Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Lovin' the library at the University of Tennessee

Perhaps I'm biased because my manager is a UT grad (Go Vols!), but I was really intrigued by a promotion campaign at UT's Pendergrass Library. In search for ways to enforce library regulations that are agreeable to both librarians and patrons, library staff came up with a clever promotion campaign that features a simple stick figure design.

Shown here is one graphic in the series. It encourages students to throw away their trash.

What appeals most to me is that this seemingly simple image conveys a lot of meaning to its target audience, which was evident after speaking with library supervisor Allison Roberts who worked on the design. For instance, UT Knoxville is located near the scenic Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The green color of the image is a nod to the respect the UT community holds for the environment. Furthermore, the "Pack it in; Pack it out" phrase is well-known among hikers, a popular pastime in the Knoxville area. Plus, heck, the image is just plain eye-catching to me. So, I was extremely pleased that Allison graciously gave me some of her time to talk to me over the phone and respond to some follow-up e-mail questions I sent her. The following is our exchange:

Jill: Your deceptively simple-looking image actually communicates a great deal to your target audience. Could you discuss how the "Pack it out" message and eco-friendly green color resonate with your patrons?

Allison: "The idea is derived from the hiking symbol used by park services and the idea of low impact use of resources. If you love your park you make strides to reduce your environmental impact. The same should also apply to facilities and resources we use everyday. If you love your library you should reduce your environmental impact. A library is a resource that deserves conservation and respect like a national park. Individuals that use Pendergrass Library have recognized that they share the responsibility and strive to make a difference in their impact."

Jill: You mentioned that you selected a stick figure for its simplicity and visual impact. What can librarians learn from your example about graphic design?

Allison: "It is important to convey an idea simply and succinct to reach all audiences."

Jill: How do you use this image and where do you display it?

Allison: "We currently have a large "Pack it out" poster on display as you enter the library, placed several posters on study tables and decals on trash cans. In addition, we created desktop wallpaper for all the workstations in the Library."

Jill: You said that the campaign has been effective and well-received. Can you give some examples of feedback you've received and changes in patrons' behaviors? Also, why do you think this campaign works so well?

Allison: "When we decided to allow food in the library a heavy weight was lifted. The staff no longer had to police for violations. The individuals that use the library were relieved that they no longer had to hide food. Overall the atmosphere is lighter. By allowing food we created a better environment for the users; however, the problem of pests was a concern. I felt that if we could try to eliminate food trash in the library the pests would not become a huge problem. I tried to create a message that would help the users share the responsibility. I think this idea works well because our users can identify with the message of conservation."

Jill: "Pack it out" is part of a series of planned promotions that seek to educate patrons about library policies. What other pieces are you planning?

Allison: "Currently, the stick man is presenting our "Love your Library: Quiet Zone" notification on the door to the stacks study area. It is also on our "Love your Library: Respect Books" bookmark. The design is versatile, so there is no limit to its future applications."

Jill: Is there anything else about this project you'd like to share with colleagues?

Allison: "In addition to posting "Pack it out" notices we have asked housekeeping to remove the trash twice a day and increase vacuuming in the high use areas. Our collaborative effort has made a difference in the amount of trash and debris from study time munching."

Way to know your audience, Allison! And kudos on creating a campaign that can be recycled for many uses. I love how UT was able to translate popular environmental sentiments to library issues and to draw in patrons as partners in making the library a more comfortable place for everyone. Also, note that a good promotion campaign is always backed up by sound services, in this case, housekeeping. Promotion alone can't make much of a difference but it can be powerful in combination with real action.

Allison kindly shared two other images (below) from the series as well as a link to their bookmark promoting preservation (PDF). Please note that you need permission from Allison if you wish to use the images in any way. Thanks so much for sharing this well-planned and executed campaign!

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