HelMet literature prize promotes library and literature

Communications from public libraries call for more than merely providing sufficient information through services, facilities, collections and equipment. Through various campaigns, libraries can change the public’s knowledge about the library, but only long-term, communicational actions can shape the image of the library.The winner gets the “Golden Library Card” prize and 1,000 euros. Photo: Maisa Hopeakunnas

HelMet-libraries – Helsinki Metropolitan Area Libraries in Finland – established a literature prize which enabled libraries to powerfully communicate their message in media and activate library staff as well as the public. In the future, it will probably also shape their image.

The Finnish media has been very eager to promote the new roles and services of the public libraries in Finland. In recent years, the media has reported month after month in newspapers, radio and television that library patrons can now book an urban office, log into e-services, use a sewing machine and sports equipment and, especially, loan a power drill from the library. The drill has been a ‘thrill’ for the media, even though there are 2.7 million books and less than five drills in the collections.

The new services began to change the library’s media image, even though they were only a part of the overall activities. At the same time, literature and the library staff ’s knowledge of it, as well as basic library work, failed to interest the press.

Highlights quality literature

The HelMet Library’s (Helsinki Metropolitan Area Libraries network) communications team supported my idea to create a literature prize that would promote quality literature, the library and the literary expertise of the library staff.

The library decided to award annually a deserving book published within the last five years. The idea is to introduce potential future classics and remind patrons that quality literature will last year after year.

The HelMet Literature Prize also emphasizes the fact that there are literary experts working in the library: literature has always been and will always remain at the very core of library work. In addition, the prize aims to highlight different and marginal literary voices. Even the name of the prize will market the library.

Library staff and public participation

We asked the HelMet Library staff to propose a deserving book: a web survey was held for them during spring 2015. After the survey, ten finalist books were chosen and a panel of library specialists began the process for selecting a winner.

The ten finalists were announced at a press conference on August 18th. A public poll at helmet.fi, where library patrons could choose their favorite among the ten finalists, also began at that time.

We launched HelMet Literature Prize 2015 on September 15th at a festive press conference with the ten writers present. The winner received the Golden Library Card prize and 1,000 euros. The public’s favorite received an honorary diploma.

Plenty of media hits

The media was interested in the literature specialist prize. Our press releases received about 50 media hits (according to our media monitoring – the actual number is probably higher), even though this was the first year. The same happened in the social media. Our posts about the library literature prize received followers many times compared to normal posts; we reached tens of thousands of people with our literature prize posts.

Given this evidence, I believe that the annual prize will promote the HelMet Libraries and our expertise in literature, refresh our image and improve our visibility as well as increase public participation. In a few years, we will be able to make a deeper analysis of all of this.

Communications Specialist Helsinki City Library