“What are we doing for library card sign up month this year?”
If you are the one who has to answer that question, you know that it leads to follow up questions that library marketers dread, like “where do we find the residents who don’t have a library card?” and “how do we get them to sign up for a library card?”
This year, the perfect opportunity presented itself to us as we began planning to host a booth at a very popular fall festival held every September, complete with food, music, craft booths, carnival rides and a local business expo. The fest is consistently well-attended by residents from all eight towns in our service area. We decided that our purpose in the booth would coincide with the nationally promoted “Library Card Sign Up Month.”
For the first time, we issued library cards away from the library. Folks were able to sign up for a library card right in the booth, and leave with it in their wallet. We had all of the necessary data with us (print outs and a laptop computer so that the process for confirming that they lived in our district with no previous restrictions was just like at the library). We also renewed cards and updated account information. Anyone who participated was entered into a raffle for a variety of book baskets or a Nook eReader as a grand prize.
Our questions focused on library awareness to help us find out what residents (users AND non-users!) know about us and how they are using our services. So with smiles and clipboards in hand, staff and volunteers invited passersby who lived within our district to fill out a quick survey of 18 questions in which they made a check mark in columns that asked if they had used a particular service (such as checked out a book, visited the library’s Facebook page, or attended a program or storytime) in the last year, the last three years, never, or didn’t know about it.
(Lesson learned: we asked both “never” and “didn’t know about it” and suspect that some checked “never” before they got to the box that said “didn’t know about it.” So in the end, while analyzing our unscientific results, we combined the two.)
We collected 255 surveys and issued 61 new or renewed library cards. Some of the highlights of our results are that in the last year, 83 percent visited our main library, 38 percent visited our one-year-old branch, 74 percent checked out materials, 68 percent visited our website, 60 percent used a 24-hour drop box, and 27 percent attended a program or storytime.
Overall, we discovered that there is a strong awareness about traditional library offerings. But there is still a lot of work to be done promoting the services and offerings that people don’t yet automatically associate with libraries (meaning all the digital stuff!).
We were not entirely surprised to find out that 91 percent had never downloaded (or didn’t know about) music from Freegal, 81 percent had never visited our Facebook page, and 77 percent never downloaded an eBook. Our ears perked as those filling out surveys would exclaim “Hey! I didn’t know we could download music for free!” or “I haven’t taken the time yet to figure out how to download a library book onto my eReader.”
Those moments not only showed us where we needed to step up promotion, it also opened the door to conversations right then about the services that folks didn’t know about. Those 91 percent certainly know now that they can download three free songs a week. Those intimidated by their eReader were invited to bring their device straight to the Information Services desk for personal assistance from a reference librarian. Our very next quarterly newsletter was reconfigured to make room for a page that will regularly promote the 24/7 library, with info on all of our digital downloads, website improvements, etc.
Our experience at the fest shined a light on the importance of personal community interaction. Asking questions provides an opportunity to give some answers, and not just by those who were asked. Sometimes awareness goes both ways.
Kirstin Finneran coordinates the marketing and public relations efforts of the Fox River Valley Public Library District in East Dundee, Illinois.