Taking the Show on the Road – Marketing Outreach

by Amy Peterson

Over the past four years my colleagues and I have taken what we affectionately call the Library Road Show to various locations within the Schaumburg Township District community. We’ve extolled the virtues of downloadable media to commuters at the Metra Train Station and to fitness enthusiasts at recreation centers, explained how to create a mailing list using a database such as ReferenceUSA to business people at business expos and chamber of commerce meetings, told parents about storytimes and online Tutoring services at the local farmers’ market. We’ve been to senior centers, Septemberfest celebrations, high school open houses, and the list goes on. Has all this time spent on the road been worth it? Ultimately, I’d say absolutely yes. Not only have we seen increases in some of our online resources, but we’ve made connections with people who otherwise would not come into the library and make use of our resources.

My colleague John Ericson and I wrote an article about our first experiences with the Road Show in the August 2007 issue of the ILA Reporter. When we first started going out into the community we pulled out all the stops. We made scratch off tickets, we chose a variety of prizes for people to win, and we had drawings to win MP3 players.  While we still have a small prize for people as a lure to get them to come over and talk with us, we’ve simplified the experience considerably. It’s now usually just two people, a laptop with an aircard (so we can demonstrate the library’s resources no matter where we are), a trifold stand promoting some aspect of the library’s services, handouts and some giveaways. (See pictures below)

Ultimately, we discovered that the important thing was to connect with people one on one and promote the resources that made the most sense to them, rather than just pushing one thing, regardless of the audience. That ability to adapt was one of the most important lessons we learned during these outreach efforts. Rather than promote downloadable media for someone who declared they didn’t enjoy audiobooks, for example, we took the time to find out what their needs were and to see if there was some library product or service we could educate them about. More often than not we were able to inform people about some aspect of the library’s services of which they were not aware.

In terms of seeing real results as an effect of our outreach efforts, I would point to the year to year increases for just one of our online resources: MyMediaMall, the OverDrive driven downloadable media service our library subscribes to as part of the North Suburban Library System Consortium. Looking at the statistics in just the month of September for each year we’ve been part of the MyMediaMall consortium (2005-present), you can see the significant growth in circulation from year to year:

We went from 70 downloads in the month of September 2005 to 859 in September 2010. That’s an overall percentage increase of 1,127%, but even looking at the numbers from a short-term perspective there is at least a 40% increase in downloads from year to year. This increase cannot, of course, be attributed only to our outreach efforts, but I do believe that the active promotion of a resource that is essentially an invisible collection was one of the driving factors for increasing both patron and staff awareness of the service.

I would recommend doing a Library Road Show for any library who wants to make a connection to their community and promote resources, events, or a new service about which people are likely unaware. It’s also a great way to hear about the concerns of people the library serves or find out some of the reasons why they do not make use of the library. So, take the show on the road.

Amy Peterson

Popular Services Librarian

Schaumburg Township District Library

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