How Does Your Library Market Its Programs? (Discussion)

How does your library market its programs_

Krysta writes a lot about libraries, resources, and accessibility on the blog, but lately my own struggles with my new local library got me thinking about marketing and outreach to the local community.  Those who follow me on Twitter might have noticed me recording my saga in attempting to find out about the Summer Reading Program—basic information like the dates it’s being run and what ages it’s open to.  (For instance, some libraries have a minimum age for kids; some don’t.  Some have an adult Summer Reading Program; some don’t.)  I looked in vain on the library’s website and social media for information about what is one of the biggest programs of the year for any library in the US.  I then asked on their Facebook page for more information and was met with silence.  I finally emailed my queries, only to be answered by someone who said they didn’t know and I should check the library website—the website that does not have any information.  The saga ended somewhat happily with someone finally giving me the email address of the children’s librarian—who subsequently told me there is no adult Summer Reading Program anyway—but the whole experience had me questioning how this particular library markets their events and gets people to come, and then I wondered what libraries in general are doing and what seems most effective.

I was actually seeking and asking for information about a program I assumed the library had, and I could not find the answer.  This library’s Twitter account has not been updated since 2018.  Their Facebook page has scheduled posts about some events, but the posts lack any real information.  One might read something like, “Come July 14 to see Pete the Rabbit!”  After reading this, I have no idea who Pete the Rabbit is, what ages this is suggested for, or why anyone might want to see him.  If I cared enough, I could try asking, but my experience demonstrates I might not get an answer, or it might take me so long to get an answer I just get frustrated and decide I’ve had it with Pete entirely.  The library has no other social media (such as an Instagram), and their website has sporadic, ill-formatted information that ranges in quality.  Imagine a page listing programs that’s in Comic Sans and also includes general info like “Science stories, June 3 from  9-10 am, ages 4-10.”  What is the “science stories” program?  I have no idea.  Incomplete information that’s distributed only very locally—on the library’s own website and on the library’s own Facebook page—means I really have no idea what’s happening at the library, and I have to rather intentionally look for the information to find out.  There is little chance I will find out about any programs or offerings if I am not already someone who routinely visits the library or frequently checks the website for updates.

I’ve belonged to better-funded, friendlier libraries.  (I don’t think I would have gotten an email response that amounted to “Dunno. Ask someone else,” from my previous library if I asked for information about a program.)  However, this local marketing seems fairly common.  If you want to know what’s going on, you have to check the library website (other libraries do have more informative sites than my current one), or you have to go in the library building and see some flyers hanging around.  Krysta talked about how more local media coverage would benefit libraries and help them inform a wider audience about programs and services.  But now I want to know:

How does your library market their programs?  What social media do they use?  Is the information they post vague or actually informative?  Are they active or fairly absent?  Do they advertise outside of their own channels?  What works, and what do you think libraries can do better?

Briana

15 thoughts on “How Does Your Library Market Its Programs? (Discussion)

  1. Eustacia | Eustea Reads says:

    I’m on my library’s (which is basically Singapore’s library – all public libraries come under the same board) mailing list, so I get emails about what’s coming up. I just checked and there’s also a facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/nlbsingapore/) and there are always monthly flyers about upcoming programmes at various branches. The official app (which I love because you can use it to borrow books without going to a checkout station) also has an events page But to be honest, if I’m really looking for a program, I normally skip the social media channels and go to the programmes section on the website because you can filter events by location, category, date, etc.

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    • Krysta says:

      I use my library’s website, too. They do a decent job with social media, but obviously can’t advertise every event that way since there are too many of them. I sometimes see people asking about events on social media and I just get confused that they don’t refer to the website calendar. It seems, though, that Briana’s library website really isn’t providing the information it should, which is a shame. Because people who end up there are actively looking for that information in many cases and they care about getting it. The library, at that point, has to do minimal work convincing them to show up to the library programs–they clearly already know programming exists. So, why not just write, “We have a summer reading program for ages X to Y running from this date to that date. Come in to sign up and pick up a reading log.” It’s not that hard….

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      • Eustacia | Eustea Reads says:

        If the library isn’t even updating their own website (and it doesn’t have to be fancy and have filters – a post every two weeks of upcoming events would probably provide enough information), then they aren’t doing the minimum to get the word out.

        I’m pretty curious: is library funding for certain programmes in the US dependent on the signup rate? I’ve seen you guys talk about library funding on your blog a couple of times and I would think that if funding is an issue (and is tied to signups and community engagement), libraries should be a lot more eager to get the word out about events in any way possible.

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        • Krysta says:

          My general understanding is that the library will use circulation and programming statistics to demonstrate their value to the community and advocate for more funding/report to the library board. I don’t know that numbers affect the funding for specific programming, aside from the library staff themselves presumably not choosing to spend a lot of money on programs with low attendance. I think there’s just a general programming budget from the year to pull from.

          I did talk to one librarian who mentioned it was easier programming for a small library because she could actually spend more money per person on materials–that was interesting, the idea that the smaller libraries could actually have programs with more expensive materials since they only have to plan for a few people to show up.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. alisoninbookland says:

    I’m on the library side and it’s HARD. I’m fortunate and work for the biggest system for the state so we have decent reach and $$. With that said, even with all that we do (outreaches, printed materials, news, social media), we still don’t reach some people. Last week was the last week of Summer Reading and we STILL had people walking in and having no idea about SRP and being a bit bummed about missing it. It’s a tough industry whether you’re in a library with 5 employees or a library system with hundreds of employees.

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    • Krysta says:

      My library primarily advertises in-house as far as I can tell, so you’re not likely to know about what the library is offering unless you already go there and care enough to look up their website or follow them on social media. But they do update their website and social media. What gets me about Briana’s experience is that her library has a website, but they can’t be bothered to update it. I understand maybe they can’t find anyone to run social media, but…they have months to add a few sentences about summer reading to their website. And then, for her to email only to have someone say they can’t answer? That’s terrible customer service! It’s like they don’t care if she gets so frustrated she never goes to the library at all. If they don’t know, they need to forward her inquiry to someone who does. This is basic customer service stuff. It really comes across like her library would prefer people don’t show up so they don’t have to bothered with those pesky patrons or something. 😦

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  3. mgerardmingo says:

    I started thinking about this subject regarding my local library system when I discovered that it has an Instagram account that hasn’t been updated in some time. For the most part that account was used to promote their teen volunteer program, which makes—teenagers are more likely to be on Instagram. But since it’s gone dormant I’m not sure if anyone’s heart was into it. The system does maintain an active Twitter account to advertise upcoming events and programs, but it’s got a low follower count and very little engagement on posts. (I didn’t even know it existed until I started researching this comment.) And I do get a weekly newsletter from the library, but it’s so dense with images that it can be hard to find the actual news in it.

    And of course, all those marketing outlets are of self-selected groups. I never singed up a newsletter so I assume that goes out to all cardholders, but one has to actively seek out their social media feeds, which is going to yield a smaller (though perhaps more dedicated) audience. In terms of more traditional modes of advertising, I’m not sure the system has the resources for them; I don’t ever hear announcements on the local radio station, for instance. I remember the most effective bit of advertising for me was seeing a banner for a used book sale above the entrance to my local branch a few years ago. (it’s on a local highway, so I imagine it got some eyeballs.) But beyond that, I can’t think of much else.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes, I think part of the problem is that libraries tend to market to people who…are already at the library, and I’ve noticed this in various cities I’ve lived in. A flyer in the library or a Facebook post is only going to reach people who already go to the library or follow your Facebook page in the first place. Where I live now, the town sometimes posts a link to library events on their Facebook page, but that’s also a page I had to specifically go find and follow. (And it’s generally the adult programs, to be honest, so not great if you’re looking for kids’ ones.)

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      • Krysta says:

        Yes, I think it’s a shame the library tends to market primarily to an audience who already knows something of their services. I think this is because outside advertising (such as in the newspaper, say) would require money to be spent. However, I think this means a lot falls on the shoulders of outreach librarians. They’re the ones actually going out into the community and introducing services to people who don’t know about them yet. But it’s questionable, I suppose, how much each individual library values their outreach librarians…. I’ve personally never seen mine out and about, but someone did tell me the other day they got a library flyer while at the pool, so I guess someone’s out there somewhere! The pool really seems like a great idea to reach families maybe looking for other ways to fill up summer vacation.

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  4. Elspeth says:

    Our family uses the library a lot and takes advantage of a lot of services and educational opportunities. Still, I’m not aware of any special effort being made to market their programs. I usually peruse the website to see what’s new and upcoming but have never seen any kind of promotional advertising outside of the physical branch locations or the website.

    This summer our kids took several classes which had decent turnout, and in the case of the tween sewing classes, those were always full, with wait-listed people showing up in the event that a registrant was absent so they could take a slot.

    Now I’m a bit curious to find out what, if any, additional promoting our library does.

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  5. Maude B. says:

    My local library is on facebook and Instagram, and has a reserved space in the city’s newspaper, and its own newsletter, sent every month to anyone interested in following the latest library updates. They have pretty good information, and regularly post their schedule of events for the next few weeks, with all the info needed to register for their workshops / events. They’re not very present on Instagram, but still share pictures they get tagged in, and pictures of their new arrivals, so their followers can see what’s going on ! It works really well, and I love how they really try to get people to see what they have to offer – they also reach out to community members and groups to collaborate and have projects together, and get more people to the library 🙂

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  6. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Very interesting post! I do think library reading programmes are often poorly advertised (at least that’s my experience over here) so much of it in my borough relies on word of mouth. There’s never anything on the website though fortunately they’ve gotten better at social media.
    (also did they mean Peter Rabbit??)

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