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How Edmonton Public Library’s Revitalization Led to a John Cotton Dana Award

by | Jul 18, 2022 | 0 comments


By Celia Zampitella  (Communications Specialist, EBSCO Information Services)

Against the Grain V34#3

Edmonton Public Library CEO Pilar Martinez recounts the opening of its revitalized central library, Stanley A. Milner Library, an award-winning John Cotton Dana (JCD) campaign.

Describe your award-winning JCD campaign.  What was the goal?

The revitalization of the Edmonton Public Library’s (EPL) central library, the Stanley A. Milner Library, was a construction journey that took three and a half years to complete.  While we had plans in 2020 for a grand celebration in person, we, like everyone else, had to adjust during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ever-evolving health restrictions.  To facilitate a grand opening celebration befitting of the occasion, we expanded our limited in-person event while working within the health guidelines and added an online component, the Virtual Milner Open House.

Our main goal for the Virtual Open House was to create excitement around the reopening of our Milner Library and increase awareness around the transformational revitalization and expanded spaces.  The theme of our Open House was “One fantastic new library.  Choose your way to experience it.” We wanted to engage Edmontonians and give them a glimpse inside our beautiful new facility and encourage them to visit.  As part of the programming, we created a fun and engaging social media campaign that included contests, a mix of virtual and live sessions and a scavenger hunt to find a plush toy, Stanley the Bear.  We also created 31 feature videos that included tours of our spaces and interviews with subject matter experts.  I was fortunate enough to participate in an interview with Mr. Stanley A. Milner, our library namesake, biggest champion and dear friend who passed away in 2021.

For the Virtual Open House program, we focused on engaging with EPL staff and external experts to create and share our renewed spaces, programs, collections and resources on all EPL-owned channels: social media, our library website, in-branch communication tools (such as the LCD and checkout screens), staff and customer newsletters and targeted emails.  We worked with social media influencers and pitched media for further amplification.

Our EPL staff shared their passion and expertise through showcasing our new programs and services and did an excellent job.  It was a real treat to see the enthusiasm and pride that staff had in highlighting the services in their respective areas.

Over the course of the first week and despite a capacity limit of only 200 people, EPL welcomed more than 5,500 in-person visits and reached more than 61,000 people online.  Our “EPL from Home” videos were viewed more than one million times and our website received more than 2.2 million unique page views in 2020.

COVID-19 and the public’s safety were always top of mind and a challenge we had to consider.  In addition to the ever-changing health restrictions, we also faced uncertainty about our ability to fully open due to the pandemic and mandated temporary closure of public libraries.  In addition, materials were delayed or unavailable due to global supply chain issues.  As this building project was EPL’s largest capital project to date, we recognized the incredible amount of work invested to bring the project to life.  A year earlier while the building was still under construction, there were some negative comments made on social media about the façade of the building, which were taken into consideration.  While we didn’t have control over COVID-19 or other delays, we were able to lead and influence the updates focused on services and building.  We really leaned on the expertise of our Marketing and Communications Team to produce engaging content highlighting before and after videos and sneak peeks into our bright, beautiful welcoming library.

How has implementing public relations at your library improved its community involvement?

EPL is a community-led organization.  We have a service-led philosophy framework that is about engaging our community members — this philosophy applies, not only to our front-line staff, but to everyone who interacts with our customers, including our Marketing and Communications Team.  Through actively listening to customer feedback from our social media channels, newsletters and online chat, we continually maintain high engagement with our customers and a strong understanding of community needs.  We try to position EPL as a positive force in our city.  Our Marketing and Communications Team provides expertise and different frames of reference that a library staff may not have, and I think it’s made all the difference in how EPL is positioned in Edmonton.  People recognize EPL as a real asset and I believe it has a lot to do with how we present our brand, communicate and respond to challenges.  Much of our success depends on our staff being able to strategically and actively manage circumstances as they arise, while reinforcing our core values, leveraging our brand integrity and presenting our organization in a positive light. 

What are some tips that you would give to other librarians who would like to learn more about marketing their library?

To successfully market a library, it’s important to respect the expertise, the profession and the people in those marketing and communication roles as they are able to focus on customer experience, identify needs and brainstorm creative solutions using a different lens.  I would also suggest tapping into other resources, whether that’s looking outside the library community for marketing-related conferences, reading books or contacting marketing and communications teams in other libraries or organizations that you admire and asking for some tips.  As library workers, we are known to really love words and sometimes I think less is more and brevity is key.  People want to laugh and have something to remember, and often adding humor is the way to go, so remember to have some fun with it. 

What piece of advice would you give libraries considering applying for the John Cotton Dana Awards? 

Receiving the John Cotton Dana Awards is such an honor, and EPL has the unique distinction of winning the award twice (previously for our library rebrand in 2011).  I would encourage libraries that are interested in applying for the John Cotton Dana Awards to speak to the impact and the outcomes of the initiative, as well as any challenges that were overcome, as concisely and articulately as possible.

How did you use the John Cotton Dana grant money at your library?

Since winning the award, we used the John Cotton Dana grant money to launch our Ready. Set. READ! fundraising initiative in partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.  The initiative will provide books to children aged 0-5 who reside in areas of the city that are most socially and economically vulnerable.  Through research, we know that having access to books at an early age, reading and libraries do make a difference in the children’s success in school later in life.  To date, we have raised $330,000 and we are grateful to have been able to kickstart the campaign with the John Cotton Dana grant money.  


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