I am not a librarian but sometimes I play one at work sometimes.

One of my favorite parts of the marketing my public library is choosing books, eBooks, audiobooks, movies, and magazines to promote to our cardholders. Collection marketing is a successful part of the marketing strategy at our library. About three years ago, we started to do these targeted emails and social media posts to drive circulation numbers. And it worked! Collection marketing is something every library should do.

How do I actually choose the items we promote? It’s not as easy as it sounds. Most people who work in library marketing are not librarians. My degree is in communication, not library science. But I’ve been picking items to promote for four years and, after picking a few duds, I’ve got a system figured out. So let me share my tips with you.

Pick new stuff. Several years of promotional data tell me that cardholders want the new items entering your collection. We may want to promote older items for re-circulation, but that’s not what our users want to check out. And your biggest competitors are not other libraries. You are competing with Amazon and your local bookstore, where your cardholders can get their hands on the latest books. Most people don’t even think about the library when their favorite author releases a new book. A concentrated collection marketing effort will change that attitude over time. Your cardholders will learn that they can come to you for new books when they are released.

My library sends an email once a month to several cardholder clusters-lovers of print books, lover of eBooks, lovers of audiobooks, lovers of kids’ books, and lovers of downloadable magazines. I pick three new items to promote in each email. It takes me about 20 minutes total to create each message from start to finish. The emails drive a circulation increase for those titles on average anywhere from 125 percent to 375 percent.

The question I get from most libraries when we talk about our new items strategy is this: “Don’t you worry that you’ll create a long holds list. You’ll make people angry because they have to wait.” I was worried about this when I began collection marketing. But the data tells me it doesn’t matter how long the holds list is. Truly. People will wait for a new book for a couple of weeks, at least. Most public libraries have a system for putting a new book or item into the online catalog a few weeks before the item is actually available in the building. That’s the perfect moment to start promoting it, particularly if you include a line in your promotion telling your cardholders that they are getting a jump on the holds list. Your most avid cardholders will pounce at the chance to get in line for holds on a new item.

Pay attention to book pop culture and promote items getting media or critical buzz. I listen to podcasts to learn new books headed to shelves, including the New York Public Library’s podcast The Librarian is In and Overdrive’s Professional Book Nerds Podcast. There are YouTube channels where librarians review advanced reader copies. You can also find advance reviews on Goodreads. And publishing houses like Penguin will often do Facebook live streams with reviewers who talk about their latest releases. If an avid reader of any kind is super excited about an upcoming book release, it’s a title you should promote.

Pick books with interesting covers. This sounds super vain but I swear to you it works. Whenever I send an email to my cardholders, I try to pick good books that meet the previous two guidelines but that also have a bright, colorful, or interesting cover. The better the cover, the higher the circulation numbers will be. Publishers understand the psychological impact of a good book cover. They spend a ton of money and research to pick the most engaging cover and we can use that to our advantage when we choose items to promote.

Pick something for everyone. The decision to market three items in each email is very intentional. I don’t have a lot of data about the exact reading preferences of the cardholders in each cluster I target with my collection emails, due to library privacy concerns. I don’t know exactly what kinds of books each of those cardholders like (mysteries, literary fiction, memoirs, etc.), so I try to pick something for everyone. I usually choose one literary fiction title, one nonfiction, and one thriller/mystery title. I make sure that I don’t pick three female or three male authors. I try to make sure there is something to interest as many people as possible in each email.

Don’t actually pick the items. That’s right! The easiest thing to do is to delegate the selection of items to the people who know what they’re doing–your collection or materials selection department. Contact the department. Set some guidelines for the kind of books you think your cardholders will love. And let them do the work.

I also periodically ask the general staff of my library for recommendations. Librarians love it when you ask them for their recommendations! At this moment, I’m scrolling through a list of more than 50 eBook suggestions from librarians all over my system for National Read an eBook Day. If you ask for recommendations from staff, I guarantee your biggest problem will be whittling down the answers!

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