Library Advocacy, Part 2: Creating an Effective Message

Library Advocacy Part 2Creating a message can be difficult and if done improperly, it will prove to be largely ineffective in achieving your goals. There are many things that librarians want the public to believe about libraries. However, an effective message shouldn’t be influenced by librarians’ desires, it should be informed by the public’s needs and delivered in a way that makes sense to them.

What Makes a Good Message?

One of the things we’ve seen libraries do that can have a negative effect on their ability to convey their library’s message, is having an overly wordy, unclear or unconvincing message. It’s important to make sure that your message is being delivered in the most efficient and effective way possible, as often as possible. The best way to do that is to make sure that your message sticks in the minds of the readers by using the following criteria.

Your message is not an essay discussing the relative merits of the library and why it’s important. Get to the point and get there directly before people have a chance to move on.

Don’t leave any doubt about what your message is and what the library is all about.

Repetition is the best way to stand out in the minds of your community members. Repetition is the best way to stand out in the minds of your community members. Repetition is the best way to stand out in the minds of your community members. Yes, I repeated that 3 times for emphasis. Don’t have multiple or differing messages that you are delivering. Everyone needs to be on the same page and saying the same thing because consistency and repetition reinforce the message.

Never deceive your supporters or community members. There is no quicker way to lose the public’s faith than to be perceived as untruthful. People already view government work with a critical eye and if your library is caught in a lie, there is no way to win their trust back. They will believe that you don’t care about them enough to tell the truth. Be honest, sincere and exact about what the library has, will do and can do. Transparency helps build trust and support.

This is a response to the Google problem. You need to draw a line in the sand on the favorable side of your community’s needs. For example, if you only tell people about the way that the library solves the same problems that Google does, you won’t give people a reason to choose to support your library instead of just Googling it. What is it about your library that contrasts with other things in the community? What other need does it fill?

Local Demographics

Before drafting any messaging for your community, take some time to review the demographics of your community. Is it a largely white suburban neighborhood? Are the people employed? Largely religious? Is there a significant digital divide? Are there areas in your community with a larger population or concentration of a specific demographic like Spanish speakers, wealthy people or young entrepreneurs?

Answering questions like these will help you begin to understand what the population needs and wants from a library. For example, talking to a community about 3-D printers and makerspaces when nobody has a computer at home probably won’t resonate with them.

There are many tools available to help you answer these questions. You can use things like census data and some of your library’s databases, but you can also ask some of your local political party chapters and many will be happy to share information with you. Because political campaigns quite literally have the collection of this data down to a science, they can be a huge help and a great excuse to go and talk to local party leaders.

Find Out What They’re Saying

In order to find out what is most important to your community, you’re going to need to take some time and listen to them. Using surveys, polls and comments on blog posts is a great way to listen and will generate some invaluable data for creating your message. This is easily done while doing something like looking at the comments on your library’s Facebook page and keeping a spreadsheet open where you can copy and paste comments. After doing this for a while on various social media platforms you might start to notice a pattern. Whenever you do see some pattern emerge around issues like education, entrepreneurship or digital access, make sure you note that pattern and group those comments together.


While larger organizations can use professional polling for generating the data about what the public is saying about the library, the cost of this polling might be prohibitive. It will generally cost between $10,000 and $30,000. However, data from professional pollsters will give an excellent overview on the community’s perception of the library that is almost impossible to achieve otherwise. If you can use a professional pollster as part of your messaging campaign, I would highly recommend it.

Library Advocacy Part 2 27 9 3

While moving forward to develop your library message it’s important to keep in mind the best way to convey it in a way that gets their attention. So, you need to remember that no matter how much we wish our communities were lining up to hear our message, the reality is that they are not. In fact, they are waiting for our message to be delivered to them in the simplest sound bites amid the noise and static of a thousand other messages they are hearing every day.

One of the best methods for message delivery is through the 27, 9, 3 framing that is suggested by many political organizations in order to get your foot in the door. In this method you use 27 words in 9 seconds to make 3 simple points. This method creates an opportunity for easy repetitions using clear and concise language with the added benefit that your message can easily be picked up by the media and can be used in the many various formats of social media.

Putting It All Together

Now that you have all of this data and you know the goal of your messaging campaign and you know what your theme is, you can start to craft your message. If you have the theme of education and you want to bring more people into your library programs, you can work through your data to draft an effective message. There are many good messages in the 27/9/3 model that connect your theme to your community to achieve the goals you are looking for. Let’s take a look at a few examples

In your community, you might have found that there are plenty of young and new mothers who have concerns about making sure that they raise children who will be successful. A theme for your library might be education and your goal might be to bring more people to your programs. For this community, using the 27/9/3 model, you might say “Early literacy experiences like the storytimes provided by the library help your children build language skills, get ahead in school and work life, and help build self-confidence.”

In another example, you might find that there is a number of struggling startups and small businesses around the city. If we continue the theme of education, and your goal is to get more people to use your library’s educational resources, your message might be something like, “With a free library card, your small business will have access to market research used by national companies and materials to learn marketing, fundraising and business leadership.”

This was a fairly quick and dirty discussion of how to create an effective message. If you’d like to learn more about the art of creating messages, I highly recommend looking at how national political campaigns create theirs. There is a comprehensive set of tools that political action organizations use to draft messages in every campaign. These tools are also specific to each campaign. Adapting the data, tools and knowledge from these well funded organizations will expand your understanding of excellent messaging.

This is the second of a 3-part series on Library Advocacy
Library Advocacy, Part 1: The Importance of the Right Message


Patrick Sweeney

Patrick Sweeney

Patrick "P.C." Sweeney is a tireless and innovative advocate for libraries. A 2007 graduate of the San Jose School of Library and Information Sciences, P.C. is a former Administrative Librarian of the Sunnyvale (CA) Public Library and Executive Director of EveryLibrary California, a statewide ballot committee to support library propositions in California. He is currently the Political Director for EveryLibrary, the nation's first and only political action committee for libraries. He blogs at and he is a sought-after speaker and presenter, as well as a lecturer on politics and libraries at the San Jose School of Information Science.