aspects, it must be emphasised that the library director must be the 'front man' for his service. His governing body, and his public, must be able to turn to him with confidence whenever the topics of libraries, books and other information media and technology crop up. He must be able to write and speak fluently on behalf of his calling, and nowhere will this fluency be more taxed, or more important, than in the board and committee rooms of his governing authority.

Possibly the most crucial aspect of the work of a director of libraries is to persuade his governing body to supply adequate and continuing financial resources for the efficient operation and development of the service. Good operation, or day-to-day running of libraries, cannot be properly maintained without a healthy revenue budget. Each year, therefore, or however frequently the authority plans Its revenue budget, it is necessary for the director to prepare detailed estimates and to pilot them through his board, committee or council. To do this successfully, he must be adept at report writing, he must anticipate possible questions with pinpoint accuracy, he must be convincing in his replies to those questions and, in short, he must have the most complete and detailed knowledge of the service at his fingertips.

Such a librarian will impress members of his governing body, and they in turn are much more likely to support the service if they feel that the person in command is someone who is dedicated to the service, someone in fact who knows his job from A to Z. If the director possesses these qualities, then he or she is a definite PR asset for the service.

I have referred just now to the revenue or yearly budget. There is, of course, another type of budget, that relating to long-term development. This calls for such qualities as foresight, imagination, and the capability of being able to think big and for many years ahead. In preparing a capital budget for future development, vision is needed and in fact is a most essential commodity in the personality of a director of libraries.

A good library is, or should be, its own advertisement, and it ought not to be necessary to have to persuade authorities to devote adequate finances for library buildings, staff, books and other essential materials. Unfortunately we are not living in an ideal world, and it is regrettably very essential to use every persuasion to convince our lords and masters of library needs. In this exercise of persuasion it is a proven fact that a director who can write a compelling report, and can speak on it convincingly, is much more likely to be successful than one who presents a scrappy and incomplete report, speaks confusedly on it, and answers questions in a sloppy, unconvincing manner. It may be wrong that important public issues should be decided against such backgrounds, but it is one of the undeniable facts of life. For this reason, an efficient, enthusiastic and convincing director is possibly the best PR asset any library can have.

This theme will be developed later, but it is important to make the point now that the most vital factor in a good PR programme for libraries is a knowledgeable director with an astute appreciation of the value of PR in its widest applications.

Libraries and governments

Almost every type of library, apart from special and industrial libraries and privately owned collections, stems in some way from the powers of national governments. In most countries public libraries derive their existence and development from central government. So, of course, do national libraries, as well as university, college and school libraries. In addition, national governments are themselves owners of many libraries, be they national, parliamentary, legislative or departmental in scope. How vitally important it is therefore to ensure that ministers, members of Parliament, and senior civil servants are adequately briefed about the scope and objectives of libraries of all kinds!

PR and library governing bodies

It is incredible, but one of the major failures of librarians in the past has been in the matter of communication between them and members of their own governing bodies. Surely it should be a first essential for any librarian to keep his governing body fully informed on all aspects of his library's services, achievements and developments. He has various means at his disposal for maintaining this necessary communication.

The first is by regular written reports to his board or committee, but it must always be borne in mind that the presentation of such reports can make or mar the communication between officers and members. There has been a tendency in the past for officers to produce too many written reports, but this has been checked in many countries, especially in the United Kingdom by the publication of official reports on local government organisation, administration and staffing. The combined effects of these reports has been to widen the powers of chief officers and to reduce the number of committees so that they concern themselves with broad outlines of policy rather than with the minutiae of departmental housekeeping. This means fewer written reports, but those which are presented are necessarily important, and it is vital that they should be well written and carefully presented.

The elements of a good report are fairness of presentation, clarity and brevity - and the greatest of these is brevity. Members of governing bodies are extremely busy men and women, and it is not unnatural that they become impatient when they have to cope with many lengthy, complex and verbose reports. Granted that good report writing is a fine art which may not be commanded by everybody, but it ought to be perfectly possible to present members with all the facts fairly, clearly and briefly, and if possible with a straightforward and uncomplicated recommendation. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was not being unreasonable when he asked that reports to him should be confined to one side of a sheet of paper. Of course it is not always possible to do this, or even desirable if the matter under report is of signal importance, but there is a very valid point here that should be taken by readers.

To aid brevity there should be little need for adjectives and adverbs. George Rylands, the critic whose studies of Shakespeare are so perceptive, once said that no adjective is above suspicion. Although he was writing about words and poetry, his comment applies equally to prose, and he might have included adverbs as well. So keep your reports brief, clear and unadorned. Paragraphs should be kept short and should be serially numbered for ease of reference. A summing-up paragraph at the end should lead to a clear recommendation, with reasons given if thought necessary. Finally, do not forget the elementary needs of signing and dating your report. It is amazing how often this is forgotten, particularly the date. Future readers will not thank you for that omission.

The reports referred to are, of course, often confidential, though the recent opening of committee meetings to members of the public means that the reports have to be available for public consumption as well. The librarian's annual report comes into quite a different category. This can be made, indeed it must be made into a major PR document for the library, affording communication between the librarian and his governing body, and between the librarian and his users, or his potential users. As most annual reports are, or ought to be, printed and published, further comment on its presentation and production is deferred to a subsequent chapter devoted to printed publicity for the library. However it should be said here that the recent tendency to replace annual reports by biennial or triennial ones, even to abandon such reports entirely is to be deplored. While lack of* finance may have contributed to this trend, too many librarians have lazily accepted this as an excuse not to produce annual reports. Apart from the potential PR value of such documents, librarians have a duty to give the paying public regular statistical and progress reports on the service.

Personal relations between the librarian and members of his council and board are extremely important, but especially so between the librarian and his chairman. The chairman of the governing body of the library should be a key figure in the library's progress, since he is the person who has to explain and interpret its policy and needs to those who ultimately control the purse-strings. He cannot do this effectively if he is not fully informed, and it is the librarian's job to keep in constant touch with his chairman and to brief him as fully as possible.

This is not an easy task. The chairman, when wanted, may be unavailable. Then, when you do see or speak to him, you may inadvertently forget a salient point you wished to make. Selection of' information is important too. The chairman often needs to have a certain amount of detail without being overloaded with trivia. What the librarian should try to do is to put himself in the position of the chairman, and satisfy himself in this way that the latter is in possession of all the relevant information.

Libraries and the book trade

There was a time when libraries operated in apparent isolation so far as the rest of the book world was concerned, but this was never really the whole truth and it has become increasingly clear that the librarian is just one cog, though a vital one, in a wheel which also includes author, publisher, bookseller and reader. So here again a PR exercise on behalf of libraries is necessary if our co-producers of' the information media are fully to appreciate librarians' problems and objectives.

Booksellers need to know the urgent needs of libraries to supply their readers with books as quickly as possible, and of our requirements in the way of accurate invoicing. Publishers may seek our opinions on gaps in the subject provision of books, or on library editions, or on out of print books. A lot of this interplay and exchange of opinion should be done between the various national associations, but individual librarians must play their parts as well.

The growth of National Library Weeks and similar co-operative ventures in the USA, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Canada, Australia and other countries has undoubtedly improved the collaboration between libraries and other sections of the book world, and this will be enlarged in a later chapter on co-operative library publicity. In the United Kingdom another encouraging step has .been taken in the last few years in the shape of the annual conferences between librarians and members of the book trade. These have been organised by Brian Baumfield, the City Librarian of Birmingham, and have taken the form of intensive one day meetings attended often by 200 or so librarians, publishers, booksellers, library suppliers, authors and others connected with library/book trade relations. Not the least important spin-off of these has been the subsequent printed and published reports.

The basic aim is the common one of working to improve the literacy and general educational and cultural level of the community. This is too important to be interrupted by petty sectional differences, but unless the PR of all the bodies concerned are altered and improved there remains the likelihood that all the component parts of' the book world will remain apart, instead of drawing closer together.

Libraries and educationists

One would hardly expect educationists to be included among the lukewarm supporters of' librarians, but some instances have occurred, as most librarians would agree. Only a small minority of educationists have fallen into this category, but they have existed, and still exist. One contributory cause is sometimes jealousy, a feeling that libraries may have taken a larger slice of the financial cake to the detriment of schools, colleges, universities, and educational programmes generally. Few librarians could agree with this, since it is so far from the truth as to he ridiculous. No! - the real reason ('or this attitude, where it exists, can only lie in the ineffective PR programmes of the library profession.

Happily the situation is improving. Most new universities have started from the premise that the library is the first and basic requirement of' the institution. The development of college and school libraries continues, and co-operation between lecturers, teachers and librarians gets slowly closer to the desired ideal.

Librarians and library associations cannot, however, afford to relax their PR efforts in the direction of the people concerned with formal education, for there are still vice-chancellors who appear reluctant to grant the university library its proper place, there are still education officers and committees who are satisfied with substandard school libraries, and there are still headteachers who do not fully appreciate the value of public library services to the children under their care.

Only a constant and carefully planned PR programme will improve these situations. One thing, however, must be underlined. Of all sections of the community those concerned with education are perhaps the quickest to appreciate a good library service when they experience it. The moral then should be that when librarians are serving educationists they should gear themselves to produce the best possible service.

Internal PR

Although this chapter deals primarily with libraries and the world outside them, it ends on an internal note with some remarks about communication between the librarian and his staff, largely because this is a topic which is basic to the whole of this book. Unfortunately this aspect of communication is something which many librarians tend to overlook. Adequate arrangements are often made for staff training and welfare, but never a thought is given to keeping staffs informed about the progress of the library as a whole, or about the short-term and long-term intentions of the library authority.

During the past decade library services in a number of countries have been affected by the redrawing of the boundaries of local authorities, and this reorganisation has led to fewer, larger and more viable local authorities, with a consequent reduction in the number of separate public library systems. Such moves have taken place in the Scandinavian countries and in the United Kingdom, reorganisation in Greater London coming in 1965, in Northern Ireland in 1973, in England and Wales in 1974, and in Scotland in 1975. For public libraries this has meant larger staffs spread over wider areas.

In turn, this has increased the need for better communication between the director and the many members of his staff, yet at the same time it has increased the difficulties of achieving better such communication. How many directors can put their hands on their hearts and say with confidence that they are satisfied with the level of communication between themselves and their staffs? To get a more realistic picture of the situation, one should perhaps ask the staffs at the perimeter what they feel about the flow (or otherwise) of information coming to them from the top echelon. Most senior librarians would get a rude shock if this were done!

This problem of communication with staff is one which will never be solved to the satisfaction of either the sender or the recipient of information. In the outside world of today we have become accustomed to having instant information on tap. A disaster, a sports result from the other side of the world can be conveyed to us as soon as it happens, and perhaps we have become too conditioned to this way of life. Whatever methods are adopted to improve the transmission of information between the library director and his staff, there will always be those who remain in ignorance of developments, and there will always be complaints that the system is abysmally inadequate.

These shortcomings must not, however, prevent efforts to improve the position and to adopt a variety of methods. One obvious way is for the director to have meetings with his senior staff, and the question arises as to whether these should be on a regular basis, or whether they should be held as and when thought necessary?

Experience suggests that it is better to hold meetings as and when it is thought necessary, rather than on a regular basis. When regular senior staff meetings are held there is certainly a tendency to invent items for discussion if there is nothing of an urgent nature to bring up. It is much better to arrange such meetings whenever they are deemed essential, with two provisos. First, the director must give plenty of notice of the meeting beforehand, and secondly, a minimum number of meetings must be held each year. Another point to be stressed is that each senior librarian who attends a director's meeting should hold a meeting of his own subordinates soon afterwards. It is of no value to staff communication if the information gleaned from a director's meeting is not passed quickly down the line.

Another medium of communication in large library staff situations is the regular issue of a newsletter or bulletin from the director, and ideally this should be distributed on an individual basis so that every member of the staff is given a personal copy. Not enough libraries do this, but there are some notable exceptions. Toledo Public Libraries, in the United States, for some years produced a chatty newsletter, written in journalistic style, complete with line drawings. Some critics said this lacked dignity, but it was probably read by recipients more avidly than a more staid production might have been.

There are examples of staff newsletters in the United Kingdom as well. Cheshire County Libraries and Westminster City Libraries may be quoted: both aim to keep their staffs as fully informed as possible on intended developments, budgetary news, and personalia relating to past and present staff. These productions are more sober than the Toledo newsletter, but they endeavour to be well presented and readable. Since the last edition of this book came out there have been drastic alterations in the library world. Then, it was common to find staff newsletters full of details about new or projected buildings; now such details are sadly lacking, and in an era of recession the information being passed on is more likely to he concerned with economies and reductions in services. During periods like this it is vital to keep staff informed of the latest developments in the library budgeting process, since library staff at all levels are naturally sensitive about the future.

Differentiation should be made here between the staff newsletter produced under the aegis of the director, which is the kind of' publication being referred to earlier and the staff journal produced by library personnel themselves as the organ of the staff association. Examples occur to show that these two kinds of publication can he combined into one, but really it is preferable for the staff association to run its own publication, leaving the director of libraries with the responsibility for producing a regular medium of intercommunication between himself and his personnel.

In Sweden, Stockholm City Libraries have a part-time public relations librarian, some of whose duties include reporting to the staff journal. This leads one on to end this chapter by posing a question. Should large libraries employ a PR librarian or should they utilise a PR officer (PRO)? There is a distinction, as the observant reader will have noticed. Stockholm is not the only large library to employ a public relations librarian, other examples coming to mind in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Canada and, especially, in the United States. Excellent results have been achieved by these professional librarians who have acquired a modicum of PR expertise, but PR is a profession in its own right, and would it not be better to employ a PRO either full-time or part-time, or it) utilise the services of thc PRO of the local authority or the university, or even to hand out PR responsibilities to outside experts'

In the United States, which must he regarded as the home of' PR, many libraries employ people specially trained in PR work, Seattle Public Libraries being a case in point. In that country it Is generally accepted that whenever possible the PRO is to be preferred to the I-R librarian. There is no doubt that when a library service reaches a certain size it should employ its own PR personnel, and ideally this should include a trained PRO rather than a trained librarian converted into a PRO.

It often happens that the governing body of the library will not agree to the library having its own PRO, because it already has a section with trained PR people to cope with all aspects of the authority's activities. A great deal of useful publicity can be gained for the library by the trained PRO, because he has close contacts with press, TV and radio which the library could never hope to equal. But the disadvantage of this arrangement is that such an officer is concerned with so many other sevices that he can give only a small proportion of his time to the library's PR needs. In these circumstances, it still remains for the director of libraries and his senior staff to be aware of all publicity possibilities and to acquaint the authority's PRO with library news and developments on a regular basis.