It’s that time of year again.

September is Library Card Sign-up Month in the United States. According to American Libraries Magazine, the campaign was created by the American Library Association (ALA) in 1989 to remind parents, caregivers, and students that signing up for a library card is the first step towards academic achievement and lifelong learning.

Every year, a “celebrity” character is chosen to help promote LCSM. This year, it’s Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” characters Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Bo Peep. The American Library Association (ALA) creates lots of marketing material and suggestions to help libraries, big and small, make this campaign a success.

Like many of these libraries, my system participates in this month-long campaign. But a few years ago, we expanded the scope of the campaign after I attended Content Marketing World. That year, many of the speakers focused on an idea that seemed revolutionary to me and my colleagues. But it makes perfect sense.

Stop spending so much time trying to get new customers. Spend more time getting the customers you have to use your products and services.

Many libraries spend an awful lot of time focused on trying to get new customers. But once a person signs up for a library card, we take it for granted that this cardholder will use their card, actively, over and over again.

Sure, most of us market programs to our current cardholders. We also market services and in some cases, the collection. But do we really take the time to gather data about our current cardholders and then target them with marketing messages that keep them coming back to the library? In most cases, no. We’re usually looking out at the horizon, scanning for the next non-library card user to sign up.

We love it when that new cardholder statistic rises. But if we let new cardholders loose in the wilds of all the things the library offers, they’re bound to get lost, frustrated, and overwhelmed. And they stop using their cards.

So what was the point of all the energy we spend trying to get them signed up in the first place?

For the traditional portion of LCSM, my library does a contest. I ask local businesses for gift card donations. We use this as incentive to get everyone to sign up for a library card. At the end of the month, we do a drawing and name between 50 and 100 winners, depending on the number of donations I’m able to secure.

Three years ago, I asked for permission to expand my system’s LCSM campaign to include a portion that actively re-engages cardholders who haven’t used their cards in a while. We create a specific, targeted email campaign to people who haven’t used their cards in a couple of weeks. We ask them to use their library card between September 1 and September 30. If they do, they also get entered into the contest. Our email provider, Orangeboy, makes this easy for us by tagging those cardholders at the beginning of the month, and then sending us a spreadsheet at the end of the month showing who used their cards. Then, we just pick our contest winners.

The entire campaign-both the new cardholder contest and the contest to re-engage cardholders who haven’t used their cards in some time-is a success, three years running. In 2018 we signed up 4,123 new library cardholders. But not only were we able to increase the number of people in the county who have a library card, we were able to convince about 4400 people who had a library card to use it again. When they do that, their personal investment in the library is renewed. We’re able to market to them more effectively and keep them engaged. It’s a win for both sides.

My library isn’t the only one taking a different approach to this campaign. Katie Wais works for the Loudon County Public Library in Virginia. She says, “Our system actually dropped LCSM last year. Getting people to sign up for library cards should be part of our jobs every single day. The campaign is good for awareness, but we felt as marketers we should be putting our efforts (year-round) into engaging with inactive users, doing offsite outreach aimed at nontraditional users, and using analytics to bring our bookmobile to pockets of our county with few cardholders.”

Jennifer Johansson of Carbondale Public Library says, “The ALA materials are cute, but we decided they we wanted to target more than just kids and families. We’re hoping to spotlight some library users in our social media throughout the month with ‘How do you use your library?’ as a prompt. We’re planning on setting up at the local farmers market and at the university library to sign people up on the spot.”

And the Saline County Library in Arkansas won a John Cotton Dana Award for their spin on LCSM. They turned the campaign into a community partnership that benefits the library, local businesses, and residents. In 2018, Saline County partnered with 62 local businesses who provided discounts to people when they showed their library cards during the month of September. They signed up 330 new cards, renewed 1,713 cards and formed bonds with local businesses as a result of the campaign. You can read the full summary of their campaign in their JCD Award Submission, which one of their employees kindly shared with me.

I encourage you to think about expanding the scope of your LCSM marketing. Challenge your library to take the original concept and push your system to find ways to re-engage your current cardholders while expanding the overall reach of your library system. The extra work will benefit your community and your library!

Don’t miss the LIBRARY MARKETING SHOW every Thursday on YouTube. I take email questions and topic suggestions ahead of time. Just fill out this form. If I pick your topic, I’ll send you a personal link to the video after it’s posted. 

And check out these upcoming events and webinars where we can connect and discuss library marketing. Registration links included.

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