When creating a new brand (or revamping an existing one), it’s essential to provide staff with easily accessible information and tools they need to develop consistent and on-brand messaging. A new brand and marketing strategy is pretty limited if staff and stakeholders don’t have the knowledge and tools needed to communicate that brand and tone effectively. Without consistency and constancy of messages, the best strategy will get you nowhere.
Having a structurally sound and accessible guide to effective communication will make all of the difference in the success of your brand identity and collective voice. A style guide is a valuable tool for ensuring that your library’s messaging rings true to the brand and employs the same consistent voice, no matter who’s creating the content. After spending so much time defining your brand, it’s essential to communicate that brand consistently through all communication channels.
So, what is a style guide?
A style guide is a valuable reference tool in providing your staff with an appropriate framework for effective communication. A practical style guide will help your team craft consistent messaging and be consulted by staff and stakeholders creating external communications on behalf of the library.
Picking your base references
Before drafting your style guide, choose from one of the standard professional style manuals to use as your guide. There is no need to reinvent the wheel and create an overly extensive style guide specifically for your library.
Typically used style guides include:
- AP - typically used in journalism and news writing; style known for brevity and pertinence
- APA - used in social sciences (psychology, sociology, library, and information science); moderately academic in style but concise and focused on current language
- Chicago - typically used in social sciences; still an academic style but is considered more accessible
- MLA - typically used within humanities disciplines (language arts, cultural studies); considered heavily academic in style
You’ll also want to choose a dictionary to stick to. The most commonly used are the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the New Oxford American Dictionary. Keep in mind that you can define your own rules for grammar and spelling if you need to vary from your primary sources internally.
Picking your base references and stating those in the introduction to your style guide will do most of the work to ease your staff into a consistent communication style. Each guide has its own formatting rules that you can quickly adapt in your communications. Your system’s style guide should focus on how your style differs from the selected manual and how to apply the style guide in communications specific to your library’s brand and audience.
Style guide structure
Style guides need just a handful of basic rules to ensure consistent communication. These rules include:
- How to appropriately refer to your library and its associated groups (Board of Trustees, Friends of the Library, etc.), departments (Youth Services, Young Adult, Circulation, etc.), and job titles (Director, Marketing Coordinator, Children’s Librarian, etc.)
- How to appropriately refer to all areas belonging to your library and its branches/locations, including spaces, rooms, sections, etc.
- Accepted formats for listing dates and times.
- Accepted formats for listing contact information like phone numbers.
- Preferred spellings and stylings that differ from your selected style manual choices. This section will include library-specific spellings, and some particular ones to be aware of are:
- Story time vs. storytime
- ebook vs eBook (or other preferred term)
- Nonfiction vs. non-fiction
With so much of our communication becoming digital, all email correspondence should have a consistent email signature attached to system emails. Having a standard signature with relevant and easy-to-read information goes a long way in demonstrating consistency.
We highly recommend including a section on the format and style of the email signature in your style guide so that staff members know what criteria they need to adhere to when setting up their email signatures.
Usually, signatures include the sender’s name, title, contact information, and library system name. You can also include additional (brief) information to demonstrate the library’s values and brand, like your mission or branding statement. For personal email signatures, you may provide some flexibility for staff to personalize their signature while maintaining brand consistency, such as adding what languages they can speak or pronouns. Just be sure to define what can be included in your style guide.
This simple step will make all email correspondence visually uniform, from e-newsletters sent to the public, internal discussions and memos to staff, business emails to vendors, and so on.
How extensive your style guide really depends on your library and brand. There is no rule about how long or involved your style guide needs to be as long as the basic rules are covered. The more complex your brand strategy or the more explicitly you want to define brand language and use, the more tools and examples you’ll want to provide.
Tone guidelines are a great way to hone in on your library’s unique voice effectively. Tone guidelines help you select the best voice according to situation and audience and can include:
- Open-ended principles for the library’s “voice”
- Tips on keeping an open and inclusive tone
- Tips on addressing different audience types, including staff, the general public, children and parents, teens, adults, etc.
When you consider the range of different communication channels that your library uses daily, a section outlining these communication channels and appropriate rules for each could be a beneficial addition to your style guide. These channels can include website content, social media, in-house print material, print advertising, press releases, and policies.
Other style guide extras include an introductory section about the library’s history and organizational structure, best practices for formatting copy, common usage considerations that touch on bias-free language, basic principles of effective writing, and commonly misused words. Again, these would be helpful sections, but they aren’t a necessity, especially if you can refer to your main style guide, dictionary, or other references.
Benefits of Effective Style Guides
When used consistently in all areas of communication, style guides save time and make communication more efficient. They give each member of the library the power to share the same clear messaging with patrons. A strong style guide has the power to define further and uphold the library’s brand identity. Intentional use of the guide will accurately represent the library’s personality and values, while consistent brand messaging can create new and lasting library advocates.
Need a style guide or want to revamp your old one? A style guide is an optional part of our LibraryBrand package. Contact us today to see what we can do for your brand!