How Barrie Public Library More Than Doubled Program Participation in Just 1 Year

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Who is this for?

If you are a librarian responsible for programming who wants to make meaningful connections with and critical services available to patrons but find yourself blocked by circumstances beyond your control…

If your library is exploring new programs and services beyond traditional collections and you want to expand the reach of these new offerings…

...this is for you.

The State of America’s Libraries report indicates a continued growth in the number of libraries emphasizing new services and programs beyond traditional collections. COVID-19 has seriously harmed the development of these programs and shone a light on some of the limitations of in-person programming.

With the harm has come an opportunity, however. Taking library programs online has proven to effectively extend the reach of library offerings.

The Core Concept

It’s possible to dramatically increase library program participation but most libraries don’t see those results because they don’t have a good system for making programs available online.

Traditional program delivery methods (in-person, or live online events), by definition, can only reach people within specific time and location constraints.

Making great program experiences always available online is the key to successfully increasing program participation.

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Our Story

Niche Academy Founder & CEO, Jeromy Wilson, didn’t choose the library life. It chose him. Jeromy was only 4 years old when his father, Jim Wilson, helped found Dynix, a software company responsible for the integrated library system that replaced the need for physical card catalogs. Growing up, he tagged along to countless library conferences and events, before eventually taking a job at Dynix after graduating. But after a few years, as the world was going digital, Jeromy began to notice a problem: despite the increase in available online resources, they just weren’t being used.

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Jared & Jeromy

So in 2013, Jeromy set out to find a solution, and that’s where the idea for Niche Academy was born. He started out on his own, adding to the platform in his free time and taking advantage of the industry contacts he’d already made, but he soon realized that he wasn’t going to be able to do it alone. That’s when he decided to recruit the help of former Dynix co-worker Jared Oates. Together, they were able to get Niche Academy off the ground and it wasn’t long before they found a whole team of people who believed in their idea. 

Seven years later, we are now a team of 34 (and counting!), and are trusted by over 800 library systems (including state libraries, local libraries, and consortia) all across the world. 

After getting our start with just a few short library tutorials, we’re now helping to build the future of online resources and e-learning. 

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A Better Way

Old Approach

Library programs require participants to be available at a specific time or a specific place, often both.

New Approach

Library programs are always available on any electronic device and with appropriate accessibility for people with disabilities.

Old Result

Programs are not available to everyone who might be interested or who might benefit from them. They’re really only available to people with schedules that match the program’s time and place constraints.

New Result

Anyone who is interested in a library program and anyone who might benefit from it, can now get access.

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To be truly inclusive, library programming needs to be available beyond the time and place constraints of traditional delivery mechanisms.


Old Approach

Library programs require that patrons know ahead of time where to look for online access or they require a confusing sequence of clicks, navigations, or registration steps.

New Approach

Programs can be seamlessly embedded into the library website or accessed with a single click. Registration or authentication is avoided when possible. When it’s required (to comply with copyright law, for example) it is limited to a simple form and the user is immediately redirected to the program content.

Old Result

Programs are hard to find and access. Even people who find the program and express interest sometimes get deflected and don’t participate.

New Result

Many more people, including casual browsers, find and access online library programs.

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Ease of access has a surprising impact on how many people actually participate.


Old Approach

Online programs are limited to videos, are not well organized, or have built-in distractions.

Old Result

Online programs offer interaction options that are appropriate for the specific program. Examples might include joining discussions, responding to surveys or open-ended questions, asking questions, and uploading pictures.

Old Result

Programming does not give users a chance to make connections with local librarians or other community members.

New Result

The program experience creates meaningful local interactions between patrons and library staff and among members of the community.

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When used effectively, online programming expands not just the reach, but also the potential personal impact of library programs.


Old Approach

Online programming is the anomaly, the exception to the in-person programming rule.

New Approach

The library has a sustainable ongoing system for making programs available online.

Old Result

Online programs require exceptional marketing efforts. People have no reason to check back in and see what new offerings are available.

New Result

The library builds an audience and a following over time as people have reasons come back and expect new offerings. Usage data can inform decisions about new program development.

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A stream of online content is a powerful mechanism for building a loyal, local following and a community support base. It’s also a compelling demonstration of the value of the library.

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To Dramatically Increase Library Program Participation...

features

 

Options

Build Your Own Content Delivery Platform

At a minimum this system will need to incorporate video hosting, a clean and simple-to-use content management system, interactive patron-facing elements, website integration, and good reporting mechanisms. The best user experience will come from a custom-built software solution.

You can build a less elegant content delivery platform by cobbling together a mix of free and paid solutions like the following:

  • Content management system (Wordpress, Drupal, Wix, Webflow…)
  • Video hosting service (YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Wistia…)
  • Interactive patron-facing elements (Google Forms, Survey Monkey, JotForm, Qualtrics…).
  • Reporting system (Excel, Google Sheets, Google Analytics, Facebook analytics…)

Result: Custom-built software is out of the question for most libraries. A self-made solution will usually require a steep learning curve for content creators. This limits the number of people who can contribute to putting programs online. In most cases, one or two trained staff members will need to do this work.

Free video hosting solutions like Facebook and YouTube present distracting unrelated content and ads. They also pull patrons away from the library website.

Interactive elements will generally be created separately.
In a cobbled-together solution, the usage report data will come from diverse sources and will require an ongoing manual effort.

Price: A custom software solution with this scope will cost at least $500,000 to write requirements, develop, test, and deploy. You should expect to invest about fifth of the up-front development cost each year in ongoing maintenance and product refinement based on customer feedback. The cost of a mixed solution will vary depending on which components are selected and how much labor is required to assemble and maintain the solution, as well as create content on the platform. Conservatively, you should plan on $1000 for annual subscriptions and software development and a full-time employee salary at around $50,000.


Timeframe: Once you have the requirements defined, you would need to budget at least 18 months for development of a minimum feature set on a custom software project with this scope.
A cobbled together solution can be researched and assembled in as little as 2 months.

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Niche Academy is the only library-focused solution that includes simple content management, video hosting, interactive patron-facing elements, and baked-in reporting.

Result: Anyone tech-savvy enough to send an email can create content, which greatly expands the number of people that can participate in making programs available online.

It’s not unusual for libraries using Niche Academy to have staff in every department to create online versions of their programs on their own.

Programs hosted on Niche Academy can be seamlessly embedded into the library website.

The library’s brand is the only one presented to users. There are no distracting content suggestions or ads. Ever.

Interactive patron-facing elements like quizzes, polls, and activities are integrated directly into the experience.

Usage statistics and reports are baked in and always up-to-date.

Price: Based on service population. Subscriptions start at as little as $500/yr

Timeframe: An online academy can be set up and ready for use in less than 10 minutes.

Niche Academy is for librarians who want to create and deliver programs, make meaningful connections with patrons, and extend the reach of critical library services beyond a traditional in-person model.

Case Studies

 

 "Having subscribed now to Niche Academy, it takes away some barriers because it means that there's a place where this training can go, and there are some tools that would allow me to easily create training and easily update training that I've already created and to push it out to either staff or public.”

 

Barrie Public Librarys In-Person vs. Online Event Attendance (2)

Barrie Public Library

Began working with Niche Academy in 2020

Before Niche...

Most on-boarding and instruction consisted of a single sheet of paper filled with as much information as would fit on the page. Online resources had to be manually updated and many were outdated. 

There were attempts made at creating online video tutorials, but they never ended up making it to the website. The library also tried using YouTube, but didn't like having to send users to a third-party site.

Barrie Public Library was known for its popular in-person programs, especially its children's story times, book chats, and craft sessions. Due to the pandemic, these events faced being cancelled, so a very large percentage of in-person programming had to be moved online.

 

With Niche Academy...

Barrie is using their online academy for both patrons and staff, to assist with on-boarding and instruction. They now have tutorials consisting of brand new types of media, and are currently working on creating a more structured training program for using Niche Academy. With a whole group of staff who can create videos and tutorials, Barrie can focus on expanding into a wider variety of tutorials and instruction. 

Barrie was not only able to continue offering popular events to their patrons, but they have also seen an increase in participation that is more than double what it was before. The decision to move programming online has resulted in Barrie seeing record participation due to the convenience and ease it provides patrons. In-person events brought in just over 10,000 patrons in 2019, but with online events, Barrie’s participation numbers in 2020 were over 28,000!

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Tom Green County Library

Began working with Niche Academy in 2020

Before Niche...

Tom Green County Library runs a week-long rocketry camp each summer in collaboration with Angelo State University. Participants receive a rocket building kit and over the course of the week, learn the science and engineering required to actually build the rocket. On the last day of the camp, participants actually launch their rockets. COVID-19 prevented the in-person camp, but Wanda and her team were determined to find a way to hold the camp online.

With Niche Academy...

Wanda identified Niche Academy as a Learning Management System that would be simple to use for learners, administrators, and content creators. They quickly added the content for the courses into Niche Academy including activities that allowed participants to upload pictures and completed documents for review. The online camp worked beautifully. It even allowed some people to participate who would not have been able to otherwise because they lived too far from the library.

The online camp was so successful that they are now applying for a $170K NASA grant that would allow them to expand the content and the reach of the camp.

“It was an easy system to set up… it was very easy to set up… with original content. So if you have a library that's doing something unique, and they're looking for a way to take it online, I think that's its real value and strength.”

Beyond Rockets...

Once they began using Niche Academy for the rocketry camp, they quickly saw that it could also help them restart the certification programs for the equipment in their 10K square foot makerspace. COVID-19 had prevented people from becoming certified to use the equipment because of the risks inherent to in-person training. By putting the certification training online people have begun to get certified again. Post COVID, the library will continue to use this online certification process because it is a huge timesaver for staff. It lets them track what training has actually been completed and makes the in-person time much more effective.

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Niche Academy Helps You...

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Dramatically increase program participation

 

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Get everyone who currently creates library programs directly involved in creating and delivering them online

 

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Eliminate tedious hours spent collecting usage statistics for your online programs

 

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Discover new and powerful ways to directly engage with your community

 

checkStop losing prospective participants to distractions and deflections

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How It Works

Make Your Programs Always Available Online

Program creators can create both live and online versions of programming. Patrons can access videos on their own time, which means these programs can then reach a much larger audience over time and garner much more participation.

Make Programs Easily Accessible From Your Website

Programs are presented with simple library branding or embedded directly into the library's website. All colors, logos, etc. reflect the library brand, and there is no distracting suggested content or prompts to navigate away from the page. This keeps the patron within the library environment and allows them to access the content without complicated navigation or registration steps. 

Give Patrons Meaningful Ways to Interact With Your Online Programming

Posted programs include prompts for written responses, quizzes, polls, and other activities. They can be organized, categorized, and presented sequentially. This gives patrons multiple ways to engage with library staff and with each other, and provides them with an experience that builds meaningful new connections.

Offer a Continual Flow of Online Library Programming

Program creation and delivery can be done by a broad cross-section of library staff. The variety and depth of the online offering is much greater. Online delivery is part of the regular flow of library programs, and due to the regular release of new programs, many more patrons have a reason to check back with the library and see what’s new.

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The Value of Niche Academy

Niche Academy Value (4)

Our Policy: No price increase upon renewal. 

Niche Academy did not increase prices in 2020 due to COVID, but we expect a price increase for new customers in the second half of 2021.

If you subscribe before then, you’ll be locked in and will not see a price increase. 


There is a window of heightened interest in online programming because of the pandemic. This is an opportunity!

Our Guarantee: If you implement Niche Academy prominently in your website and train your frontline staff, we guarantee results. If you’re not completely satisfied with your results in the first year, we’ll credit you a full year’s subscription.

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Questions?

Q: Are we limited to a certain number of training and support hours?

A: No. A Niche Academy subscription includes unlimited professional support. See the answer above on what’s included in the price.


Q: What’s the process for reaching Niche Academy support?

A: Niche Academy support specialists can be reached by phone, by email, or through questions submitted within the platform itself. In addition to the live support, Niche Academy provides a searchable knowledge base and a collection of self-paced help tutorials covering basic administrative tasks and the process for tutorial creation.


Q: What maintenance and support is included with a Niche Academy subscription?

A: Niche Academy provides live technical support during business hours. There is no additional charge levied for Niche Academy support and there are no support tiers. Small customers get the same thoughtful attention as everyone else.  

All aspects of initial onboarding are included in the Niche Academy support offering including:

  • The creation of customer academies and initial population of appropriate tutorials from the Niche Academy marketplace.
  • Basic configuration of tutorials within each customer academy including invitation of learners, the addition of custom links, and showing or hiding available tutorial elements appropriately for the intended audience.
  • The creation of website widgets and their integration into a customer’s website. When a customer doesn’t have administrative access to their website, we work directly with the third party who does to ensure efficient communication. In many cases, our customers provide temporary administrative access to Niche Academy support staff in order to maximize the efficiency of widget implementation.
  • Live training calls with all customer staff that need to learn how to use Niche Academy.


Q: How long does it take for Niche Academy to update tutorials when resources change?

A: Depending on the scope of the change, Niche Academy can turn around an update within a few days to a few weeks. Because we actively watch for new and upcoming changes, we’re often able to make the updates before most of our customers are even aware of the change. In some notable cases, we’ve made updates even before the vendor sales staff knew the changes were coming.


Q: Are accessibility features available?

A: Yes. Niche Academy is compliant with the WCAG 2.1 standard at the AA level. This is something we work hard to maintain as we continuously update the platform. If you spot anything that’s slipped through our testing, please let us know. A thorough enumeration of our compliance level is available in the Niche Academy Accessibility Conformance Report.

Q: What if I can’t afford this?

A: Each library needs to determine for itself the value of increasing circulation numbers and program participation rates relative to other priorities for limited library funds. We do make an effort to keep the cost of Niche Academy very low relative to the value we provide. Over the last 6 years, we have increased pricing for new customers commensurate with the increasing value of the service we provide. It is our policy, however, not to raise prices for our existing customers. Libraries are renewed at their original subscription price. Libraries who subscribe at our current pricing will pay less than libraries who start later on. This policy is one factor contributing to a renewal rate of over 95%.


Q: Will this work for a library like mine?

A: We serve libraries of every known shape, size, location, and budget. We serve small libraries with just a few staff as well as the largest systems with many hundreds of employees. We serve libraries that are almost entirely staffed by part timers and volunteers as well as libraries with highly specialized professionals. We serve libraries located on inner city streets as well as on rural routes. We serve libraries with thriving and secure budgets as well as those facing serious cuts. We have built the platform to add value for libraries that can create unique and extensive in-house training, but also get results as a plug-in solution that can work with near zero administrative overhead.


Q: If my state library subscribes to Niche Academy, why does my local library need it?

A: If your state library’s subscription includes a subscription for each local library, you won’t need a separate subscription. If your state library’s subscription does not include a subscription for each local library, you’ll be able to access training that the state library provides, but you won’t have the ability to do any of following:

  • Add widgets to your own website.
  • Create your own local academies.
  • Assign and track training at the local level.
  • Create your own tutorials.

The most significant gains in program participation and eResource usage come when widgets are available within your local library’s website and patrons are connecting to programs created by local librarians.

 

 

 

More questions? Check out our FAQ page.

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