Last month, I took over the marketing column for Public Services Quarterly, following Katy Kelly’s 10-year tenure at the helm. To signify the transition, Kelly and I co-wrote an article, “The Eras Tour of library marketing,” reflecting back upon the topics covered under her leadership and looking toward the future. 

At one point, I asked Kelly to consider the future of library marketing, and specifically to consider potential threats, to which she responded:

“Lack of respect. Marketing is a management function and library employees who do this work should be compensated at a managerial level or else they will leave, burn out, or quietly quit. In addition, they should be invited to participate in conversations regarding big changes or initiatives at the earliest juncture. Administrators who don’t recognize this will end up with more work and confusion internally and externally.”

Shortly after our article was published, one of my favorite creators, sidneymorss, posted the following on TikTok. The industry is different, but the vibe is the same as Kelly’s quote above. Someone please create a library version!

wall mural of Kurt Vonnegut

“Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty-three thousand miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules— and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress.”

(Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., The Sirens of Titan, epigraph, 1959)

Last week, I attended the 2023 Library Marketing and Communications Conference in Indianapolis. This is one of my favorite conferences to attend. It’s relatively small, relatively affordable (with meals included!), and attended by people who get me. Regardless of whether we work in academic libraries, public libraries, as librarians or as professional staff, we all speak the same language. We understand that not everything can go on the website. We know that fliers are a net waste of everyone’s time. We know that creating social media content is a specialized skill that few people actually do well. We realize that more promotion does not equal more awareness. We understand the power of storytelling. We value having a consistent brand. And yes, we all spend too much times on our phones, but secretly (or not) we enjoy it. 

So here are a few of my takeaways from this year’s conference.

Burnout is real

Libraries cycle through outreach and communications folks like trends on Instagram. Constantly developing new ways to connect with users takes a toll on all of us. A number of sessions this year spoke to the necessity of setting up guardrails, taking time to step away, and the need to find ways to reconnect with your creative spark. Sadly, there wasn’t much talk about burnout being a systemic and organizational problem that needs to be solved at the management level, but that might be a result of there being so many new professionals in attendance.

Email is king, Instagram is queen, and existential dread

Everyone is looking for an excuse to get off X/Twitter. No one is interested in Threads. TikTok is banned in many states and the rest of us are reluctant to jump on. But email… email is king. Email offers a stronger analytics story, a closer connection to users, and a more dependable way to reach out. And it’s what our users want! A number of presenters confirmed what I’ve discovered at my own library: users prefer to be contacted by email. Instagram is a close second, but only as a vibe check. If email is for sharing information, Instagram is for sharing feels. 

Social takes way more time than people assume

If it wasn’t apparent from my opening, one of the best aspects of LMCC is the collective kvetching. One strong theme this year was how many of our colleagues misunderstand the complexity of our work, most notably the time it takes to develop content. A 10-second Instagram post may only take an hour to film, edit, and post, but what you don’t see are the countless hours searching for inspiration: finding the right music, twisting the arms of the right colleagues, waiting for the right time of day to film, coordinating with all the other communications going out that day. We spend far more time consuming content than creating it, but that’s necessary for understanding how our work fits in with the ecosystem of any given platform.

What I’m reading

How I’ve Changed My Thinking About Burnout by Anne Helen Peterson

“I am doing less. I am lowering the bar. I am loosening my schedule. But I also have a fuller life, with so many places to direct my attention and time. It’s both less busy (with work) and more busy (with other life) than ever before.”

Nobody Wants Their Job to Rule Their Lives Anymore by Eloise Henry

“If I had a shorter work week and a dignified salary then they’d get a well-rested, enthusiastic and switched-on employee. Instead, they’re getting a poor and exhausted worker.” 

Adopting the Perennial Mindset by Tara McMullin

“Quality-of-life guarantees could help people make life transitions—at any age—with more ease. And while these guarantees do benefit individuals directly, they also benefit our society. Fewer people scraping by, falling behind, or burning out because of unreasonable expectations is an overall cultural and economic good.”

Garden update 

Until next year, friend! For about 6 weeks, this lovely orb weaver rebuilt her web between the top of my dwarf orange tree and the power cables running to our house. Each evening before sunset, she would meticulously reweave her web, which by midnight would already be full of flies and the occasional honey bee. I haven’t seen her for a few days so my guess is she either returned to being strictly nocturnal or, more likely, she mated, produced her offspring, and died. It was comforting to greet her each day when I came home from work. 

Links to the past

  • 1 year ago: Notes from the 2022 Library Marketing and Communications Conference Day 1 and Day 2
  • 6 years ago: One of the best photos I ever took 
  • 10 years ago: I still need to find out the answer to this mystery

Overheard online

Protip: browsing and borrowing from your local library can satisfy the shop therapy part of your brain without costing you money

ami_angelwings on Mastodon (h/t Dense Discovery)

text on a magnetic board that reads "whisper in the library not today"

It’s a common misconception that word of mouth is “organic”: that it just happens; but this belief negates the agency required for word of mouth (WOM) to be successful. WOM requires antecedents: specifically, customer commitment, trust, and customer satisfaction, according to one meta-analysis of 60 years of WOM research (Lang and Hyde 2013). These positive traits need to exist prior to WOM marketing efforts, which can be either direct or indirect and produce both positive and negative affective, cognitive, and behavioral effects on customers.

It is the role of the outreach librarian to play three leadership roles vis-a-vis WOM marketing: building the foundation; indirectly managing WOM; and directly managing WOM.

Building the foundation requires working with all units within the library to ensure high-quality service, collections, and programs, and then aligning external messaging with that expectation of quality. Indirect WOM management involves much of the usual promotional work that raises awareness of the library (e.g., videos, blog posts, and testimonials), but also includes work that encourages student-staff relationships (e.g., student engagement activities, meet-and-greet events, student advisory boards). Direct WOM management involves far more targeted work, including paid testimonials, viral marketing, rewards for sharing library content, and student ambassador programs.

I would hazard to guess that outreach librarians spend most of their time on indirect WOM management, not enough time on building the foundation, and almost no time on direct WOM management (the latter for lack of funds no doubt). 

We are at a distinct advantage being on a college campus. While colleges are not completely closed information systems (cf. Chatman’s seminal work on information sharing in prisons), messages can get trapped within the system even when the nodes (i.e. students) swap out every four years. Like any pseudo-insular organization, ideas that develop on campus can linger long after their initial spark. This is word of mouth. Moreover, we have a captive audience. So while our ideas have to compete with many other units on campus, we are somewhat shielded by the marketing influences of the off-campus world. 

So when something spreads “word of mouth” on a campus, don’t be too quick to attribute it to the innate qualities of the message or the nature of the service, collection, or program you’re promoting. Instead, consider the foundation that has already been established and how you might continue to actively maintain that foundation into the future. This is the work of the outreach librarian.


Chatman, E. A. (1999). A theory of life in the round. Journal of the American Society for information Science, 50(3), 207-217.

Lang, B., & Hyde, K. F. (2013). Word of mouth: what we know and what we have yet to learn. Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, 26, 1-18.

image credit: Charles Hackley Agency on Flickr, cc-by 2.0

crowd of librarians sitting in conference hall at ALA annual 2018

“I am convinced that about one-half the money I spend for advertising is wasted, but I have never been able to decide which half.”

John Wanamaker, Quoted in Bible Conference, Winona Echos (1919)

It’s been 5 years since I attended an ALA Annual Conference. My interest in this yearly gathering of librarians from around the country has waned considerably in the last half-century as I’ve become more and more entrenched in the work of my own institution. That’s a story for another post. What I wanted to briefly talk about today was one aspect of ALA Annual that I miss: the PR Xchange Awards and the John Cotton Dana Awards. Both of these awards celebrate excellence in library communications efforts. The JCDs focus primarily on strategic communication and public relations, while the PRX celebrate singular promotional items. 

This year’s award winners highlight a few academic library projects. The University of Colorado Boulder Libraries’ “Culture Crawl” is a collaboration between eleven cultural and heritage organizations to highlight library spaces, services, exhibits, and local museums. It was the only college/university to win a JCD this year. The PRX awards had a much better showing from the academic side: Montana State University, Washington University, and James Madison to name just a few. 

While I love that these two awards bring attention to academic libraries producing remarkable content, I would love to see a separate award for excellent marketing, communications, and strategic outreach (and/or programming) for higher ed libraries. The needs of our communities and the best practices for reaching them differ just enough from our colleagues in public libraries to merit our own arena. Our audiences are captive and demographically narrower than the general population. Moreover, our ultimate ends lean more towards the specific (i.e., supporting graduation and retention) rather than the general (e.g., lifelong learning). Outreach to students, faculty, and staff is a different beast altogether than outreach to a local community. 

In developing a new award, the intent and structure of the ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries Award (currently on hiatus) is a good place to start: how does communications and outreach connect with your library’s strategic mission and the mission of the college/university? Are you connecting the dots between (1) the skills, collections, and services that libraries provide; (2) our professional ethics; and (3) the goals of the housing institution? Outreach and communications success could be measured quantitatively or qualitatively, but would needs go beyond gate counts and feedback forms. 

All that said, perhaps a separate award isn’t necessary. I do enjoy seeing the wide variety of materials showcased by both the JCDs and the PRX. Either of those awards could create separate categories based on library types. I think what I want most of all is simply to see more academic library external commutations work. I know folks are out there creating remarkable content: let’s see it and celebrate it!

What I’m reading

Toward a Leisure Ethic by Stuart Whatley

“Every fleeting moment of our spare time is surrendered to the superficial offerings of the attention economy, all of it designed for addiction, the goal being to monetize people’s experiences rather than create meaningful ones. […] Many have extolled a leisure ethic, and none would say that time well spent lies in ambitious careerism or in drifting on a sea of addictive content. Most would agree that flourishing in time consists of free, active, thoughtful engagement with the world in accordance with one’s nature.”

The Ambitious Plan to Open Up a Treasure Trove of Black History by Erin Migdol

“The archive contains around 5,000 magazines, 200 boxes of business records, 10,000 audio and visual recordings, and 4.5 million prints and negatives that chronicle Black life from the 1940s until the present day.”

Writing for the Bad Faith Reader by Susie Dumond

“Not every book is for every reader.” Good advice for anyone creating art.

News from the garden

vegetable garden with squash vines, beans, and corn

The vegetable beds are [finally] in full swing. The vine in the foreground is butternut squash. And look! The corn made it knee-high before the Fourth of July! There are also tomatoes, peppers, and beans to be excited about. 

Links to the past

  • 1 year ago: Where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. “We give far too much weight to Twitter’s impact on social and political life and “the public square.” Collectively, we overestimate its influence, obsessing to an unreasonable degree over how it will react to our content, knowing full well that any storm we create today will be subsumed by next week’s hurricane of rage.”
  • 6 years ago: Life, uh, finds a way. Actually, now I would be OK with that.
  • 10 years ago: On ukulele calluses.

Overheard online

Rate limit exceeded. 

a room being added to a house

For the past two years, I have set myself to building my CV through publications. That work and intentionality paid off this month when three works of scholarship I co-authored were published all within the same two weeks!

Metzger, R., & Jackson, J. (2022). Developing Competencies for Outreach Work in Academic Libraries. College & Research Libraries, 83(4), 646. doi:

Abstract: This research study investigates the behaviors, knowledge, and skills necessary for academic library outreach work. Through a review of published literature, job advertisements, and a survey of library practitioners conducted in the fall of 2020, the authors define and prioritize 18 competencies for outreach. Hiring managers, LIS instructors, and practitioners can use the results of this study to structure and lay out the essential areas of outreach work in academic libraries. [peer-reviewed]

Jackson, J., Andrade, R., Raby, C., & Rosen, R. (2022). Apples and Oranges: An Indicator for Assessing the Relative Impact of Library Events. Journal of Library Outreach & Engagement, 2(1), 56. doi:

Abstract: This article details one library’s attempt to create a simple assessment method for evaluating the relative engagement of program attendees across a variety of events. The indicator–a combination of perceived level of engagement and calculated level of certainty–can be used alongside other metrics to give a fuller view of overall impact of library programming. By conducting this study, the authors created a method by which to quickly assess and prioritize the most and least impactful events within a particular set. [peer-reviewed]

Finally, it’s not a full article, but a brief case study I wrote on social media analytics was published in Practical Marketing for the Academic Library, by Stephanie Espinoza Villamor and Kimberly Shotick (ABC-CLIO, 2022). I look forward to reading the whole book!

Currently, I have no writing projects on my plate, though quite a few half-formed ideas. My goal this fall is to identify and begin at least two more opportunities for research and/or publication. If I can initiate one new writing/research project each semester, I should be well on my way to promotion to full librarian in four years.

I had a meeting with the person who heads up visitor tours at MPOW to discuss ways the library could make the campus a more welcoming environment. Between now and April, we are in that crucial period between when high school students have received their college acceptance letters and when they will decide which institution to choose (or whether to go at all). It’s also the first opportunity the library has to make an impression on students so if we only get their attention for 60 seconds, I want those 60 seconds to count. I want it to be perfect.