Photo Courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

At my former job at a large metropolitan public library, there was an unspoken rule when it came to library conferences. Librarians got first dibs on training money to attend. I thought that was totally fair. But I also found myself suffering from a serious case of envy every time I saw my coworkers headed to the airport for the American Library Association Annual (ALA) Conference, the Public Library Association (PLA) Conference, or our state library convention.

When I took my new job at NoveList earlier this year, one of the perks was knowing I would see my library friends again at these conferences. I would finally get to attend. I’d be one of the crowd! I’d be in on the action!

Alas, it was not meant to be (thanks, Coronavirus). So, my first ALA Annual turned out to be virtual. That had some advantages. On-demand video meant I could jam more sessions into a day. I could pause sessions to get a drink or take a bathroom break. I could leave sessions if I wanted to without worrying about embarrassing the panelists. And I could attend in my outdoor workspace.

It had some disadvantages too. I got more exhausted than normal. And boy, did I miss the personal interaction with librarians and library staff.

I did end up learning a lot. Here are my key library marketing takeaways from three days of sessions.

Good internal communication reduces workload and duplication of work.

We could all do with a little more internal communication and a less work. In the session Happy Together: Collaboration and Communication between IT and Technical Services, staff from the University of Washington Libraries shared the ways in which a concentrated effort on improving staff communications made their workday easier.

Good internal communication helped them to be less reactionary and more proactive. They were able to put the focus back on the customer, rather than always thinking about how the work was affecting staff.  They found it easier to remember why they wanted to work in a library and to stay excited and positive about their jobs. They felt more empathy for each other, which improved relationships between departments.

The panelists encouraged attendees to focus on their library’s strategic plan to find common ground with coworkers in different departments. They designated a “gatekeeper” or “key contact” for each department, so everyone would know who to go to if they had a question or suggestion.

Key quote: “Remember we are all on the same team even with different deadlines and project objectives.” 

Smart libraries use messaging to advocate for more funding.

Most library staff are under the presumption that the public knows their library is essential. They do not. And past perceptions of the library are a real hurdle. People imagine the library as it was 20 or 30 years ago and have no concept of how much it has changed. 

In the session, Advocating for your Library: The E’s of Libraries and Collecting Stories, Alan Fisher told attendees to use messaging to address those hurdles. He encouraged us to message around activities your supporters will want to fund like story times, meals for kids, and literacy programs. He also told attendees to be intentional about using common language so supporters can understand your message. Finally, he says libraries must make their message memorable.

Key quote: “Use messaging that affectively addresses the hurdles so people can understand that we are essential. Don’t say everything you want to say… say what THEY need to hear.”  

Libraries must share the monetary value of author events with publishers. 

Author events at libraries drive book sales. But publishers have no idea that we are helping them make money.

In the session, How to Measure the Value of Library Marketing on Book Sales and Discovery, Guy Gonzalez said most libraries work with authors, not publishers, to schedule events. As a result,  publishers are often unaware of library event’s positive impact on sales. The people who attend author events at their library are library borrowers who often also become book buyers. So, events are a unique marketing opportunity for the publisher.

Gonzalez encouraged libraries to track, measure, and communicate their full impact on book sales back to publishers. He encouraged attendees to develop a media kit that defines the audience of the event, and the actual monetary value of promotional platforms like email, social media, and press coverage. Once the event is over, send that data to the publisher directly. 

Key quote: “Author events are hyper-targeted with deep engagement. Don’t undervalue how much you provide.”

Library marketing must elevate ideas that can improve our society, not around ideology, but around purpose.

In the Presidential program, politician and author Stacey Abrams gave a remarkable and inspiring interview that covered voter suppression, the census, and the role of libraries in helping disenfranchised communities.

Abrams urged the audience to remember that libraries are essential because they are a trusted source of information. She said that libraries are a microcosm of America and are perfectly positioned to address the inequities that persist in the rest of society.

She also asked libraries to be intentional about placing themselves in the same space and in communion with those who need them the most. Finally, Abrams called on the library industry to name the barriers to diversity, to call them out, and to build strategies to overcome them.

The daughter of a librarian, Abrams slept in the stacks of the college library where her mother worked and often got in trouble with the librarians for checking out too many books! She shared the books she’s currently reading: Evicted by Matthew Desmond and Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James.

Key quote: “Advertise yourself. We take libraries for granted. We know they exist, but we rarely think about them.” 

Virtual story times may or may not violate copyright laws.

I attended the session, Trouble in Paradise: Are you violating copyright by using social media read alouds? hoping for clarification for my library clients. What I got was more confused, at no fault of the presenters. They did an excellent job laying out the many intepretations of copyright law.

Many publishers gave libraries permission to read their titles aloud at the beginning of the pandemic. That grace period ends tomorrow, June 30.

To help you decide what to do once that deadline passes, I suggest reading these two articles recommended by the session presenters: Online Story Time & Coronavirus: It’s Fair Use, Folks and Do Online Storytimes Violate Copyright?

The presenters suggested you post your virtual story time on YouTube but make the recording private. Your library can send a link to view the video to patrons, making it more a “classroom-type” setting which is not in violation of copyright. They also suggested adding a graphic to your virtual story times to warn viewers not to share or download and store your virtual story time.

Finally, the presenters asked attendees to remember that authors make their living from publishing books. Broadcasting the reading of a book, especially a picture book, is essentially giving the book away.

Key quote: “Fair use is not used to try and get around something. It’s in the law and it’s a right of users.”

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