Photo Courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

It’s been six months since I walked out of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County for the last time as an employee. 

You’d think that moving from library staffer to library patron wouldn’t be that big of a revelation. After all, while I worked at the library, I was also a patron.

But there is a mindset shift that happens when you stop working on a library’s communication strategy and start seeing those communications exclusively from the customer side.

Now, when I receive an email from my library, or see a library social media post, or watch a library video, or see a sign at the library branch drive-through window, I don’t know what goal my library is trying to achieve.

I have no idea how long the marketing team worked on those promotional pieces.

I don’t have any insight into the discussion over wording, image selection, and calls to action.

I have no idea how many revisions they went through before they received final approval.

Once I took off my marketing hat and put on my customer hat, I started to see things very differently. I learned some eye-opening lessons.  

Patrons cannot fathom the breadth and depth of your services.

Libraries really do offer an extraordinary number of services. It is impossible for a regular person to understand or remember all of them.

I thought I had a pretty good handle on every service provided by my library. But I would be hard-pressed to list them all if I were forced to, even just six months out from my employment.

With that in mind, library marketing needs to get laser focused. Pick your promotions based on your library goals for the year.

With the pandemic, your goals likely shifted in the past few months. So, focus your promotions on achieving those goals.

Release your promotions consistently over a set period of time and on as many channels as makes sense for your audience. 

Most importantly, resist the urge to promote everything your library offers. It’s overwhelming to your community. Your message will get lost. 

Organic social media is not your friend.

I am a former library employee. I visit the library website at least once a day. I talk about the library on social media.

And yet, I rarely (if ever) get served my library’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts organically. Most of the time, I must go looking for them.

If I’m not seeing my library’s social media posts, can you imagine how many other people are not seeing them?

In my new job, I talk with a lot of libraries who rely heavily on social media. I’m not saying that you should not post to social. I just want to remind you that social media is also fickle and imperfect.

Be sure to distribute your marketing messages across multiple channels, including email, so you’re sure your whole community will see your message.

In a crisis, more communication is better.

The pandemic and the resulting shutdown came about six weeks after I left the library. And watching it unfold as a customer was interesting.

My honest assessment is that my library did a great job of communicating when it went into shutdown and when it reopened.

However, in the weeks in between those two major events, there was very little communication to patrons.

And I was craving news, even if it was “Our physical buildings are still closed, and we don’t know when we’ll reopen.” In fairness, this is a criticism I had for a lot of organizations, including my church and my kid’s school.

In a crisis, there is no such things as over-communication. Regular updates to your patrons and community are always better than radio silence.

The more you talk to your customer base, the more likely they are to remember you and support you when the crisis is over.

People just want to be informed. Silence feels like abandonment to your patrons. Communicate more often when your library is in crisis.

A well-designed website is a gift to your patrons and essential to your library’s success. 

The main digital entry point for your library is your most important asset.

In my new job, I do a lot of research on libraries of all shapes and sizes. I spend a lot of time looking at library websites.

Some are easy to use and some are not.

It’s no surprise that the libraries with beautiful, easy-to-navigate websites report more engagement from their patron base in the form of circulation, attendance at events (even virtual events), and donations.

If you have any say over your library’s website, it behooves you to spend time making it an amazing portal to your library. 

As a patron, I am grateful when I can find exactly what I need when I visit a library website. Need a place to start? Here are some tips.

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