Angela Hursh, Manager of Engagement and Marketing for NoveList, received the 2023 Library Journal Movers & Shakers Award recognizing individuals around the world who are helping to shape the future of libraries. In her nomination, library staff specifically noted her marketing expertise and passion for arming libraries facing book challenges. I sat down with Angela to learn what drives that passion and get her take on the current library landscape.
You were an Emmy award-winning television news journalist for 20 years before making the leap to libraries. What was it about libraries that inspired you to change careers?
I grew up in a small, rural community in Ohio. The highlight of my week was the arrival of the library bookmobile. I’d ride my bicycle a mile down the road to the neighboring dairy farm, where the bookmobile would park and fill my basket with a week’s worth of books. It was my lifeline to the outside world. And I know there are countless people around the world who feel the same.
Library staff give their communities so much with so few resources and very little support. I wanted to be able to repay the service they gave to me as a child by dedicating the second half of my professional life to libraries. Then, once I had a job at the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library, I realized something else: there are so many library staff working on promotions without budgetary support or training. I don’t know whether the term “Library Marketer” was even commonly used or understood at that point, but I knew I wanted to connect with other people doing this work. That’s part of the reason why I launched SuperLibraryMarketing.com.
You’re passionate about helping libraries prepare for and fight book challenges. Where does that passion come from?
Honestly, it comes from fear. At PLA 2022, I attended two sessions hosted by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. ALA-OIF was issuing clear, persistent warnings about a rise in book challenges, and I realized this was the biggest current threat to the organizations I love. For me, the way to deal with fear is action. I’m not a lawyer or a politician, but I am a communicator. And I wanted to do something to help build a community of support that would stand up and speak up when libraries are attacked. That was the genesis behind “No More Neutral,” a Learn with NoveList course I developed. It teaches libraries how to educate their community about the library’s vital role by promoting their mission, vision, and values, just like they do their collection.
For more than a decade, you’ve made the case that library marketers need to shift from focusing primarily on promoting programs to spending most of their time and money promoting the collection. Why do you think that’s important?
Programs are important. But many libraries miss a crucial fact about their community: people want the collection items. That's why people get a library card. During the pandemic, when circulation of print materials dropped, circulation of eBooks and eAudiobooks nearly made up for it, according to the IMLS Public Libraries Survey.
The second biggest expenditure for libraries is almost always the collection. And because the library spends so much on the collection, they must promote it! It is the core of the library brand. It’s the gateway to getting the community engaged with a library in other ways, including programming. And now, as libraries are facing increasing threats and book challenges, I think they need to be loud and proud about their collection and their vital and historic impact on education, freedom, and literacy.
In working with libraries all over the world, what trends are you seeing in how libraries promote their programs, services, and collections?
First, there’s a new push by many libraries to do market research before they create new services or revamp existing ones. They’re asking more questions of their community to gauge what patrons want to hear from the library, and where they want to get their information.
With a clearer understanding of what their patrons want, many libraries are now embracing targeted email marketing. I’ve talked to small and mid-size libraries who are driving more circulation and attendance by asking patrons to let them know what kind of information they want to receive via email, rather than sending them an email that lists out everything the library has to offer.
Finally, I love that staff are finding community with other library marketers! For so long, library staff working on promotions told me they felt like no one understood or appreciated their work. That’s no longer the case. From The Library Marketing Book Club to the annual Library Marketing and Communications Conference and the Library Marketing for Library Marketers podcast, these new spaces are giving library marketers a place to test ideas, share challenges and successes, and feel welcome and understood.
The 2023 Library Journal Movers & Shakers award recipients were chosen in part based on their work to shape the future of libraries. What can all of us do to make a difference in the libraries of tomorrow?
This industry is very humble, and I think it’s time we started bragging about ourselves! Spend time educating your community about your work. Don’t be afraid to talk about the essential nature of libraries in your own circle of power: your social media channels, your friend groups, and your family. People really do not know what it means to be a librarian! Be a relentless, enthusiastic supporter of your work and this industry.
Angela Hursh is the Manager of Engagement and Marketing for NoveList. She's currently reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown and is listening to Joan by Katherine J. Chen.
Kathy Lussier is the Director of Engagement and Marketing for NoveList. She’s currently reading Life's Too Short by Abby Jimenez.