Cincinnati Library "Old Main" newspaper room, 1899.
Cincinnati Library’s “Old Main” newspaper room, 1899.

Confession: as a former broadcast television journalist, I used to laugh at print. Who has time to read paper anything? Doesn’t life revolve around the mobile device? Why would you even bother with a newsletter? That’s so 1965!

I was wrong, and I am woman enough to say so. Print is making a comeback–here’s a good article explaining why!

Our library has large base of super fans known as the Friends of the Public Library. This organization helps fund the programs and services enjoyed by our customers. Pay a small fee and you become a member with perks like front-row seating at big author visits and events, discounts in the Friends shop, and a quarterly newsletter titled Library Links. And our super fans eagerly await each issue. I’m serious. If we’re late, we start getting phone calls and emails.

After 20 years of producing newscasts, I was suddenly thrust into the print publication world. It was now my job to put Links together. It seemed daunting until I realized it’s just another “show” with a rundown, pacing, and great visuals. My seventh issue is showing up in mailboxes this week. Seeing that publication on someone’s coffee table is a thrill, in the same way a newscast was a thrill. Who would have thought?

Even with no experience in the print world, as I started to put together my first issue, it became clear to me that the publication needed to change. There were two reasons for this: it had to stay relevant and modern. I had no design experience–only my “hunch” and my hunch was telling me the design and the feel were old school and unappealing. I wanted it to feel more modern, with bolder, more interesting graphics and a magazine layout. And the second reason was that I found the content to be boring and unengaging… and I was writing it! That’s a giant red flag. The publication was program-focused, a giant list of endless branch programs. It was “push, push, push” and it added no outside value to the lives of our readers. We knew that our cardholders were not using their library cards to give them access to programs. They get a card to gain access to our collection. The fact that the publication seemed to ignore the customer’s needs bothered me immensely.

It’s easy for libraries to get caught in the cycle of program only marketing. Our system has 41 locations and hundreds of valuable, engaging programs! But because our cardholder data told us that our collection was our selling point, our marketing department decided to pivot the newsletter to focus more on our collection–our books, magazines, databases, language services–the heart of our business. It’s what interests our customers. We had the data to back it up–useage and website analytics could show us where our cardholders were landing.

We started to put more of an emphasis on our digital offerings, which are arguably among the best in the nation. We added in-depth stories about the behind-the-scenes workings of the Library. For one issue, I interviewed the manager of our Preservation Lab, which restores and preserves precious rare items in the Library’s collection such as military uniforms, books written on palm leaves, and all kinds of historically valuable photographs. Almost everyone I asked had no idea we had a Preservation Lab! In another issue, we took people along for a ride with our Outreach Services and talked to the people whose lives were changed by the simple act of bringing books to their homes. In the most current issue, we’re giving readers an inside look at our three new branches. We also trimmed the publication from 16 to 12 pages and gave it more of a magazine feel with bolder visuals and shorter, more engaging articles.  We include lots of calls to action.

I invite you to take a look at the first issue of our pivot, and our current issue, and compare the difference. It’s a work in progress, but three issues into “the pivot”, I feel like we’ve rounded a significant corner. Links is a powerful promotional tool for our Library and I’m excited to steer the magazine into the future and beyond.

Does your library has a print publication? I’d love to see it! Include a link in the comments section. Tell me what you love or don’t love about your own print publication!

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Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

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