GIVEHave you thought lately about why people sign up for a library card? I had the chance to work a booth at a public celebration where people could sign up for their first library card. I learned so much from interacting with patrons. And the story I heard, over and over again, was how excited these new cardholders were to get their hands on the books and resources that they knew they can check out, for free, from their library.

That’s what we should be promoting.

The most research study of library usage by the Pew Research Institute, published in September 2015, shows that 66 percent of library cardholders use their card to check out items… books, magazines, CDs, and more. Only 17 percent of library cardholders say they use their card to attend programs, classes, or lectures.

I’m not advocating that you stop promoting programs altogether. What I’m advocating is that you choose your program promotions carefully, based on your library’s overall strategic goals, and stop promoting all programs all the time. Intersperse your program marketing with collection based or service based marketing. I have talked before about collection marketing before on this blog and I know I will again! But our library has also had success with service-based marketing. It works because it’s what people really want from their library. Here’s a great example.

We have a great new reading recommendation service at our library called Book Hookup. It provides cardholders with three book recommendations, based on their literary tastes.  We decided this spring, once the service was running smoothly and all processes were in place, to begin to market to our customers. As we worked out the kinks of the service, we put signs in branches and had a few requests trickle in from cardholders who either saw the signs or ran across the service on our website.

For the major marketing play, we initiated a  plan for a multi-tiered approach. We sent targeted email messages to cardholders in specific clusters whom we thought would want to use the service: print book lovers, people who use the full breadth and depth of the library collection, and people who use both eBooks and print books. We sent these three emails over the course of three weeks, at a rate of one per week.

A few weeks after the emails, we started displaying a slide that advocated the use of the Book Hookup service on our digital screens at all branches year-round. We scheduled regular, rotating social media messages encouraging the use of the service. And on occasion, we put a graphic on our homepage reminding our cardholders that this service is available.

What happened? From the targeted email messages ALONE we gathered more than 900 requests for book recommendations. Throughout the following months, requests continue to  trickle in, but spike when we put the service in the forefront of social media or on the homepage.


This fall, we are planning another set of email messages, aimed at all of our email personas, from eBook users to audiobook lovers to people who haven’t used the library for six months or more. My theory is that I’m more likely to convince one person who hasn’t checked anything out in six months to use a service than to attend a program. And my job is to get them back through the door of library usage so that I can market other things to them. If I can turn a non-user or inactive user into a user, that’s a huge win.

I challenge you to look at your services to find out what your cardholders use. Ask yourself what they might use if they knew their library card would give them access to it. A couple of great services for libraries to market are Consumer Reports, The New York Times, Mango Languages, and If you have any of these resources, you should be marketing them to your cardholders. That’s the stuff people want!!

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