Business Outreach: A Few Tips and Some “How-to”

Public librarians must show a long-term commitment to developing relationships with the business community in order to keep the momentum of business outreach flowing. Before launching a business outreach strategy, librarians need to identify existing community connections already established with key staff at their respective libraries.  Approach senior managers within the library and learn who they know; become familiar with the longevity of the ties they have, the background and tone of the relationships.

As public librarians, we carry the image of the library with us, so we must engage in an authentic manner. Cultivate genuine and professional friendships, and be prepared to stay involved at a steady pace with ongoing projects and community plans. Invite the local chamber, village departments, municipal authority, business decision-makers, or nonprofit organizations to a tour of library facilities, give special attention to your business collection, and host meetings at the library, if space allows.

Business decision makers should expect to see their public librarians at community meetings. Go confident with the gifts and talents you bear, and be prepared for lively discussion at the table. The business community and commerce development leaders should know that public librarians are exceptional listeners. We are not passive, nor too meek to be heard in a strategic discussion; however we also don’t come with a pressured Glengarry Glen Ross sales pitch.  We tilt conversations to what we can offer and come with a key contributor’s approach. We share knowledgeable and relevant options with demonstrated uses of our sources to find concrete answers.

Move forward to rally community leaders and emphasize the benefits of our involvement, not because it’s a feather in our caps, but because we share the common ground of investment in our neighborhoods. The attraction and retention of residents, patrons, shoppers, business owners, and commuters sustains and supports economic development, and boosts residential and commercial community pride.

Some recommendations:

Become familiar with chamber events and make every effort to attend after hour events, grand openings, and outings. Even better, offer to assist chamber staff with setup or prep work, especially to offset a registration fee if there is an event cost that the library can’t afford.

Check the SBA/Small Business Development Center site to locate the nearest center to assist small businesses. Enroll in one of the free workshops and gauge interest with SBDC instructors in working together on a co-presentation.

Host a table or booth at the farmer’s market, concerts, expos, festivals, mayoral breakfasts, etc.

Attend open village meetings for business plan development; if they’re not open, ask to be included.

Express interest in plans for economic growth. Stay in the minds of decision makers so they remember what the library has to offer.

Include a library promo piece in village welcome packets to new businesses. Attend or initiate a monthly welcome meeting for businesses with multiple community organizations.

Ask the village to share which businesses received new licenses (make it on ongoing monthly practice). Reach out to entrepreneurs and introduce the library to them when their schedules allow. Be patient and understanding if they’re not able to receive you in their early stages of opening because it’s an incredibly hectic time for them. They’ll likely welcome a visit from you soon after, and will appreciate your patronage and interest in their success.

Prepare sessions on business services related to solve specific owner or manager problems.

Highlight library services and call upon local businesses, banks, and agencies to explain what you can deliver.

Pair up with a colleague and bring just a few promo library pieces to nearby transit or high traffic areas. Don’t bombard passersby with information; be visible and ready to answer “what do you do?”

Partner with a business, organization, and local community college extension or business division to attract interest in shared community events.

Listen carefully to the struggles of small business managers. In these conversations you may find how an existing source may help alleviate this problem, or how a new resource should be added to the library’s collection.  Pairing a resource with an expressed patron need lends itself to a warranted budget item. Also, some keen program ideas come from maintaining a pulse on business obstacles and hurdles.

Public library business outreach doesn’t necessarily require a high budget allowance, but is dependent on senior management support. Administration needs to see results to recognize the value. Be prepared to explain the tangibles for your efforts (i.e. increased interest, visits, circulation to business stats/collection). Document outcomes of outreach events attended and comments received. We need to be consistent with our community presence so we’re not just occasionally visible, but actually woven into the cooperative fabric.

Patricia Smolin is the Business Liaison Librarian at Schaumburg Township District Library.

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The Benefits of Library Marketing Collaborations

At a recent RAILS Marketing Group meeting, the group discussed the types of partnerships that libraries have established and why. While many mentioned some of the typical partnerships that libraries have with local businesses and schools, the La Grange, La Grange Park and Thomas Ford Memorial Libraries, which are all within a two-mile radius, did something more innovative. These three libraries have been collaborated with each other, as well as with libraries in nearby communities.

In addition, the La Grange Park, Thomas Ford and Lisle Libraries shared my marketing consulting services during a period when they did not have dedicated marketing staff members. Since much of what libraries do is similar from community to community, some of the ideas and materials I developed for one library fit well for the others. For instance, a Library Editorial Style Guide that I initially developed for La Grange Park needed very minimal revision to be personalized for the other two libraries, and they shared the cost. Similarly, as I worked with each library to create their marketing plans, some ideas worked well for them all, and we were able to identify possible opportunities for collaboration.

One collaboration was among the Children’s Departments of the libraries. They were each using Every Child Ready to Read and were interested in promoting the ways that libraries support educational learning standards. The three department heads and I met to discuss marketing strategies, and were able to share some of the materials we developed.

Another area where collaboration made sense was related to teen engagement. Rather than continue individual teen advisory boards that had few members, the youth librarians at La Grange Park, La Grange and Thomas Ford consolidated them into one area-wide group. The three libraries also provide space in their newsletters for the others to promote one program in each issue that does not duplicate their own.  The result of these collaborations is saved staff time, broader promotional opportunities, improved idea generation and, ultimately, enhanced services and patron engagement.

While not all libraries have potential collaborators next door, or don’t share a marketing specialist, nearby libraries may still find collaborative marketing to be of benefit. To get started.

  1. Identify libraries of similar size or in communities within a nearby radius.
  2. Invite them to a meeting, with a facilitator, to identify common goals and marketing strategies, and possible areas for collaboration. You may consider planning separate meetings by department, or start with just the marketing staff.
  3. Actively share your ideas and materials with your collaborative group. Consider planning regularly scheduled meetings to continue sharing.

Tari Marshall is a communications specialist who has worked with the American Library Association and a number of public libraries. She was awarded a Silver Anvil from the Public Relations Society of American for a marketing program for the American Library Association.

 

 

 

 

 

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Kick-Starting Community Partnerships

In October 2013 I had the opportunity to meet with other marketing folks from around the country at the annual ALCOP (Association of Library Communications & Outreach Professionals) conference in Pennsylvania. During one of the workshop sessions, I presented information on the importance of community partnerships. Whether you work in a small community library or a multi-branch system, forging relationships with local organizations and businesses can be mutually beneficial.

Where do I start?

Participate in community planning! Attend meetings, participate in focus groups for local organizations, go to board meetings, and volunteer for committees. Find out how you can help move their event forward and spread awareness of the library at the same time. The Westmont Public Library serves hot cocoa to participants of the annual holiday parade every year and allows the use of our parking lot for the parade line-up after we close for the day. This is a simple and inexpensive way to improve the experience of all the organizations marching in the parade and to show our willingness to help in any way we can.

Partner with local organizations

Other government and non-profit agencies like the park district, village, and fire & police, are the easiest partners to gain. They already are invested in seeing the community grow and thrive and are usually open to working side by side with the library. Some of the ways we have partnered with these groups are by having a table with free crafts and library information at the town farmers’ market, car shows, and carnivals. We’ve given book discussions at several senior centers and retirement communities. Our space is shared with literacy center volunteers who teach ESL in our study rooms. We collect donations for food pantries and pet supplies for humane societies. All of this promotes goodwill and allows us to interact with people who may not ever step foot in our physical building.

Partner with businesses

The library may not be the most convenient location for residents, so consider running book discussions, meetings, and focus groups in local restaurants or coffee shops. Invite business owners to present special events in the library, like dance classes, workshops on financial planning, tea tastings or whatever else you can showcase using your local shop owners! Become a member of your chamber of commerce and go to their events or host them at the library! My library hosts an after- hours event every couple years that brings in dozens of business owners just looking for a way to support us!

Partner with schools

Many youth departments already have great rapport with schools. If you don’t, schedule classroom visits and encourage field trips to the library! Work with the junior high and high school to start an ongoing teen volunteer program. Attend annual open houses and curriculum nights for a chance to talk with parents and teachers about the library’s fantastic services and collections. And of course, make use of the excellent community colleges and universities near you. They have wonderful resources you can use and will often offer to teach workshops on choosing a college or adult education.

What can we gain from partnerships?

We are always looking for people to help spread the message about library resources and services and local organizations can be some of your biggest supporters and advocates for library use. Not only do you gain supporters, you increase your visibility in the community and have a chance to talk with residents in settings outside the library walls.

What can we offer local organizations?

When a business wants to know what they receive in exchange for their support, it is always nice to remind them of the library resources at their disposal. Additionally, offer to promote them in print and digital publications. Offer your space for special events like recitals, classes, or business meetings. Offering to do a good thing for an organization, even without their official support, is part of what makes the library so special. Sometimes we make partners who can never reciprocate the goodwill be offer them, and that is alright. Helping our community is part of what we do, even if we get nothing in return.

Who does the work?

Finding someone to represent the library in the community can be difficult for smaller libraries, but there are options! Ask board members to attend meetings and events when staff is unable. Designate several staff members as the “face” of the library at local events, but encourage all staff to be involved in the community when possible. Every summer the Westmont Public Library has a table at the weekly street fair and a booth at the big summer festival, Taste of Westmont. Staffing those events can be a challenge, but the response from the community is priceless. Finally, consider asking administration to include “outreach coordination” in the job of at least one staff member or consider hiring a new position to meet outreach goals.

 Kate Buckson is the Marketing Coordinator at the Westmont Public Library.

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Forbes Highlights the Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author’s Project

David Vinjamuri, Forbes contributor, writes on the power of libraries to push back against the bullying tactics of the major publishers. Below is a link to his article spotlighting the Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author’s Project as a success story or libraries “flexing their marketing muscles.”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2014/06/06/with-ebooks-still-pricey-illinois-libraries-flex-their-marketing-muscle/

 

 

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Part 2: Libraries Change Lives: How the Big Read Helped Veterans Heal

We have different names for this process in libraries, of course. We call it Community Driven. Community Engagement. 21st Century. Advisory Committeed. Embedded Librarianship. Asset-based Community Development. No one person can take the credit because it is a complex organism that moves and shifts and grows. In my 10 years working at Gail Borden Public Library, I’ve seen this process many times. It can take various forms. It has been my honor to witness these metamorphosis, and my privilege to guide and nurture them, too. The key to success, I’ve found, is to hold the reigns loosely, with an attitude of appreciative inquiry. Here are some of my tips for successful transformative community projects:

  • Identify the right people, invite them to the table early on, and to lead specific segments according to their strengths and sphere of influence.
  • Communicate often and clearly according to how the message is best received (phone, email, text, in person).
  • Design the project into digestible chunks, typically in subcommittees with a chairperson or two. Each subcommittee is responsible for specific objectives and deadlines. The chairpersons report to the steering committee on a regular basis.
  • Employ staff who are connected, knowledgeable, passionate, not burdened under the weight of an assigned job. If need be, hire a temporary staff member to meet the need.
  • Allow the project to naturally reach its goal while coordinating many moving parts. The final outcome may look different from what you originally expected. I’ve found it always exceeds my expectation.
  • Benchmark and measure progress regularly, both quantitatively (the numbers) and quantitatively (the testimonials, energy, talk around town, word-of-mouth marketing).
  • Count volunteer time and in-kind donations. Include your library’s staff time, estimated overhead and supplies. Your time is valuable and should never be discredited.
  • Identify priorities. If you have limited staff, funds, space, make intentional decision for best possible scenarios.
  •  Let unimportant things fall through the cracks.
  • If someone does not hold up their end of the bargain, don’t rescue them. Next time you’ll be the wiser.
  • Write grants, proposals, letters, emails, make phone calls to allow funding to flow toward the project. Be willing to make The Ask for money for a project that your director and you believe in.
  • Be inclusive. Plan for language interpretation, hearing amplification, sign language, wheelchair accessibility or other technology.
  • Persevere when the road gets bumpy (because it almost always does).
  • Think positive and don’t get drawn into drama, infighting, power plays, politics.
  • Respect what each individual and organizational partner brings to the table, yet discern value and direction. Does it enhance the project or divert it?
  • Allow last minute and unplanned facets, subcommittees, opportunities and partners if they are strong assets that enhance the project even though you did not think of them earlier.
  • Be grateful and show it. (I use Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages principles.)
  • Recognize: Right Time. Right Project. Right People. When one of these 3 components are not on the table – Wait and watch for all 3 to arrive before digging in to a big project.
  • Expect Ripple Effects, positive outcomes that continue far beyond the original project, led by the community, fostered by the library.

Miriam Anderson Lytle is the Division Chief, Community Services & Program Development at the Gail Borden Public Library District in Elgin, IL.

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Part 1: Libraries Change Lives: How the Big Read Helped Veterans Heal

58,286 names. 9 from Elgin, 6 from St. Charles, 6 from Carpentersville, 5 from Crystal Lake, 3 from Cary, 3 from Batavia, 2 from Geneva, 2 from Streamwood, 1 each from Algonquin, Gilberts, Hampshire, Hanover Park, Huntley, Wayne. Young men, mostly, age 17-28.

Now Charles stood before me, a small man with large sorrowful brown eyes. “Volunteer registration is at the Customer Service Registration Desk in the lobby,” I’d told the phone-calling staff. “He wants to talk to you,” she’d replied, “in person, to volunteer.”

It was the first hint of how inadequate I was for the job of leading The Big Read. Sweat beaded on his furrowed forehead under a faded Vietnam Veteran cap pushed back so he could see me. Hands pumping into fists, releasing and pumping again repeatedly hung at the ends of arms straight at his sides. “I want to help,” he said softly.

“Thank you…” I started but my stomach lurched into my throat choking off my vocal cords. Listening was the thing to do, my body seemed to know innately. Only listen. Respectfully. Compassionately. “Eighteen of my buddies are on that Wall.” His eyes filled with tears, and so did mine. One bomb. 18 gone. In ‘Nam. He was just a kid. Carrying grief, gut-wrenching grief, for so long had grown up like a tree in a broken sidewalk. He’d never been to Washington DC to see The Wall. So The Wall That Heals, the half-scale replica from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund was traveling to him, to Elgin, to the Illinois veterans who were ready to see it, to feel it and to begin let go of their pain, at least a little.

There would be hundreds more, like Charles, who wanted to help. Some wore black leather vests, bandanas on their heads, and road motorcycles in the motorcade escort when The Wall That Heals came to town on Tuesday afternoon on September 17. Some pitched in to set up, to take a shift to guard The Wall that Heals over its 24 hour period of 4 days, or to attend the ceremonies. Many vets greeted visitors, and fellow vets. Others stood off at distance, just watching, sometimes weeping.

When the 3 ladies from the American Association of University Women approached me in September 2012 we couldn’t have imagined the result. “My annual budget is submitted for the year already,” I told them as they explained their desire for a “community read.” Providence is more powerful than library budgets, I discovered. The project unfurled itself like a fern frond on time lapse motion film. Many fronds actually – in springtime – simultaneously on the same stem. Alive. Organic. Natural. Beautiful. I was simply one gardener in awe.

The stars aligned in September 2012. A constellation of partners formed around the decision to read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and open up a 40-year-old wound. A deep wound. The Vietnam War. We began to craft the National Endowment for the Arts’ The Big Read grant. Emotions percolated and spurted. “I was a protesting peace-loving hippie.” “I am a vet. I can’t talk about it.” “I’m so angry—still.” “I had a brother… a grandfather… a son….” My belief in libraries as leaders in community transformation, as safe places, as centers for gathering stories, as architects for the future, as galvanizers of community Good, was about to be tested.

Continue reading Part 2 of this powerful narrative tomorrow on how libraries transform communities.

Miriam Anderson Lytle is the Division Chief, Community Services & Program Development at the Gail Borden Public Library District in Elgin, IL.

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Bringing the Outreach IN: The West Chicago Public Library District Summer Lunch Program

Summer Lunch - Tuesday, June 18 006-2As part of its continuing efforts to reach out and serve community needs, the West Chicago Public Library District (WCPLD) has created a unique service opportunity that literally brings outreach IN. Throughout the summer, the library participates in the Northern Illinois Food Bank’s (NFIB) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), serving over 2,800 free lunches last year alone to children up to age 18, weekdays over a 10-week period.

The SFSP is designed to fill the gap that occurs when school lets out for summer vacation and children who received free or reduced-price meals during the school year do not have access to those meal programs. So the WCPLD sought out a partnership with the school district and the NIFB last summer to serve as an additional SFSP site, bolstering the school district’s two existing sites. To date, we are the only public library in the NIFB service area, covering the northern half of Illinois, to provide this service.

Programs like this represent a great opportunity to reach out and serve the community in a non-traditional way. While the financial commitment is limited to the staff time needed for the mandatory training and the time spent implementing the program, the entire library has taken on the commitment to help solve the problem of food insecurity in the community. Through our partnership with the school district, every child qualifies for free lunch without registration or proof of income.

The additional stream of families utilizing our services has resulted in some great benefits for the library. The SFSP has not only contributed to increased summer reading registrations and participation, but last summer we suddenly noticed programs were filling up, especially on weekdays around the lunch hour. In serving 60 lunches on weekdays last summer, we had over a hundred parents and kids go through our program room every day where, while enjoying lunch, we were able to distribute information about the library and its services to families we may never have seen before. A total of 112 library card registrations last summer were a direct result of offering daily rewards to those children who had their library cards with them at lunch.

The rewards to the library, however, were overshadowed by the benefits to participating families. As the summer wore on, we began to notice kids making new friends. Parents, both moms and dads, started conversations that led to information and resource sharing. Those little wiggle worms, who couldn’t sit still for a meal in June, by July were enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and shared time with family and friends.

Summer is the busiest time of year in the public library, and this service model may not fit every library. But the need to demonstrate the essential role libraries play in the life of their communities is universal. The SFSP was a perfect addition to our community outreach activities, fulfilling our mission while providing opportunities for us to reach more children and families with literacy promotion and enriching programs.

Shelley Campbell is the Public Relations Specialist at the West Chicago Public Library District

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