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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 127-75(WS)-E
Division Number: VI.
Professional Group: Management of Library Associations: Workshop
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 75.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

Public Relations Programmes for Library Associations

Driden Kunaka
Zimbabwe Library Association
Harrare, Zimbabwe



Public relations is a management tool that is increasingly becoming important in the management of organizations, whether private or public, whether they are profit making or non-profit oriented. It is an essential element in the communication system that enables individuals to be informed on many aspects of subjects that affect their lives. Several definitions may have been put forward for public relations, but for purposes of this presentation, I will stick to two that I believe will best suit library associations.


(Source: Roberts, Anne F and Blandy, Susan. Public Relations for Librarians. Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1989)

Very clear from both definitions is the need to plan; logic needs to prevail if a professional job is to be done. It is generally agreed in the Public relations fraternity that public relations action is undertaken according to a six-point plan, with research taking place at intervals to determine the organization's situation. The six-point plan consists of the following steps:

The above plan obviously sounds taxing; especially so for library associations which have to make do with volunteer staff, who are the focus in this workshop. A lot of resources are needed in order to implement such a plan; but should the library associations managed by volunteer staff forget about public relations programs completely? Never! However, absolute commitment will be required on the volunteers responsible for the Public Relations Program to ensure that it is successfully implemented, hence clearing the path for the growth of the associations.

I have observed from experience that there is a general misconception about public relations among a lot of people, including librarians and leaders of some library associations. There are some who consider public relations to be hiding the truth, especially in crisis situations. Let me warn all attending this seminar that doing so is dangerous, because it only amounts to postponing the crisis; and when the truth is finally uncovered, paints a bad image for the association. Leaders of library associations present here should realize that part of our business is to inform, and not to misinform the world. The guidelines for the management of professional associations in the fields of archives, library and information work also states that "to misguide or misinform is only to damage the image and reputation for integrity and efficiency of the association for the future" (page 63)

Below is an attempt to discuss in a little bit more detail each of the six points on the six-point public relations plan:

Situation analysis

This stage seeks to gather knowledge about the current state of affairs in the library association, and is helpful as it enables establish the association's current strengths, weaknesses and potential. It also helps get a feel of the publics' attitudes towards the association, hence give an impression of the associations' public image. In short, the situation analysis helps answer the question "Where are we now?", enabling planners to work out strategies of reaching the desired destination. The situation analysis could be carried out through a number of ways, including

The situation analysis helps obtain useful information, which will enable officers of the association to effect the PR transfer process, changing negative to more positive ones:

If this is achieved, it helps set a positive image for the association, and helps create an atmosphere that is conducive for the growth of an association.

Definition of PR Public Relations Objectives

Public relations plans/programs must define objectives against which results can be measured. This requires association to specify their goals or aims. The objectives outlined in the PR plan should comply with the association's mission statement (where one exists), or the constitution. Examples of PR objectives for library associations could be:

Definition of Publics/Target Audience

These are the people with whom the library association wishes to communicate, and may include:

All members of the association need to be informed about current developments in the association, and in the profession in general. This could be done through a newsletter, and through meetings called at local levels to explain to the membership what is going on.

Potential members need to be constantly addressed in order to convince them to become members because they do not just become members if nobody talks to them about the association. For some library associations, for example in the Zimbabwe Library Association where membership is open to "all other persons with an interest in library and information work" every citizen is a potential member, and an effort has to be made to get these into the association. Their membership subscriptions may boast the finances of the association, hence it may be able to set up a secretariat and employ full-time staff, rather than rely on volunteers. Potential members can best be reached through the mass media, hence talks on the radio and television, and stories written to the print media may be able to do the trick.

Library associations do not on their own provide library services, but should work closely with the various institutions that have the responsibility of providing library services. These will include central and local governments, and private institutions which provide library services. Associations should keep constant dialogue with policy makers in these institutions so that they gain better understanding of the requirements of the library service so that the library service may receive a fair share of the available resources. In the developing countries especially, a lot of institutions that should have established libraries have not done so mainly because they do not realize the benefits of so doing. Library associations are therefore expected to carry out vigorous library awareness campaigns aimed at the policy makers in such institutions, so that get to know the value-added potential of information management in the business process.

Politicians are another group that library associations need to target. In some the countries with well developed library services, politicians play a major role in library associations. The guidelines for the management of professional associations in the fields of archives, library and information work states that "If the association is to be effective and its policies and objectives achieved, (should) recall that it is part of the political fabric and processes of the country" (page 64). In Denmark, for example, the positions of President and one of the vice-Presidents in the library association are reserved for politicians. Through involvement in the library association, the politicians will learn to appreciate the need for information and the role of the library, so will influence government to give libraries a higher priority in allocating resources

Library users are another group of important publics to the association, especially when they are happy with the library service provision extended to them by their library. They will certainly support the association if they get to know that the association contributes in some way to the high standard of service they receive. Library users are the barometer with which the quality of library services can be measured, and provide useful information for library associations on what can be done to improve the library services in any country.

It may also be useful to involve potential library users in the public relations program. These are the people who should be using library services, but, for some reason, are not using the service. Chances are that they do not use the service because it does not meet their needs, which information is useful for any library association which contributes to the planning of library service provision.

Library associations managed by volunteer staff are in that situation mostly because of the lack of sponsors. They, therefore, need aggressive public relations programs targeted at potential sponsors in order to get funding for their various activities. Sponsorship could be in the form of assistance to set up a secretariat, or through public competitions like the librarian of the year competitions - which have already been introduced in some countries. Competitions of that nature also help create better understanding of the role of the librarian, and to improve the image and status of the librarian in society

Communication with other library associations is also vital. It enables the sharing of problems and experiences, and the positive experiences from one association can be replicated to the other; while the negative experiences from one can also serve a useful purpose as a warning to other. Relations between associations can be less formal, or can be more formal when there is need to assess and evaluate the relationship. A good example of a formal relationship between library associations is the Co-operation Agreement reached in February 1998 and signed in April 1998 between the Norwegian Library Association and the Zimbabwe Library Association.

Library associations will also benefit immensely from other professional associations. This enables the library association to gain some technical information that could of use in providing guidance to policy makers in library planning; for example, a teachers' association could provide useful information about developments in the teaching profession, which is vital when planning a school library service for the country. The library service cannot be operated separately, but is closely inter-linked with other processes, hence the need for a close working relationship with the relevant professional associations.

Because of their close relationship with the policy makers, users, politicians and other groups, the library association will gain valuable knowledge about skills required by the market, and the opportunities for librarians. This knowledge should be shared with the library schools so that they can adjust their curriculum if need be, or can reduce or increase their intakes accordingly.

Among the student librarians of today are the future leaders of the library associations, hence there is need to get students involved in library association activities right from the beginning. Students often criticize out of ignorance, hence the need for close communication with them in order to replace the ignorance with knowledge. With proper guidance, students can complement the association in a lot of ways. In Sweden, for example, it is the student librarians' group that is involved in running the Library of the Year Competition.

Individual libraries and library projects are another essential group of publics for library associations. Libraries and library projects need the association to push for policy issues, which may be difficult to achieve if not pursued collectively.

An Action Program

Having defined the public relations objectives and defined the publics, it will then becomes imperative to draw up and implement the program of action that will help achieve the objectives. The action program should be clear about the time frame for each activity.

It is this stage which usually presents the greatest challenges for library associations managed by volunteer staff, because experience has shown that more often than not, the volunteers are not available when the program wants their attention most. I cannot blame the volunteers much because usually these are persons employed elsewhere, and their first obligation is, naturally, their employer. Their volunteer duties for the library association cannot be carried out when there is demand for their services by their paymasters. Great care should therefore be taken in timing the public relations activities of the library association to ensure that there is minimal disruption.

Note that the Action Program must be flexible enough to accommodate some important developments that might take place in between the drawing up of the program and the implementation period. Government might announce some change in policy which affects libraries, and the association should make an effort to accommodate this, even if it means dropping some of the planned activities.


The available resources should be spread equitably to cover all the activities of the program. Where resources may not be adequate, the activities should be ranked in the order of their priority so that the most crucial ones are accommodated. Where core funding is guaranteed, either by Government or by some sponsor, the most important activities, according to the ranking should be funded from the core budget, and fundraising could be carried out for the low priority activities.

Measurement and Evaluation

In order to assess whether the objectives have been achieved, it is necessary to evaluate the public relations program. The evaluation process may not necessarily wait until the end of the program, but can take place concurrently with implementation. It involves a re-analysis of the association's situation as at the end of the public relations program, and uses the objectives of the as the yardstick to assess achievement. Indicators may be used here to assess the degree of achievement. One can measure, for instance, the increase or decrease in the membership figures of the association before and after the implementation of the public relations program; or could use statistics on use of libraries before and after the implementation of the program.


Just as a way of sharing information, here are some of the Public Relations activities which the Zimbabwe Library Association has undertaken over the years:

  1. The Library Awareness Campaign, which started by approaching individual
  2. Taking advantage of on-going Government Programs
  3. Working with other associations outside the field of librarianship


Carefully planned public relations programs by library associations could guarantee their long-term survival and success. The most disadvantaged library associations, are the most in need of public relations activities because they need the resources to build their capacity to perform, yet the public relations activities need a lot of resources, especially at the infancy stage. The established associations are therefore challenged to co-operate with the less established ones, and assist them where they can in order to level the playing ground for networking among library associations.