This week, I learned a new term used to describe the way the world is transforming in the wake of the pandemic.

“The Next Normal” was coined by workplace consulting firm McKinsey & Company. It describes the changes which continue to emerge in every industry in the post-viral era.

A return to normal after an event like the pandemic is extremely challenging. It calls for libraries to reimagine and reform the work they do to meet their community’s needs in new ways.

Libraries seem to have the most angst about this change with regards to programming.

I have talked with many library staff members who truly enjoy creating and presenting programs. The process brings them fulfillment and purpose. And the idea that the pandemic may have permanently changed the way the public engages with library programming makes them sad and nervous.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

Change is scary and uncomfortable. But it also gives us an opportunity to approach library programs in a way that is more strategic. We have the chance to make sure our programming is creating deep relationships with our community.

Here are eight things to keep in mind as you begin to re-create your library programs in the age of The Next Normal.

Be realistic about the hurdles

Before the pandemic, libraries got a lot of program and event traffic from people who walked in to check out a book or browse the collection. They noticed an event or program happening in the library and joined in.

Because of the pandemic, libraries have implemented convenience services, like curbside pickup and book bundles. The community needs those services. But they also impact the number of physical visits to your library and in turn, the number of people who come across a program impulsively.  

There is also a significant portion of the community who is not comfortable (yet) with going back to a public indoor space. Others discovered virtual programming during the lockdown and now prefer it.

We must acknowledge that the pandemic may have changed the way people interact with library programming. When you give yourself and your library permission to accept that premise, you can begin to rebuild and reimagine the way your library creates and promotes programs.

Plan fewer, but more quality programs

The Next Normal is a great time for libraries to re-evaluate the programs they offer.  

I propose that libraries reduce the number of programs that they do. Instead, spend more money and more time planning quality programs that are unique to your community.

I wrote a post that expands on this idea in depth. It’s still relevant today. You can read it here.

Set your promotional boundaries and stick to them

Library marketers are often expected to promote every program at a library, months in advance. The Next Normal is a great time to set down some ground rules for which programs get promoted and how those promotions will be carried out.

As you are determining the boundaries that will work best for your library, you may have to experiment with how far in advance you promote programs and on what channels.

Remember that your community’s scheduled and expectations have changed in the wake of the pandemic. The promotions you did before the pandemic may not work in The Next Normal.

Track the results of your promotions so you can identify those changes and create new ground rules for your promotional work. Once you set those rules, stick to them.

You may be pressured to make exceptions. And there may be co-workers who don’t appreciate the effort you are making to do the best job of marketing for your library. That’s okay.

If you create a plan that puts the interest of your community and your library at its core, you will be successful.

Make promotions part of your program planning

As you begin to put your program together, make it a habit to think about the marketing piece. Ask yourself:

  • Who will be your target audience?
  • What is the best way to reach them?
  • How much time will it take you (or your co-workers who help with marketing) to create the pieces you’ll need to promote your event properly?   
  • What will your event hashtag be?

If there are other library staff who will be involved in promotions, make sure you give them a heads up in plenty of time. For example, if your library has a social media manager, try meeting with them once a month to let them know about the programs you’re putting together.

Choose your promotional platforms carefully.

Community members may ignore promotions because they are overwhelmed by the sheer number of marketing messages they receive. Libraries tend to want to promote everything on all channels. Let’s be more intentional.

If your community actively engages with your Facebook posts, use that to your advantage. Create events on Facebook for your programs so that potential attendees get a reminder as the day of your program draws near. You can also buy Facebook ads or boost your posts to target specific demographics, even if you have a small budget.

If your community prefers interaction on another social media platform, like Instagram, spend your time and energy promoting your events there. Instagram Stories are a great way to build excitement.

Perhaps your library has a receptive and engaged email list. Add a program suggestion to your reading recommendation emails. Or send an email with a program announcement to a targeted audience.

Leverage your presenters

The Next Normal is the time to get as much promotion out of your speakers, presenters, and sponsors as possible. They likely have a ready-made audience that may like to attend your event. Ideally, this kind of collaborative promotion should be a part of your agreement with each participant.

You can make it easy on presenters by sending them a pre-written social media post or blurb for their email newsletter promoting their appearance. Supply them with copy, images, video, print assets, and anything else they need to help you spread the word.

Create some FOMO (fear of missing out)

FOMO is a powerful tool for getting more attendance at your programs. Your registered patrons and past program attendees can provide social proof that your event is going to be amazing.  Let them help you build hype.

About a week before the event, send an email reminder or a social media message to everyone who has registered or shown interest in your program. Encourage them to brag that they’ll be attending. Include a pre-written social media message to make it easy to share.

Remember your real goal

At the end of the day, programs should help your library create a relationship with those cardholders. We want them to come to us for all their problems, and all their questions, and all their needs.  

This is a more holistic approach than merely counting attendance numbers. Creating that engaged community will make your work worth all the effort.  


More Marketing and Promotional Help

Your Library Can Reach Teens With Programming and Marketing! A Look Inside the Lives and Minds of the Elusive Generation Z

Library Programming and Promotions SHOULD Be BFFs! Here’s Why They Must Work Together.

Angela’s Latest Book Review

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