Client: Chicago Public Library (Chicago)
PR Team: Chicago Public Library Communications Office
Campaign: One Book, One Chicago
Time Frame: August 24, 2001 to October 14, 2001
Chicago is known for the blues, pizza, da Bears, the Sears Tower,
Oprah ... the list goes on. The Chicago Public Library can now add the
city's love of literature to that list.
To promote the second annual Chicago Book Week (October 7-14), a new
initiative called "One Book, One Chicago" challenged Chicago residents
to read Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning classic To Kill a
The program was also designed to encourage parents to read to their
kids, as well as foster discussion of the story in this historically
racially charged city.
"I saw a wire story about Rochester doing this, and I realized that
Rochester, Buffalo, and Seattle had all done it," says Chicago Tribune
columnist Pat Reardon. "I checked to see if anyone in Chicago does this,
and I was surprised that they were already considering it."
In March, Reardon contacted the Chicago Public Library (CPL) for his
column, and he later turned the idea of a city reading one book into the
theme of his article. "He challenged us in a very positive manner," says
Margot Burke, press secretary for the CPL. The next challenge would be
to decide on a book.
"We had to choose a book with a message that young adults can read, and
that children and adults can read to together," says Burke. The CPL
surveyed 75 librarians, and "it came out that To Kill a Mockingbird was
suggested several times." Burke adds, "About a month prior to that, the
mayor had publicly declared it his favorite book, so it seemed like an
The CPL remained tight-lipped about its book of choice as reporters
began calling. But the secret didn't last long: "They ordered thousands
of copies of the book, and as they started showing up at the branches,
librarians started sending them back since they hadn't ordered them,"
"Eventually, they had to say what book it was so they'd keep them, and
then I was able to run the story."
That story, as it turns out, was an exclusive that Burke promised to
Reardon, which the Tribune ran on the front page.
"From that point forward, it skyrocketed because the Tribune Company
owns so many papers," claims Burke. "It really began its own life after
that ... it was a very reactive role for me from then on."
Burke's team also encouraged Chicagoans to discuss the book with their
friends and families, and even held a mock trial. Burke herself handed
out "Are you reading Mocking-bird?" buttons to people she saw reading
the book in public. "I've seen up to three people at the same time
reading the book, and I've attended several discussions," she says.
Discussions were established in churches and schools, and even companies
such as Boeing encouraged employees to read and discuss the book.
Thousands of copies in English, Polish, and Spanish were checked out of
CPL branches, and To Kill a Mockingbird became one of the best-selling
books in Chicago.
"One Book, One Chicago" also generated countless media impressions, from
print to TV to radio, including: Good Morning America, Today, CNN, The
New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune,
Chicago Sun-Times, Detroit Free Press, LA Times, The Boston Globe,
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Houston Chronicle, and St. Louis
More importantly, however, Burke has received overwhelmingly positive
feedback from the community, as well as countless calls from other
cities and countries. "Every city has contacted us to ask how we've done
it," Burke says, adding that she even got calls from Scotland and
Burke claims that the success of "One Book, One Chicago" has guaranteed
enthusiasm for and participation in Chicago Book Week, which involves a
wide range of events, including discussions with authors. Burke says
she'd like the author to have more visibility and involvement in next
year's "One Book, One Chicago" (which wasn't possible this year, as
Harper Lee is essentially a recluse). She also plans to expand the
"grassroots outreach to the people who don't read the paper or watch TV
in the morning. But we're a staff of three people, so we've really done
a great job."
Chicago - and the rest of the world - seems to agree.