If I had a nickel for every time I was asked, how do we promote our library to people who don’t have internet access or who choose to live offline?, I’d be a rich woman.

This problem has always plagued libraries. By nature, our services are needed most by those who struggle with economic disadvantage. And it’s a huge concern of many librarians right now. Some libraries in the United States are reopening their physical buildings and returning to services involving in-person interaction with patrons, like curbside pickup or drive-thru windows. But there seems to be no way to make sure our offline community members know we have returned to service.

I’ve always been a fan of digital marketing because it’s targeted, effective, and easy. The problem of reaching people who don’t have access to Wi-Fi and will never see those messages has always bothered me.

What’s a library to do?

I decided to stop letting it bother me. It’s time to solve the problem. 

Prepping for promotion

First, concentrate on your core message. If you only had 10 seconds to tell someone about your library’s reopening, what would you say? Boil your message down to the most important points. Then create a few, highly focused and easy-to-deliver print pieces to carry that message. Good choices are a bookmark, a quarter-sheet flier, and a postcard. These will be your library’s main promotional vehicles for non-digital marketing efforts.

Second, adopt an outreach attitude. Many libraries are hesitant to market themselves. They worry they are intruding. They don’t want to seem pushy or salesy. They are convinced their promotional efforts will be viewed as “spam”.

You are not spam. You are not intruding. You are not selling a product. You are promoting a service that is free and necessary. 

Your community is already paying for library services in some form or fashion. They need to know what they’re paying for. They need to know how you can help them. They are grateful to learn how to access the services they are funding.

It’s more important than ever to promote your library. We need to make sure, at the very least, that our community understands what we do and why our work is important. So, make a commitment to banish humility! Don’t be timid!

Now, here are seven relatively cheap, yet clever ideas for promoting your library. And they all have nothing to do with the internet.

Non-digital promotional tactics

Mail your postcard. If you have the budget, now is a good time to try mailing your postcard to people in your community. Start with your patrons. And if you have leftover money, a mailing house can help your library secure addresses for people who are not patrons.

In some U.S. states, your library can request a list of voter addresses from the Board of Elections for free. You can reach people who aren’t library patrons but who are registered voters, legally and cheaply.  

Canvass. Adapt this political campaign strategy for library awareness! Distribute your printed piece door-to-door.

Now, I know it’s time-consuming but it’s also effective. In my former job at a large metropolitan library, our outreach librarians went to apartment complexes and hung door hangers with information about the library. Door hangers are relatively cheap. If you can’t spring for them,  slip your postcard into screen doors. This is a great job for libraries looking for ways to keep their staff busy. And, of course, you will reach people who have forgotten the library or who have never interacted with the library.

Buy a print ad. Many newspapers will give your library a discount on ad space. Try to use your limited space to the full advantage. Use a catchy graphic to draw the eye.

Put your partnerships with local businesses and other non-profit organizations to use. Ask partner organizations to distribute a bookmark or some other kind of small print promotional piece to their visitors. Ask local businesses, like restaurants, to include a small promotional piece in their takeout bags. Ask local realtors and rental agencies to give your promotional piece to prospective homeowners or new renters. Give some of your print pieces to day care providers, teachers, summer camps, and recreational centers. Seek the help of any business or organization with a physical location that is open in some capacity and ask them to distribute your material to people who use their services.

Place signs outside your building. A banner in your front yard or a sidewalk sign can help spread the word to people in the neighborhood. There are lots of online stores that will sell you weather-proof signage for a reasonably cheap price.

Pitch to the media. Despite what you may see on the news right now, journalists are always looking for good news stories. And your library offering services is good news. Try pitching to individual reporters. Keep THEIR audience in mind and make sure you point out how a story about your library will be beneficial to their audience.

And be helpful. If they need photos but can’t make it over to your branch, offer to provide some. Have staff members who are comfortable on camera at the ready to deliver soundbites to local TV news crews. You might even offer to write a piece for your community paper. Free press is a great form of marketing.

Call patrons. I spoke to some librarians this week who called people to let them know that their library had reopened. They clearly identified themselves at the beginning of the call and asked permission to proceed with the call. If the receiver said “yes”, the library staffer proceeded to relay the information about their library’s new hours and service requirements and asked the receiver if they had any questions. Like canvassing, this is a time-consuming tactic, but it may be necessary in a community without internet access.

Related Help

Email vs. Social Media: Which is Better for #LibraryMarketing Right Now?⚔️

Marketing is Not a Dirty Word! Why Libraries Need to Promote Themselves Now, More Than Ever

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