The Tallinn Central Library offers a wide range of services - from traditional library services to different user training courses and lending home sports equipment - for the inhabitants and visitors of Tallinn. However, polls we have conducted and discussions we have had with our library’s users and potential users show that people are not aware of these services. Many people see the public library just as a place to borrow books… which is not good because the library’s image affects legislation, decisions of policy-makers, library budgets, different support programmes where library can apply for funding, etc. If people do not see public libraries as a place that caters to the needs of the community and society, then soon there might not be libraries anymore. We need the public to see that we are here for them and we need decision-makers to understand that by funding libraries they will help reduce the digital divide, increase social inclusion, help people to integrate into society and encourage people to learn, to acquire knowledge and improve their skills.
In 2011, the Lääne-Virumaa Central Library (a public library) ran an “election campaign” called “Vali lugemine!”; in Estonian it means both “Vote for reading!” and “Choose reading!”. They put up posters in the windows of the library – posters that resembled election posters. It was a great concept! Their campaign gave us the idea to run a similar kind of campaign in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, because we felt that the progress of changing the library’s image with press releases about our events and services is too slow. Not to mention that it’s not easy to get media coverage with "library stuff", considering they are not as attractive for journalists. And we can't afford to do it slowly, we need better funding today to meet the needs of the community. And for that, we need to raise the public’s awareness of what public libraries are, how public libraries can help them, fast. There was a problem though – only posters in the windows is not enough to reach people who don’t use the public library in the city of Tallinn. Therefore, we wanted to do an outdoor campaign, but we didn’t have enough resources in our operating budget and local cultural foundations don’t support campaigns like that. So when Public Libraries 2020 announced on their Facebook page that they are waiting for proposals for advocacy grants, it was decided - we will apply for it! And we got it!
Our awareness raising campaign “Come to the library!” takes place before the parliamentary elections in Estonia. It’s a good time to come to the library before the elections, as you can find information about all the parties and independent candidates. And, when you are informed, you make better decisions. Our campaign includes the following actions and activities: a radio ad campaign in three radio stations, an outdoor campaign (posters in bus stations and city lights – at places where election posters used to be to get the interest of the media and politicians), an indoor campaign (posters in every department and branch library of the Tallinn Central Library), issuing the press release of the campaign, adding information about the campaign to our webpage and social media, giving interviews to the media, writing an article about why we runthe campaign to be published in the media nation-wide, writing a letter about the potential of public libraries to the Estonian Members of the European Parliament, etc.
To get the attention of the public, we decided to add a visual conflict to the campaign posters – a conflict between the picture and the word “library”. To do that, we used less traditional library services: lending sports equipment, the opportunity to play board games and learning to use e-readers. We use messages such as:
- “The library teaches us to use Christmas presents!" and "Did you know that in the library, you can learn to use an e-book reader, a tablet PC or even Facebook?"
- "Playing is allowed in the library!" and "Did you know that apart from reading, you can play board games with your friends, listen to music and even watch movies?"
- This one sounds better in Estonian: „Vutt-vutt raamatukokku!“ – it’s a word game, the word „vutt“ means football in slang and „vutt-vutt“ means „go quickly“ (in slang as well). And "Did you know that in addition to borrowing e-books, you can also borrow sports equipment, organise events for the community as a volunteer and even learn to use a graphic tablet?“
And we ask them to come to the library.
We hope that after the campaign, people are more aware of the services that public libraries offer today and, when necessary, help us to explain to decision-makers why we need public libraries. We hope that decision-makers recognise the potential of public libraries in dealing with questions like an aging population, integration, young people leaving, etc.
Finally, we would like to thank the Reading & Writing Foundation for giving us a helping hand, as well as media expert Daniel Vaarik, design agency Velvet and Kliff and Klaus Studio who helped us with organising the campaign.