They say teens are the biggest challenge. How do you get them into the library? And once that magical feat is accomplished, how do you get them to use the resources and services that can help with homework, provide mind-expanding entertainment, or assist them with handling social and medical issues? Librarians and PR/marketing staff with limited funds, especially those at small libraries, may wonder if this can be done on a minimal budget.
The answer is a resounding “yes.” I’m employed at a fairly large library, but that doesn’t translate to unlimited funds. Our teen librarians have developed creative, inexpensive programs designed to interest teens, which accomplishes the first and most challenging step. But as the Public Relations Coordinator, I need to take that interest to the next level—getting them through the doors. No easy task in a world where libraries are competing with sports, unprecedented amounts of homework, volunteering, dating, jobs, etc.
As with marketing any product or service, word-of-mouth is the best form of advertising…and it’s free! That is why it’s imperative to develop programs teens will want to attend. One of the most successful strategies for accomplishing this is to give teens a voice in program development. Solicit and use their ideas, even if they need a bit of modification. The Schaumburg Township District Library’s teen staff began doing this more than a decade ago, with great success measured by an increase in program attendance and circulation. One way to receive consistent teen input is by establishing a Teen Advisory Board – a group that meets monthly to develop programs and community service projects. Provide affordable snacks as an incentive, but most importantly, let them know you value their input by following up with programs based on their suggestions. Not only will Teen Advisory Board members attend, they may also spread the word and bring friends.
Another way to reach the teen population is through an electronic newsletter. The newsletter should highlight upcoming teen programs, and possibly some resources or services. Develop an email list from addresses acquired at teen programs. You can also offer an incentive – maybe a candy bar or bag of chips – for providing an email address.
Press releases to the media tend to garner the attention of adults more than teens, but use them anyway. If you are responsible for promoting programs, but are not a public relations professional, keep in mind a press release contains just the facts and needs to lead with the “4 Ws” – what, when, where, why, in that order. Example: “Avatar” will be shown from 7-9 p.m., Friday, Oct. 11 in the Teen Place of the Acme Library, 123 Acme Rd., Earthville. Teens ages 12-19 are invited to watch the movie and enjoy free popcorn. No registration required.” After that, you may want to add information about why the event is taking place, or if there is a presenter worth mentioning. The keys to getting it published are making it concise and submitting the release in a timely manner. Call the local papers to get the email addresses of appropriate reporters or editors, and create a list to use for future releases. Most
newspapers also have online versions to which you can upload a press release. Attaching a photo is a great way to capture more attention.
Using the information from the press release, you can create a simple sign in Word to send to the high schools, local YMCAs, youth centers, or other places frequented by teens. (Again, call to find the appropriate person and email address.) The sign should be written in bold, large letters, and contain just the “4 Ws” information. This way, the schools and other venues can print it out “as is” to post on bulletin boards.
If your library has the means to produce its own posters or signs, make sure they contain graphics geared toward teens (get input from teen staff) and minimal text that practically jumps off the paper. Use these posters or signs to highlight upcoming programs, events, resources and services. If the library is located near any fast food restaurants or other places frequented by teens, ask if you can place signs in their windows. Likewise, use them to draw attention to teen services, reference books, etc.
A library does not have to be large, or even well-funded, to promote its teen programs. By letting teens have input into programming, and using email, newspapers, the internet and signage to promote events, any library can increase teen attendance and circulation with minimal expense.
Susan Miura is the Public Relations Coordinator for the Schaumburg Township District Library.