This year, eight libraries were presented with the John Cotton Dana Award for their strategic communications efforts and outstanding library public relations campaigns. The award is managed by the CORE division of the American Library Association (ALA) and consists of $10,000 grants funded by the H.W. Wilson Foundation.

The 2021 John Cotton Dana Award Winners are:

Each year, libraries submit an effective public relations campaign featuring a variety of strategies to increase the library’s visibility in the community. This year looked a little different as libraries adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic and focused on their online operations. We chatted with the JCD Committee Chair, Clare Roccaforte, about how this year’s award applications varied from previous submissions.

How would you say the COVID-19 pandemic affected public relations campaigns and communications strategies for libraries?

We received several entries this year where entire campaigns had to shift from an original plan to a new one (usually to virtual and social platforms) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Given these circumstances, the applications were impressive. It was clear from the entries that everyone had to adjust in 2020 in how they communicated with their patrons and community. We saw a lot of applicants focusing outreach on social media tactics, leveraging community partners and hosting virtual events.

How was the judging process different from in the past?

The judging committee could not convene in person to discuss entries. In some ways, this was more challenging as it was hard to talk through applications via video conferencing and “share screen” features. On the other hand, these challenges encouraged the judges to refine our conversations so they were tight and to the point, making great use of our time together.

What qualities did you look for most in applicants this year?

As in past years, the judging committee looks for measurable demonstration of success, along with a unique and well-crafted, well-written campaign.

What can other libraries learn from this year’s JCD Award winners?

A creative campaign concept is the core of a winning entry. But you don’t always have to spend tens of thousands of dollars for a campaign to win a John Cotton Dana award. You need consistency in your execution (think artwork, language, etc.), and a well thought-out plan. Most of all, you need to know what your goal is before you begin so that you can measure your success at the end. What the judges look to more than anything — was this campaign successful? And we can only know that if you state your measure of success at the outset and then demonstrate the results. Success doesn’t always result in a huge number; it’s unique to a specific situation. We are not comparing one campaign’s success against another; we want to compare a campaign’s success against its own goals.

How long have you been on the John Cotton Dana Awards committee? What made you get involved?

I’ve been on the JCD Committee since 2018, serving as a Judge for three years and chair for the first time this past year. I decided to get involved after being a part of the Northwestern University Library’s campaign that received a John Cotton Dana Award in 2016.  After that, I wanted to be able to participate in this tradition and bring that excitement to other libraries year after year.

What is your favorite part of heading up this committee?

My favorite part of this committee work is seeing just how much fantastic communication work is happening in libraries across the country. I am fortunate to have a great communications team to work with and a supportive network on my university’s campus. Sometimes we are so focused on our own institution it’s easy to forget we have professional peers. Reviewing JCD submissions is a wonderful connecting experience for me. I’m reminded how many amazing communication professionals are imbedded in the library world doing amazing work, and often on a shoestring budget. And I can often tell when I open up a submission for an award-winning campaign — it just grabs you. And that’s thrilling.

Find out more about this year’s John Cotton Dana Award winners.