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Growing Readers PSA Series

Calgary Public Library (Alberta, Canada)
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Innovation Summary

The Calgary Public Library developed and aired five highly successful public service announcements (PSAs) to:
-Help people understand the behaviours essential to developing language and literacy skills in very young children.
-Encourage adoption of the behaviours.
-Reach broad audiences with a positive Library message.
-Establish the Library as a leader in pre-school literacy.

Problem Statement

The Calgary Public Library regularly conducts research into customer needs and opinions, and validates this information with input from front-line staff. In early 2011, the Library identified a challenge to enhancing our efforts in pre-school literacy. Five points summarized the challenge:
1. Other than read to your child, most people did not understand there are specific behaviours that encourage pre-school language and literacy development. Without this understanding, no one sought to learn about, or practice, the behaviours.
2. Almost 70 percent of parents and caregivers found it difficult to find time to attend programs where they might learn about these behaviours.
3. There was no clear leading agency in pre-school literacy that parents and caregivers trusted. Literacy leadership in the 5-year-old and under age range was an important gap the Library could fill.
4. Branding research showed that the Library’s work with children was one of its strongest positive brand attributes.

5. The Library was already at capacity in pre-school literacy programming (staff time and space).

The dual problems of parents without time and a library system without capacity meant that a non-traditional approach was required in delivering programs on pre-school language and literacy development.

The Library needed to simplify pre-school literacy messages so that they could be quickly grasped and practiced by busy parents and caregivers. We then needed a delivery mechanism that could reach the largest number of people possible.

We set four objectives for our efforts:
1. Increase awareness of the need to expose pre-school children to literacy behaviours.
2. Increase the actual practice of the five behaviours that are essential to early literacy development.
3. Increase the number of people exposed to the Library’s efforts in early literacy (branding).
4. Increase support for Library’s role in pre-school literacy (leadership).


The Growing Readers campaign would be a unique marriage of program delivery and promotion. It would stand alone in teaching early literacy techniques, and promote the Library as the go-to place for pre-school literacy.

We researched the size of the potential audiences, the current penetration into those audiences, and other demographic and psychographic factors. Research showed parents and caregivers watched television approximately 47 percent more often than average. Television's combination of live action, audio, and visual cues would well-suit the messages and ideas we needed to communicate, so a TV commercial/PSA approach was chosen.

Staff wrote and produced the PSAs based on the American Library Association’s five pre-school literacy and language behaviours. A production company was hired to film the spots in high-definition to ensure a quality product. The spots were placed on websites and promoted through social media, but the main thrust involved pushing the messages out to people in their own homes through television.

We set aside $25,000 to buy airtime for the PSAs in order to leverage additional free airtime. We developed a pitch, and met with television stations to negotiate. The Library was aggressive in its approach â we had a high-quality product that would positively impact the community; we invested our own money into airtime to demonstrate our commitment to the project; and we wanted strong partners to join in our effort. The results were exceptional. Our buy secured prime-time shows, and the stations donated an incredible 5,100 spots â essentially any unsold commercial time for three months. This included substantial placement on first-run, highly-rated shows such as the View, Modern Family, Dr. Oz, the Big Bang Theory, and more. If the Library had purchased the donated spots, the cost would have been over $475,000.


A random public opinion survey was conducted before the Growing Readers program started to set benchmarks.


A second random survey was conducted after three months of the campaign to gauge results. Those results were outstanding:
1. An average increase of 156 percent in awareness of the pre-school literacy behaviours (Goal: 30 percent).
2. An increase of 56 percent in the number of people practicing at least two of the behaviours specifically to enhance their child’s skills (Goal: 25 percent).
3. A 470 percent increase in the number of people who recall seeing information from the Calgary Public Library on early literacy (Goal: 100 percent).
4. A 283 percent increase in the number of people who support the Calgary Public Library in playing a leadership role in early childhood literacy (Goal: 100 percent).

A key element in success was the participation of television stations. The Library’s strategy of committing to the project with a small airtime buy; making a strong pitch; and having a professional, positive look and feel to the spots secured an incredible commitment of free, quality airtime.

A surprise in the Growing Readers initiative was its popularity with other libraries. Over a dozen libraries offered to pay to have the spots re-voiced and rebranded for use in their own communities. The Calgary Public Library is currently working with the ALA to bring the commercials to all libraries as a resource for Early Literacy & Libraries.

Traditionally, promotions have pointed out programs and services. This campaign has proven that when audiences are hard to reach, or when space or staff resources are limited, marketing tools can be used to actually deliver end results. Confirming this approach gives the Calgary Public Library another tool to use when designing programs and services that enhance our community’s quality of life.