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Orchids and Awards: John Cotton Dana PR Award Gala Takes Place at the Ritz

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The John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Awards are the Holy Grail for PR librarians in the U.S. Winning one takes plenty of time, effort, talent, and planning. Some say that completing the award application is an experience unto itself. But it’s also a lesson in the way good public relations should be done.

Every winter, my Marketing Library Services newsletter announces the winners that have been chosen before it covers the summer ceremony. In the March/April 2009 issue’s Special Report on ALA’s Midwinter Meeting, there’s info on all of the winning projects (this article isn’t online), and I’ll name them again here:

  • Baltimore County (Md.) Public Library’s (BCPL) Storyville, a new interactive creative learning center, was designed as a child-size village for preschoolers and their caregivers.
  • Gwinnett County (Ga.) Public Library wowed its community with its Oct. 18, 2008, reading festival.
  • Houston Public Library used a 2-year, $17 million renovation as the impetus for a strong public relations campaign centered on a “sense of identity.”
  • The Library Foundation of the Multnomah (Ore.) Public Library developed and sustained an appropriate marketing strategy that conveyed the importance of the library in early childhood literacy.
  • St. Paul (Minn.) Public Library took advantage of 2008 election fever by mounting a timely campaign called “St. Paul-itics.”
  • Ypsilanti (Mich.) District Library scored a huge hit with a program targeting teens and men with a celebration of the area’s musical heritage.

The July 13 awards ceremony was at the Ritz Carlton, and it was as classy as ever. (Is that redundant?) Admist a spread of orchids, candles, and amazing hors d’ouevres, attentive waitstaff fussed over the well-dressed guests who nibbled while they enjoyed live piano music and waited for formal proceedings to begin. H.W. Wilson and its Foundation still sponsor the award, and as President Harry Regan commented when he opened the festivities, “Over the last 63 years, the John Cotton Dana Award has evolved into the one of the most coveted and prestigious awards” in libraryland.

Finally, the Big Moments began. For each of the six honored libraries, Regan read a bit that explained what was special about each project, then the recipients took the stage, got their certificates and $5,000 checks, and smiled for a very nice man with a very large camera lens before making a few brief remarks of their own. One of my favorites came from Sheree Savage of the St. Paul Public Library, who claimed that its “St. Paul-itics” political action campaign turned the library into “the community civic engagement living room.”

People studied the winning JCD notebooks.

People studied the winning JCD notebooks.

This short formal part of the program was followed by more photos, handshakes, and piano music. Some attendees took advantage of the chance to see the notebooks of campaign info that are a big part of each entry. The notebooks are wonderful collections of data and promo material that chronical each project. (You can borrow them too if you’re interested in studying them in preparation for your own entry efforts.)

You can read more about the contest on Wilson’s website.

All in all, it was a grand afternoon at the Ritz, where well-deserved honors were bestowed by a committed corporation that continues to encourage and reward librarians who do the tough but essential work of planning great public relations projects that keep the people of American coming back to rediscover the wonders of their libraries year after year.

~Kathy Dempsey, editor, Marketing Library Services newsletter