Meet the Mascots: Exploring the Benefits of Library Mascots

According to the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, the word mascot comes from the French word ‘mascotte’ which refers to a lucky charm. In the 19th century the word was most closely associated with a good luck animal. Sports teams adopted animals to represent them and would often bring live predatory animals to their games to strike fear in the competition. But the fierce and ferocious soon gave way to cute and cuddly and the huggable, lovable modern mascot was born.

Mascots have many benefits, which explain their great popularity. They create a sense of belonging by generating an automatic community. They tell a story that is often rooted in an institution’s history and can help instantly connect people to a mission and message. A mascot gives people something to relate to so they see a product or services as something more than an abstract idea. These ideas translate well into the works libraries are doing. A “5 Minute Librarian” article says, “All in all a mascot can do wonders for your PR. If done right, it can revitalize lagging social network traffic, create interest in under-performing programs, and show the lighter, more fun side of your workplace, causing a subconscious link in your patrons between the library and happiness – the ultimate end goal.”

To get the inside scoop on all things mascot, I turned to the mascot I know the best. Terry the Turtle, who represents the Utah State Library.

Faye: What is the best part about being a mascot for the Utah State Library?

Terry: You mean besides access to all the books I can read and library cards at libraries all over the state? I love meeting the people! I have visited several libraries around the state and seen the hard work of Utah’s librarians. I have also been to the state capital to do advocacy work, interviewed several Utah State Library Employees, and had the pleasure of attending conferences in other states. I love being recognized in person and by my fans on social media. In addition to my personal magnetism, it’s the library’s message that draws them in. Everyone likes libraries.

Faye: Thanks Terry, that’s very insightful. 

Terry: You’re most welcome! I do take my job seriously, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want all the perks I can get.

Faye: Yes, of course. I’d like to know more about how having a mascot helps Utah libraries? What benefits have they seen from having a mascot? Has it increased their community engagement?

Terry: I’ve reached out to some of my fellow mascot’s to find out what their directors have to say about their hard work.  Some mascots are in their beginning stages.Like Vineyard Children’s Library, The Elmo Library Branch of the Emery County Libraries and Grantsville Library.

Vineyard Children’s Library: Hi Terry! We are just in the beginning phases of introducing our mascot, Vinny the Beaver, to our community.  We are using a beaver because of this Instagram reel.  We have a large beaver costume and a beaver puppet in the library.  At our Halloween event, we used the beaver puppet to engage with kids, they loved talking to the beaver. We need to integrate him more into our library culture, but we love having him!

Grantsville Library: We have a library trustee who’s done Storytime presentations with her pet tarantula. The older kids especially thought she was “way cool!” I thought she’d be a great fit as a library mascot, but we haven’t done anything formally yet.

Elmo Branch: We have recently introduced a Mascot here in Elmo. We have a small owl named Cinnamon.  We spent a few weeks introducing the owl with a wheel spin sort of survey for the kids to narrow down on a name. When the owl finally arrived in March, we tripled our passive program numbers for the month in just a few days. The owl, Cinnamon, is a find and hide game whoever finds the hiding place gets to hide the owl next.

Terry: Some libraries have a mascot that is well loved, and recognizable in their communities, like Murray Library and the Salt Lake County Library System.

Murray Library: We have a mascot, Murray the Dragon, and he has been a wonderful addition to our in-house programs and outreach. He is very popular with the children of our community and they are always excited to see him. Many families have enjoyed photo opportunities with him. He attends special in-house events like Summer Reading Kick-Offs, Halloween Howls (in his Batman costume), Holiday Palooza (wearing a Santa hat) and many other large library events. 

Murray has been particularly good at attracting people to us during community outreach events. He is a regular participant in the annual Fourth of July parade, where he is recognized and called by name by the crowd. People know that he is part of the library. When he attends community outreach programs like the Public Safety Fair or Murray Power Days, he gets much more attention than we ever did with a standard booth.

Salt Lake County Library: In 2016 we had a community engagement effort where patrons could vote for the new County Library mascot. In addition to being a fun activity, it was also a way to teach basics of civic engagement and the voting process. In addition to the two candidates running (Owl and Turtle) I hear we had a robust write in campaign for a third-party candidate. After Owl was announced as the winner, we had an additional opportunity to name the mascot, which is how we ended up with Owlexander the Owl.

Owlexander appears at many events throughout the year: Summer Reading kickoff parties, Branch grand openings and anniversaries. We also had a fun opportunity this year for Owlexander to be involved with a Mascot Meet and Greet event tied in with the NBA All-Star Weekend that happened here in Salt Lake City in February. Owlexander is a beloved character in the community, especially with our younger aged library-goers. No matter which event we are visiting, Owlexander is guaranteed to get plenty of hugs, high fives, and photo requests.

Terry: This library mascot evolved organically and stuck around.

Nephi Library: We created a robot mascot in 2014 for the summer reading theme: “Fizz, Boom, Read.” We call him Fizz and he is made out of recycled items. We did not plan on having a Mascot at first; it was the idea of an employee who created him. That year we had a robot-building contest and we decided to keep him.  He is well-loved by all the patrons and we can hardly believe he will be 10 years old next year.

Over the years we have enjoyed dressing him up. He enhances our summer reading theme which is a big benefit for the program. Last year, he wore swimwear with a swim mask and snorkel. He has a construction belt and hat, also a superhero cape and mask.  A rock star, a tiger, and a Roman guard are some of our favorite costumes.  Patrons love to see what he looks like each year. We often add a hat or items to fit the holidays as well. Patrons of every age enjoy him and new patrons are excited to see this fun mascot.

He has also attended some events such as a county event at the fairgrounds for elementary-age children, our Summer Reading Kick-Off at the park, and an Information Fair the library sponsors.  We haven’t promoted him on our social media sites but it is something we are planning on doing in the future. We feel having “Fizz” in our library is definitely a wonderful addition.

Terry: And, I have to admit it, some mascots are much more famous than I am.

Grand County Public Library:  In the fall of 2018, as nights grew chilly, Grand County Public Library staff began noticing that every time a door opened, a handsome black and white tuxedo cat would slink inside. He was very friendly, and caused no trouble, but at first the staff tried to gently escort him back outside. Particularly fond of sneaking in the children’s room door, he was the source of much delight to the children, and tolerated being picked up and carried around by them. He even let a very small girl tuck him into a cozy, cat-sized doll bed, pulling the quilt right up to his chin. After a week or so, one the children’s librarians knocked on doors around the neighborhood to ask whose cat he was, and learned that his family had recently moved away and had left him behind. That was all the librarians needed to hear: they decided that as long as he caused no problems and no one complained about him, he was welcome inside.  When trying to help pick a good name for him, one boy observed that he looked “just like a Cosmo”, and the name stuck.

Cosmo made himself at home right from the start. Treats and cat food were donated by library staff as well as admiring patrons. He has many choice nap spots around the library, but his favorite is his fleecy bed right at the center of the action at the circulation desk. Here he can keep an eye on all the activity, supervise librarians as they work at the counter, and here he remains in reach of patrons passing by, many of whom stop to pet him. Cosmo has a loyal following for his weekly article in a local newspaper and has even received fan mail from overseas. Library staff agree that he’s the most wonderful library ambassador they could wish for. 

You can read Cosmo’s column in the Moab Sun News here. These will be available on the Grand County Library website soon.

Faye: Wow! Thank you Terry. Those are amazing examples of what a mascot can do to help a library.

Terry: My friends are doing amazing work! Thanks to all of them for reaching out. Mascots like me love attention and we are willing to share that attention with our libraries.