|International Reader in the Management of Library, Information and Archive Services (UNESCO, 1987, 684 p.)|
|3. Planning the service|
|3.4 Public relations|
Bibliothe de la Ville de Lyon
The fact that our association has chosen this year to deal with the question of public relations in research libraries shows how important this has become in library management. This does not imply that libraries, which have long been issuing readers, guides and setting up information services, have been unconcerned about their relations with their readers in the past.
But the term 'public relations' has an overall application and refers to a function. It comes to us from the United States, and often stands for 'all the methods used to gain the sympathy and goodwill of the outside world' (M. Crozier). According to the International Public Relations Association, public relations is a management function whereby a public or private body seeks to secure and keep the understanding, sympathy and co-operation of those with whom it has, or may have, dealings. This definition includes action taken vis-is the members of that body, as well as external relations; which is a debatable point.
The problem of public relations can be approached on the same lines but from a different angle. We all have an idea, an 'image' of what a library is, depending on the particular emphasis that we place on individual aspects (reception service, information, size of collections ' speed of delivery). This is a subjective image which varies from one observer to another and does not necessarily match reality. What is needed is therefore a policy to create an image which is consistent and which does reflect reality; a reality which will sometimes require adjustments in the light of observers' reactions.
A public relations policy thus implies mutual understanding and communication.
A policy also implies 'follow-up action', which means that there should be a person or a team whose special job this is, especially in a large library.
As relations with the press often symbolize public relations, the task is sometimes entrusted to a 'press attach The disadvantage of this title is its restrictive character, for the work entails more than relations with the press.
Indeed, I do not propose to define the scope of this job, which varies from one establishment to the next. I shall only try to describe its characteristics in Lyons and the way in which it is developing.
'Public relations' in the Bibliothe Municipale de Lyon (Lyons City Library) developed out of practical experience. Its initiator was the Mayor of Lyons, Mr Louis Pradel, who ordered the Library to be built. He did not hesitate to issue invitations to the press to view the work-site of the Library under construction, and, later, the completed Library. He accompanied distinguished French and foreign visitors to Lyons (including the German President Walter Scheel and the Polish President Edward Gierek) to see the Library, encouraged television reports, organized Open Days, and insisted on exhibitions and activities which gave publicity to the Library that he wished to portray as one of the largest and most modern in Europe, if not in the world. His methods did not necessarily meet with the approval of 'relationists', who were wary of the 'propaganda' aspect. What is certain is that he drew much attention to the Library.
As a result, it became necessary to appoint someone to guide the visitors who came to see the monument just as people visit the Eiffel Tower or Beaubourg in Paris.
Visits were thus a first stage in our public relations, which subsequently had to be subdivided into visits by distinguished persons, 'tours' by professionals in the building trade or professionals in library science, and school visits. This classification is incomplete as it does not include groups of potential library users. Visits by schools have increased in number and now require scheduling.
Reception of the public was thus the first duty which the service had to perform, and besides visits included the information in the entrance hall, the directions to enable readers and visitors to find their way about in the Library and the signposts outside showing the way to the entrance. Reception of exhibits and mounting of exhibitions proposed by outside bodies were additional responsibilities.
The establishment of relations with the press was a gradual process. It was necessary, first, to welcome journalists who came in search of information about the new Library; second, to answer inquiries from the journalists of the region concerning the organization of services and projects, and to advertise the exhibitions both in the press and on radio or television (it should be added that the regional radio and television premises are near the Library).
In short, the opening of the new Library in Lyons gave rise to unfamiliar problems of external relations which were gradually solved by the introduction of a new function to suit the circumstances.
At present we are trying to work out a better public relations formula for a library such as ours; we wish to clarify our policy on the sharing of duties and responsibilities.
Subscribing to the idea of securing and keeping 'the understanding, sympathy and co-operation of those with whom (the library) has, or may have, dealings', we shall apply it to external relations.
External relations are very varied: the government officials, and local councilors who decide on funds for the Library are in direct contact with the Chief Librarian and are kept informed by means of meetings, reports and commissions (not forgetting the remarks and observations of library users).
A number of outside bodies maintain professional relations with the Library. The Centre de documentation ronale (Regional Documentation Centre), for instance, corresponds and has personal contacts with many public and private organizations in the region (and works in close co-operation with several of them).
This combination of professional relations and public relations is found again in dealings with cultural and academic bodies.
Public relations is in fact concerned with several sectors of the public:
1. Those who already use the Library, and who oust be met, given directions and informed, and whose observations (even if harsh) and suggestions must be duly received.
We think it preferable to separate relations with these members of the public from public relations proper and to place them in the charge of a librarian who is fully conversant with the functioning of the Library and able to negotiate with his colleagues who head the various services.
This librarian takes care of reception, distribution of leaflets to readers and the suggestions book.
The readers' service is thus independent of the external relations service.
2. School groups, which have to be shown around at the request of teachers or encouraged to come and discover the facilities available at the Library. The aim in this case is to encourage potential readers by providing a friendly welcome at the Library.
Liaison with secondary schools is the responsibility of the external relations service, which often maintains contact with the school librarians. This service establishes the timetable of visits and determines which documents are useful for these groups. It has also been given responsibility for supervising the production of an audiovisual montage on the Library.
The staff in charge of the children's section and the Regional Documentation Centre also help to cater for school visits.
3. The associations with which the Library most often has dealings are those which request visits.
The external relations service adapts each visit to suit the special interest of the association in question, in one case placing more emphasis on the 'building' aspect, and in another on the collections or the services available.
Relations with the executive officials of associations are often strengthened by sending invitations to attend inaugural ceremonies and information sheets produced by the Association des Amis de la Bibliothe (Association of Friends of the Library).
4. The Association des Amis de la Bibliothe has a special role to play. Its purpose is to provide a network for all who are interested in the doings of the Library, and especially in its exhibitions and other types of organized activity. The person in charge of external relations is also responsible for its secretariat.
The Library Committee enlists the co-operation and support of various people by establishing links both with the press and television and with public and private bodies and teachers.
The members of the Association receive the programme of events planned for the quarter, and, later, individual invitations to inaugural ceremonies and notes on the author of the month. Each quarter, the Library also organizes lectures for them on the Library's ancient manuscripts and printed works.
5. The general public outside the Library. It is equally important to reach members of the general public, both to ensure that they come to the Library and thus increase our user statistics and to convey a favourable impression of the Library so that they are willing to pay the taxes which enable it to function.
Many people, at least those living in France's large towns, are unaware of the services that libraries have to offer, whether public or research libraries. This calls for much advertising work and opinion polls which, in Lyons, are the responsibility of the external relations service.
It is the task of the latter to reach agreement with the municipal authorities and advertisers concerning the information which is to appear either in the municipal review or in poster form. It is also the responsibility of this service to employ an organization specializing in public opinion polls to monitor the public image of the Library.
(2) Organized events
The attention of the general public is often drawn to a particular subject by an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence. In the case of the Library, this may be a series of Open Days when public interest is aroused as much by 'behind the scenes' activities, which ordinarily take place out of sight, as by information about user services.
Inaugural ceremonies also arouse interest through press coverage.
Exhibitions, lectures followed by discussions and slide or film shows attract members of the-public who are not habitual library users.
But the success of these events greatly depends on how they are publicized, not only by posters but also by press reports. The usual practice is therefore to notify monthly journals two months in advance and to place announcements in weekly and daily newspapers, and also to try to secure the presence of television cameras and to give journalists a preview of the exhibition, if possible shortly before the opening. And this brings us to the crucial question of relations with the press.
(3) Relations with the press
The importance of relations with the press in public relations is apparent from the fact that the person in charge of public relations is very often known as the 'press attach
To reach the general public, the media - print, radio and television are necessary. And this is one reason why the Association des bibliothires frans (Association of French Librarians) placed press relations on the agenda of its annual meeting this year (1981).
These relations are not always trouble-free: librarians believe in their superior competence and disclaim responsibility for the serious 'blunders' which sometimes appear in articles, while journalists consider that professionals are too absorbed In their occupation and bore their listeners or the general public, always supposing that they are not actually hiding things that are going wrong.
Press relations require:
(a) Familiarity with the world of journalism and good personal contacts with journalists.
As is true of all professions, journalists have their own habits, patterns of behaviour, and language - in short, their code.
It is important that one member of the library staff has regular dealings with journalists and is well known to them.
In Lyons, the person in charge of public relations is a member of the Association des attachde presse (Association of Press Attach, and is an active member of the press club of Lyons journalists. In short, she has become fully accepted in journalistic circles.
Bearing past experience in mind, when I myself have to talk to a journalist, I always do so in the presence and with the assistance of this person, who can, in the course of the conversation, assess the risk of a negative interpretation by the journalist and counteract it.
(b) Relations with the press also entail knowing journalists' working methods and gearing the information supplied by the Library to these.
It is well known that journalists are people in a hurry; not only are they unable to fit in with your list of appointments (you will have to find the time to see them), but they also have no time to go into details and read a long dossier. Their writing must be done quickly and without many subsequent revisions. Putting themselves in their readers' place, they will seek to communicate a piece of information which is simple, or at any rate simplified so that it can be grasped, by the greatest number: this is to them a prime consideration, and they will seek to hold the reader's interest by supplying graphic details.
If we wish the journalist to take account of the information that the Library gives him, we must prepare a dossier for him which presents him with what he expects and nothing else; a text which he can use as a blueprint if he is in a great hurry.
Thus, for each exhibition and ceremony to inaugurate a new building or service, the public relations officer prepares a dossier for each journalist. That dossier will comprise a text of a page or more, photographs and some figures (but no detailed statistics that the journalist will not have time to use). Every time, therefore, there is preparatory work to be done for meetings with the press (not to mention the preparation of some refreshments so that the talks can take place in a relaxed atmosphere).
The fruits of these relations with the press are to be found in the published articles which are collected and produced in the form of a booklet of press reports.
(c) Use of radio and television is more difficult, as air time is limited. None the less, these channels are used to announce exhibitions (regional news on the radio) and sometimes to broadcast an interview with an author or a lecturer or a preview of an exhibition, in a 15-minute slot on the radio, or in a few minutes on television.
It goes without saying that, as for the written press, the public relations officer will make preparations for the arrival of radio and television journalists, and will maintain a high level of personal contact with them.
The result of these broadcasts is particularly obvious in the case of television: even a short announcement, lasting two or three minutes after the news broadcast, has an immediate influence on the number of visitors to an exhibition.
The Public Relations Service thus has a specific role and specific activities: making arrangements for school visits, relations with associations, organizing the Association des Amis de la Bibliothe, advertising in town, enhancing the impact of special events, relations with the press - all these are tasks which require follow-up action on the part of a person or a team.
The team at the Bibliothe Municipale comprises two persons, the officer and a secretary. Their main working tool is the file containing the names and addresses of the private individuals and bodies with which the Library has relations. Classification by category makes it possible to gear the dispatch of invitations to the type of event organized by the Library. This file requires regular updating.
As we have seen, public relations are not merely friendly contacts; they require sound preparation.
This work can be carried out successfully only if the various Library services share in it by keeping up a continuous supply of detailed information. This entails that all the heads of Library sections must be conscious of the role played by public relations.
This question of co-operation by members of the Library staff brings me to a problem that I have not touched upon here, namely, that of keeping the staff of a large library informed about what takes place in it. I do not think that this task should be the responsibility of the public relations service, but I believe that the latter's experience and co-operation can prove useful in attaining that end.
To conclude, I shall confine myself to one point on which we are all agreed. There can be no good public relations policy unless the Library provides services to a high standard.
A public relations policy can publicize to advantage what actually exists, but is not designed to be misleading or to mask what is lacking; if it were, it would lose all credibility.