For immediate release | October 26, 2010

Who was John Cotton Dana and what is that award about?

CHICAGO - Ask your average library customers to name a famous librarian, and they might be able to dredge up the name Melville Dewey. Ask a professional in the field, and a variety of names will be recalled, chief among them that of John Cotton Dana.

That being the case, it’s no wonder that when ALA and the H.W. Wilson Company decided in 1946 to give an award for outstanding achievement in the arena of library public relations, they named it after John Cotton Dana (1856-1929), the librarian and museum curator who first refined the crude techniques of boosterism into the fine art of library public relations.

Dana was a progressive in an era of progressive thinking. He believed that in the 20th century, the ideal of the 19th century library, one in which books were stored and used only by the elite, was as passé as serious air travel by balloon. He championed the concept that the modern library had to be a regular part of everyone’s life—and he knew that in order to get everyone in the door, they had to know what the library contained and how its contents and services were important to daily life.

John Cotton Dana saw the library as a community cultural center, a democratic institution. He instigated an open stacks policy, lengthened hours of operation for working people, made getting a library card easier and established the first Children’s Room. He even created the first extensive collection of informational brochures with public information and made free maps available that allowed citizens to find highways, trolley lines, water supply, sewage equipment, fire and police stations, schools and voting districts.

Perhaps even more significantly for marketing, Dana made sure that his library’s most popular services were known to the general population. He used newsletters, pamphlets, posters, flyers, exhibits, newspaper announcements and speeches to groups and special events to publicize library events and encourage library use.

In "A Library Primer," Dana wrote: “The public library is a center of public happiness first, of public education next. The necessity of the library, its great value to the community, should be urged by the local press, from the platform, and in personal talk. Include in your canvass all citizens, irrespective of creed, business, or politics; whether educated or illiterate. In getting notices of the library’s work in the newspapers, or in securing mention of it from the lecture platform, it is better to deal chiefly in general statements about what the library aims to do and what it has done.”

If you’ve been doing the same things, or have developed even more innovative ways to increase your library’s visibility in your community, let us all know about your successes by entering the John Cotton Dana Award competition.

For an entry form, checklist, guidelines and tips, visit the H.W. Wilson website at

Contact: Kimberly Terry

John Cotton Dana Committee Chair



Fred Reuland