The Hidden Virtues of Being Cheap and Easy: Marketing Your Library with Virtual Bookplates

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The Hidden Virtues of Being Cheap and Easy: Marketing Your Library with Virtual Bookplates

By Whitney A. Curtis and Robert M. Brammer

In an era of diminishing library budgets, honoring donors large and small is of crucial importance. The traditional method of honoring donors was by physically affixing a bookplate to a book and noting it in the catalog. Considering the technology and publication mediums of the time, this was a fine solution. However, in a time when computers, internet access, and electronic resources are ubiquitous, there is a better way.

The virtual bookplate is a modern, simple, accessible method of honoring your donors. In this brief article, we will demonstrate how virtual bookplates are an easy, budget-neutral way to market your library externally to potential donors and internally to your administration. Using the model set up at Stetson University’s Dolly and Homer Hand Law Library, we will also show you how to set up virtual bookplates from start to finish on a shoestring budget. 

I don’t like doing new things. Why bother?
Virtual bookplates are a great way to market your library externally and internally. They allow you to honor donors, graduates, faculty, and administration in a way that is much more accessible and visible than with traditional bookplates. The accessibility of virtual bookplates encourages donations and strengthens honorees’ connection to your institution. Virtual bookplates are also a novelty that honorees will be happy to show off to friends and family, allowing them to showcase their connection to your academic institution.

Additionally, implementing virtual bookplates demonstrates your shared commitment to alumni relations and the economic development of your institution. In a time of economic uncertainty and declining budgets, virtual bookplates can help your library efficiently cultivate relationships with alumni, allowing you to be instrumental in creating and maintaining the relationships that lead to gifts to the institution.

Last but not least, once the bookplates are set up, they take little staff time to maintain. 

Fine, I’ll admit it’s worth doing, but it sounds hard.
Despite sounding difficult, implementing virtual bookplates couldn’t be easier. The process begins when you receive a donation from an individual or when you purchase a series of titles using donated funds. In some instances, librarians may select a title to honor a recent graduate or a retiring faculty member.

The first step is to create a virtual bookplate template, leaving a small space available for text. Even if you do not have Photoshop, you don’t have to feel left out: GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free, open-source graphics manipulation tool that is available from GIMP provides free tutorials to help you create your bookplate at To view one of Stetson University’s virtual bookplates, please see

Once you have finished creating your template, customize it with a donor or fund name and save it as an image file. Once customization is complete, upload the image file to your server. You could just link to the image, but that leaves you little control over the presentation of it. A better approach is to embed the image within a simple HTML document and link to the HTML document. This document can be a simple as: 

<HTML><HEAD><TITLE>Your University Virtual Bookplate</TITLE></HEAD><BODY><CENTER><IMG SRC=""></CENTER></BODY></HTML>

It would be best to name the HTML document after the donor or other honoree to keep things organized.

Next, you need to create a link between the catalog and the bookplate. This can be accomplished by linking to the HTML document containing the bookplate image via the 856 field in the title’s bibliographic record. For example, here is the syntax we use in our 856 field to link to the HTML document honoring our associate dean for academics:

MARC 856 4 2 |u|zBookplate in honor of donation by Associate Dean for Academics Kristen David Adams

Now that you have created a link between the catalog and the bookplate, you need to create an index that points to the catalog. This can be achieved by creating a basic HTML index that lists the names of donors, honorees, and particular funds. Clicking on a name will link you to the bibliographic record for a title associated with that name. To view an example, navigate to Stetson University’s virtual bookplate index:

To assist you with creating a similar index, you can use the following HTML code: 

<h1 style="text-align: center;">Virtual Bookplates</h1>
<hr> </hr>
<p style="text-align: center;">If you are linked to a book title, please click on the bookplate link to view the bookplate.</p>
<table style="width: 182px; height: 376px; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" border="1">
<td><a href="">Last Name, First Name</a></td>
<hr> </hr>

So far, you will have created a bookplate template, customized and uploaded a bookplate, embedded it in an HTML document, linked to the bookplate via the 856 field, and created an index of donors. The last step needed is to make your virtual bookplate index is visible on your library webpage. An easy way to do this is to add it to your navigation menu. For an example of how to link from your library page to your bookplate index, please see

Once the bookplate is up and visible, you need to let your honorees and administration know about it. You could just send them a link, but if they are not technologically proficient, you can offer to walk them through the process of accessing it. In either case, the goal is to provide the honoree with a sense of recognition and inform the administration of the library’s role in strengthening relationships with contributors.

Good luck!
Cheap and easy can be virtues, and virtual bookplates exemplify both. You need little in the way of resources to implement virtual bookplates, and the process is simple enough that you do not need to be a techie. In an era of declining budgets, libraries need to demonstrate that they are an integral part of their institutions and a viable resource in soliciting contributions for their organizations as a whole.

Whitney A. Curtis ( is assistant director of public services at University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in Memphis, Tennessee, and Robert M. Brammer ( is reference and electronic services librarian at Stetson University College of Law’s Dolly and Homer Hand Law Library in Gulfport, Florida.