Peggy Barber, Library Promotion Pioneer, Dies at 75

Margaret “Peggy” Barber, who helped change the way libraries promote their services, died on August 25 at age 75. Among other accomplishments, Barber established the American Library Association Public Information Office, Public Programs Office, and Graphics program, which produced the acclaimed "Celebrity Read" poster series and the universal library logo, used as street signage nationwide. She received the Lippincott Award for distinguished service to the profession in 1999.

Peggy Barber head shotMargaret “Peggy” Barber, who helped change the way libraries promote their services, died on August 25 at age 75.

Among other accomplishments, Barber established the American Library Association (ALA) Public Information Office, Public Programs Office, and Graphics program, which produced the acclaimed "Celebrity Read" poster series and the universal library logo, used as street signage nationwide. She received the Lippincott Award for distinguished service to the profession in 1999.

Barber earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California at Riverside in 1965 and a master’s in Library and Information Science from Rutgers University, NJ, in 1966. She began her career as a coordinator for the Orange County Cooperative Library System, CA, and as a reference librarian for the Bay Area Reference Center at the San Francisco Public Library.

Barber joined ALA in 1970 as director of the Office for Recruitment, and then became head of the new Public Information Office. In her role as associate executive director for communication, she launched two of ALA’s major initiatives: National Library Week (NLW), which had previously been a publishers’ program, and ALA’s annual communications audits, which help guide its public programs.

ALA’s NLW campaign rolled out in 1975 with the theme "Information Power," accompanied by posters, bookmarks, print ads, and radio public service announcements. Libraries and individuals requested additional campaign posters from the outset, so Barber encouraged ALA to meet the demand with a separate line featuring a dedicated message.

The first Read poster was produced in 1980, depicting Mickey Mouse reading by a fireplace with his dog Pluto beside him, atop the simple message, “Read.” The following year, Barber wrote to Henson Associates asking for permission to use the Muppet character Miss Piggy as “America’s Library Spokespig,” according to a 2003 article Barber penned for American Libraries. “The poster was shot in New York City,” she wrote. “New York Public Library provided books for the set, and the Henson folks created some wonderful new titles like The Days of Swine and Roses and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Frog.” The Read series went on to feature Yoda, Snoopy (in Spanish and English), Wonder Woman, David Bowie, Bette Midler, Yo-Yo Ma, Stephen Hawking, Rachel Maddow, and more; a number of award-winning artists designed posters as well. Income from poster sales funds ALA’s year-round public relations program.

Barber was “a consummate innovator and a pioneer,” Patricia Glass Schuman, 1991–92 ALA past president, told the Chicago Tribune. “Peggy’s efforts changed the way librarians and library supporters think about communication and advocacy—and she pushed us all with determination, style, and grace.”

In 1993, Barber and coauthor Linda D. Crowe published Getting Your Grant: A How to Do It Manual for Librarians (Neal-Schuman Publishers). She left ALA in 2000 and founded her own consulting firm, Library Communication Strategies, which she continued until 2015. Barber’s stepdaughter told the Chicago Tribune that in retirement she enjoyed travel, playing the cello, and walking her golden retriever, Lucy.

Barber also chaired the National Coalition for Literacy and the Community Advisory Board of Chicago's public radio station, WBEZ, and in 2009 she and Peggy Danhof served as copresidents of ALA’s Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends, and Foundations, which later became United for Libraries. Barber “was such a strong, positive, and uniting force as we brought together Friends, Trustees, and Foundations together in one ALA division, said ”Jillian Wentworth, United for Libraries manager of marketing and membership.

“Peggy and I were on the Program Committee of United for Libraries five years ago,” recalled United for Libraries board member and library consultant Dick Waters. “We put together a program titled ‘Getting a Bigger Piece of the Pie.’ Peggy had the idea of having pie slices ([to] eat) for those who attended.”

The program drew a standing room only crowd, said Waters, and every person who wanted a “piece of the pie” got one. “Peggy was a jewel,” he told LJ. “She was smart, full of energy, and resourceful. She was a friend, a colleague, a very good person.”

“Like everyone else who dealt with [ALA], I was in love with Peggy Barber,” said Library Journal Editor-at-Large John N. Berry III. She was “the happiest person I ever worked with,” Berry said, “and one of the most effective at her work as ALA’s voice to the world. She navigated the complexities of that often impenetrable organization and I think she was the key to much of ALA’s success as it interacted with librarians and publishers and, of course, the press and world. I was always happy when our LJ coverage of ALA meant I would have some time with Peggy.”

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is News Editor, News for Library Journal.

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