The library as a brand Two projects in Norway

Background In the autumn of 2008 two applications were submitted to the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority seeking financial support for projects aimed at creating a library brand image, one from the county of Østfold and the other from the counties of East Agder and West Agder combined. The inspiration for both projects came from the Halmstad conference in Sweden in April 2008, the theme of which was Selling the library!

“What conceptions of the library exist among users, politicians and librarians? What picture of itself should a library aim to present to its owners and to the public? Do libraries simply need a new brand image?”

These issues were addressed in a variety of ways during the course of the conference. A particular source of inspiration was the project, Shake up the image of the library, carried out in the Swedish county of Norrbotten. Here the municipalities had made a concerted effort to lift their libraries out of the grey no man’s land of anonymity and to transform them into visible, positive meeting places.

A tradition of cooperation

That Østfold and the two Agder counties were granted support for their projects is perhaps no coincidence, since all three have a long tradition of library cooperation.

In the period from 2002 until 2005 the county of Østfold, to the south of Oslo, carried out a project The Østfold Library, which involved all its libraries working together to ensure joint use of their collections.

Østfold was the first county in Norway with an extensive and regular transport system between all libraries. During the course of the project a joint search tool was also developed. This took place before the present regional search facilities were established. The aim was to ensure that all public libraries throughout the county should take on the appearance of one unified, collective, seamless net-work where members of the public could obtain the assistance they required regardless of which library they approached.

In recent years the West-Agder Archive, Library and Museum Authority and the East-Agder Authority for Libraries and Cultural Activities have cooperated in carrying out a number of significant library projects involving all the public libraries in these two counties situated in the south of Norway. In 2008 both county libraries, together with the Agder University Library, established a joint transport arrangement. This in turn led to the creation of a joint electronic search program for all the libraries concerned, a common database which makes it possible to search through each and every library catalogue at one and the same time.

In 2008 and also to some extent in 2009 a joint upgrading of skills in ICT and Web 2.0 was carried out among all library staff in the Agder counties. This initiative also included school librarians from the upper-secondary schools. Two course programs were developed, one at a general level and the other for specialists.

The aim was to ensure that all librarians who had contact with the public should possess adequate ICT competence, while all libraries should in addition have some staff with specialist skills in these areas. The overall effect has been to create a strong network combining expertise and media collections. This ensures an improved use of resources of benefit to both large and small libraries.

The Østfold libraries conducted a similar upgrading of ICT and Web 2.0 skills in the spring of 2008 and the spring of 2009, which means that all three counties have carried out much the same programs, although at differing times and in a slightly different sequence.

The library as a brand? Is it possible?

In the county of Østfold ten municipalities have come together to make their libraries more visible in a positive way. All ten are situated in the same region, namely Inner Østfold, and consist of small and medium-sized municipalities with populations between 700 and 15,000. Only two out of the ten have more than 10,000 inhabitants.

The objective is to develop common aims, identity, services and core values, together with an overall graphic profile and a shared strategy for communication with the libraries’ target groups.

The project leader made an early approach to selected PR-agencies with a view to obtaining expert assistance in the project. All the participating libraries had high hopes of creating a common logo and graphic profile to be used in marketing.

Before reaching this stage, however, an internal process had to be carried out. What is the public view of the library? How do we regard ourselves? What sort of public image are we seeking? What must we actually do to achieve the desired result?

The necessary insight was gained partly through external advice and partly by means of internal workshops. An agreement was made with a PR-agency in Oslo, Oktan PoP, and they have assisted throughout the entire internal process. They started by visiting all the libraries in order to gain a first impression of situation, interior appearance, information signs, opening hours, accessibility, etc. It was extremely useful to have a complete outsider’s professional view of library interior and space and of the possible effect on visitors.

In addition it was of course important to find out what people think of the library services. To this end a marketing survey was carried out covering three target groups; the general public, library users and library staff. The aim of the survey was to determine the overall situation before the start of the project as a guide to measuring any changes or improvements once the project was completed.

The marketing survey was also interesting with regard to the comparisons to be made between the three target groups. Many of the findings tally closely with the results of other marketing and consumer surveys conducted in recent years.

Libraries have many loyal and satisfied users and a good reputation with the public. Expectations were met with regard to traditional library services. There was general agreement among respondents that the most important role of libraries was to promote the spread of knowledge, access to information and a love of reading.

It was also essential to have competent staff capable of supplying reliable information together with advice on how best to search for information. However, the libraries fail in some areas of considerable concern to users. Unsatisfactory opening hours was the most frequent criticism in all three groups. They would like to see broader, better and more up-to-date services with regard to all media. They look for more information about services in general and also about activities. They want the library to ‘talk’ to them and to be more accessible.

Complete details of the survey can be found at

The libraries have for some time attached importance to providing access to new technology and to fulfilling the role of a meeting place and social arena for the local community. The survey, however, revealed that respondents were less aware of these aspects of library use than had been expected. Of course we are pleased with our reputation among the public as an important source of knowledge and culture, together with the confirmation that members of staff are proficient in providing advice and guidance to those seeking information.

However, the fact must be accepted that the libraries are not the attractive meeting places and social arenas that we would like them to be. Here we are competing with many other players. Is it at all possible to change this situation?

There have been many rounds of discussion within the project group, among chief librarians and with library staff in an effort to establish how best to present ourselves. The resulting clarification of identity and values will provide the basis for future action. During the first few months of 2010 a logo and a graphic profile will be designed, together with a communication strategy in relation to the libraries’ target groups. This will mean several joint campaigns for all the libraries involved.

Internal and external marketing

In the Swedish county of Norrbotten the municipal chief librarians felt that they were victims of a ‘curse of indifference’. Politicians took the libraries for granted and were not interested in discussing their role and contribution to society. The Norwegian experience has been much the same. Libraries are rarely an item on political agendas and even more seldom the subject of political priority debates.

The Østfold project considers internal marketing just as important as external publicity. It should not be left to the media to bring events to the notice of the politicians. Where campaigns are concerned, the politicians should be involved from the very start in what is happening.

Although participation in the project has not required any additional financing of library budgets, the matter has nevertheless been raised to a political level in the municipalities involved. Information on the project was also submitted to the Inner Østfold regional council, a body of municipal councillors, chairmen and politicians. The council concerns itself mainly with matters of importance to regional development.

Internal marketing is also necessary among library staff. If a library brand image is to be created, everybody must be aware of and familiar with the basic values. The whole program must be infused with shared attitudes and routines. Not until this has been accomplished can we direct all our efforts towards a campaign aimed at the general public.

Biblioscope – a new image for the library

Biblioscope – a new image for the library is the latest project from the West-Agder and East-Agder library authorities. It is a marketing project with a focus on network creation, improved competence, joint utilisation of resources and promotion of the library sector to users and non-users.

The project is extensive, being based as previously mentioned, on a program of cooperation between both county libraries, all public libraries, all upper secondary school libraries and the Agder University Library. The challenge lies in successfully appearing as a united library sector, where the collective resources and services are made available to all and equal access to the common pool of knowledge is assured.

The concrete aims for the project period are as follows:

A joint working platform for the libraries in Agder:
• Values, goals and vision
• Identity, ownership and pride
• A joint manual of values and aims.

Greater social visibility by means of:
• Clear communications
• Broader information
• Active marketing.

Satisfied customers who return as a result of:
• A focus on service
• A joint declaration on service goals.

In common with the project The library as a brand, the participants in Biblioscope view internal and external marketing as equally significant factors in a total process aimed at achieving successful publicity for the library sector. A strong network is essential in order to present a clear and collective picture of the libraries themselves and the services we offer. If success is to be achieved, we must have all library staff with us, skilled professional assistance, committed management and an efficient project group with the motivation necessary to ensure that the project is given priority.

The establishment of a joint working platform and the marketing campaigns, together with the courses and seminars aimed at enhanced competence, must all be seen as intrinsic parts of what collectively represents a total process towards one aim:

“We shall present to the world a new image of the library. More people shall come to view the library as a place for interesting experiences, contact with others and access to knowledge.”

Biblioscope is now well under way and entering its second year. So far we have begun the process to create a joint working platform. The draft plan has been completed and sent out to all employees for their consideration. Towards the end of last year a course on service to the public was arranged for all the staff participating in Biblioscope. By means of seminars, courses and group initiatives we shall work towards a joint platform and a declaration on service standards composed by all the staff for all the staff employed in the Agder libraries.

In contrast to the Østfold project Biblioscope has chosen to cooperate with several PR-agencies, placing the emphasis on communication and collaboration between the agencies themselves. Together with the Dale+Bang agency we drew up the first draft proposal for a joint working platform. We turned to another agency, Innoventi, to assist in creating a campaign concept specially designed to meet local requirements.

The future plan for 2010 is to build a solid foundation for the joint working platform. Shared values, goals and vision shall provide the basis for courses in library display, interior design and relations with the media. Routines for carrying out campaigns and the various associated activities will be established, so that individual libraries can also make their own adjustments to suit their local situation.

Beyond the concrete plans for the project period there remain the vital aims of maintaining the established network, strengthening cooperation between the various institutions involved and creating routines which will con- tinue to be viable after the completion of the project. Further information on the project can be found at

Now it starts…

Both projects are thus well on the way to establishing the fundamental processes. We have defined our values, goals and vision and are now ready to tackle initiatives directed towards the outside world. A great deal has been learned from the process required to determine who we are, how we are seen from outside and how we wish to be seen.

Since the projects differ in size and scope, we have used somewhat different methods of approach. The method chosen by Østfold has been based on workshops linked to comparatively close contact with library staff. The two Agder counties have followed a more structured and formal path in the form of seminars and course activities, in addition to working groups assigned to prepare a manual of values and standards of service. In order to ensure the participation of all libraries, the working group proposals will be distributed for general comment.

Project management has maintained continuous contact at all times. The project groups have met with each other and also with the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority. We have participated in each others’ courses and meetings and plans are being made for cooperation on some of the campaigns proposed for 2010.

Creating a brand image is much more than designing a new logo and an exciting graphic profile. Our aim is to pre-sent the public with a new version of the library as a place for contact, knowledge and rewarding experiences for all. The projects described have many similarities with regard to what they hope to achieve, but differ somewhat in the path taken to reach their goal. It will be interesting in a year’s time to see the results of our efforts. It is to be hoped that others will be able to benefit from our experiences, adapting them to meet their own circumstances.

Anne Berit Brandvold
Project manager
Østfold County Library
Annbra9 AT

Elisabeth Skuggevik
Project manager
East-Agder Authority for Libraries and Cultural Activities
Elisabeth AT

Translated by Eric Deverill

Project manager Østfold County Library
Project manager East-Agder Authority for Libraries and Cultural Activities