Photo courtesy Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library

Maybe this is just a library thing, but practically every time I leave the house, I have a book in my hand.

Doctor’s appointments, salon appointments, a quick trip to pick up a prescription from the drive-thru pharmacy (WHY is the line so long??), the airport, a car trip… I must take a book with me. You know… just in case I have five minutes of downtime. Heaven forbid I waste any precious reading moments.

As it turns out, there are plenty of people who share my love of reading. (But we knew that, didn’t we?) A new survey by blogger and freelance writer David Leonhardt sheds new light on reading habits.

David surveyed 945 people about their reading habits in December 2022 to gather book reading data. The survey was not random, and it was conducted on the Internet, so as David points out, “Respondents tended to self-identify as readers. Most people who do not read books or have not read books in a while declined to participate.”    

But the survey does spotlight three opportunities for library marketing.  

Key Survey Finding: Most people read either a few books or a lot of books.

Opportunity: Target low-volume readers with read-alike suggestions.

David’s survey shows about 32 percent of people read only 1-5 books in 2022. That’s a huge percentage of low-volume readers.

We know that readers sometimes have a difficult time finding their next book. That is especially true of low-volume readers. They just need some encouragement and attention.

This is incredibly simple. Train your front-line staff to notice when someone is checking out just one book. Tell staff to ask the cardholder what interested them about the title. Then have the staff offer them a read-alike!

You can apply the same principle to your holds shelf. Create 3 bookmarks with reading suggestions. Pick three genres, subjects, authors, or topics that are popular with your cardholders.

Next, tell staff to be on the lookout for patrons who have 1-2 books on hold. Ask them to slip one of your three bookmarks into those holds. Have your staff make their best guess on which bookmark to choose based on the 1-2 titles the patron is checking out.

Key Finding: People still love print books.

Opportunity: Strategically upsell your print collection.

David’s survey shows 57 percent of readers prefer print. (That number is slightly lower in the U.S., where readers are more likely to use the Kindle.)

That’s a lot of print readers! And that’s a lot of opportunity to drive circulation numbers for your library, without much effort.   

To do that, we’re going to focus on upselling. 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 to cause 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.

If you are running your library’s drive-thru window and a patron comes to pick up their hold on a cookbook, you can do a quick catalog search to find another cookbook by the same author or around the same topic: bonus points if you have the cookbook on the shelf! Then, when you’re ready to hand over the original hold, let your patron know you have a suggestion that perfectly matches what they’re checking out. 

Or maybe you are leading a monthly book club at your library. Create a bookmark to distribute to your attendees suggesting more books related to the one you’re reading. Better yet, bring a cart of books to your meeting and encourage members to browse and check out!

You can do this with your next children’s program too. Pull a cart of books related to the topic of the program and encourage the kids or their caregivers to check out the books. Look for every opportunity to encourage your patrons to check out more materials.

Key Finding: People plan to read more in 2023.

Opportunity: Educate the community on your library’s importance in the reading world

64 percent of readers who responded to the survey said they plan to read more books in 2023 than they did in 2022. Only 3 percent plan to read fewer books.  

Our work here is done!

Not exactly.

I don’t have to spend any time telling you that libraries are truly in danger. Every day, our news and social media feeds are filled with horrific stories from friends in the library world about book challenges and campaigns to defund libraries. (I saw this post literally as I was taking a brain break from writing this post.)

You know that libraries are important. You know books change lives. You believe your community members understand that it is essential to have a place in a community where people can come to check out the books they want and need.

They do not. 

If libraries are to survive and thrive, we must do a better job of showing the value of our work around literacy.  

How do we do this?

I want you to set a goal. In the next 12 months, your library is going to find four patrons who love to read. Pick people from different backgrounds with different reading interests.

Then, I want you to tell their stories. Send them an email with interview questions and write a blog post about them. Or pull out your phone and interview them on camera.  Then post the video on your library’s website and social media channels.

In addition, pick 2-4 staff members who work with readers and who love giving reading recommendations. Tell their stories as well, either in print or on video.

Attaching names and faces to the work your library does around reading will evoke emotions and leave a lasting impact. It also builds trust and credibility.

People remember a good story. Storytelling is a powerful way to communicate with the human side of your library. And it will build support for your work.

More Advice

You Don’t Have to Choose Between Print and Digital Books: How to Promote Your Collection to Patrons Who Use BOTH Formats

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