Last month's Library Journal highlighted a little library that could: the Fairmont Community Library Center, a branch of the Mississippi Valley Library District in Illinois. This dynamic branch has really stepped outside the traditional library box to address compelling needs in their community. They are impacting real lives by filling service gaps from preschool daycare to basic banking. Their obvious relevance in the community and the immediate positive outcomes of their work feel great. When we think about what they're doing as a model for the library of the future, though, we have to ask some tough questions about sustainability. Are non-traditional library services a fad, or are they fundamental to the future of libraries?
Large groups of people in many parts of the world feel threatened and disoriented by global economic changes that are hard to interpret and even harder to accommodate. New technology and automation are making once secure jobs obsolete. From the Brits that voted for Brexit, to the coal miners that voted for Trump, to the Filipinos that elected a tough talking Rodrigo Duterte, all of them are looking for a bit of security, a shield against forces they can't control. And herein, I argue, is a surprising and dramatic opportunity for local libraries. Hear me out.
Marketing, in the library world, is how we communicate our value to the people we serve. With effective marketing, we help potential users understand the appeal and the value of our resources and even hold their hand just to the point that they feel competent using them on their own. When our marketing is ineffective, many potential users simply won't understand or use what we have to offer. For those users, it doesn't matter that we've put a link on our website or a record in our catalog. It doesn't matter how great the resource is or what problems it might solve. If our customers can't connect our resources with their needs, it's the same as if we weren't providing access at all.
Most of the patrons using the computers in your library and everyone who is connecting from outside the library will interact with your website. Given that fact, you want your website to be just as inviting as the physical space within your library. No matter what your website budget is or what your level of technical expertise, I'm going to suggest 3 rules you can follow to create a welcoming website experience. Whether you happen to be the person who works on your library website, or just someone who can recommend improvements, these 3 rules will give you useful guidance.
If you work regularly with homeless patrons, you've likely encountered uncomfortable situations where communication seems to fail despite your best efforts. This article describes three common mistakes that can turn a merely uncomfortable situation volatile: "parenting" a patron, waiting, and worrying about gender. The advice here comes from Ryan Dowd, a man with decades of experience serving and working with the homeless. This article defines those three mistakes and offers guidelines to counteract them to help you diffuse, rather than escalate, tense situations.
The common mode, especially in large urban public libraries, is to speak of the challenges presented by our homeless patrons. They make other patrons feel uncomfortable, there are stories of staff confrontations, bad odors, and property damage... All of these are valid concerns. This article, however, will make the case that your library's response to homeless patrons can let you shine a bright light on the relevance and power of a 21st century library in a way that few other issues can. And at the best-run libraries all around the country, it already is.
The issues surrounding homelessness present a poignant set of challenges and opportunities for public
libraries. In the abstract, libraries have a core mission to serve the underprivileged and help close gaps in opportunity and information access. Helping the homeless improve their own condition is one of the most important services a library can provide in its community. As a practical reality, however, many homeless people have problems the library is not equipped to address: serious mental illness, addiction, chronic physical health challenges... Also, the presence of obviously homeless people in the library can alienate the families and the more affluent patrons that libraries rely upon for funding support.
How, then, do effective libraries balance these competing priorites? What best practices have the most effective libraries implemented?
I should start out by telling you that I'm not a graphic designer or an artist of any kind. I'm not a trained marketer either. I have an MA not an MBA or an MFA. I don't know much about color theory and mostly wouldn't recognize a golden mean ratio unless you pointed it out to me. So why am I, of all people, proposing to tell you something about beautiful library marketing?
Simply this--I've found some tricks that have let me create some fairly effective library marketing material. So if I can do it, you should conclude, certainly you can too. Read on and judge for yourself.
In December, we did a webinar focused on some simple ways to drive up electronic resource utilization. This post is a summary of that presentation. You can watch the recorded webinar here: http://www.nicheacademy.com/simplifying-library-marketing.