The FOPL OpenMediaDesk Initiative

The Federation of Ontario Public Libraries (FOPL) has spent three years engaging our publics through our network of all public libraries in Ontario with an innovative project for public libraries to influence election conversations, government policy, library funding, and the views of communities and opinion leaders on the value, impact and cost-effectiveness/productivity in building great communities.

Our initiative is called the FOPL OpenMediaDesk Project.  This is a very wide-ranging and powerful, transformative project.  This document is an executive summary.

In 2015 we knew we had to try something different.  Funding for public libraries hadn’t increased in 20 years.  We determined that we must answer these questions to be ready to advocate more powerfully with positive influence and results:

  • Do we have enough information to move forward with power?
  • Do we have supportable statistics on the size and activities of our sector? (Quantitative);
  • Do we have measurements that show how our direct and indirect activities make an impact & move us forward for our residents and communities? (Qualitative);
  • Can we express these in ways that engage, communicate and move minds? (Visuals);
  • Can we map what is happening throughout Ontario on a collaborative basis (Maps); and,
  • Can we prioritize these ‘numbers’ as proofs that speak with clarity and power? (Focus).
  • Do we have the access to and relationships with key opinion leaders and decision makers to gain understanding and support for our initiatives? (Networks)
  • Can we drive a narrative that tells the story and engages our funders and communities in support of our common goals? (Storytelling)
  • Do enough of the right people in Ontario’s public libraries have the right skills to advocate?
  • What does our public think about libraries and can they be engaged and organized as a force for us?
  • What do we want to say? And why? What is our “ask”? What is our role and product portfolio?

 The Challenge

We also knew (as everyone in our field does) that we can’t afford the marketing budgets of the BIG GUYS.  So we set about to learn more and find (or develop) a solution that would be:

  • Scalable
  • Replicable
  • Targeted
  • Sustainable
  • Repeatable
  • Trialable
  • Testable/Measureable
  • Shareable
  • Affordable

We identified a social media expert professional, Brendan Howley of TwinFish, and worked with him for three years to co-develop an innovative solution that was affordable and to learn incrementally and iteratively, by doing, learning, and testing.

Our objectives

  1. Upgrade the professional marketing skills of all public library systems in Ontario.
  2. To engage the public in influencing local and provincial political opinion leaders.
  3. To have a bank of communication-ready proofs of library value, performance, and impact.

The three key objectives:

  1. To train public library marketers at the library system level to have upgraded, professional, social media and marketing skills. To transformationally change the library marketing culture using an affordable and impactful media mix. We are now seeing 300%-2,000% growth in social media engagement by public library members.
  2. To influence, during two elections, the public, politicians, and funders about the value, impact and importance of public libraries. Ultimately, to positively influence the funding of public libraries in Ontario. We were successful in gaining $51 million in additional budgeted funding for public libraries in the provincial government’s 2018-2019 budget.

FOPL co-designed, with TwinFish a three-year, province-wide social media campaign with the following components:

  • Building infrastructure that is sustainable at the provincial collective level.
  • Training: In-person virtual cohorts and as well as a sustainable e-learning experience with eOMD on any device;
  • Support: A virtual support network using the social technology platforms Facebook and Zoom;
  • Content: A province-wide newsroom supplying content for social media as well as a weekly newsletter and archive;
  • Dashboard: A digital, province-wide dashboard that tracked all participants’ social media and website usage and growth as well as summarizing the project’s success;
  • Measurement: A new social media measurement tool that tracked peer successes – Library Digital Impact Index (LDII)
  • A province-wide overall campaign Tagline: “A VISIT Will Get You Thinking” / “Une visite: ça fait réfléchir.”

Before undertaking this project, FOPL and its membership accomplished several foundational pieces of research:

  • We undertook a full-scale computer-assisted telephone interviews of a statistically valid sample of all Ontarians and their attitudes toward public libraries;
  • FOPL successfully lobbied for the public release as open data of the province’s public library statistical database and then – for the first time – analyzed the data longitudinally from 1999-2014 and then every year since through 2019.
  • We created – through three University of Toronto iSchool partnered Symposia – a standard set of 14 measurements of public library impact based on the raw data and statistics, ranked all public libraries in the province on each metric, and offered peer reports to any library system.
  • FOPL successfully lobbied for the creation of a strategic fund (Ontario Library Capacity Fund) which resulted in a $10 million investment in public library research and innovation over 3 years building toolkits to measure the impact and value of public library services. This lead to the Bridge Toolkits on the impact of public library digital services as well as Valuing Public Libraries toolkits to measure the social and economic return on investment for northern and small/rural libraries.
  • Hired and worked for 2.5 years with a professional government relations / public affairs firm to connect with provincial politicians and policy-makers.
  • FOPL led a research project to develop a tagline for public libraries to align with and support their own local identity and branding.
  • FOPL also accomplished and shared literature searches on trends and research in social media, demographics, technology, marketing, library impact studies, and public libraries.
  • We now have highly developed ‘proofs’ and long-term shareable strategies for library marketing of services and programs. We have end-user/member stories that are shared with the public to engage them in providing testimonials.
  • We have designed a made-in-Ontario measurement strategy that shows the impact, value, productivity and importance of public libraries high economic and social ROI.
  • We now have a bank of great data showing recent and independent measurements of value and impact. We have social media images to promote these throughout our marketing network. We can respond to government and library board enquiries for supporting data in a very timely fashion.

Over the course of this three-year project, we originally focused on the “public”.  However, many opportunities presented themselves that we adopted as mini-projects.  For example, we had two elections (provincial and municipal) in 2017 and targeted library issues to the voters.  We had annual provincial budget consultations, consultation on seniors’ social isolation, the first Ontario provincial culture strategy, a provincial library funding review, legislative changes, etc.

Our Results:  We have accomplished and made great progress on all of our goals.  We can now target and engage 75% of Ontario’s residents through their trusted local public library.  We have trained a huge cohort of marketing professionals in libraries and materially changed the marketing culture and competencies in this province.  We have influenced government policy and funding.

Moving forward we are now transitioning the OMD project from vendor to internal operations with support and advice from TwinFish.  In summer 2019 we will:

  1. Release an APP – eOMD – that will ensure that OMD professional processes are burned into the marketing culture of Ontario’s public libraries.
  2. Release an e-learning program for continuing to increase the cohort of trained library marketing staff.
  3. Continue to monitor and mine insights from our OMD dashboard of most Ontario Public Library websites and social media accounts.
  4. Finalize the last two in-person cohorts of public library staff training in OMD.

In short, we met our goals of creating an affordable influencing strategy that was scalable, shareable, targeted, measurable, repeatable and able to be sustained internally.

There is much more to do but we’re well on our way.


Stephen Abram

Stephen Abram, MLS, FSLA

Executive Director, Federation of Ontario Public Libraries

789 Yonge Street

Toronto, ON M4W 2G8

Cel: 416-669-4855

Home: 416-533-4855

FOPL: 416-395-0746

The Federation of Ontario Public Libraries is a non-profit with a mandate to benefit Ontario Public Libraries through advocacy, research, and marketing.

La Fédération des bibliothèques publiques de l’Ontario est un organisme à but non-lucratif. Elle a comme mandat, de répondre aux besoins de toutes les bibliothèques, en concentrant leurs efforts dans la recherche, en marketing et en agissant comme plaidoyeur.