Here is something I’ve noticed in my conversations with library staff over the past six months.
Staff share a profound feeling of separation from their communities. They’ve been working for more than a year without the normal interactions with the public. And that has led to increased anxiety about whether things will ever return to normal.
The big questions I’m getting are: How long will it take before circulation returns to normal? How long will it take before program attendance is back to where it was before the pandemic?
I can’t answer those questions. I’m not sure anyone credibly can.
But what I can do is help you to rebuild use of your library through marketing and promotions.
Here are four ideas that libraries can strategically use to bring people back to the library, re-engage cardholders, and get new community members to use the library.
Renew everyone’s library cards automatically and incentivize people to use them. Then, use that interaction to re-connect.
If you have a system where cards need to be renewed, a blanket automatic renewal is a great promotional tactic. Automatic renewal of library cards is a customer service best practice. And doing so right now, when we are coming off more than a year of service limitations, is strategically smart.
If your senior leaders have concerns about a blanket renewal, ask them to read Cordelia Anderson’s book. It explains the advantages of this action.
The next step is to gather prizes from partners, like you would for summer reading. Let people know they’ll be entered into a drawing to win a prize if they use their card. If they check out a book or use an online resource, they can fill out an entry. If your priorities are to drive attendance at in-person programs or to get people to physically come into a branch, you can tell people they get two entries in the drawing!
Once they come back, make sure you do everything you can to re-connect with these cardholders. Have your staff do three things with every person they interact with.
- Get their email address.
- Get them to self-identify their interests. Are they looking for help solving a particular problem, like finding a job? Are they looking for books for entertainment and relaxation? Ask your public to name at least one topic they would want more information about.
- Give them a print piece of marketing material to encourage further use of the library. Don’t let them leave this interaction without something in their hands. Remind them that the library is open and actively providing service to your community again.
Rebuild a sense of community.
One of the things that library users said they missed most during the pandemic was social interaction. This is another opportunity for libraries to rebuild.
Rather than re-starting our one-off programs, let’s spend our energy putting together programs that everyone can participate in. Wider-ranging programs, which focus on getting large groups people to do an activity together, help to build a sense of community.
One idea: everyone reads the same book, or watches the same movie, or listens to the same piece of music. Then, your library creates ways for your community to share their thoughts and experiences around that group activity.
Another idea: ask your patrons to share their pandemic stories. Encourage them to share how they survived their time in lockdown, what they learned, and how the experience changed them.
Let the public know you’ll be posting their contribution on a special landing page of your website, and sharing them through social media and in email. You can even print short versions of the stories on a bookmark, which you’ll slip into holds and checkouts to encourage other library users to share their stories.
Finally, hold an event where people can have the chance to read their stories to an audience.
A shared experience builds community. And a community that feels connected to your library, and to each other, will keep coming back to use your services.
Use your virtual programs and videos to encourage your community to expand their library use.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, libraries have embraced livestream and video programming. Now we can use the platforms and audiences we have built for promotions.
Do a livestream from inside your building. Show your audience one thing they can do in your library that they haven’t been able to use since the building was closed or operating under limited services. Save the video and repost it later for on-demand viewing.
Do a livestream where the community can ask questions about the library… an “ask me anything” type event. During your livestream, be sure to mention programs or services that may be interesting to those asking questions.
It’s like working the front desk: people ask questions and you provide the answers. You’ll be demonstrating your staff’s expertise and reminding people that the library is there to help.
Buy two kinds of social media ads.
We know social media algorithms do not work in favor of organic posts. Use some of your budget to circumvent the system by purchasing ads.
Your ad approach can have two methods. One ad should focus on followers. They don’t necessarily see your posts because of the algorithm. But a purchased ad will make sure you are in their feeds. Use the ad to alert them to your expanded changes in service.
The other ad should be focused on people who aren’t library users or followers. You can even split this audience into people you think might be interested in coming into a branch versus people who might want to use digital resources. Social media platforms do a great job of helping you to target specific audiences with your ads.
Spend $25 and see what kind of results you get. If you have more money, use the data you’ve received from this smaller test to run larger, longer ads.
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