Photo of a man in the library stacks, vintage, courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County's Digital collection.

I have an obsession.

I check my holds list on my library’s website pretty much every single day.

This is no lie.

At my library, each cardholder has a dashboard. You can see all the items you’ve put on hold and how many cardholders are in line in front of you.

You can also put books, DVDs, and CDs on a “for later” shelf. If you’re like me, you’ll check that shelf religiously.

After checking my print item holds, I open the Libby app and check the status of all the audiobooks I’ve put on hold. I try to guess which audiobook has the best potential to be made available at the exact moment I finish my current audiobook.

That’s totally normal, right?

I promise you that there are thousands, nay, tens of thousands of readers who partake in this same obsessive routine. Libraries who capitalize on that obsession get higher circulation numbers. And the more people engage with your collection, the more they are likely to engage with other parts of your library.

That’s why I am an advocate for robust and strategic collection promotion. But most library marketing teams spend their energy and resources promoting programs.

I was at the Association of Rural and Small Libraries Conference last week (shoutout to my new friends!). I asked the group where their library spends most of its promotional resources (time and energy).

75 percent said promoting programs and events. A mere FOUR PERCENT said promoting their collection.

(Excuse me now while I have a short cry).

These libraries are missing a crucial fact about their cardholders.

People want the collection items. That’s why people get a card. And that’s the main way people use their card once they’ve got it.

The Public Library Survey Report‘s latest data, released in August, showed that there were 2.2 billion items circulated in 2019, about seven items per person in the United States.

By comparison, there are almost 125 million program attendees at public libraries. If each of those attendees only attended one program, that would account for only 38 percent of the total population in the U.S.

And most libraries spend significantly more on their collection than they do on anything else. Library Journal’s 2021 Budgets and Funding Survey shows that libraries spent 11.2 percent of their total budget on materials in 2020.

I am certain the data for other countries is similar.

If your library is putting resources into your collection, you must promote it. That’s the truth no matter what size library you work in.

But my gosh does it seem intimidating. Where do you start? And how do you get the most bang for your buck, in terms of circulation success?

Here are four easy things you should do right now to promote your collection. Because it’s what your community wants and needs from you.

Create FOMO with email.

Last month, I spoke to a self-described “library fan” who confessed to me that she often buys books because she didn’t know her library had new titles for checkout.

Most people don’t even think about turning to the library when their favorite author releases a new book. A concentrated collection marketing effort will change that.

Holds are a promotional opportunity. And the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a real and tangible driver of promotional success.

So, promote your titles, especially new titles, using email. Include a line telling your cardholders that they are getting a jump on the holds list. Your most avid cardholders will pounce at the chance.

You can start small. Send an email once a month promoting three titles. Include a link to your catalog that will allow people to check that title out in whatever format they prefer.

All you need to do is include the book jackets, a short annotation, and a link. There are email programs designed specifically for libraries that make this process super easy.

You can also create a list of titles that aren’t new, but that are related by story element to the new titles which are the primary focus of your email. Give cardholders the option to check out these older titles while they wait for the newer titles.

Make sure you track holds and checkouts of the titles you promote in your email. That will give you some data to help you make decisions about what to promote next month. It will also be proof of the effectiveness of your work.

In my experience, one email a month can drive a circulation increase on average anywhere from 125 percent to 375 percent!

Strategically “upsell” your collection

Upselling is a sales term in which customers are encouraged to buy a more expensive version of a product than they originally intended.

Libraries can upsell too. We want our cardholders to end up checking out more items than they originally intended!

To do that, we must always be thinking of ways to offer other collection items to patrons as they checkout.

For instance, if you are running your library’s drive-thru window and a patron comes to pick up their hold on a memoir by a rock star, you can encourage them to log onto your library’s website to listen to that musician’s streaming music.

Or maybe you notice a patron bringing a stack of Regency-era books to your checkout desk. Suggest that the patron also check out DVDs of movies like “Pride and Prejudice”.

If your library is doing a screening of a kids’ movie, be sure to have an abundant number of books for kids in the same genre so that your patrons can leave the movie with a stack of books to read at home.

Look for every opportunity to encourage your patrons to check out more materials.

Harness the power of an eye-catching book cover.

Publishers understand the psychological impact of a good book cover. They spend a ton of money and research to pick the most engaging cover. We can use that to our advantage when we promote collection items.

On digital platforms, you’re trying to get people to stop scrolling as they move their feed. And a beautiful book cover works great for this purpose.

You can also put this concept to work for in-person book displays. Put your books face out. You want people to be drawn in by the beauty of the book cover.

Let someone else pick the items.

Delegate the selection of items to promote to the people who know what they’re doing–your collection or materials selection department.

Or ask the general staff of your library for recommendations. Librarians love it when you ask them what they’re reading. Your biggest problem will be whittling down the answers!

You can also crowdsource collection promotions from your followers. Ask people to share their book recommendations with you on social media or by emailing you.

You can even ask them to record a short video of themselves making their recommendations. Then you can share that content! You can even make a poster or sign featuring a photo of your patron and their book recommendations.

Want to talk more about collection promotion? Send me your questions or comments.


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