Rebranding a Library: how did it all go so right?

Ned Potter on the "very tricky business" of rebranding and how one Library got it right.

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Library rebranding - five success factors

Rebranding is a hot topic in the world of libraries at the moment, and it’s nothing if not divisive. Rebranding a library, or a service, or an organisation, is a very tricky business – especially if you’re changing the physical space along with the name and visual identity. With that in mind, let’s look at an example of a library service that got it right.

As part of a rebranding case study for The Library Marketing Toolkit I spoke to Fiona Williams, Head of Libraries and Heritage at York City Council. In 2010 she oversaw the process whereby York Central Library became York Explore Library Learning Centre (known more colloquially as just 'York Explore') after a £540,000 redesign and refurbishment. The key features of the Explore experience are a library with learning rooms, a crèche and café.

Rebranding takes so much time and money, but is it really worth it? The figures for York Explore suggest that it can be when handled well: visits are 15% up on the previous version of the library. Book issues are 16% up on the previous year. Circulation of children’s books are particularly increased – they have a new space, an extended range of related activities, and a simpler categorisation system – with fiction up 59% and non-fiction up 45%. Overall, in the first 9 months after re-opening, more than 11,000 new members joined.

As both a library marketer and a York local who uses York Explore as a member, this is my take on the five reasons it all went so right:

1: The rebrand was more than a name-change. People will put up with a change of name if it represents a change of ethos, style, or priorities. Rebranding should come about because the old branding is no longer effective in communicating the priorities and services of the institutions, because these priorities and services have changed. Otherwise it’s a somewhat empty exercise.

2: The rebrand was directly linked to the refurbishment. People are inherently suspicious of branding generally, let alone rebranding – library users they want to know why you’re spending money on something apparently so superficial. With York Explore there was a clear link between redesigning the space itself, and the very definition of what the library was for, and the new choice of name and outlook.

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