By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS
September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, traditionally celebrated by libraries in the fall as a reminder to parents that access to library resources is an essential part of starting a new school year.
Many librarians seize the opportunity to visit early elementary grade classrooms (or invite classes to come to the library) to get students signed up for library cards. The same goes for Teen Read Week in October. In addition, getting permission from your school district to distribute flyers to students about library membership and key programs can generate new users and/or increase usage.
Students are a captive audience in that they need libraries to complete course work. This makes library marketing easier because we can target the place where they spend a lot of their time.
But Library Card Sign-Up Month is also an all-ages initiative to expand membership. Unlike children, adults have easier access to fee-based options and don’t necessarily “need” libraries for learning resources and entertainment. So how can we entice adults to sign up for a library card or get them to come through our doors?
We know that we can’t just sit back and wait for the public to find us. It’s important to identify the places where people in your community congregate and think about how you can create a meaningful library presence there.
At public transportation hubs, perhaps you can you set up a book swap and tuck in a bookmark with the promise of more free stuff that is only a library card away. Can you partner with local gyms or the YMCA for display space? How about local bars and restaurants? I remember, when I was a kid, staring at those ads on the paper placemats on the tables in restaurants. It was always a dream of mine to make clever library bar coasters and place them in the local pubs. (Someday!)
Though it’s sometimes hard to find the staff to cover community events, nothing beats face-to-face engagement. Reserve a table (hopefully for free or at minimal expense) and come equipped with the technology to sign people up for library cards on the spot and check out materials in real time.
Take advantage of “First Friday” and “Second Saturday” events, street festivals, and county fairs to create relevant displays, promote programs, have a giveaway, or hold a drawing for prizes. You might even provide a quick on-site or take-home craft. It’s all about getting your library’s name out there.
Try to match appropriate library materials to popular events. You know the drill:
- Craft Fairs: How-to books or information on starting your own business
- Farmers Markets: Materials on cooking, canning and preserving
- Job Fairs: Resumés, interviewing, test-taking, brushing up on basic skills
- Senior Expos: Second-act careers, volunteerism, estate planning, Medicare
It’s easy to feel discouraged at such events—I remember my own dismay as an outreach librarian. While attending a block party, I parked the bookmobile next to the bounce house and thought, How can I compete with that? But I feel strongly that, while you may not be the hottest attraction, your presence alone is what’s most important. Event organizers and attendees might not remember everything about your message, but they will remember that you were there.
Besides reading, listening, viewing materials, and enjoying free access to computers, what else can people get at the library that they can’t find anywhere else? Are there openings in your state that allow you to become a passport acceptance agency? Can you offer digitization services?
These are just some of the ways to meet people in-the-moment. We would love to hear about your strategies to attract new library card holders.
Links for further reading:
An interesting article on the ebb and flow of library usage throughout a lifetime:
Surveying your community:
Reaching the Elusive Library Non-Users
Stephanie Campbell has worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.