|Volume 60 Number 2
Marketing Your Library by Collaborating with a Student/Community Theatre Organization
Gina Garber, Digital Services Librarian
Riley Braem, Theatre Student and T.O.Y.S President
Jon Penney, Scene Shop Coordinator and Faculty Advisor
Austin Peay State University
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Presented at the 2010 TLA Annual Conference
The collaboration between academic libraries and theatre organizations is an unusual occurrence; even more unusual are such partnerships that target youth in higher education. The Felix G. Woodward Library developed a collaborative relationship with the university’s Theatre Organization for Youth by Students (T.O.Y.S.) group after the Student Academic Success Initiative (SASI) program began at Austin Peay State University (APSU) in 2008. SASI was started by President Tim Hall to promote the academic success of APSU students through interactions with the campus community outside the classroom setting. The partnership between the library and T.O.Y.S. continued to build on this concept by targeting the campus’s nontraditional students and faculty/staff with children.
Library as Place
The faculty/staff of the Felix G. Woodward Library were cautiously optimistic regarding the idea of partnering with T.O.Y.S. to have live theatre for youth in an academic library. The major obstacle was getting the library personnel to re-evaluate the concept of library as place. Geoffrey T. Freeman stated:
One of the fascinating things that we are now observing is the impact of redesigned library space on the so-called ‘psychosocial’ aspects of an academic community. The library’s primary role is to advance and enrich the student’s educational experience; however, by cutting across all disciplines and functions, the library also serves a significant social role. (Freeman, 6)
Freeman’s statement was and continues to be a reality for APSU because of noticeable changes in students’ patterns in how they see and use the library at APSU. For example, students are visiting the Felix G. Woodward Library to do more than research. Students are hanging out with friends, playing games such as role-playing video games, and attending receptions and organization meetings.
The Felix G. Woodward Library does not have an auditorium to host events and there has not been a budget to renovate. APSU is a state institution that falls under the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), and given the recent economic conditions in the state of Tennessee, there was not money to put towards the library. However, since the library director was fairly new (within two-years) to APSU, he was able to look at the library space with fresh eyes. He was able to see where more space could be made by relocating collections and moving shelves, which opened up an area on third floor that eventually became an inviting space for students to study. Moreover, it brought about the possibility of a new venue to host speakers and small campus events.
Library colleagues were asked to provide suggestions on improving this new space. As usual the faculty/staff came together to improve this area by rearranging the furniture, redecorating, and cleaning. The library director asked the Department of Art for assistance in sprucing up the space. Two art professors stepped up by donating five large framed mixed media pieces to the library that were put on permanent display and became the focal point of the new space. Within a month the area had truly changed. This was now a place in the library where students, faculty, and staff wanted to be. The space became known as the Athenaeum, the purpose of which is to provide a place that promotes and enhances the intellectual life of the university and region. Athenaeum events include presentations, lectures, panel discussions, debates, artistic performances, readings, and other educational experiences.
Library And Theatre Organization Partnership
APSU did not have a theatre for youth program before the establishment of T.O.Y.S, a student-led organization focusing on children’s theatre. The new organization was adamant that they wanted to provide quality children’s theatre on and off campus. Moreover, T.O.Y.S. wanted to be able to provide children’s theatre at “no cost” to the audience and to give children the opportunity to experience and participate in live theatre. The overarching goal of T.O.Y.S. is to provide both entertaining and appropriate theatre for young people while creating opportunities to perfect and achieve their own theatrical goals. Members of T.O.Y.S. also have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in directing, playwriting, designing, and performing in the area of theatre.
The partnership between the library and T.O.Y.S. began when T.O.Y.S. needed a space to perform their second production, The Jungle Book. The key members of T.O.Y.S. could not find a venue on campus that could meet their needs. However, a few members of the organization remembered attending a murder mystery dinner in the library that was held in the Athenaeum and thought the space would be perfect for the production. The organization was looking for a nontraditional space on campus where the audience could be a part of the production. The president of T.O.Y.S. approached the library and, with the help of the digital services librarian, convinced the library director to grant the organization permission to use the space.
In the beginning the library and T.O.Y.S. worked independently, but they came together during the planning and implementation phases. The level of partnership became more formal as an understanding of a shared mission became more apparent. For example, when the partnership received a monetary SASI grant for the T.O.Y.S.’s fourth production, Rumpelstiltskin, accountability became very important. Since APSU is required to follow TBR policies and procedures, prioritizing the areas of responsibility for budget, purchases, and content was key. The library’s responsibilities included grant writing, budget, campus communication, location, security, and public relations, while T.O.Y.S. handled the script, auditions, set, props, and costumes. As students, it was also important that the T.O.Y.S. members maintained good grade point averages and attended classes.
In developing and implementing this partnership, students and faculty/staff experienced great opportunities which provided hands-on educational experience outside the classroom. For example, students applied for positions to direct the play, design and sew the costumes, design and build the set, and coordinate the props without having to report to a theatre faculty member. However, the T.O.Y.S. faculty advisers were kept informed at all times as to potential problems and deadlines that would affect the production. It was rewarding to see that the collaboration was fostering teamwork, commitment, and self-esteem among APSU students which was evident towards the actual production time.
The partnership also introduced cultural enrichment to the children and their parents by bringing them to the Felix G. Woodward Library for an interactive theatre event. Part of the production’s success is the interactive dialog between the actors and the children. The APSU students believe they are helping the children access their imagination and creativity by bringing them onto the set during the production. For example, during the production of Rumpelstiltskin, two pages were selected from the audience and brought onstage to assist the King. The children in the audience were the wind, thunder, and other sound effects needed for the play. The collaboration hopes that the interactive audience parts inspire children and their parents to have an appreciation for the arts and the library.
Marketing The Library and T.O.Y.S.
Marketing the library and T.O.Y.S. happened to be trouble-free because both organizations would equally benefit from the publicity. The marketing strategy was to promote the production first with its own logo brand and then the organizations would become a secondary focus by using smaller logos on advertisements. Both wanted to gain more publicity for their organization; T.O.Y.S. wanted to introduce their new student organization and the library wanted to show that it was more than a warehouse for books and computers. Every printed and electronic advertisement included both the Felix G. Woodward Library’s and T.O.Y.S.’s logos strategically placed for easy viewing.
The most successful marketing campaign came from a campus event called G.H.O.S.T. (Great Halloween Options for Safe Trick or Treating). This event is a longtime tradition at APSU that is sponsored by the Student Government Association. Children can dress up in costumes and stroll around campus from table to table to get candy, books, and other goodies from APSU clubs and organizations. T.O.Y.S. thought this would be a good way to advertise the next performance in the library. Key members of the organization dressed up in the same costumes that they were going to wear for the performance of Rumpelstiltskin as they handed out candy and interacted with the children. Additionally, members handed out printed flyers to the children’s parents and guardians which included the theatre performance dates, time, and contact information.
In addition to traditional printed posters and flyers, marketing in a variety of electronic formats to promote the library and T.O.Y.S. collaboration was key. For example, the social networking site, Facebook, is used a lot at APSU for announcements and event information. The library and T.O.Y.S. used Facebook to help get the word out about the theatre performances. Images of the actors dressed in costume were easy to use within this format. Electronic communication such as posting announcements on the outdoor digital announcement board, the library website, and the APSU Gov Says email system assisted as marketing tools.
The marketing campaign continued during the theatre performances. Backpacks were provided to children under the age of ten. Each backpack was red and had the library’s and T.O.Y.S.’s logos printed on the center of the packs. Inside of the backpacks were books that advertized the next theatre performance called, Puss in Boots and Other Cat Tails. Each book had a bookplate on the inside cover adorned with both logos strategically placed in the center of the page. When the children entered the Athenaeum, they were greeted by students who helped place a backpack on each child. Children were required to be present to receive a backpack and a book. This marketing tool in itself created a buzz just by word of mouth.
During the partnership, the library and T.O.Y.S. learned a lot about each other. One of the biggest obstacles for both organizations was learning the art of collaboration. This was a challenge in the beginning because both the library and T.O.Y.S. were territorial in sharing information. Although these actions were not deliberate, they came about because of the lack of knowledge that each organization had about the other. Getting to know key personnel was the solution in overcoming this challenge. While communication improved between the library and T.O.Y.S., it began to be an obstacle outside of the partnership because of failure to keep the Area of Theatre and Dance informed about set schedules, location, rehearsals, and time needed to work in the Scene Shop. This oversight was addressed by using an email distribution list and developing a website to keep everyone informed.
Professional conduct was important to both organizations as demonstrated by its leaders, who provided the framework in which the partnership could achieve success. Most importantly the partnership learned to be open-minded about some of the stereotypical traits that each group possessed. For example, the library personnel were “overly” organized and perhaps provided “overkill” on following up to ensure tasks and vital responsibilities were completed. However, T.O.Y.S. brought a very laidback attitude to the planning stage, but outshone expectations at the production stage which contributed to partnership’s achievement at all of the right times. Together the members of the two organizations learned to share successes that strengthened the partnership.
The Felix G. Woodward Library continues to support the academic community in several new ways such as hosting live theatre, trivia, and murder mystery events. The library has become a place that is much more flexible in accommodating traditional information services as well as a venue for innovations in teaching and strengthening student learning. The key for libraries like the Felix G. Woodward Library is to embrace fresh ideas and try to be open-minded for the purpose of enhancing and inspiring scholarship and the “psychosocial” aspects of the university community. Within one year, APSU students began to feel the excitement of the library which continues to enhance their overall academic experience and sense of community.
Freeman, G. T. (2005). The library as place: Changes in learning patterns, collections, technology, and use. In Library as place: Rethinking roles, rethinking space (pp. 1-9). Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources.