Photo courtesy Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library

Libraries spend a lot of time focused on getting people to sign up for a library card–particularly during summer. That’s a worthy promotional goal. Imagine how great the world would be if everyone had a library card!

But we often take our current cardholders for granted. We assume that once a person has gone through the trouble of signing up for a library card, they’ll use it.

The first reports on the exact statistical impact of the pandemic on library use will come out this fall. But I’m not willing to wait that long to address this issue. Every single library I work with tells me circulation, database use, program attendance, and overall visits are down.

Many libraries are trying to build our use and circulation stats back to their pre-pandemic levels. But I think we can do better. We can get more people to use the library now than before the pandemic.

How do we do that? With a focused plan to re-engage our current cardholders.

Re-engaging our disconnected users makes strategic and business sense for libraries. Our friends in the retail business have a secret: They know it costs five times as much money to obtain a new customer than to convince a current customer to buy more.

For libraries, this means it takes us five times more energy and resources to build our cardholder base than it does to get our current cardholders to use the library more often.

Summer reading is the perfect time to re-engage cardholders. It is your library’s biggest opportunity to build momentum that lasts throughout the year.

Here are three promotional goals that every library should have this summer to reconnect with current cardholders and get them to use the library more.

Goal #1: Get an email address from every single cardholder.

Did you know that 99 percent of people check their email at least once a day? How many times have you said, “I wish we had one way to reach our community.” Emails are how you do it! They are the absolute most effective way to promote your library.

People expect to be marketed to by your organization. You are not spamming anyone. You are informing, educating, and entertaining the community. And you are making certain they remember they have access to your resources, which they pay for with their tax dollars.

How do you go about getting emails from current cardholders? Ask. Every time someone checks out, look to see if they’ve included an email address in their cardholder profile. If not, ask for one!

Check cardholder profiles before you put books on the holds shelf or pull together items for curbside. If the cardholder doesn’t have an email on file, slip a bookmark into their holds asking them to share their email address using an online form or by calling the reference desk.

Your library can also use social media to gather email addresses. Schedule regular posts with a link for an online form or an opt-in page on your website. You’ll want to make it as easy as possible for your community members. That’s the best way to build your subscriber list.

Goal #2: Onboard current library cardholders.

Normally, onboarding is the process of introducing your new cardholders to the resources available at your library. But it is also an effective tool for re-engaging cardholders. This is especially true as we rebuild after two years of COVID separation from our community. 

The most effective way to onboard an existing cardholder is through email. Your library should create a series of emails sent to cardholders once a week for four weeks. Those emails will re-introduce your cardholders to the best features of your library. It will inspire them to use their cards again.

To create your onboarding campaign, you’ll make two lists. The first will be for the most popular resources at your library. This could include things like your Makerspace, popular storytimes, laptop terminals, or your extensive e-book collection.

Next, make a list of your library’s hidden treasures. These may be items or services that you know will solve problems for your community. This list should include things that are unique to your library, like online Homework Help, your small business resources, your vast historical resources, or your “library of things.”

Finally, look at the two lists you’ve created and narrow your focus. You want to highlight the best and most helpful things at your library without overwhelming your recipients. Choose to promote one resource from your list of popular items and one from your list of hidden library treasures for each of the onboarding emails you send.

Goal #3: Upsell at every opportunity.

Whenever possible, your library staff should suggest other services, collection items, and programs to the people they encounter.

Teach staff to pay attention to context clues. Then upsell another collection item, service, or program based on what the staff observes.

For example, is the patron standing at the checkout a young father with two small children and an armload of picture books? Pull a take and make craft kit off the shelf and suggest that that dad subscribes to your YouTube channel, where you have videos explaining how to finish the crafts.

If a community member asks for help finding a resource for her small business, make sure she knows about your co-working spaces, your entrepreneur book club, and your LinkedIn profile.

When a patron registers for a cooking class, hand them a bookmark with a list of recommended cookbooks and show them how to access the Cooking Fundamentals series on Kanopy.

To help your staff spot opportunities for upselling, it may help to create a flow chart or graphic to illustrate the connections between everything your library offers. You can even make a game to encourage participation by staff members.

Ask staff to keep track of the number of times they upsell to a patron. You might even use a log, like your summer reading log, to help with tracking. The top upsellers win a prize at the end of the summer. And your library wins by increasing awareness of services and use.


Read These Articles Too!

Your Summer Reading Challenge: How Your Library Can Use Big Events To Gather Compelling Content for Promotions During the Rest of the Year

Rebuild Your Summer Reading Program! Here Are Ten Tips To Boost Participation This Year

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