Lights, camera, penguin!

Pablo the Penguin helps bridge the social gap between the library service and clients, builds trust, helps to mentor students and supports anxious users.

You know you have been doing things right when people are more excited to meet the two foot high stuffed toy sitting next to you than you yourself.

Pablo (a self-referential acronym for Pablo – Astonishing Bird of Library Origin) was an anthropomorphic brand mascot introduced in January 2016 at the University of Portsmouth Library to help engage clients who might be reluctant to engage with an otherwise relatively faceless professional service.  Using well established brand advertising methods, Pablo simultaneously offers the Library brand a likeable personality and an approachable public face.

A member of a recently discovered penguin species, the Library penguin (Aptenodytes bibliotheca), Pablo is a characteristically sociable, basket dwelling individual, attracted by the concentration of curious and enthusiastic young people and information resources, and eager to discover more about the world around him from the confines of a comfortable environment unscoured by Antarctic winds and hardly ever drowned in those inconvenient snowfalls that impede efficient waddling.   

People have been shown to trust people they like.  Happily, Pablo is universally likeable.  While libraries face problems from being too popular and running short on space, having to set limits to some clients’ boundless ambitions to host noisy pizza parties in the food free silent study zone, and not being able to fine tune the air conditioning to provide a personalised microclimate for each individual client in the precise location where they have chosen to sit, Pablo is able to sit on the sidelines and make light of everything that happens.

It is hard to feel badly towards a cute mascot that always takes your side.  It is still harder to take an overzealous air conditioning system seriously when you discover evidence that the entire refurbishment of the Library is the brainchild of an anthropomorphic penguin, quietly working in the background to recreate his Antarctic home in Portsmouth.

The perpetual student, Pablo is able to mentor clients from the perspective of someone who sees the world as they do but who knows just a little bit more.  When not sleeping in his book basket or extolling the benefits of wider reading, recommending anything from “Outwitting fish” to books on perspective.  He is the first to play with new services and extol how well they work.

Pablo demonstrates how we would like students to behave and empathises with students who work hard.  He offers a humorous third party perspective on conflicts between students and the Library service itself.  When students complained about building work noise he donned ear defenders in preparation to entering the silent zone and was photographed holding a sign the same size as himself asking for quiet and mused whether he needed a still bigger sign to get his message across. This showed that while the Library could offer a limited response, Pablo demonstrated that he cared deeply about the students’ upset but was just as helpless to do anything meaningful about it, personifying the conflict between the need to refurbish, enhance and develop a building that almost never closes with the need to offer a space without distractions.

Pablo also teaches anxious students resilience.  He is prone to mishaps.  His small size and natural clumsiness afford him a clown like fallibility that sees him turn a teetering pile of books into a sea of spilled materials before hurriedly gathering them back into baskets to carry them more easily and securely.  Pablo’s ability to 'bounce back' from calamities, comic misunderstandings and embarrassment on a fairly regular basis, particularly in the Autumn Term when he is most excited by all the new faces arriving for the first time, shows students that innocent mistakes can be rectified with prompt action and that embarrassment is simply the doorway to new understanding.

When all is said and done, Pablo is enjoyed best as a visual spectacle and will be making his very first film debut at the Conference, as David Sherren takes us on a brief nature documentary exploring the life and times of this unique and inquisitive creature.  For that you will have to come and attend our talk at Internet Librarian International 2016.  I look forward to seeing you there!


Patterson, A., Khogeer, Y., & Hodgson, J. (2013). How to create an influential anthropomorphic mascot: Literary musings on marketing, make-believe, and meerkats. Journal of Marketing Management, 29(1-2), 69–85. Retrieved from

Garretson, J. A. & Niedrich, R. W. (2004). Spokes-characters: Creating character trust and positive brand attitudes. Journal of Advertising, 33(2), 25-36.  Retrieved from

David Bennett is Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at The University Library, University of Portsmouth.

This article may contain opinions and other statements that are the personal opinion of the author and/or Pablo Penguin and may not be representative of their employer/landlord, respectively. 

For a more scholarly overview of the case study behind the upcoming talk, see the original case study article published in the New Review of Academic Librarianship.  An Open Access post-print is also available from the University of Portsmouth Research Portal.