Monday, May 23, 2011

A Tremendous Marketing Force for Public Libraries

Fans of Tober, the Thorntown (Indiana) Public Library Cat, may have noticed that his blog viewership has now surpassed 80,000.  That is an amazing audience for a public library serving a community whose population is well under 5,000 (according to the 2009 estimate, it was 1,627; it was 1,520 in the 2000 U.S. Census).  Residents of western Boone County served by TPL certainly have a fabulous library facility, resources, and staff available.  But, then, the same could be said for public libraries in general.  What makes TPL stand above others is Tober.

Tober the Thorntown Library Cat
promotes a recent booksale
(photo courtesy of Tober's Blog)

The most famous American library cat,  Dewey Readmore Books (1988-2006), late of the Spencer (Iowa) Public Library, has millions of readers worldwide, thanks to several bestselling books about Dewey written by librarian Vicki Myron.

Library felines attract a following, which makes them a potent marketing force.  They are patron favorites who can promote library programs, events, resources, and activities as effectively, if not more so, than even local or regional human celebrities.  As a goodwill ambassador, Tober has no equal in Hoosier public libraries.  Tober's online postings are a must-read for his many blog followers.  "He" writes clever, imaginative articles that subtly advertise the library and its resources.

Of course, most public libraries do not have resident felines or canines, although reading programs such as Paws to Read have effectively joined patrons and pets to boost reading and literacy.  Many public libraries, however, have other types of resident animals, including birds, fish, rodents, lizards, amphibians, and others.  These animals, too, could "write" blogs or tweets designed to inform and entertain library users.  For instance, Morgan the Library Bunny, at Morgan County (Indiana) Public Library, blogs, tweets, and posts to Facebook.

Public libraries without resident animals may also invoke this critter marketing technique.  Cauli Le Chat, feline roving reporter at Mooresville (Indiana) Public Library, has her blog, even though she doesn't live inside the library (rather, she hangs around outside and lives in a nearby neighborhood).

In an age of declining revenues, libraries need innovative strategies to educate and inform the public about their community value.  Resident (or non-resident, affiliated) animals may lend their voices, faces, and personalities to charm patrons and advertise library initiatives.  Ask yourself:  Who would you rather visit at your public library?  Tober or a human library representative, such as, say, me?  Well, that's not a fair comparison--Tober clearly wins, paws-down--but I think we might all agree that library cats, dogs, rabbits, parrots, or other wildlife would be clear preferences.

Congratulations, Tober, on reaching the 80,000 blog readership mark.  I can only dream of having so many blog followers.

William R. Buckley, J.D.
MPL Indiana Room Historian & Reference Coordinator, Adult Services

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