Public Library Promotion

I try to call my family at least once a week, even though – because we’re all living in a real-world Groundhog Day – we end up discussing the same things every week. Have you gone for any nice walks? Did you watch that thing on telly last night? How’s your newfound hobby coming along? Is your sanity holding up?

My favourite question by far, though, is: What are you reading?

On a call with my granny recently she told me that she’d blitzed through 5 or 6 eBooks she’d bought for 50p on her Kindle. Any more than 50p was too high a stake to bet in the risk of not enjoying the book, and consequently wasting money. Due to this personal policy, my granny waits for books she fancies reading to be reduced, or to be included in a discount bundle offer. Sometimes, particularly with recent releases, this wait can be a long one.

I told her that anyone with a library card can borrow eBooks and audiobooks through the local library, and with a couple of apps they can be accessed remotely, and downloaded straight to any device.

“Really!?” She gasped in amazement.

I wondered. Here is the local library: a free public service, an institution that presses for equitable access to information and knowledge, a place that boasts a myriad of tools, services, and activities besides free books (although, free books alone is a great selling point) that goes largely unnoticed.

But why is the public library slipping under the radar of the general public?

For a small assignment on my course last term, we had to research an information service. My group chose Canada Water library, which is a branch of the Southwark council library network.

While I investigated how they promote their services, I found that the library has an online presence on many platforms (Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, and most actively on Twitter), but it is mostly operated through a generalised Southwark Council profile, or through the centralised Southwark library network. You can also sign up for email alerts about upcoming events on the Southwark Council library website.

After corresponding with the very informative library manager at Canada Water, it was noted that the library doesn’t have a designated marketing position, or an ongoing promotion project. Alongside an internet presence and internal promotion (advertising events within the library to its existing users), the library also distributes hard-copy literature within the local community to reach those who may not have access to the internet.

Canada Water library boasts incredible resources, from the expected physical books, eBooks audiobooks, DVDs and CDs, to other digital resources such as eMagazines and eNewspapers, and even a film streaming service. The library also hosts online events such as children’s rhyme time, craft workshops, and business skills seminars. It has a heritage collection and a family history program which allows access to local historical records such as electoral registers, deeds to properties, and newspapers. Patrons can use the business reference advisor site COBRA, and study resources for the British citizen test and driving theory test.

It’s important to note here that Canada Water library is not a uniquely plentiful service… most UK public libraries offer similar resources!

With all this and more, why aren’t more people using the library?

I’m especially thinking of young people when I say that the issue with the above sort of advertising is that it is asking the potential patrons to come to the library’s page, rather than bringing their page to the potential patron. Young people aren’t using Flikr, or even Facebook as much anymore.

Advertising in the GLAM sector for young people does not get much more effective than museum TikTok. Over the course of the past year or so, museums on TikTok partook in trends and memes on the social media site which led to huge interactions from users. The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley was perhaps the most successful institution in the process, which at the time of writing has 7.7 million followers on TikTok. The museum’s communication manager Abby Bird stated, “Part of us being accessible as a museum is being in the spaces that young people are digitally.” (The Guardian, 2020) The page is not so much about explicitly promoting its services, but about situating the museum within the digital world, connecting with potential users, and interesting them into carrying out their own research into the museum.

Of course, a library can’t implement an entire marketing campaign on TikTok. If they did, there’s certainly no way my granny would be any the wiser. Promotion should be resourceful, innovative, and far-reaching. It should make use of every available tool (digital and analogue) and apply it to its advantage.

There are seldom dedicated roles for marketing or communications within public libraries, as funds are exponentially decreasing. The problem is not that public library is useless, no, the problem is that not enough people know the extent of the public library’s usefulness. Hariff and Rowley (2011, p. 347) assert that public libraries need to demonstrate their worth to encourage new patrons and gain more funding, as with usage of the services decreasing, budget cuts, redundancies, and closures come creeping ever nearer.

It’s a paradoxical situation, then: to increase funding, a library must spend money to advertise. To spend money to advertise, a library requires increased funding.

There will be a way around this puzzle somehow. And I’m determined to find it.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels


The Guardian (2020) How a Dudley museum became a TikTok sensation. Available at:

Harrif, S. and Rowley, J. (2011) ‘Branding of UK public libraries’, Library Management, 32 (4/5), pp. 346-360. doi: 10.1108/01435121111132338

Data Visualisation: A Double-Edged Sword?

As someone who eagerly awaits December for the release of my yearly Goodreads and Spotify statistics, I’m a sucker for data visualisation. I can’t deny it: I love word clouds with swirling, bold fonts; heat maps with deep reds and cool blues; line graphs with soaring peaks and plummeting troughs… but how helpful are they really?

When seeking inspiration for this blog – indeed, as I do whenever I need any sort of inspiration – I turned to my current read. Right now, that’s Becoming by Michelle Obama (for the record, I’ve already cried 3 times). To exemplify what data visualisation – specifically text analysis – website Voyant Tools offers, I will use the transcripts of 2 of Michelle Obama’s speeches: the first she made in the August before Barack Obama became president, and the second, her last speech as First Lady of the USA.

Perhaps the most famous (or infamous) form of text analysis visualisation is the word cloud: a tool that displays the most frequently used words in a body of text, and edits their colour/size depending on how often they are used.

Like many things we have explored at City LIS, the usefulness of word clouds are context-dependent, though some have suggested that they are never helpful (Temple, 2019 and Vickers, 2017). They can be great for the layman wanting to understand the basic principles of a large body of text, or the meaning in something they don’t have specialist knowledge about, because it collects general ideas and themes and displays them in an appealing and comprehensible way. For the expert, though, word clouds can be too simplistic and semantically ignorant.

To summarise, then… the positive of word clouds: they reduce a mass of text to just a few key words. The negative of word clouds: they reduce a mass of text to just a few key words.

First speech, 2008
Second speech, 2016

I still have faith that there is a time and a place for the word cloud. Take the above examples. From these word clouds, we can see that in the 8 years of Barack Obama’s presidency, Michelle Obama’s speeches shifted focus from her husband and appealing to the broad general working public to specialised groups of people: young people, students, those in school and higher education. While she was First Lady, Michelle Obama founded and led many initiatives aimed at young people: healthier lifestyles for children, better financial aid systems for higher education, helping children from low-income areas access competitive internships, and when Obama was voted in for a second term, it became clear that he was particularly popular with young people, women and minorities (Obama, 2018), and these results and attitudes are reflected in Michelle Obama’s final speech.

A common argument against word clouds is that by targeting single word frequency, they fail to identify overarching themes. To test this, I read through both speeches and wrote a list of themes I thought were integral to their messages. For the first speech, these were: family, normalcy, community, history, humanity and hope. For the second speech, these were: thankfulness, unity/teamwork, education, dedication, preparation, equality and hope. Indeed, there is very little correlation between what my semantic understanding of the speeches were and what the word cloud deemed representative.

Reflecting Marti Hearst’s woes (Hearst, 2019), in Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech, she makes numerous references to different members of the family: mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, grandparents. Ideally, these would be grouped together under the umbrella term of family, but despite this being the main focus of the speech, its presence goes undocumented in the word cloud.

There is so much more I would like to write about data visualisation, text analysis, Voyant Tools, and the comparison of Michelle Obama’s speeches, alas, the word count looms ever nearer. For more visualisations of the two speeches, please refer to the links below.

Speech 1 (2008) Word cloud, linked terms, segment graph, summary.

Speech 2 (2016) Word cloud, linked terms, segment graph, summary.


Hearst, M., 2019. Word Clouds: We Can’t Make Them Go Away, So Let’s Improve Them. [online] Medium. Available at: <; [Accessed 24 November 2020].

Obama, M., 2018. Becoming. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

Temple, S., 2019. Word Clouds Are Lame. [online] Medium. Available at: <; [Accessed 24 November 2020].

Vickers, B., 2017. Against Word Clouds. [online] WordPress. Available at: <; [Accessed 24 November 2020].

Photo by Lukas from Pexels

Track and Trace and Being Comfortable in the Grey

As the bridge between the digital world and the analogue world becomes shorter and shorter, the space between our online and offline selves begins to blur. Our devices (mobiles, laptops, tablets, smart devices) can ascertain a fair deal about us that we might not have ever considered they could. Networked sites and technologies can build an accurate profile of us by pooling both personal data we have provided, and data they have inferred about us through algorithms. Patterns in our online behaviour display an eerily authentic account of who we are as people: what we like, don’t like, need, fear and wish, as well as where we live and who we are friends with.

Despite its rather ominous colloquial name, the government’s new NHS Covid-19 ‘Track and Trace’ app allows its users to be surprisingly anonymous, and can identify little about us from what we input. In a climate very much concerned with data privacy – or at least, the active questioning of what our personal data is being used for – it seems almost otherworldly that the NHS Covid-19 app doesn’t gather or store personal data like so many of the other apps and sites we use on a regular basis.

A short summary of how the app functions is as follows: As the user goes about their day, the Bluetooth on their device tracks the proximity and length of time spent in the vicinity of other devices. When two devices connect, they exchange anonymous random codes (which are generated daily for every user) in order to be traced back to one another, should either test positive for Covid-19.

But Bluetooth tracing is a new technology, and has only really been developed to aid in the Coronavirus pandemic. Therefore we, as users, should remain critical of its validity. Experts worry that Bluetooth is not accurate or smart enough to consider myriad variables that play a part in the transference of the virus, which could lead to false positives.

This stirs up many questions in me… Should we have to sacrifice our data for accuracy? Would we prefer to have a more reliable service, for such a crucial purpose, that collects a wealth of our personal data? Or would this alternative be equally unreliable, as the responsibility would lie in the hands of the user to provide truthful information? Should we have the authority to make such a choice in the first place?

I think it’s certainly promising that the source code for the app has been published open access, so anyone with an internet connection and a knowledge of app/software development or coding can understand exactly how it works. Perhaps this would be a good measure of how ethical an app is. Should it be compulsory for organisations to make their source codes open access, proving to the world that they have nothing to hide? Or would this make the apps vulnerable to corruption?

Alas, all questions are rhetorical. Maybe they will remain that way, or maybe I will discover some clarity through my time in LIS. It seems that in this world where it often feels like we have no choice but to be ‘onlife’ – Floridi’s definition of the dual state of being both online and offline – we must adapt to sometimes having our questions go unanswered, and learn to be comfortable in the grey.


Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

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