1. Introduction

Along with their many other vital roles in the community, public libraries are information hubs. It’s a big part of the job of public library staff. Public library staff collect information. They seek information. They give out information. They write information. There’s certainly no information shortage. But is it getting to the people who need it?

The information that public libraries collect and provide comes in a huge range of formats: print, websites, spoken word, CD and DVD, e-mail, Braille, video, symbols, text messaging, signage, social media, and lots more. In recent years there’s been a lot of emphasis on these formats, and on making sure that library users can get the information they need in the format they prefer. That’s great. Giving library users what they want, in the way that they want it, is another big part of what public libraries are all about.

Sometimes though, the range of information options can seem bewildering. Library users can become overwhelmed. Library staff wonder whether they are doing the right things, or doing things in the right way.

Another big development in recent years is the amount of activity that goes on in and around public libraries. New library services are added all the time: events, readings, bookclubs, courses, classes, concerts, special interest groups, all sorts of things. More and more public libraries are producing their own information: booklists, library leaflets, programmes of events, readers’ notes, service guides…, both in print and on the web. Add all of that to the number of formats, and it’s easy to get confused.

Marshall McLuhan [1], the Canadian theorist, famously said that the medium is the message – but the content also really matters. People who produce information need to think hard about how it looks and whether it is readable, but that’s not the whole story.

A publication or website may look gorgeous and win all kinds of accessibility awards, but unless it says something that people want to know about, and in a way that they can understand and relate to, they will ignore it, at best, and might even get turned off.

So the purpose of this guidance is to help public library staff to write and produce information which:

  • people can access and understand
  • tells them what they want to know
  • achieves the libraries’ aim in producing the information in the first place.
Using this guidance will:
  • help you to communicate more effectively with your library users
  • help you to reach more people more easily
  • help you to achieve more
  • save you time and money.
Some parts of this guidance relate specifically to communicating with people with disabilities. As usual, making sure that your communications meet the needs of disabled library users will improve access and use by everybody.
There’s loads of other guidance and information on this topic available in Ireland and on the internet. Say It Write concentrates on the elements which apply to the main ways that libraries communicate with the public. It also summaries the principles of the technical stuff you may need, and tells you how to find out more.
Say It Write is intended to get you started, though you will need to keep up to speed with new developments. Enjoy it (because your enthusiasm will rub off on library users, and then everyone will be happy).


[1] Marshall McLuhan also invented the term “global village” in 1962. This footnote is an example of a fascinating fact which is completely irrelevant to the thrust of the document. It’s all very interesting, but it’s one of the things you should avoid when you are writing.

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