The image of the Library Marketing The Image of the Library. A joint project between County Libraries in Central Sweden

The Image of the Library is the name of a cooperative marketing project undertaken by a number of county libraries and public libraries in Central Sweden.

Currently there is a marked tendency towards reducing library resources; this is a trend that must be reversed. The libraries’ strengths and ‘usability’ for social and personal development has to be made more visible. We need to recruit library fans and engage them in a lifelong relationship.

The Image

Swedish public libraries have a strong brand image. They are important arenas as meeting places and for personal enjoyment, storytelling and learning. They function as guarantors for a working democracy. Their mission is manifold, and operates on many different levels. Unfortunately libraries aren’t always recognised as the motors for social development that we believe them to be.

This is why libraries must become more visible. The image of public libraries and the way they are perceived must be broadened and expanded in order to resonate with national opinion-builders and decision-makers.

Globalisation, new technology, new materials, the digital gap and new patterns of user-behaviour – these factors increase demands made on public libraries at the very time when many libraries are experiencing major budget cuts. In times of economic crisis the ‘usability’ of public libraries is greater and maintaining normal budget levels is of paramount importance.

A modern public library is quite unlike the library we might remember from our childhood; but, when discussing library needs with decision-makers it is not uncommon for this kind of oldfashioned image to surface. The main purpose of this project is to find out just what kind of image of the library is held by decision-makers, politicians as well as public servants. Is there a clear picture of the modern library with all its possibilities and resources or does the old image still retain a firm foothold?


Ingebrigt Steen Jensen, Norwegian author of the book Ona Fyr (Ona Lighthouse) has been an important source of inspiration.We want to demonstrate the positive effects of library activities by creating stories about the new/modern library. County libraries in Central Sweden (ten counties working together) initiated a process to produce positive stories that would change the image of libraries. An ana-lysis was undertaken to find out which areas of library activity make a real difference for individuals and for society at large. Seven usability factors were adopted: democracy, reading, integration, accessibility, learning, communication and enjoyment.

• The Public Library as a guarantee for democracy
• The Public Library as an aid to reading
• The Public Library as an aid to integration
• The Public Library as an aid to accessibility
• The Public Library as an aid to learning
• The Public Library as an aid to communication
• The Public Library as an aid to enjoyment.

Working with a communications agency

Having come this far we then organised a workshop on communication processes where we defined different phases and possibilities for future action. Here we received valuable guidance from the marketing and information director of the Stockholm City Library, Eva Anzelius Jonson. First on the agenda was the need to define the image of the library as held by decision-makers (politicians as well as public servants) in the light of the above seven usability factors. This would then give us an idea as to whether this image needed to be changed and how to go about it. We realised we would need the assistance of a professional communications agency and decided to approach The Fan Club in Malmö.

Focus Groups

We decided to use web-based focus groups to examine the current image of the library.We had two groups with politicians – we chose mayors and municipal opposition leaders – and two groups with library directors from large and small municipalities. Each web group had three days to answer questions about the library and to give their opinions of the role played by libraries. It was interesting to follow these discussions and to see how group participants interpreted certain questions, e.g. the role of the library in relation to democracy.

In certain areas there was a noticeable difference between the views of politicians and library directors. On the question of democracy one politician thought that the library’s role was relatively unimportant apart from being able to hold meetings there. “Even dictatorships have libraries.” Others were of the opposite view. Swedish public libraries have a greater importance in relation to freedom of speech than that. The library directors had a more clear-cut view of the library’s importance for democracy. As for reading it was thought that the library’s role was very important, but that the part played by schools and parents was even more so. The focus groups produced a wealth of interesting material. Both groups had ideas about future library goals and the library directors were interested in developing library activities together with citizens in their municipalities

A communications platform

The next phase was to develop a communications platform based on a deeper analysis of the attitudes and information gained from the focus groups. The purpose of the platform would be to increase municipal politicians’ knowledge of and interest in library activities and the developmental potential of libraries. We established short and long term goals. In the short term we wanted to develop a closer dialogue with municipal politicians and in the long term create circumstances where public libraries are seen as a self-evident component of the social structure and an important asset in all aspects of municipal activities.

We discussed the main import of this message together with the evidence and argumentation.We talked about the library’s core values – such discussions are always inspiring. The library is everything to everyone. The library facilitates everything from pure enjoyment to serious existential questions. This process needs to take time. When a marketing strategy of this type is launched, the core values and the core message must not come from above, but rather from the libraries themselves.

At the end of January 2010 we conducted a workshop for interested library directors and staff from the county libraries in Central Sweden. Here are some comments from the library directors who participated:

“An inspiring and rewarding workshop. On different levels. Not only meeting colleagues from neighbouring counties but also following the creative process (even if it’s a little difficult to jump directly into a process that’s already started.) On my return I’ll be discussing the process with my staff so that they’ll have time to prepare themselves for the coming campaign.

Inspiring and interesting days. The Fan Club inspires confidence. Good discussions. I’ve learnt a lot about the amount of research work necessary for a campaign. The importance of the social networks in modern campaigns is enormous. It’s both easier and harder to mount a successful campaign these days. Important that the municipal libraries participate in the work.”

Using benchmark measurement

In the first phase of the project we wanted to look at the library image held by decision-making politicians and library directors. The second phase has consisted of a series of workshops to establish goals, core values, a clear message and convincing arguments.We have now decided to proceed with a campaign. The last part of phase two is a benchmark measurement exercise designed to test the veracity of the material produced in the focus groups.

The benchmark measurement will be in the form of telephone interviews with 250 politicians in municipal executive committees and municipal cultural committees. The focus for the interviews is whether or not the seven ‘usability factors’ are applicable to their own libraries.

Launching the campaign So now it is time to launch the campaign and time to apply for further financial funding. The Swedish Arts Council has financed phases one and two with complementary contributions in the form of cash and manpower from the respective county libraries. It has been rewarding to work with a communications agency and to use modern technology such as web-based focus groups.

We now have high hopes for a campaign where we can benefit from social networking tools to market the modern, interesting and eminently usable library.

Kerstin Olsson
County librarian in Östergötland

Lisa De Souza
County librarian in Dalarna

Translated by Greg Church

County librarian in Östergötland
County librarian in Dalarna