The A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library Center (SLC) has earned a pair of “Branding Iron Awards” from the Texas Library Association in recognition of outstanding efforts in marketing and public relations.

The Library earned top honors in the External Communications category for the Interactive Library Treasure Hunt, a project led by Senior Research and Instruction Librarian Katherine Hooker.

Distinctive Collections was crowned champion in the Digital Communications category for the “Behind the Artifact” video series, created by Head of Distinctive Collections and Archives Megan Firestone and the Office of Marketing and Communications’ Videographer Todd White.

The awards recognize that we’re doing things differently, which is the Southwestern way. We like to be different.

Launched in the fall of 2021, the Interactive Library Treasure Hunt provides a creative spin on the traditional college library tour. Students use map-themed booklets to work through a treasure hunt that winds through all three levels of the Library. The hunt highlights the broad range of services that the SLC provides and connects students with Library staff before concluding with a treasure chest full of fun Southwestern prizes.

The achievement marks Hooker’s second straight Branding Iron Award after she was honored in 2023 for the Library’s Zine project.

“I really appreciate being recognized for creativity,” Hooker said. “When you think of the concept of a librarian, I don’t think creativity leaps to people’s minds, but I have an art background, and I like doing this kind of work. It’s very satisfying to be recognized.”

The Office of Marketing and Communications collaborated with Distinctive Collections to create “Behind the Artifact,” a PBS-style series that explores the historical records, documents, rare books, manuscripts, and other fascinating materials housed in Distinctive Collections. White, alongside the Marcom team, crafted the overarching feel and direction. White also produces each episode, with Firestone serving as the host and content curator.

“The project really grew into producing mini documentaries on the cool things that we have, to use more as an educational tool rather than just a way to document these items,” White said. “It’s great to be recognized for going beyond and putting that extra effort into making a TV-quality type of production.”

Through the first eight installments, the series has explored JFK assassination ticker tape, the tool chest of renowned Georgetown builder Charles Belford, footage from the early 1900s showing Southwestern’s Women’s Annex, and much more. The full “Behind the Artifact” series can be viewed by clicking here.

“One of the things that really drove me to this career was the stories,” Firestone said. “To use storytelling to bring to life the amazing materials that Southwestern holds is so satisfying because we are getting interest from people who see the videos and say ‘Oh, we want to come in.’”

The pair of recognitions highlight the work done by Library staff to brand the SLC as an inviting place for the Southwestern community to visit, study, and conduct research. Staff have worked diligently to position the Library as a place where all are welcome and where academic study can be both rewarding and fun.

“The Library is the heart of the campus and it’s very, very important to people, but to get that message across is sometimes difficult,” Hooker said. “I think there’s a lot of stigma that the Library is boring or stodgy. We’re trying to really break down those misconceptions and be more relatable and fun.”

Presented annually, the Branding Iron Awards recognize excellence in marketing and public relations efforts by academic, public, and school libraries across the state of Texas. Honors are given for innovative, inspiring, and creative thinking regardless of budgets and available resources.

“We already have plans to submit again next year,” Firestone said. “We’re really trying to push the boundaries a little bit on what people traditionally think academic libraries are doing for marketing. The awards recognize that we’re doing things differently, which is the Southwestern way. We like to be different.”