All too often I hear people say, “I didn’t know xyz resource was available from the library.” Then, inevitably a little while later I hear, “How does it work?” Or worse, “I couldn’t figure it out, so I gave up.”
The other day I was talking with a good friend. He was telling me about how his high-functioning autistic son is a voracious reader. Wanting to provide a constructive outlet, he would regularly buy eBooks for his son on Amazon and he was lamenting to me how much it was costing him. I asked him why he didn’t simply use his local library. He told me his son preferred to read eBooks on his iPad, not regular books. I then went on to tell him that his library most likely had eBooks. We looked up his library and sure enough, they have OverDrive and Axis360. He can now not only provide enough books for his son, but he can do it for free.
Another example hits closer to home. My wife was getting ready for a trip and wanted an audiobook to listen to in the car. She knew our library had audiobooks so she went to the website and started looking for something to download. A few minutes later she came back to me frustrated that she couldn’t figure out how to get an audiobook. She was about to give up on the whole thing when I sat down with her and explained the one step she was missing.
These two examples illustrate basic problems with resources at the library. In fact, there are four reasons why patrons aren’t using a particular resource or service at the library. Fixing three of them will help you increase usage at your library, which, by the way, is a powerful funding argument for your library. Fixing the fourth one will help save you money. Fixing each of them will make your patrons happier.
First, here are the four issues:
- Patron Awareness: Patrons don’t know that the resource or service exists
- Understanding: Patrons don’t understand why they would need a specific resource or service or how it would benefit them
- Know-How: Patrons don’t know how to use it or how to use it effectively
- Needs Mismatch: A resource or service doesn’t meet the real needs of your patrons
And here is how to fix the issues:
- Patron Awareness: Focus your promotion efforts on specific groups of patrons rather than patrons generally. This helps you find messages that resonate. Use multiple channels--Facebook, Twitter, newsletters, library website, etc. Use images, and limit your text to describing one or two major benefits.
- Understanding: Explain to patrons the benefits they will get from using a particular resource or service through video and/or text. Here is an example of a library explaining OneClickdigital to their patrons.
- Know-How: Patrons need to be shown how to use a particular resource or service, yet people are different and they like to learn in different ways. Some like to be shown, others like to read, and others like to be more hands on. Having one place where patrons know they can go to learn anything using their learning style is incredibly effective. Here is the same library teaching with the three different learning styles.
- Needs Mismatch: Once you have good evidence that a resource is not something your patrons want (because now they are aware, know the benefits, and know how to use it) you can save the money or reallocate the money to another resource that is being or will be used.
Patrons who become aware of and regularly begin to use the enriching resources in the library naturally value the importance of the library in their community.
Libraries are an amazing institution. Let’s help your patrons see that.