«I N R E C E N T Y E A R S there has been, on the part of many types of public-service organizations, a growing awareness of the importance of good ...»
Public Relations For
College and University Libraries
R O B E R T W. O R R
I N R E C E N T Y E A R S there has been, on the part of
many types of public-service organizations, a growing awareness
of the importance of good public relations. Municipalities and other
governmental agencies, for example, have become increasingly sensitive to the need for public relations programs in promoting good
will and understanding on the part of those who bear the tax load.'
Many large industrial corporations also recognize the benefits in good will and the financial success which can be achieved through such program^.^ There is comparatively little in print, however, to show that college and university libraries hold public relations programs in the same high regard.
Lyle and Temple have discussed in considerable detail some of the numerous media which can be used in public relations programs.
Other accounts, such as Watkins's short article on college and library publications, and such papers as those by B a ~ e r,O ~ t v o l d,and ~ ~ Parker are quite helpful in suggesting important activities. The latter states that before a university community can be library conscious, it must subscribe to a number of ideas and concepts concerning the nature of the library: (1)The book collections are for use; ( 2 ) teaching without books is difficult; ( 3 ) the library is composed of more than books-it contains films, maps, manuscripts, microcards, and reference tools such as catalogs, bibliographies, indexes, and abstracts;
and ( 4 ) the librarian is a teacher and the library is a teaching department of the school. No one has yet written a detailed case history of the over-all public relations program of any given college or university library. This lack is to be deplored, and may be due to the fact that there does not seem to be a clear understanding among librarians Director, Iowa State College Library.
ROBERT W. ORR of the exact scope of public relations. More study and investigation in the broad area of public relations programs for college and university libraries is plainly indicated.
Every agency or organization serving any segment of what is broadly termed "the public" is engaged in public relations activities, whether it is aware of it or not. It should also be clear that such activities include much more than mere publicity. According to Temple, publicity is but one phase of public relationsn4Good library public relations is good library service-publicly appreciated, to paraphase one succinct d e f i n i t i ~ n. ~ If good public relations is, in fact, good public service publicly appreciated, then the fundamental requirements are those elements
which are essential for good library service, including, among others:
(1) a friendly and enlightened library administration; ( 2 ) adequate book collections; ( 3 ) a well-qualified, interested, and courteous staff;
and ( 4 ) a building adequate in size and designed for convenience of use. Given these resources, any library is basically equipped to provide the library service which is the foundation of a good public relations program. Without such resources or their appropriate utilization in providing effective library service, no other activities of a public relations nature can be depended upon to achieve a substantial and lasting measure of public appreciation for the library.
Library service, no matter how competent, does not in itself make an effective public relations program. There must be other activities designed to provide information about the library and to show readers in what ways the library is indispensable to them.
The effectiveness of public relations programs for college and university libraries has been furthered by the changing nature of library service itself. This, in turn, grew out of the gradual change from the idea that the library's principal role is one of preserving book collections to the concept that every appropriate emphasis should be placed on book use.Q This evolution in the philosophy of the library's function and its resultant implementation on a broad scale in this country has been of the utmost significance from a public relations standpoint.
The media which can be employed to inform library users about the library are many and varied. Each of them has a potentially worthwhile contribution to make to the over-all public relations program.
Because of space limitations, only a selected few of these media are considered in this paper. In many instances the subjective opinions of the author have been injected into the discussion because the availI Public Relations for College and Uniuersitg Libraries able literature is either wholly lacking or seriously deficient in descriptions and evaluations. The need for study and investigation in the whole field of public relations has already been noted. The need for studies of the several media is present to a serious degree.
In this paper it is assumed that "the public" for college and university libraries is comprised principally of the student body and the faculty, including such special groups as administrative officials and the library committee. However, to~vnspeople the community sl-lould of be included in this primary group whenever the library also serves as the public library. Through appropriate channels, the library should also direct its public relations activities toward the governing body of the institution. The libraries of land-grant colleges and universities, and of other state-supported institutions, such as teachers' colleges, should also include the people of the state and the state legislature in their public relations activities. Other groups which all college and university libraries should reach in their public relations programs include, for example, the alumni, the faculty and students of library schools, and appropriate members of the library profession generally.
Perhaps the most important public relations asset of the library, next to effective library service, is a staff which mingles freely on a friendly and helpful basis with the faculty and students and which welco~nes opportunities to discuss formally and informally the resources and services of the library. Such activities may comprise a formal lecture at which a member of the library staff, a visiting librarian, or an author, meets the faculty members or students to discuss books or library matters.
There are many opportunities for the librarian to talk with members of the faculty about the library. One of the earliest of such opportunities which presents itself at the beginning of each academic year is that of addressing faculty members at the opening meetings of major faculty groups. Library seminars to which new faculty members and graduate students are invited are also helpful in promoting good public relations. Departments or divisions sometimes request permission to bring new staff members to the library during orientation programs. Such requests should be eagerly seized upon by the librarian as matchless opportunities to make new friends for the library.
Advantage should also be taken of every opportunity to appear before classes of graduate students to discuss use of the library with reference to specific subject fields. Faculty and graduate students often belong to departmental clubs, and the alert and cordial librarian ROBERT W. ORR will on occasion be invited to talk to such groups. Another opportunity for good public relations occurs when a department head or other member of the faculty brings a prospective staff appointee to the library to talk with the librarian and to examine the library resources available for research and instruction in the individual's special field of work.
There are also many opportunities for the librarian to meet undergraduate students. Members of the circulation and reference staffs have desk schedules, and, for this reason, are not always available for the informal contacts which the librarian and other general administrative staff members can make if they will take the time to be present occasionally in the public lobbies and on the readers' side of the public service desks. Often tactful assistance extended to a perplexed student will secure a permanent friend for the library and will result in many good words being spoken for the library at times and at places when no librarian would ever be present.
It is sometimes customary for divisions to conduct orientation programs of one kind or another for Freshman students. hleetings of this kind furnish a real opportunity for the librarian to demonstrate that he is made of flesh and blood, and that the library is a friendly and indispensable institution, eager to be helpful.
As opportunities arise, the librarian and his staff shoiild engage in public relations work with others besides faculty and students. In one college community during the past year, the superintendent of schools made arrangements with the librarian for all public school teachers to visit the college library to learn about the book collections and to see how the library was prepared to help them in their school activities. Tours of the library were made, and each teacher attending the meetings was given a reader's card.
Random illustrations of public relations through contacts of librarians with faculty, students, and others, have been given. Although it would be difficult to establish any trend which might exist with respect to such activities, it is known that some college and university libraries are much more active in these respects today than they were formerly.
The annual report of the college or university library is a medium of public relations which is spectacularly unsuccessful in reaching a significant percentage of the public served by the institution issuing it. Little progress has been made in changing either the content or method of presentation of the annual report so as to derive any apPublic Relations for College and University Libraries preciable increase in public relations value from it. One cannot help but wonder how many faculty members and students ever have the opportunity or the interest, for that matter, to read the librarian's annual report.
In a significant study of 500 libraries of institutions of the liberal arts type, Russell and others lo found that in many instances the distribution of the annual report is severely limited, and that, furthermore, librarians expect very few of those who do receive the report to actually read it. According to Stone, "The writer of the report must have a definite public in mind, because it is their interests and needs which help in determining the content."ll Fay,12 as have others, stresses the value of the librarian's report as source material in education on the college level for serious investigators. It may be that the answer lies in the issuance of two reports, one a comprehensive report made available to serious investigators and others interested in detailed information, and the other an abridged, popularized edition for widespread distribution to faculty members and students in behalf of good public relations. Certainly the typical report-which usually begins with what is sometimes a tiresome recital of the names of donors and of recent acquisitions of limited interest and which limits material about library services and use to the back pages, if indeed they are emphasized at all-is so lacking in appeal that from the public relations point of view it is practically worthless.
College and university librarians would do well to look to their colleagues in public libraries and to public relations experts for suggestions on how to revamp effectively their reports in terms of public relations possibilities. While covering the basic facts and trends relative to such topics as circulation and reference work, the Newark, N.J., Public Library report to the Board of Trustees for 1942-45 achieves a fresh approach in design and topography.13 There are numerous informative articles available on this subject. Shugart, for instance, says, "The psychology is simply this: If a story is worth telling it is worth selling, and selling calls for strategy that will make the reader (any reader) enjoy and follow the report page after page." l 4 Crosby believes that "The objective of a good report is to portray the library as a tremendously important, useful, and human institution." l v i n a l l y, according to Marcus, "no report is likely to be read widely unless it is compellingly interesting in its presentation and contents." l6 Along with the discussion of annual reports as a medium of public ROBERT W. ORR relations, mention should be made of a relatively new type of library organ which has been inexplicably ignored in the literature-the administrative staff bulletin or newsletter. Examples of such bulletins are CU News, University of California; The Library at Iowa State, Iowa State College; Library News, University of Minnesota; UCLA Librarian, University of California at Los Angeles; Library Information, University of Washington (Seattle). The Informatio~aBulletin of the Library of Congress is perhaps the forerunner of all administrative staff bulletins, and is the only one which has achieved the status of a professional periodical of national interest. Although written primarily for the information of members of the library staff, the administrative staff bulletin has challenging possibilities for use in the public relations program, hiluch of the information normally contained in these bulletins, if effectively presented, is well suited for this purpose. The systematic release of library information on an informal basis at least once a month in an administrative staff bulletin, in combination with the publication of an annual supplement, makes possible a more timely and effective method of reporting than can be achieved solely through the infrequent and formalized annual or biennial report. The reports of at least two of the recent surveys of college and university libraries have included the recommendation that an administrative staff bulletin be issued.l7,lR practice of The issuing such organs will undoubtedly become more widespread in the future.