Big Ideas

OMG! We got a JCD!

Recently, I received two great phone calls within a few weeks of each other.  The first was from Chapel Hill, NC, offering me the position of director at the Chapel Hill Public Library. The second was from the John Cotton Dana Award committee, letting me know that a project I spearheaded at Lawrence Public Library was selected to receive a 2013 John Cotton Dana Award.  If good things come in threes, I hope that Publisher’s Clearinghouse pops up on my Caller ID next!


The John Cotton Dana Award is called “the most prestigious award of the American Library Association.” Here’s a little more about it:

“The John Cotton Dana Award, provided in conjunction with the H.W. Wilson Foundation, the American Library Association and EBSCO Publishing, honors outstanding library public relations, whether a summer reading program, a year-long centennial celebration, fundraising for a new college library, an awareness campaign or an innovative partnership in the community.”

LPL received the award for our Banned Books Trading Card project, which we summarized for the judges:

“With seven collectible trading cards featuring art inspired by banned books and created by local artists, Lawrence Public Library’s Banned Books Trading Card project sought to raise awareness of Banned Books Week in a unique way, engage the local arts community, and bring wider exposure to the talented artists living and working in our community.  The project achieved these goals, garnered national media attention, and resulted in a few surprising outcomes that have given the project an extended life, long after the end of 2012’s Banned Books Week.”       


The cards were a hit locally and nationally (and internationally!) but more importantly  they were right in line with our marketing goals.

  • A huge part of our marketing efforts at LPL involves building partnerships and engaging different segments of our community.  For this project, we created new partnerships with arts organizations and directly engaged local artists, a large segment of the local population.
  • We have worked to position the library as both a gateway to our community and a showcase for all of the unique aspects of it.  By limiting the project to local artists, we were able to highlight just how artsy Lawrence is. Also, the project gives a very good glimpse into this college town’s values and their collective belief in intellectual freedom, the power of literature, and the importance of art.
  •  As any successful library does, LPL also seeks to align ourselves with broad community and civic goals.  Lawrence is currently working to become a regional and national arts destination, with a coalition of community groups marketing all of the artists, galleries, festivals, and venues.  With the local, regional, and national media attention they received, the cards effectively highlighted the amazing artists living and working in Lawrence.

To read more about the project – or if you’ve ever wanted to know just what goes into an entry – check out our submission for the award.  This three page narrative outlines the whole project, from concept to execution to the local (featured on the front page every day during the week) and national press coverage (Hello, HuffPost!) we received.

Little-Red-Riding-HoodResized-280x381While the idea was unique and the press coverage was great, what really made the project great was the amazing artwork from artists living and working right here in Lawrence.  The beautiful and engaging local art was my favorite part of the whole project.

My second favorite part of the project is yet to come.  I received many, many emails and phone calls from libraries around the country asking if they could steal the idea. I told them “Of course! And we’re librarians, we borrow, we don’t steal!”  I hope that for the 2013 Banned Books Week, we will see more libraries doing cards and they can be traded by libraries around the country.

For those who hold the purse strings at LPL, their favorite part is probably the  money attached to the project.  The $10,000 check that comes with the award is great, but what was really neat about the project was that we were able to meet national and international demand for the cards by selling them via our website.  By doing a second print run of cards and quickly setting up a PayPal account, we were able to not only create a small revenue source for the library’s marketing budget, but we were also able to give a little something back to the artists, who submitted their pieces with no expectation of monetary gain.  And yes, the cards are still available for purchase.  We only have about two hundred sets left, so if you want one, order yours soon!  To date, we have shipped cards to every state in the US, as well as England, Australia, and Canada.

And speaking of money, the project was made possible by the good folks at the Freedom to Read Foundation and their annual Judith F. Krug Memorial Grants.  If you aren’t aware of them and their work, check out their website and Facebook page – Jonathan Kelly and crew are fighting the good fight!  Also, LPL’s Friends of the Library generously matched the FTRF grant, providing additional money for printing, artist’s reception, and more.

And since this post is starting to run long like an Oscar speech, I have to thank two more people who were integral to this project.  LPL is so lucky to have a Foundation to support it and an amazingly talented Foundation Director in Kathleen Morgan.  She wrote the FTRF grant application and supported the project every step of the way.  Also, I had tried to turn this idea into a reality for a few years without success.  LPL’s fantastic new director, Brad Allen, greenlighted the project in his first month on the job last year. He saw not only the creative potential in the project but he also realized that it was a project that would resonate deeply in Lawrence, a town full of artists and intellectuals.

Although I’ll be working for Chapel Hill Public Library then, I’ll be at ALA in Chicago and will attend the John Cotton Dana Awards Ceremony on Sunday. I look forward to meeting the other award recipients and “trading” great ideas for innovative marketing and PR projects…

1 thought on “OMG! We got a JCD!”

  1. My sincere congratulations on both the new directorship and JCD Award. Both seem well deserved. I don’t think winning Publisher’s Clearing House could be any better than these two good things in your life.
    I was quite impressed with the Banned Book Trading Card project. It was unique and very well done.

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