Marketing and Outreach

Homelessness and libraries: an interview with Ryan J. Dowd

It may surprise you to hear that staff at public libraries interact with almost as many homeless individuals as staff at shelters do. But as Ryan J. Dowd, who has spent most of his career as Executive Director of a large homeless shelter near Chicago, observes, "Libraries are one of the few places in a community where everyone — homeless and not homeless — are likely to mix." He advocates for an empathy-driven approach to these individuals in his new book The Librarian's Guide to Homelessness.

You open your book by discussing some of the myths surrounding individuals who are homeless. In your view, which myth is the most pervasive and damaging?

I think there are two pervasive myths that contradict each other, and each cause a different type of damage. One myth is that homeless people are nothing like housed people. This “othering” of homeless individuals really allows us to view them as less than human, less than citizens and less than deserving of assistance. The related myth, though, is that homeless individuals are exactly like housed people. That simply isn’t true. A homeless individual has had a lot of different experiences that effects worldview, communication style, etc. If you assume that a homeless individual interacts with the world exactly like you do, then you are completely unable to empathize with the unique circumstances they face.

What is the Homeless Golden Rule and why do you write that it's the most important thing in your book?

The Homeless Golden Rule is that you should treat your homeless patrons no better or worse than any other patron. This is so important because homeless individuals are used to being singled out and treated as “other” (and usually “less than.”). Being singled out (and discriminated against) is a massive trigger for conflict with homeless patrons. Simply not treating homeless patrons discriminatorily removes a massive source of conflict.

When there's a difficult situation to deal with, often one's default is to immediately shift into problem-solving mode rather than taking a moment to empathize. What are a few pieces of advice you would give librarians for confronting difficult situations with empathy?

The first step is to slow down. Talking to an angry patron (homeless or otherwise) is uncomfortable, and so people try to rush the situation in order to get out of it. This is a mistake. Homeless individuals are constantly rushed and ignored, so when you try to rush the conversation, you send a clear message that they are not worthy of your time or attention. This is a trigger that escalates the situation, which—ironically—causes the confrontation to take much longer than if you took a little time to listen. So few people take the time to listen to homeless patrons. When you do that, it really resolves a lot of problems down the line (and saves time!).

Let's say a library patron approaches you to complain about a homeless individual. So now you have two overlapping situations to handle. What do you do? 

The first step is to determine whether the non-homeless patron’s complaint is legitimate. At one library I talked to, the patrons call the police every time a homeless patron even enters the library. That is simply an elitist misunderstanding of the role of the library as the last truly democratic public space in our communities. On the other hand, if the non-homeless patron has a legitimate concern (e.g. sexual comments) then that is a totally different matter. So, basically, if the concern is legitimate, then library staff should address the problematic behavior. If the concern is not legitimate, library staff should do their best to explain the role of libraries in serving everyone across the socio-economic spectrum (easier said than done, of course!).

On a day to day basis, how does librarianship's advocacy role fit in with serving the homeless?

I think that any effective advocacy begins with a relationship. When you take the time to hear the stories—and learn the names—of homeless patrons you immediately become a more effective advocate. The revolution is in the relationship.  

What are some first steps that libraries can take to partner with outside organizations?

Let’s start with the idea of hiring a social worker. I think it is great for libraries to have social workers, but I am totally against libraries hiring social workers. A far better approach is to partner with a local nonprofit to provide the social worker. There are several reasons for this:  1) A social work agency will do a better job hiring a good social worker, 2) A social work agency will do a better job supporting and supervising a social worker, 3) A social worker operating in a sea of librarians will not have adequate moral and technical support; if that person works for another agency, s/he can get advice from co-workers back at the main office.  4) When another agency has staff based in the library, there are more people caring about the library. That is huge.

Learn more about Dowd's book at the ALA Store.

Though fictional, The Public, a new film written and directed by Emilio Estevez, deals with these very real issues. The opening film of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, it stars Taylor Schilling, Alec Baldwin, Jena Malone, and Jeffrey Wright alongside Estevez. It centers on a group of homeless library patrons in Cincinnati. When brutal weather fills the city's emergency shelters to capacity, they refuse to leave the downtown public library at closing time, leading to a standoff. Check out the official trailer below.

What's graphic design got to do with me? Diana K. Wakimoto explains

Diana K. Wakimoto speaks directly to library staff in her new book, and so we wanted to speak directly to her about why graphic design is such a useful set of skills for any librarian regardless of job description.

First off, I can imagine someone saying, “I’m not on the marketing team, I don’t do PR for the library—why do I need to know anything about graphic design?”

Graphic design is so much more than marketing and PR. It's about communicating to the best of our abilities with our patrons in our communities. Graphic design is visual communication. It's about solving problems and providing great service for our communities and all librarians are about that. So whether you're the one creating the flyer and bookmarks or you're the one giving them out to your library patrons, knowing more about graphic design can only help you be a better communicator in your job as a librarian. Graphic design is an important, but overlooked part of so much of what is driving many of the hot discussions in libraries today in the realms of UX, instruction, online resources and services, assessment, and more. Understanding graphic design will help you in all these areas.  

Just as we wouldn't say, "I don't need to know about written communication or how to give a coherent update on my project at a meeting because I'm not in PR or marketing", we shouldn't discount the need for basic graphic design knowledge as librarians just because it's not a core facet of our job. It's part of all of our work. Even if you never move around a pixel on the screen for creating an instruction handout and you never hand-letter a flyer for programming, knowing a bit about graphic design can help in other ways. Knowing how to "decode" or analyze a design is helpful for understanding why it works or doesn't work as a form of visual communication. This helps all of us in quickly finding the important information in well-designed materials and knowing why poorly designed materials are difficult to read or are just plain unattractive. 

an explanation of sightlinesIf you are someone who has to sign-off on any form of visual communication in your library before it is published online or goes to print, it's imperative that you understand the basics of graphic design. Otherwise, how will you provide helpful and informed feedback for your librarian graphic designers? Everyone has an opinion about design, but not everyone is informed. If you are informed, you can have a positive impact in ensuring that your library always puts its best foot forward graphically. 

Design is everywhere and as librarians we are really good at learning a little bit about everything, so why wouldn't we want to know more about something that surrounds us everyday? Plus, learning and applying what you know about graphic design is just plain fun!

If someone only has time to start with a few “high impact” projects, what would you suggest?

High impact projects really depend on the needs of the individual library and the community the library serves. But, if you press me to name a few high impact projects that I think could benefit many libraries (and won't take months to do) they are: redesigning materials for new library patrons (bookmarks, handouts, etc. about using the library), redesigning calendars of library events, and auditing the library homepage to see if it is both easy-to-navigate and visually appealing. Notice for the last example, the library's homepage, I just suggest auditing and critiquing, especially if you haven't checked for ADA compliance recently. The redesign of a homepage is a lot of work and will take a lot more time than the two other projects. 

I see the first two projects as high impact because: 1) you want to make a good first impression on new patrons of the library and 2) lots of people view and use your library's calendar of events. Both of these projects provide great opportunities to apply your graphic design knowledge in a concrete and very visible way. Plus, if you create a great new template for your library's event calendar, you can reuse it and save yourself time in the following months--always great for busy librarian graphic designers. 

From the librarians I've talked with, most have an idea of what projects they want to tackle first and I say go for it! I'm a big fan of taking care of low-hanging fruit in the graphic design realm and using positive momentum to get you through more complicated and time-consuming redesign projects.

What are some ways that librarians can streamline the design process to save time and just generally make the job easier?

Another great question! I do go over some tips in my book about saving time, too. Everyone needs to save time since, as librarians, we are always trying to cram more work into a day than is possible! A few key points that help with graphic design projects: 

  • Don't create complicated designs when you are short on time. Simplicity really is your friend and some of the most powerful designs I've ever seen or created have been simple ones. 
  • Be okay with saying no when you can. Mistakes and frustrations happen most frequently when trying to juggle too many design projects at once without allocating enough time for each. 
  • When possible, put in the time up front to create custom templates for items you have to create frequently in your library, such as flyers or web banners for ongoing program series like book clubs and calendars of events. These templates will save you so much time and allow others in your library to also take care of things when you are out. 
  • Keep project logs, even very simple ones are so helpful for remembering  what fonts, colors, and image sources you used for each project. Hunting around to match a font you used two years ago wastes so much time. 
  • Always, always, always backup your work in multiple places and never put your only copy of a project in a shared drive. 
  • And figure out what works best for you. Just like answering a reference question or teaching a workshop, there's no one right way to design. 

In your book you write that “software is a tool, not the solution.” Can you elaborate on that?

Computers are great for design. I love Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft Publisher and sites that allow me to use icons royalty free, but none of these software programs or websites creates a design, I do. Every librarian graphic designer holds the solution to any design issue or problem. We are the solution to creating better, more usable visual communications for our libraries, not the software loaded on our machines. Thankfully, the software can't think for us. We have to apply our creativity and knowledge to whatever design issue has been brought to us for fixing, whether it's creating a new brochure to celebrate the library's anniversary or redesigning a handout for a resume writing workshop. 

Software simply allows us to create the final form, for most library designs, in a print-ready or online publishing-ready format. All the hard stuff--brainstorming, deciding on a theme, understanding the content book cover for Easy Graphic Design for Librariansthat needs to be included, choosing images, typefaces, and color schemes, and determining layout--are done inside our heads and with pencil and paper. The final pushing around of pixels in whatever software program is used is usually the fast and easy part of the design process. This is why it is so important for all librarians to understand graphic design and the design process so we acknowledge the hard creative work of graphic design lies with the librarian graphic designer, not the software. Software is a tool, a great tool, but just a tool. A great librarian graphic designer can create a fantastic design no matter what software limitations they face.

Lastly, you point out how important it is to share design knowledge throughout one’s institution so that everyone can share in that learning. What are some ways to do that?

There are many great ways to share design knowledge throughout a library and, again, the best ways depend on the library and the librarians. I love brown bags because they are informal and everyone has the chance to share something, but I know these don't work for everyone. If you are on the marketing or UX team, share your knowledge with others on your team so you can all implement your knowledge on current and future projects. If you are in administration, support your librarians taking courses and workshops to learn more and support time on the job to get together and discuss graphic design and how it impacts the success of the library. Also, keep your eyes open for pieces of design that inspire you and try to pull apart why the design works and what pieces of the design you can apply to your library. This is a great activity to do in a group as a more interactive way to review concepts than a lecture, too. 

And, of course, you can always recommend my book to anyone who wants to learn more about graphic design in libraries! 

Interview: Marie R. Kennedy and Cheryl LaGuardia on effectively promoting electronic resources

In this interview, Marie R. Kennedy and Cheryl LaGuardia discuss the new second edition of their ALA Neal-Schuman book Marketing Your Library’s Electronic Resources: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians.

Teaching with Technology @ The FIC; photo by  Richard CawoodThe first edition has been one of our bestsellers. Why did you write a second edition, and what are some of the most useful updates?

We learned so much from our readers about their experiences using the first edition that we wanted to incorporate all that feedback and share it widely. In the first edition our readers found the marketing plan reports we included very helpful – in this edition we’ve added some more. To help you get moving on your own marketing plans faster we’ve created a downloadable template. Grab it, use the prompts to consider the essential steps in a marketing plan, and get going!

One of the central themes in your book is that libraries should focus on value rather than ROI (return on investment). Would you explain the differences between them and why value should take precedence?

We think about marketing as having an ongoing conversation with our patrons, and this book acts as a guide to help you start the conversation at your own library. It guides you to consider what you already know about your patrons, and how to find out more about them and their needs. As a result of your efforts, imagine how satisfied and empowered a patron will feel when your library supplies them with just the right electronic resource. Meeting (or exceeding!) the needs of our patrons is value; we’re not too interested in trying to place a business construct on institutions that are inherently not businesses (ROI).

What are some key questions that libraries need to ask when they first enter the planning stage?

There are some big questions to ask at the planning stage, and we encourage you to think about them as part of a team. We know that marketing works best when it is embedded in the culture of a library. You’ve likely heard the old saying, “Marketing is far too important to be left to the marketing department.” Marketing can turn a traditional administrative hierarchy on its head, empowering staff (not just administrators) to speak for the library. Once you have your team in place you’ll need to identify what the purpose of starting down a communication path will mean for your library, what are the goals you have in mind, who will be involved, how you will complete the work, and how you will determine if you’ve done a good job.

You have a chapter subtitled “Lather, Rinse, and Repeat.” Once you have a marketing plan in place, why is important to keep revising it?

We’re learning every day, and our patrons are changing every day. At the end of a marketing cycle it’s important to pause, consider what we’ve learned, and how we can improve in the future. We then put that reflection into action in a new marketing plan.

What are a few trends in electronic resources that you think will be the most important in the next five years?

Here’s our take:

  1. There’s a greater emphasis than ever before on demonstrated value to researchers. Very few libraries can afford “luxury titles” any longer. If the product doesn’t have immediate value to primary users, libraries won’t acquire it. This has major implications both for the design of electronic products and for their marketing.
  2. If subscription e-resources are not being used sufficiently by primary clientele, they’re not going to be continued; trials and deaccessioning will increase to sort the e-wheat from the e-chaff.
  3. Resource information provenance is key; libraries and our researchers want to be able to judge the validity of resources in the tighter, more competitive market.
  4. On a related note, libraries want greater transparency in aggregated content, and to keep up companies who want to survive will have to provide it. Libraries are less inclined simply to accept whatever product a company is willing to make available or sell to them, and product usage segmentation is becoming more of the practice, rather than a “take the one size fits all” package. This is an area in which savvy companies can prevail over the competition if they but have the smarts to create more individually-tailored products.
  5. Mobile access is simply being demanded by digital natives, and companies will have to redesign interfaces for excellent mobile device access to survive.

Books hot off the press, Meet the Authors at the ALA Store in Orlando

Located just inside the Shuttle Bus Entrance at the Orange County Convention Center, the ALA Store offers products that meet the widest range of your promotional and continuing education/professional development needs—as well as fun gift items. Make sure to carve out some time in your schedule during the conference to stop by and examine the many new and bestselling items available!

ALA Store hours:

  • Friday, June 24            12:00 pm – 5:30 pm
  • Saturday, June 25       8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Sunday, June 26          8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Monday, June 27        9:00 am – 2:00 pm

ALA Graphics will feature a selection of popular posters, bookmarks, and promotional materials, including new 2016 Teen Read Week and Banned Book Week items. And stop by early to get your pick of conference t-shirts—they sell out fast! We’ll also be introducing several brand new items and exclusive gifts:

  • Libraries Transform Expert Badges
  • CSK Book Award T-shirts
  • CSK Book Award Pashmina (limited quantity and only available at the Conference Store)

ALA Editions and ALA divisions are excited to offer several new titles hot off the press, such as “RDA Essentials,” by Thomas Brenndorfer; “Engaging Babies in the Library: Putting Theory into Practice,” by Debra J. Knoll; and “The Librarian's Nitty Gritty Guide to Content Marketing,” by Laura Solomon. Come by the ALA Store for these special Meet the Author events:

Saturday, June 25      

Sunday, June 26      

Remember that you can now find titles from ALA Neal-Schuman and Facet Publishing in the ALA Store. You can also get free shipping on all book orders placed in the ALA Store (posters, bookmarks, and other gift-type items are not eligible for this offer).

Stop by the ALA Store to learn more about our eLearning opportunities. You can also arrange for a live demo of RDA Toolkit—just contact us by June 20 to request an appointment.

Prices at the ALA Store automatically reflect the ALA Member discount, so there’s no need to dig out your Member number. And remember that every dollar you spend at the ALA Store helps support library advocacy, awareness, and other key programs and initiatives!

Continuing the Conversation: Serving Deaf Patrons in the Library, Part 2

The resources and slides for Part 2 of Kathy MacMillan’s Serving Deaf Patrons in the Library are listed below. Have further questions or comments? Whether you participated in the event or not, feel free to chime in via the comments area below!


Chart of state regulations concerning interpreters:

RID Interpreter/Agency Locater Tool:

Hearing and Speech Agency (Baltimore, MD)

Video shown in the workshop: How ASL and English Differ: Brief Example

Visit for resources, tips, and to sign up for Kathy’s e-newsletter!

Kathy’s slides

Serving Deaf Patrons in the Library Part 2

Handout: Working with an Intereter.

Working with an Interpreter

Continuing the Conversation: Serving Deaf Patrons in the Library

Untitled Document We just wrapped up the first session of Kathy MacMillan’s Serving Deaf Patrons in the Library.  The readings, resources and slides for the event are listed below. Have further questions or comments? Whether you participated in the event or not, feel free to chime in via the comments area below!

Kathy’s “Resources to Know:
  • Online ASL dictionaries:
  • The Red Notebook: Deaf Resources @ Your Library:
  • Try Your Hand at This!: Easy Ways to Incorporate Sign Language Into Your Programs by Kathy MacMillan. (Scarecrow Press, 2006)
  • "Hands-On Collection Building: A librarian offers tips for sign language materials selection" by Kathy MacMillan. School Library Journal, March 2003.
  • For Hearing People Only: answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the Deaf community, its culture, and the "Deaf reality"  by Matthew S. Moore and Linda Levitan ; with a foreword by Harlan Lane. (Deaf Life Press, 1993)
  • Through Deaf Eyes (DVD).  (PBS Home Video, 2007)
  • Audism Unveiled (DVD). (DawnSignPress, 2008)
Kathy’s Slides:
Serving Deaf Patrons in the Library Part 1

Library Sentences Handout
Serving Deaf Patrons--Library Sentences Handout

Library Signs Handout
Serving Deaf Patrons--Library Signs Handout

Links to Videos Shown in this Workshop:

Continuing the Conversation: Making Space for Entrepreneurs and Independent Workers

We just wrapped up Meg Knodl’s ALA Editions Workshop Making Space for Entrepreneurs and Independent Workers. Meg introduced the attendees to this exciting new topic, and there was a lot of fantastic discussion on how library spaces can be transformed to accommodate a new and growing segment of the workforce. Whether you attended or not, feel free to chime in via the comments area with questions or comments.

The Readings for Today’s Workshop:

Resources Mentioned During the Workshop:

Meg’s Slides:
Making Space for Entrepreneurs and Independent Workers

Community Partnership: How to Raise Money and Build Relationships

Paul Signorelli is currently teaching the ALA Editions eCourse Community Partnership: Raising Money and Building Relationships. The course begins today, but its not too late to register at the ALA Store.

At a very important yet oft-overlooked level, every member of library staff is now a fundraiser in a very competitive environment. That’s because great fundraising comes from the building of great relationships, and all library staff members play a role in nurturing and sustaining positive and mutually beneficial relationships between libraries and the communities they serve—in good as well as in challenging times.

Fostering effective collaborations is at the heart of the ALA Editions’ Community Partnership: How to Raise Money and Build Relationships, which runs online from Monday, October 3 through Sunday, October 30, 2011. But don’t let the fundraising aspect scare you. We’re as much concerned here with the collaboration-relationship side of the equation as we are with the funding and in-kind gifts that result from those relationships.

There are wonderful resources to be explored here, including the Urban Libraries Council report Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development. It’s as fresh today as it was when it was published in January 2007. We’ll be using it as an anchor to our explorations and discussions of how partnerships are developed and what some of our most creative colleagues have been doing to serve as active participants within their communities.

We’ll also have access to the complete version of Providing for Knowledge, Growth, and Prosperity: A Benefit Study of the San Francisco Public Library rather than the executive summary that is available on the Internet. Reading and discussing that document in conjunction with the use of other articles, short online videos, and PowerPoint presentations from several sources will help us recognize the benefits we bring to our communities so we can better demonstrate the worth of our organizations to our current and prospective community partners.

And we’ll finish this four-week interactive course with an in-depth look at one of the hottest recent library-business community partnerships—the e-reader project between the Sacramento Public Library and Barnes & Noble.

There will be plenty of other resources to explore, and the collaborations we develop will include the interactions among our learning colleagues from libraries across the country as we use an online bulletin board to share weekly assignment postings, engage in optional weekly office-hour chats, and produce resources we can immediately use in our efforts to create, nurture, and sustain partnerships that benefit our communities.

To register, please visit the ALA Store.

"A gem of a book ... ought to be on the shelf of every high school guidance counselor in the country"

The stated mission of the American Library Association is, “To provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” New from ALA Editions, How to Pay for College: A Library How-To Handbook is an effective guide emphasizing the help that the local library can offer in this process, using its reference materials, the Internet, and the advice of experienced researchers.

Gail Buckner, writing for FOXBusiness, agrees; in her rave review she notes, "The publishing arm of the American Library Association has assembled a gem of a book that  ... ought to be on the shelf of every high school guidance counselor in the country. How to Pay for College is only slightly larger than a paperback and a bit more than a half inch thick, yet the editors who pulled the information together manage to cover more material than books that are four times larger and twice as expensive. And they do it in plain English. This is not only a book that parents should read, but they should also share it with their teenager."

Check out the full article and then surf on over to the ALA Store and order a copy for your library today!

Continuing the Conversation: Supporting Early Literacy Through Language-Rich Library Environments

Earlier today, we held the ALA Editions Workshop Supporting Early Literacy through Language Rich Library Environments with Saroj Ghoting. We’re following up with a few of the questions asked during the presentation that we felt merited further discussion: Saroj will be part of the discussion as well!

  • What do you think is the role of technology in promoting early literacy?
  • What is the ideal timeline for replacing displays and material in your space?
  • What’s the difference between open and closed-ended toys? Which type is better in promoting early literacy?

Links to Resources that Saroj Mentioned today:

The preliminary readings for this workshop were:

  • Welcoming Place,  Chapter 6 in Designing Space for Children and Teens in Libraries and Public Places by Sandra Feinberg and James Keller. Chicago: ALA, 2010 HU
  • Parent Participation,  Chapter 4 in Learning Environments for Young Children: Rethinking Library Spaces and Services by Sandra Feinberg et al. Chicago: ALA, 1998. HU
  • Meece, Darrell and Anne Soderman. Setting the Stage for Young Children’s Social Development . Young Children. September 2010 p. 81-86. HU
  • Greenman, Jim. Places for Childhood in the 21st Century: A Conceptual Framework. Beyond the Journal: Young Children on the Web, May 2005. HU
  • Early Literacy Research-Explained, Chapter 1 in Early Literacy Storytimes @ your library: Partnering with Caregivers for Success by Saroj Ghoting and Pamela Martin-Diaz. Chicago: ALA: 2006 HU
  • The following materials are suggested resources, though they may not be available for free:
  • Copple, Carol and Sue Bredekamp, eds. Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 (3rd ed). Washington, DC: NAEYC, 2009.
  • Curtis, Deb and Margie Carter. Designs for Living and Learning: Transforming Early Childhood Environments. St.Paul, MN: Redleaf Press, 2003.
  • Diamant-Cohen, Betsy and Saroj Ghoting. Early Literacy Kit: A Handbook and Tip Cards. Chicago: ALA, 2010. (includes school readiness domains)
  • Feinberg, Sandra and James Keller. Designing Space for Children and Teens in Libraries and Public Places: How to Carve Out a Niche That Epitomizes Service. American Libraries. April 2010, pg. 34-37.
  • Gronlund, Gaye. Developmentally Appropriate Play: Guiding Young Children to a Higher Level. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press, 2010.
  • Harmes, Thelma. Environmental Rating Scales--Revised. New York: Teachers College Press, various dates.
  • Neuman, Susan B. et al. User’s Guide to the Child Home Early Language & Literacy Observation (CHELLO) Tool. Baltimore: Paul Brookes, 2007.
  • Seefeldt, Carol. Creating Rooms of Wonder: Valuing and Displaying Children’s Work to Enhance the Learning Process. Beltsville, MD: Gryphon House, 2002.
  • Tough, Paul. Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.
  • Zigler, Edward. Children’s Play; The Roots of Reading.  Washington, DC: Zero to Three, 2004.
  • Todd Risley interview: Children of the Code
  • Library Environments for Early Literacy:
  • Early Learning Standards
  • School Readiness Domains
  • Governors’ Common Core State Standards

Saroj’s Slides:

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