A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Building the Library’s Brand: Using Taglines or Logos

by Arthur W. Hafner & Susan G. Akers on April 26, 2013

We live in a visual society. Everywhere you go, you can see various eye-catching logos, trademarks, and other identifying marks for organizations. Libraries are about people and information in an evolving, dynamic environment. Employees at libraries help people find what they need, answer questions, advance freedom of information, help people to discover exciting resources, and adapt to new technology, among other things.

The purpose of this article is to focus on the concepts of a library’s brand, building a brand, and using a tag line to communicate the library’s mission to its public. When effectively crafted, these concepts are foundational in helping the library to position itself in the public’s minds. A library’s brand is the sum of its customers’ perceptions about the library and their interpretations of their impressions. A brand is what first comes to mind when one hears the organization’s name or sees a graphic element representing the organization. A brand represents an immediate, intangible, sometimes emotional perception that is associated with the qualities or value of a product or service. From that standpoint, the library’s brand can be a snapshot of the library’s promise and its relationship to the patron.

Of course, library administrators have perceptions of their library’s brand, too, and they want their visitors’ perceptions to match theirs as closely as possible. For this reason, administrators use publicity and other marketing strategies to help shape the visitors’ image of the library’s perceived value.  Publicity and advertising describe the library’s benefits, characteristics, how it interacts with other organizations, and even the library’s personality. These efforts are focused to build brand management which, in turn, build brand recognition and achieve greater brand penetration to serve members of its community.

Using Taglines or Logos

One of the most successful, low-cost ways to convey the library’s brand is to create a unified, consistent message through using a logo or tagline. Taglines or logos are useful as visual tools and help to develop and reinforce a stronger brand association. A logo is a symbol, graphic element, or trademark that is designed for easy and definite recognition of the brand. A logo influences its brand since people tend to think of that particular organization when they see the logo.

Figure 1. Wabash Carnegie Public Library's LogoThe authors recommend the use of a professional design firm or someone with substantial design experience when developing a logo. Often, logo designs that flop do so because there is simply too much in the design and it becomes convoluted and messy. The general rule when using illustrations in logo design is to keep it simple, yet creative and striking. Many libraries choose to use an architectural element from the building to brand the library (see figure 1). Also, the illustration should never overshadow the library’s name.

A common question from academic library staff is, “Can we use a design element or logo to brand the library even though we are part of a university with an existing visual identity?” The answer is yes, but it should be mindful to stay within the signature system of the university or college. For example, Indiana University (IU) has a registered trademark which is used on all university material and communication; however, IU’s visual identity guidelines require departments and schools to develop their web pages in keeping with a selected font family. One should always strive for consistency and unification. Library administrators are encouraged to work with a communications professional to carefully review the library’s website content and design, promotional flyers, signage, and other materials that present the library’s “face” to the public. This is important because people make judgments about the library from viewing these documents, even ascribing personality attributes to a given typeface.1

For this reason, an organization will want consistency in the use of its identifying marks. This can be implemented through use of a selected family of fonts,
colors, or graphics. Consistency is the key when building a brand and when using a logo to help build the brand. Ideally, a style guide would be created for staff as a reference source when creating documents, posters, online material, and so forth that employ the logo or tagline.

Crafting Your Message

“By using carefully chosen words and crafting succinct phrases, a tagline is able to convey the personality of a brand and its unique position in the marketplace.”2 The library’s tagline is the phrase or sentence that follows the library’s name. For example, Ball State University Libraries (BSUL) in Muncie, Indiana, uses the tagline “a destination for research, learning, and friends” to reposition the role of the library on campus. These seven words summarize and convey the personality of the library’s brand and its promise. The tagline built on the theme of destination to create the concept of space and location. The word research is the benefit, and the word friends completes the tagline in a warm manner while addressing the social aspect of the library since many students use the facility as a meeting place.

Taglines are reflective of the organization’s mission. Purdue University Libraries offers the tagline, “Access. Knowledge. Success.” so it is apparent that particular library chose those words in order to underpin its mission. The tagline promises access to information, the advancement of knowledge, and consequent success. Effective taglines and well-designed logos are low-cost and efficient ways to build a brand. These devices help libraries create a meaningful visual distinction that will allow their library to stand out from other similar organizations, that is to say, to differentiate their library from other information marketplace competitors.


A tagline is a permanent, meaningful description that summarizes what the library is about. It has been said that a tagline sums up what the organization is known for or what sets it apart from the competition. When Austin (Tex.) Public Library wanted to promote their plethora of services, they chose the tagline “More than Books,” yet the logo has a book shape with sun rays (see figure 2). This is an excellent example of combining an effective tag line with a nicely designed logo mark.

Furthermore, based on visitors’ positive library experiences, they will advocate for the library through word-of-mouth to friends and associates.3 This brand loyalty, in tandem with a favorable view of the library, keeps visitors coming back to enjoy the library’s programs, services, and collections.

Delivering on the Brand’s Promise

A brand promise is the cornerstone of branding as a marketing strategy. Poor brand development and weak leadership will lead to broken promises, and the library visitor will take notice. An organization must be able to deliver that which has been promised by the words in the tagline. When Federal Express promises delivery by 10:30 a.m. the next day with “no ifs, ands, or buts,” the customer expects it to happen. To back up this promise, FedEx knows that it has to have the resources and systems in place to fulfill this promise. Likewise, a library that chooses words for its tagline must have the resources, people, and equipment to back up the promise.

Perhaps the library wants to be known for service and quality. By consistently offering courteous, attentive, and great service with quality information or programming, visitors will come to expect that. The promise of service is comforting to library visitors. In making promises, whether explicitly in words or implicitly through actions, you are setting standards that you must continue to meet. As long as these standards are met, all is well. Few things annoy people more than broken promises.

Based on a visitor’s experience at the library, his first and subsequent visits are pivotal for him to determine if the library brand delivers on its promise. After each experience, the visitor readjusts his opinion about the library. In this way, a library’s brand is intangible, psychological, ever changing and builds slightly over time.

Building the library’s brand takes time, discipline, and commitment; yet, building and developing a brand is worthwhile in that this intangible measure is a snapshot of how visitors and potential visitors perceive the library and their collective interpretation of the library’s ability to deliver on its promise.

The BSUL administration knew it was important to differentiate itself as a topnotch information provider. The idea was to increase gate count by improving the library’s image. There was a unified effort by management and personnel to improve the look and feel of the library, to make the facility more inviting, and to provide a sense of relationship with students. Over time, simple yet important steps were taken to connect with those on campus and to become relevant to their academic lives. In less than six years, the library’s gate count more than doubled even though student enrollment stayed approximately the same. The efforts to support the brand promise paid off. Some of the steps taken include:

  • improving the ambience of the facility;
  • hanging student and faculty artwork;
  • providing musical performances in the lobby;
  • making improvements in technology;
  • reviewing outdated policies to create a user-friendly library; and
  • hiring service-oriented staff.

Additional steps to strengthen the library’s brand of service can be employee orientation and training, proper resources, and attractive facilities, all of which
allow personnel to deliver on the brand’s promise. These efforts are cost-effective in terms of creating brand loyalty so that visitors will think of the library first when they have information needs and will come back repeatedly to take advantage of the library’s programs, services, and collections, allowing the library to accomplish its mission.

Tips to Create Usable Taglines
  1. Choose Words to Highlight a Benefit: Communicate a key benefit. Give people a reason to remember the tagline.
  2. Differentiate Your Brand: Do the words bring out the character of the library? What sets your library apart?
  3. Create Rhythm and Pace: Does it have a ring to it? The rhythm or pace of the tagline will help to stick in the memories of those that read it or hear it.
  4. Warm and Fuzzy Effect: A tagline is more likely to stick in the minds of others if it imparts a positive feeling or emotion.


How Staff Members Affect the Library’s Brand

There is another side to library branding: a facet that may be the most important. It concerns the selection, training, and ongoing orientation of the personnel whose direct or indirect contact with the public translates the library’s brand. The commitment by employees will shape and deliver the brand through their services and energy.4 To add value to the brand, the entire library operation needs to be aligned and integrated for communication and service.5

When people begin to use a new service or visit a place for the first time, even under the best circumstances, they generally feel some uncertainty. These feelings are heightened when the service is personally important to a user, is a complex task, or requires considerable involvement. Knowledgeable and friendly librarians can be one of the single most powerful resources available in today’s libraries. It is important to build trust with library users and they will return time and again. Trust helps support the brand promise. Some ways to demonstrate trustworthiness are:

  • keeping lines of communication open;
  • guaranteeing your service and providing consistent service;
  • having high standards of conduct; and
  • hiring people who are serviceoriented.

When working with the public, staff should be aware of their own verbal and non-verbal factors, such as tone of voice, choice and pace of words, facial expressions, eye contact, listening, appearance, posture, and gestures, all of which are important communication signals to consider.

Whether it’s in-person, by phone, or by e-mail, how a library user receives information is as important as the actual information provided. Why? Because it affects how a user perceives the message given and how he or she feels about the library. This is also part of communicating the library’s brand.


  1. Eva Brumberger, “The Rhetoric of Typography: The Personal of Typeface and Text,” Technical Communication 50, no. 2 (May 2003).
  2. Chris Olsen, “Slogans and Taglines: There is a Difference!” Marketing Treasurers 14, no. 6 (June 2005), accessed Dec. 29, 2010, www.chrisolson.com/marketingtreasures/vol14/Vol14N6JUNE05.html.
  3. Alain Samson, “Understanding the Buzz that Matters: Negative vs. Positive Word of Mouth,” International Journal of Market Research 48, no. 6 (2006): 649.
  4. Don E. Schultz and Heidi F. Schultz, Brand Babble: Sense and Nonsense about Branding (Mason, Ohio: Southwestern Educational Publishing, 2004).
  5. Don E. Schultz and Beth E. Barnes, Strategic Brand Communication Campaigns, 5th ed. (Lincolnwood, Illinois: NTC Business Books, 1999).