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2021 John Cotton Dana Awards Announced

2021 John Cotton Dana Awards Announced

~ Eight Libraries Awarded $10,000 Grants from H.W. Wilson Foundation  ~

The 2021 John Cotton Dana (JCD) Award winners, recognized for their strategic communications efforts, have been selected. The John Cotton Dana Awards provide up to eight grants for libraries that demonstrate outstanding library public relations. The award is managed by the American Library Association’s Core Division and consists of $10,000 grants from the H.W. Wilson Foundation.

The grants highlight campaigns feature a wide variety of strategies including: civic engagement programming, a virtual story time with more than 800 million views, a virtual Open House to celebrate a three-year renovation, and an awareness media campaign to highlight pandemic services. Other winning campaigns include the launch of a local artist music streaming site that had to retool mid-campaign as libraries closed, a Park & Connect Internet access campaign, a 2020 Census campaign that increases the county’s self-response rate and a library card sign up campaign that exceeded the goal by close to 25 percent and doubled the number of digital circulations.

The 2021 John Cotton Dana Award winning libraries and programs are:

Anchorage Public Library
Serving the citizens of a city the size of the state of Delaware, where more than 100 languages are spoken, the Anchorage Public Library (APL) is accustomed to getting creative. In the Books Get Our Vote campaign, the APL tackled declining civic engagement, declining reading test score in school age children and a community disconnected by COVID-19. Using a printed postcard, libraries asked patrons to get involved and vote for their favorite titles. Due to COVID-19 library building closures, APL utilized physical and digital media, as well as community partners, to communicate with and engage patrons. While mailed-in postcard returns were lower than expected, the unexpected win was that 75 percent of materials were distributed to the community outside of library locations by non-library staff –– a huge win for the library’s community engagement!

Chicago Public Library
Chicago Public Library launched its “Live from the Library” series as a virtual story time in order to help combat the effects of closing libraries and schools due to COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. These daily stories, read by notable Chicagoans and Chicago Public librarians, gave kids a chance to learn and engage almost as if they were in the library. The program quickly grew and by the end of that year, 250 stories were read by notable readers such as President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Kristen Bell, and Matthew Broderick, among many others. While the goal of the program was to engage people online, it was a phenomenal success. The stories were viewed by library patrons over one million times, attracted 360 earned media placements and sparked a 25 percent increase in engagement on the library’s social media channels. At the time of submission, the stories had been viewed more than 800,000,000 times by people in more than 35 countries.

Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library
After several months of planning and development, the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library was set to launch their new brand and website in mid-March 2020. Due to the world-wide pandemic, the library pivoted and focused their efforts on expanding virtual services. As the library began to expand in-person services, their data clearly showed that customers were not returning to their buildings. Armed with customer survey data and internal statistical data, a media campaign entitled, Visit the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library: For Minds of All Kinds, was developed and launched. The goal was to increase awareness throughout Hamilton County that all 41 locations were open for in-person services, including browsing, computer and Wi-Fi use and drive-thru and curbside services. The strategic TV and OTT digital display campaign resulted in 2,260,000 impressions, and more than 4,000 clicks with a video completion rate of 58 percent and resulted in in-person library location visits increasing by 3.5 percent.

Edmonton Public Library
The Edmonton Public Library’s (EPL) central location, the Stanley A. Milner Library, was set to reopen in the spring of 2020 after a three-year renovation project. Due to COVID-19, the grand opening was delayed, and when it did reopen significant public health restrictions were in effect. To allow community members to experience the revitalized library despite these limitations, EPL planned a Virtual Open House on September 13, 2020. It was a day filled with new programming, available every hour, featuring key spaces and services ending with a live Spelling Bee. The event itself garnered more than 61,000 views and drove patrons to the “Hello Milner” page, which received more than 10,000 unique page views with an average time of page of over two minutes and a bounce rate of 43 percent. Since the event, the library doubled the views to more than 20,000 from September 2020 to April 2021. The virtual event also garnered 145 earned media mentions with a total readership of 112,000,000. 

Fort Worth Public Library
Fort Worth Public Library launched their local artist music-streaming service, Amplify 817, through a multi-faceted marketing strategy that aimed to establish brand awareness and reiterate the value and relevance of the Library. With clearly defined goals of driving 10 percent of cardholders to the site, expanding brand awareness to at least five percent new users, and reaching a quarter of residents with brand messaging, Fort Worth managed a campaign that would be ambitious even in a non-pandemic year. Starting with a pre-pandemic launch event in February 2020 and stretching to a virtual Amplified New Year’s Eve event, Fort Worth Public Library was able to pivot their marketing tactics during the pandemic and achieve their primary objectives.

LA County Public Library
The digital divide has always been an issue that has negatively impacted many LA County residents, with 40 percent of the population without internet at home. The COVID-19 pandemic widened the digital divide. With all 86 library locations temporary closed for safety, the LA County Public Library knew they had to move quickly to ensure their customers had access to the Internet. To bridge this digital divide during the pandemic, the library quickly implemented a new program to make technology accessible outside its walls: Park & Connect, allowing customers to park in branch parking lots to access free Internet. The library marketing team developed a comprehensive campaign around the new service that targeted residents who lacked regular internet access, developing strategies for ethnic and hyper localized marketing efforts that spoke to the complex dynamics of a variety of diverse communities. The campaign resulted in nearly 111,000 wi-fi sessions being logged in the targeted communities.

Spartanburg County Public Libraries
The Spartanburg County Public Libraries took the lead in educating and encouraging their community to complete the 2020 Census. Using a multi-faceted multi-media marketing and communications strategy, Spartanburg County Public Libraries worked with more than 60 local partners to get citizens counted once and only once and in the right place. Because of this collaborative effort, Spartanburg County surpassed the county’s 2010 Census self-response rate, effectively counting 5,000 more households in the 2020 Census. Spartanburg County was one of only five counties in South Carolina to improve our 2010 census self-response rates, a measure of success set by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Whatcom County Library System
What do Sasquatch, the kraken, unicorns and aliens have in common? They are all library ambassadors for the Whatcom County Library System. Whatcom County Library System abandoned traditional approaches to create a Library Card Sign-Up month campaign that relied on equal parts whimsy and fact to drive new enrollments. Tactics included engaging library advocates, improving the enrollment process and emphasizing card benefits. Developed in-house, the integrated, month-long campaign exceeded its goal by 23 percent. By year-end, the circulation of digital items increased 28 percent, double the amount borrowed in 2019.

John Cotton Dana Committee Chair, Clare Roccaforte, from Northwestern university says, this year’s entries demonstrated the many creative ways libraries approach their work when faced with a challenge. “The COVID-19 pandemic forced nearly all our submitting organizations to shift their plans mid-campaign, and many projects were stronger for it. The committee wishes to recognize the hard work of all librarians and library staff who doubled their efforts to reach their communities this past year.”

The award is named after John Cotton Dana (1859–1929), the father of the modern library, who is credited with helping transition libraries from reading rooms to community centers. JCD submissions include strategic library communications campaigns from libraries of all types and sizes. In recognition of the achievement, JCD award winners receive a cash development award from the H.W. Wilson Foundation. The John Cotton Dana Awards are typically presented during an awards ceremony hosted by EBSCO Information Services held during the American Library Association annual conference. The 2021 Winners will be honored at the next in–person ALA Conference, currently slated for June 2022.

Congratulations to the winning libraries, and thank you to our sponsors, The H.W. Wilson Foundation and EBSCO Information Services!

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