Photo of a woman on a computer courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

The plain fact is: Next to the face-to-face interaction between librarians and community, an email list is your most effective library marketing tactic.

How do your cardholders learn about new services? How do they find their next great read? How do they figure out how to use parts of the collection they didn’t even know existed, like video streaming or eAudiobooks? You can tell them all about your library’s awesome resources by talking with them in their inbox.

If your library isn’t already collecting cardholder email addresses, please start now.

You’ll create emails with an enticing subject line. Your emails will contain great content that your recipients will want to read. And you’ll be tracking metrics so you can build on your successes.

As your finger hovers over the send button, you may find yourself facing another important decision.

When should I send the email?

Does the timing really matter?

The simple answer is yes.

A great headline and great content are only half the battle for your cardholders’ attention. You’re also competing with their personal schedule, other messages sitting in their inbox, and social media.

Your message is more likely to catch their attention if it lands in their inbox at the right time of day.

Your library is fighting with others for urgency. You want your recipient to say to him or herself, “I need to read this and act on it, right now!”

Getting that message in front of your audience at the right moment increases the open, click-through, and conversion rate because it takes advantage of that sense of urgency.

What the data tells us about the best time to send emails

I’ve done a lot of experimenting with time of day emailing over the course of my library marketing career.

There are three times of day to send messages for the most effective results.

  • Really early in the morning (by 5 a.m.)
  • Lunchtime (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
  • Before bed (between 8 and 10 p.m.)

The website Optinmonster calls these “key transition times.” And their research confirms what I learned.

A message sent in the early morning will be sitting in your cardholders mailbox when they first wake up. It’ll be among the first things they check. An email sent at lunch means it’ll be sitting there when they check their messages over their tuna sandwich. An email before bedtime means it’ll be there when they scroll through their emails while they watch a show or before they get ready for bed.

Optinmonster also recommends sending emails at 4 p.m., when people need a little distraction as they get through the last hours of their workday.

As for day of the week, most libraries should avoid sending emails on Mondays and weekends. The agency Wordstream says their data agrees with that assessment.

Your recipients inbox may be flooded with emails on Mondays. And on weekends, many people are running errands and doing other things with their friends and family. They’re less likely to check their inbox on a Saturday or Sunday. Case in point: I’m writing this on a Saturday. It’s 9 a.m. and I just realized I haven’t checked my email yet today!

But what works for me and what works for Optinmonster and Wordstream might not work for you.

It’s crucial that you do your own experimentation.

Try this Four Email Experiment to narrow down the best day and time for your audience.

For this experiment, use the same email for your test. Perhaps you have a weekly newsletter you send to parents, or a bi-weekly email that you send to people who regularly visit a certain library branch. Those emails will work perfectly for this experiment.

Try to keep the subject line for each of the four emails in your experiment similar. You’re testing for the best day and time, so you want to rule out other factors that may make an email more or less likely to be engaging.

Start by sending your email on Tuesday at 4 a.m. The next time you send it, schedule the email for Tuesday at noon. The following send, try Tuesday at 4 p.m. and finally, Tuesday at 8 p.m.

Track your open, click-through, and conversion rates on all these messages to see which is most effective. Work through each day of the week to see which days get you the most traction.

When you find a day and time that works best for your audience, stick to it for about six months. Continue to track your metrics over that six-month period to ensure you’re not seeing a slip in the numbers.

If, after six months, that day and time continues to be effective for you, you don’t need to run the experiment again.

But the habits of your audience may change during that time. Outside forces (like the pandemic) may affect the daily rituals of your recipients. You may need to run the experiment again if you see numbers slipping.


I have a special request.

I’m putting together a conference presentation and I’m looking for some examples.

  • Libraries that have reopened and have had some success drawing people back into the physical branch.
  • Libraries who believe they’ve figured out the hybrid program model.
  • Libraries who are trying to turn their pandemic digital users on to other services now that the library has reopened.

I’ve created a form so you can brag about your library.

I know you are doing amazing work. I want to highlight you on a national stage! Thank you in advance.


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