Marketing a Hospital Library: Creating a Quick and Engaging Book Display

Unlike a public or academic library, hospital libraries tend to have limited space, budget, staff and time to consider marketing and promotion of library materials, especially in physical spaces. While it can be easy to bring in a visual element or create a small graphic with basic HTML skills for your library’s website, sometimes having a physical book display can go a long way to engaging your patrons and seeing increased circulation statistics.

I began putting up monthly book displays in our small Staff library in October, and have continued every month since. The display in October honored Breast Cancer Awareness Month, while November focused on Diabetes Awareness Month. I partnered with the diabetes education programs at my hospital to include educational materials and take-away items for the November display, including the 2018 Diabetes Canada calendar, food guides and living with diabetes pamphlets. These months saw a display focused on highlighting medical books in our circulating collection (i.e. not overnight loan or reserve items). I had a few staff members view the display and a few comments about the topic, but saw little improvement to our library’s circulation statistics or engagement with the books on display during these months.

In December, I switched things up and focused on our newly weeded and reorganized consumer health collection, suggesting patrons sign books out they may find personally or professionally interesting and take it home with them to read over the holidays. Books were selected based on publishing year, Goodreads reviews, and loan history. Each book had a small leaflet tucked into the front cover with the title and author of the work, three descriptive adjectives about the book, it’s Goodreads user-generated starred rating, and 1 or 2 user reviews of the book. I coupled this display with new bookmarks with borrowing and loan information, contact details, and a link to our online catalogue.

December was by far the most successful marketing campaign I’ve experienced so far. Within the first 24 hours of the display going up, 3 of the books were checked out. These books were all renewed by the patrons that signed them out. I accompanied the display with gift-wrapped boxes and 3D trees to make it more visually appealing, and had lots of comments on the cheerful holiday aspect of the display.

Although I would love to see the progression of the engagement with the December display, I’ve committed to monthly displays and now have completed one for the month of January. Unlike some months, there aren’t any health awareness months or days in January to correspond to the areas of care at my hospital. So, I focused on an area of our collection: leadership and management skills. I selected books focusing on general leadership, leadership in health care settings, and leading nursing teams. I’m excited to see how this display goes!


Want to try making a quick book display?

Each monthly display takes me about 1-3 hours to complete, from start to finish. I also complete it on a $0 budget. Here are my steps:

  1. Come up with an exciting and unique idea for a display. Base the theme on something specific to your location, area of care, or something your organization is known for. If you have contacts in your location, you can work with them to create something together.
  2. Determine a physical space for your display. Use the existing architecture of your space to your advantage, and remember to keep accessibility concerns in mind. Think about how patrons use the space, if they will see the display from the entrance and how light and space may influence the colour scheme and decorations you may want to add.
  3. Choose books for your display. I usually go through our online catalogue, search for a couple of relevant subject headings (we use LCC), and then cross-reference with the loan history of those books, how new they are, and sometimes their cover art. Think about the story you’re setting by selecting these books – older books and books with lackluster cover art may suggest a boring and outdated collection. If you need more guidance, you can ask a subject matter expert for their recommendations.
  4. Create a poster or sign for your display. I use Canva as it is free to use, easy and contains royalty free illustrations and photos. Make sure your sign is readable. Colour and design help create visual interest and lead patrons into the design. Put the poster or sign up near the display. You may want to create a .JPG or .PNG version of the sign/poster to put on your library website.
  5. Bring in decorative elements. Compliment the colours of your sign/poster and the theme of the display to make it more visually appealing than just books on a shelf. Everyone who comes into a library is expecting books on a shelf – give them something to remember! Be sure to consider if the decorations make it difficult to pick up the books or overcrowd the space, and try to keep it budget friendly.
  6. Put it all together. Use your judgement to make adjustments, and keep the patron in mind when putting it together.
  7. Take photos and market it! Tell your leader, coworkers, patrons, friends, colleagues and even your online professional blog about your display! The whole point is to spread the word about your collection.
  8. Keep track of engagement with the displays and be prepared to discuss the impact with your leader. I use the circulation statistics and anecdotal evidence of engagement with the display to reinforce it’s importance and show how awesome of an idea it is.
  9. Do it all again! Keeping the display fresh on some sort of schedule keeps bringing people into the library space and creates a way for them to break the ice with library staff. It doesn’t have to be every month – you can do it every season/quarter, or just whenever you have time!


Thank you for reading! Please contact me if you have questions!


The one question to ask yourself before applying to an ML(I)S program/library school

From the perspective of a recent Masters of Library and Information Science graduate, and recently employed library professional. 

  1. Do you have experience working with data or have you worked in a library, archives, museum or educational institution?


Perfect! This would be my #1 suggestion that you have before you consider becoming a librarian and applying to an ML(I)S program. Here’s why:

Data: Working with data is an integral part to every modern library job, and a skill that some libraries are very keenly pursing for new hires. Some retiring librarians just didn’t grow up in a digital age the way incoming professionals have. This isn’t necessarily true for all older librarians, just a percentage, but it’s still important. Having experience doing data entry, working on a website, doing cataloguing, or really anything with computers is an added bonus. But working with data in a database is the most marketable skill of all, since library catalogues are databases, and most of library resources are databases!

Worked in a library: You absolutely must have worked in a library of some sort before doing the ML(I)S program if you expect to get a Librarian position straight out of the program. No one told me this unspoken rule until I had already entered library school, so don’t repeat my mistake! Even if you got the highest marks in library school, or were super involved in student organizations, or networked your butt off, you are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to hiring if you don’t have previous work experience in a library. Even getting a job as an assistant, volunteer or page for 6 months helps. (The average co-op is 4 or 8 months, so this is a safe bet for how much experience you’ll need as a base line). If you don’t have this experience, you better sign up for a internship, co-op placement, or whatever your library school offers once you get there!!

Worked in an archives or museum: As memory institutions, you’re gaining valuable fundamental experience working in a place where budgets are tight, staffing is low, and people sometimes need that extra push to get in the door. You’re also likely doing some cataloguing, education, or research that is valuable to the role of a librarian.

Worked in an educational institution: Instructional design is a massive role in academic librarian’s work and in the work of school librarians, and a valuable perspective to have when it comes to the job hunt. You’re educating people, doing research, planning, dealing with budgets in some cases…it is all related!


Libraries are a challenging field to get yourself into, even with the ML(I)S degree behind you. By not having this vital experience, you’re committing yourself to a lot of work and probably a large student debt in order to do something you just don’t have practical experience in doing, which could mean you aren’t 100% sure its something you want to do. Don’t force yourself into a career when it’s not something you want to do.

If you are still confident that libraries are something you want to do without having this prior experience, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage by going to library school before completing this vital step. If you delayed going to library school until you’ve collected at least 6 months of experience in any of these areas, you’ll be far more likely to be employed at the end of the program, based on antecodal evidence of myself and others in the profession.  It will also make library school easier because you’ll have an idea of what type of librarianship you’d like to get into, and you’ll have experience to back up the heavy theory aspect of library school.

As the Annoyed Librarian has touched on many times,  library schools don’t limit enrollment to match the amount of library-related jobs in the market, meaning there are more ML(I)S graduates then there are jobs. Anything you do to make yourself more marketable before, during or after library school will help.

If you still want to give library school a shot, make sure you have allotted time, money and energy to doing a placement/co-op, internship or volunteering job either through your library school or in the community. Co-op placements (paid opportunities to work in a library or related institution and learn from real librarians) are your best bet, as you’re recouping some costs, networking, and getting practical experience that will be directly applicable to a a library job. For those lucky people, your internship employer may also offer you a position when you finish the program.

An internship is also good if you’re doing the work that a normal employee is doing – although the ethics behind unpaid internships is highly contested, and some libraries have union rules that will prevent you from doing “normal” library work at all.

If you can’t find any of these opportunities, get thee to thy library and volunteer! One of the biggest tips from library professionals on job hunting is to volunteer where you want to work, give it your all, and network while you’re there. That way, the recruiter may know your name before you apply.