Why good writing is important
It’s the Internet Age. Everyone is producing content and trying to engage customers. Writing is no longer relegated to copywriters working behind the closed doors of the marketing department.
Nowhere is that more true today than at the library, where staff members work together as a team to disseminate the massive amounts of information we hold in our palms.
In our print and web content, we seek to relay that information in a friendly, clear, concise and enjoyable way.
Our content drives customers to use the library. Written communications are the entry portal. For them to trust us as content providers, our writing must be consistent in 1) style, 2) tone and 3) content.
The library’s style manual
The library uses Associated Press (AP) Style as the primary reference for questions of punctuation, grammar and usage. However, there are some library specific exceptions to AP Style. For items not in AP Style, we use Merriam Webster Dictionary. Use the first spelling that your search returns. This site is also useful for determining if a compound word is two words, hyphenated or combined into one word.
Please follow the guidelines below. If you have a question about style or grammar, please ask Ginger Park or Diana Friend.
Audiobook is one word.
Banned Books Week
We refer to the ALA National Banned Books Week initiative as “Celebrate Your Freedom to Read Week.”
Capitalize the first word of a title or headline. Do not capitalize any other words in the title or headline unless they are proper nouns. The same rules apply to sub-headlines and section titles.
Only capitalize proper nouns in your copy. E.g.:
Do: The library has special materials relating to local history in the Topeka Room.
Don’t: The Library has special materials relating to Local History in the Topeka Room.
Certain areas of the library are capitalized.
E.g.: The Edge; Kids Library; David J’s; New Books, Movies and Music
Always use the full proper name in your first or only mention of named areas, then refer to a shortened version thereafter.
E.g.: The Chandler Booktique has a big sale today. Visit the Booktique to stock up on great gifts for your family.
Avoid “library” language like “collections,” “materials” and “circulation” when writing text customers will read. Generally speaking, people are not aware of these library industry terms. We want that stigma of the shushing librarian to go away.
Check out vs. Checkout
As a noun or adjective checkout is one word. The checkout limit is 99 items. Visit the checkout kiosk.
As a verb check out is two words. Check out the latest releases. Did you check out those books?
Comma in a series
Please leave out the last comma in a simple series.
Do: Learn science, technology, engineering, art and math.
Don’t: Learn science, technology, engineering, art, and math.
Use a comma before the and if an item in the series is compound or needed for clarity:
Do: She writes blogs and reviews, and co-publishes Mammoth Publications.
Don’t: She writes blogs, reviews and co-publishes Mammoth Publications.
Do: The partners include the Greater Topeka Partnership, Shawnee County Parks and Recreation, and Harvesters.
Don’t: The partners include the Greater Topeka Partnership, Shawnee County Parks and Recreation and Harvesters.
Please format dates in this order: Time / Day / Month / Day of the Month with no punctuation in between. Do not use “th” or “st” on dates. Do not include the minute time (:00) unless there is a minute designation (12:30). Do not include superfluous articles such as “at,” “from” or “on.”
Do: Computer and Gadget Help is 11am – 12:30pm, Tue, Oct 5.
Don’t: Computer and Gadget Help is on Tuesday, October 5th from 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Downloading vs. streaming
When customers are borrowing albums and books/audiobooks from our digital libraries (Hoopla and OverDrive, etc) to a device, they are “downloading” items temporarily through an app. When they are watching a movie or TV show on a Mac or PC, they are “streaming” those items.
Ebook and Email
Do not use a dash in “ebook” or “email.” When the word begins a sentence, it is capitalized: “Ebooks are checked out frequently.” “Email me when the project is complete.” “How many ebooks did you check out?”
Internet and Intranet
Do not capitalize internet or intranet. The internet is available to the public. the intranet is the library’s internal web that only staff can access.
Nonfiction is one word without a hyphen.
Spell out numbers below 10 and use figures for numbers 10 and above.
E.g.: … seven, eight, nine, 10, 11 …
Quotations and parentheses
Punctuation belongs inside quotations: “Yes,” said the library customer. The library customer answered, “Yes.”
Punctuation belongs outside parentheses: It was a busy day at the library (school had just let out for summer).
Use a single space after a period.
Create a line of space between paragraphs for web and print.
Use italics for titles of books, publications, poems, songs, albums, television shows, films, poems, works of art and art exhibits.
E.g. News correspondent Holly Bailey, an Oklahoma native, tells the story of a tornado in The Mercy of the Sky.
Art Exhibit Titles
Use italics for the titles of art exhibits in the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery.
E.g. Visit the gallery Sept 3 – Nov 21 to see artwork in La Comunidad.
In general, confine capitalization to formal titles used directly before an individual’s name. “CEO Marie Pyko announced upgrades to the library computers.”
Lowercase and spell out titles when they are not used with an individual’s name. “The director issued a statement. The librarian recommended books.”
Lowercase and spell out titles in constructions that set them off from a name by commas. “The business librarian, Meredith Snepp, coordinated the Job Lab series.”
How to refer to the library
First mention outside library publications: “The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library”
Mentions within library publications (website, Library News, etc.) and other mentions in outside publications: “The library”
E.g.: In 2015, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library was recognized as one of the top three libraries in the nation with a LibraryAware Award for its work in the community. The library is committed to supporting the economic vitality of our community, nourishing its spirit, imagination and culture, and providing resources to make sure every child is ready for kindergarten.
Use of the ampersand, as in “Topeka & Shawnee County,” is restricted to headlines and shouldn’t appear in body copy.
The library logo is not a substitution for the first mention of the library’s full name.
How to refer to specific library things
Magazines / Not Periodicals
Events / Not Programs
Movies and music / Not Media
Library vehicles = Bookmobile, Adventuremobile (one word) and Learn & Play Bus
Learn & Play Bus always has & instead of “and” and is never abbreviated as LAP.
Avoid “stuffy” language like “collections,” “materials” and “circulation” when writing copy that customers will read. Generally speaking, people are not aware of these library industry terms. We want that stigma of the shushing librarian to go away.
We refer to the ALA National Banned Books Week initiative as “Celebrate Your Freedom to Read Week” at our library. This is a decision made by C&M Director in response to customer feedback.
When customers are borrowing albums and books/audiobooks from our digital libraries (hoopla and OverDrive, etc), they are “downloading” items temporarily to their accounts. When they are watching a movie or TV show, they are “streaming” those items.
How to refer to library users
People who use the library are referred to as “customers.” They are taxpayers who’ve pre-paid for borrowing our items.
Writing with a smile
When customers come into the library, we greet them with a smile. When customers enter our digital branch, we should do the same. We have to do it with our writing.
Which of the following sentences is written with a smile?
- This weekend, cowboy poet Ron Wilson and friends will read poems about the cowboy lifestyle.
- This weekend, cowboy poet Ron Wilson and friends will regale an audience with the nit and grit of cowboy life.
The personality you detect in the second sentence is the tone of the writing. It feels more human. It is snappy, friendly and casual.
Although the library is an institution, its writing should not be institutional. It should have personality because the library is people.
As a staff, we are avid readers and a group of very sharp people. As advocates of the library and its vast offerings of the written word, we should wield language in such a way that our reader receives a crisp visual image of what they can expect from the event, service, etc. that is being described.
We write with a lighthearted tone using intelligent and descriptive language. Slang is appropriate and so is a first-person perspective, which uses the “I” and tells the story from a personal history and perspective. Write the same way you would talk to a customer.
A thousand stories
The library has thousands of stories to tell. Here are eight ways those stories can be told:
- Blogs and articles – The word “blog” is used as a misnomer at the library, but it is a word that has stuck for staff to use to describe any post they add to the library’s website.
Here’s how Merriam-Webster defines a “blog:” a website on which someone writes about personal opinions, activities and experiences.
At the library, we have several blogs in the true sense of the word. These are created around a central theme, like nonfiction book reviews (e.g. longest running blog, Lost in the Stacks), arts and crafts, movies, etc. They are a series of writings that continue perpetually and each with its own title and associated imagery.
We also have articles, which are one-off posts about a new service or collection or information that needs to be relayed to customers.
2. News releases – These are written and distributed through C&M. These are three types of content:
- Information & advisories – announcements about new additions to the library, news about its operations and Friends and Foundation news.
- Exceptional events – ones that are created in partnership with another organization and/or have a significant budget. The C&M Director will determine if these types of releases are necessary.
- 10 events – a listicle-style press release that gives a short summary of 10 events over the two-month Library News cycle chosen by the C&M Director to highlight, along with a link to our full calendar.
3. Event descriptions – these are entered by programmers into Communico. They are under 300 characters long when they are originally entered. Communico populates the library’s online calendar. Events descriptions will be reviewed by the Communications Editor before they are published. If you have a new event description that needs published quickly, please email Ginger Park.
Things to keep in mind as you’re entering your program descriptions:
- Get straight to the point. Why should the customer come?
- Use action verbs like explore, discover or learn. Avoid “slack” verbs that are often overused when marketing events: join, celebrate, learn, kick off.
4. Social media post – These are generated by members of the staff who are on designated social media teams. Here’s the complete list as of this writing:
Each team member has instructions for the types of content that pertains to their particular venue. The C&M Director provides content to the social media teams that aligns with content in the print edition of Library News.
5. Video – A video that promotes an event, service or collection is a great way to reach your audience. Consult with C&M and Digital Services about your idea for a video.
6. Podcast – The library’s podcast is called The Bookmark and is a vehicle for discussion about books and reading. Consult with Bookmark organizers when you have an idea for a podcast.
7. Everything else – These are email messages, PowerPoint presentations, instructions you create for classes and events, etc. It’s good to get into practice of using the library’s style in all your writing. Our customers may not outright notice, but the consistency will lend us further credibility as a dependable facet of their lives and will work in concert to deeply ingrain our brand.
Marketing writing versus staff writing
There are certain subjects that are reserved for the attention of Communications and Marketing only across all platforms:
- Announcements about new services, collections and programs
- Notices and advisories
- Closed dates
- Inconveniences, cancellations or emergencies
- Information about the facilities (e.g. Parking lot resurfacing)
- Anything dealing with finances
For large programs and initiatives, like National Library Week, Summer Reading, refer to the intranet for content guidance and imagery suggestions from C&M. We strive to give you some tools in the form of an internal media kit to help promote big campaigns.
Static versus rolling content
Before you write about something, consider whether that information needs to have its own static page or whether it is appropriate for blog-style or rolling format.
Static page – The writing explores a collection or service that will not go anywhere for a long while and there is no other mention of this collection or service on our website.
Blog/Rolling content – The writing references services or collections that already have a stationary place on our site, discussed in a different angle in a way that is new, entertaining or informative.
If you’re having trouble deciding whether something is static or rolling content, email DG-Public Relations and ask our opinion. Always consult digital services and communications and marketing before adding new static pages to the website.
Writing for the library website
If you have the hankering to write about our wonderful library for the public website, or if you’ve been assigned to write for the website as a member of a neighborhood team, there are a few preliminary steps you’ll need to follow in order to get your skills and your knowledge of the process up to speed.
- Check with your supervisor to make sure it’s okay.
- Attend a Writing for Web class or view the class online. [Presentation notes here].
- Make sure you understand what kind of content is required of you.
- Draft a post and run it by a colleague.
- Set the post as “pending”
- C&M director or Digital Services Manager will review your post. If you have special instructions, send them an email or leave a note at the top of your pending post.
What should I write about?
If you are part of a neighborhood team, you will know your subjects well. Try to approach your topic from new and unique angles. Tie your topic to local or national/global news. Always point back to library services or collections.
Write about books, reading, research, learning.
Write about community and how the library reaches out to people.
Write about current events in a non-biased way, offering further reading or library resources to more deeply understand issues, news and changes facing our local, national or global communities.
Write about experiences you’ve had serving the public (while preserving customer confidentiality, of course).
Write about pop culture, social media, TV, movies.
Always offer the reader information or a link to information where the library can offer them more resources on the subject.
Writing tips for library staff
Writing about books
There are two ways to write about books for library publications:
1. Review – You’ve read the book and you have some opinions about it. There are basically three parts to a review. First, summarize the main plot points and introduce the book and its author. Next, tell us what you thought about it without revealing any spoilers. Finally, give a recommendation.
This is a great example of a review.
2. Preview – You’re interested in a book or think our customers would be interested in it. In preparation for your preview, do some research on the book and read others’ reviews. In your writing, tell us the main plot points and introduce the book and its author. Tell us a thing or two about what others have said about the book (use quotations and attribution when quoting specific reviews).
Here’s an example of a blog that uses previews.
Mix it up. Compare authors in a single genre, or create a listicle of books that have common themes. Write about personal experiences with books. Write about the act of reading itself and why you love it. Write about revisiting old, beloved books. The options are limitless. Jot down notes on an idea whenever you get the chance.
Writing about movies and music
Writing about media has a lot of wiggle room for fun stuff. Here are some options for writing about a movie or an album:
- Talk about a particular actor or musician and their life and history
- Compare/contrast with other movies or albums
- Include trailers for upcoming flicks, GIFs, memes and other bits of pop culture
- Acquire a chatty, coffee-shop-with-friends-style repertoire with your reader
- Express strong opinions and describe your emotional response
- Create a quiz via Playbuzz and embed it in your post
- Link directly to albums or movies in Hoopla