Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

My favorite bedtime snack is cereal. There’s something comforting about climbing into bed to watch TikTok while munching on Cheerios or Rice Krispies or, God forgive me, Cookie Crisp.

But it costs a lot more now to indulge in my favorite nighttime ritual. The average price of a gallon of milk rose by $1.23 between 2020 and 2022. The price of an average box of dry cereal rose by $1 between 2020 and 2022, according to my research.

Everything is getting more expensive, and not just in the United States. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, consumer prices are up 9.2 percent in 2022. Some countries like Turkey and Estonia are seeing double-digit inflation rates.

Your patrons are struggling, as I’m sure you know. That’s why now is the moment to start promoting your library as a money-saving opportunity for your community.

This isn’t a new idea. During the recession of 2008, libraries marketed themselves as a place for free books, DVDs, education, and entertainment. We’ve expanded our services since then, and we can show our community the value of using their library card to save money.

This approach has benefits for the library too. It will help reconnect community members who may have stopped coming to the library during the pandemic. That will drive circulation, visitors, and attendance.

Specificity is key.

Libraries, in our well-intentioned effort to appeal to everyone, often appeal to no one. So instead of saying, “The library saves you money,” be specific.

Think about the audiences you have on the platforms where you promote your library. Your Facebook followers have a specific demographic makeup. So do your Instagram followers. Your email newsletter subscribers react positively to certain promotions.

Think about those specific audiences. Write down what you know about them. For example:

Our library’s Instagram audience is women between the ages of 25 and 34. We get the most likes, shares, and comments for posts featuring historic photos of our library and book recommendations.

Next, do some research about the financial state of your area. Census statistics from 2020 are a great place to start. You can also search local news articles for more recent reports from your city or county about the state of the economy in your service area. If I were to do this for the city where I live (Cincinnati, Ohio), I would write:

The average household income according to the 2020 census is $65,000 and the poverty rate is 24 percent. Our population is majority white (50 percent) and black (41 percent). Cincinnati was ranked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the bottom ten urban areas for job growth. The homeownership rate is only 39 percent. Most households consist of three people. Most residents have at least a high school diploma.

Armed with just those few statistics, I can make a list of the needs my service community has.

  • Finding a job
  • Career growth for better-paying jobs
  • Adult education advancement and the money to pay for higher education
  • Family activities that are cheap or free
  • Entertainment that is cheap or free

Now I can identify the specific library services that fall into those categories. Then, I can make plans to promote each of those library offerings as cost savings to my community.

Here are five ideas for specific promotions. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for examples of libraries that are promoting their services to save money.

Include a price comparison.

How much does a subscription to Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, or Audible cost compared with your library’s free streaming movies and music? How much does it cost to rent a workspace compared to using the library as a remote workspace? How much does it cost to buy a folding table versus checking one out from your library of things? Make the comparison so community members can see how much money they can save.

Always start with your collection.

Books are your library’s brand. In your print collection, focus on bestselling fiction and nonfiction, cookbooks, DIY, and children’s books. If you’re worried about growing the holds list, be sure to promote these books in all formats, including digital and audio, to give your patrons access faster.

You should also promote your library’s digital magazines and online newspapers. Remember to do a price comparison to show people how much they can save by using your library.

Remember, don’t promote the entirety of your collection. Be specific. Pick one to three titles that match a specific target audience. Your promotions will be more effective.

For example, when I worked at the Cincinnati Library, I promoted Reminisce Magazine to baby boomers on Facebook. Before our promotion, we had only a few downloads of this magazine each month. Afterward, downloads rose by more than 100 percent! Our community also really loved Cincinnati Magazine and whenever I marketed it by itself, downloads spiked. Specificity is the key.

Consumer reports database

This is a huge money saver for your community. Show your fans how they can research the best products and save time and money.

Homework help

Tutoring isn’t cheap. Many libraries offer help for kids struggling with schoolwork, either in person or online. If your homework help is in-person, introduce people to the faces their kids will see at the library. The Cincinnati Library did this in a blog post. You can also make a short video or a series of slides on Instagram or Facebook stores.

Other library services that save money

  • Library of things
  • Free Wi-Fi hotspots
  • Video games
  • Free or cheap classes and testing preparation.
  • The library as a workspace

Real-life examples of libraries promoting their cost-savings

Alma College blog post The Library Can Save You Time and Money–Here’s How

Jefferson Public Library’s Borrow, Don’t Buy Facebook promotion

Bridges Library System talking about money savings on Sorta Green Podcast

Crab Orchard Public Library’s savings comparison Facebook post

Riverhead Free Library’s money savings meme

Bryan Public Library’s money savings receipt post on Instagram

Monmouth County Library’s money savings Instagram post

Jackson Madison County Public Library’s price comparison series on Facebook

Now it’s your turn! Has your library done a money savings promotion? Let me know in the comments.

Read These Articles Too!

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