Communities – Tuesday’s Question

It’s important to provide communities with the services they need and want, but individuals in those communities are notoriously bad at communicating what they’re after. How can librarians find out from the community what they want? What are the best ways to reach out to new people, and get them into the library?

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  • Anonymous

    One of the most obvious ways that I can think of to get someone into the library is to have something so appealing that the community can’t help but come!  For example, once a year, a local library holds a Fall-themed haunted house that attracts tons of youth and families.  The same library holds a book talk where the group skypes with an author they have been reading.  This attracts a completely different age group within the same community!
    But what will be that appealing in one area does not necessarily mean it will be as much of a success in a different demographic.  So how do we know exactly what the community needs? 

    • Erin O’Connell

      One possible answer to figuring out what you’re community needs: trial and error. There are no rules again failure and oftentimes it’s the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t. 

      • Anonymous

        Try often and fail often but you will succeed.  Surely there is no method of finding out what all communities need.  As Jillian points out, every community is very different so would it not be pretty pointless to come up with a universal ‘scheme’ for finding out what your community needs? 

        Trial and error can be adopted by everyone and can be adapted to suit each community so is this the most that librarians can plan to do to find out what their communities want?

      • Anonymous

        That is a perfect point.  How do we know if something is going to work or not until after we give it a shot?  Even the zaniest of ideas may be just wacky enough to be a smash success! 
        Just yesterday I heard someone talking about how at her husband’s business, a ‘turkey award’ is given to an employee each month.  The person who gets the turkey award is the person who has had the most flops or failed attempts in that month.  The award is not meant to be negative; it is merely recognizing the fact that in order to continuously improve, risks must be taken!  The tried and true method involves no risks, and while that will most likely work, there is no room for innovation.  Hence there is nothing wrong with occasional failure!   

    • Anonymous

      I agree.  I think events are key to attracting community members to libraries, especially public libraries.  One of my local libraries is doing an event with Halloween makeup lessons for teens, which is a good way to attract people who think of the library as being about books.  The library does weekly events for people from multiple age groups.  

      Giving out surveys is one way to find out what the community needs, and it’s worked out well for the libraries near me.  The main concern I think of with surveys is that while they’re great for finding out what library members are looking for, they won’t show what people who don’t use the library regularly need.  What can libraries do to get new members?

      • Anonymous

        Oh good question!  I think to get new members we need to actually go and actively present outselves as appealing to the community!  Any ideas on how to do that?
        I’m thinking we need to really be visible- having some involvement with town parades, school dramas,  school sporting events- places where we know there will be a lot of people!   We could also present to middle schools/high schools about exactly how much valuable assistance is available at reference desks in libraries!  I definitely was not aware when I was in school, and that could have saved me many stressful hours of research when I was doing assignments!

        • Anonymous

          I really like the idea of empowering your community/organizing them
          & giving them the tools to advocate for us. What sort of things
          would go into an “action kit” that we could hand out to a new volunteer?
          Is there something (or multiple somethings) that would be
          small/transferable between libraries?

        • Erin O’Connell

          Those are great ideas to get libraries involved in the community! Just thinking of my hometown library… we sure could have used them in parades, at school events, at conferences, anywhere really. I don’t even think the community really knows they exist. Though for a small community like mine, I wonder if the library prefers having zero exposure? Because presumably if they had more traffic they would have to get more computers, more books, more resources, more staff, etc. 

          • Anonymous

             I wonder though; wouldn’t increasing exposure (even in a small community) increase the chances of more library funding?  Then they would have the resources for more computers, books, staff.  Seems like more exposure would be a win-win situation!    

    • Anonymous

      We could always ask the community what they want/need. Have some sort of survey and let the community know that their suggestions will be taken into consideration as far as is economically feasible and know that their input is important. Many people have ideas about what they want to see in the library, they just need a way to voice their opinions.

  • Anonymous

    What are the best ways to reach out to new people? Word-of mouth! Empower your members/patrons/users to become your biggest advocates and give them the tools they need to do so. But what would these tools look like?

    For example, I went to the Symphony Syracuse concert this past weekend and was in awe of the community support; everyone in the audience wants to see this orchestra succeed. We were encouraged to be an advocate for this organization and to convince others that they need this orchestra. Whereas I enjoyed these inspiring speeches from the musicians and conductor, wouldn’t it be great if the staff of Symphony Syracuse went one step further and gave the audience members the tools to go out into the community and be strong advocates? Tell the audience who to write letters to, give them flyers to promote events, and educate them about the reasons we should have a world-class symphony orchestra in Syracuse.

    Empower your community/your audience/your members/your users to be strong advocates for your organization. 

    • Anonymous

      Excellent idea!  That would involve so many more people as well as give members more of a connection to the library because they feel that they played a part.  That gives them the sense that the library is theirs.  I’m trying to branch even farther off your flyer idea: we could give people incentives to hand out personalized flyers because the person who gets enough flyers returned at the actual event gets a prize!  Or something along those lines.  Or perhaps a flyer contest where people design their own flyers to disperse and then at the actual event, a winning design is selected by the community.  This would be reason for people to want to get their flyer out in the public for exposure!
       
      Anyone have any other ideas on how to involve the community on spreading the word?

    • Anonymous

      I definitely like the idea of empowering your community to be advocates for the library. These are the people who are using the library for their needs and therefore they are the best people to get the word out. The members of the library know what the library has to offer to others and they can go out into the community and tell people about events and services being offered.

      Another idea I had about spreading the world is through email. I get email notifications when my books are due, however what if the library used this venue to update people about events that are happening at the library. This would be very useful in letting the community know what’s going on at the library.

    • Anonymous

      I love this idea, Alyssa! I’ve also heard of organizations like the Philadelphia Orchestra trying out encouraging audiences at select events (new music with mixed-media projections during the performance–aimed at the younger crowd) tweet during the concert. You know how at most orchestra concerts, and dance and theater performances we’re all sternly instructed to turn off our cell phones? I can see how prompting audience members to use their phones for certain explicitly defined purposes during select performances could increase visibility of the performing organization and excitement, in general. 

      You know how lots of libraries have a “Turn Off Your Cell Phone” sign on the front door? Why not invite people to check in via Foursquare, invite them to tweet from the library, and invite them to “Like” the library on Facebook while they’re there?

      • Anonymous

        As someone who has been on stage when a phone went off in the audience, it’s really distracting whenever that happens, not to mention it always screws with our mic system. A concert might be different, considering that the sheer volume of sound an orchestra produces, but I imagine they would still run into similar problems. I also feel like if we let them use their phones for certain explicit purposes, it’d be like giving a mouse a cookie. “Well if we can use our phones for this, why can’t I use my phone for that?” and then all phones would be out at all times during the performance. 

        But then again, I’m a real traditionalist. It’s been suggested that I should be an archivist and sit in a basement with the rest of the dusty old relics. However, something like that for the library would be different. The lights are always on, so the phone’s backlight isn’t distracting, there’s no sound system to mess with, and if people keep it under control, there shouldn’t be a problem. Maybe they could use QR codes that link to the library’s catalog in addition to your discussions.

        -Jake

        • Marie

          Jake, I’ll be happy to join you in the cell-phone-free basement. Nothing drives me battier than being at a stage performance with the lights down and cell phone lights flickering in the audience.

          I do think that, however, is a different setting than the library. We don’t host performances at the library, we invite participation. A “Turn off your cell phone” sign at the entrance to the library is a definite turn-off to many, but (yet again) I think the community needs determine just how cell-phone-happy they wish their library to be.

        • Anonymous

          Jake, I hear you. Once I was at a performance La Boheme. It was the final scene. Mimi had just died. Rodolfo had just rushed to her side and there was silence. It was very sad. (I may have had a tear in my eye.) Silence, silence, silence…ring. The phone rang like five times. At the most climactic moment of the opera. It was mortifying.

          So maybe we 1) remind people to turn off their ringers and alert sounds and 2) consider which types of performances would be appropriate for audience interaction. Lots of new performance art works today (like New Paradise Laboratories’ Fatebook http://www.fatebooktheshow.com/) are actually inviting and nearly requiring audiences to do this.

  • Anonymous

    Some things the library in Elbridge has done to advertise in the past: 

    -A booth for used books at community garage sales
    -Advertising in the programs for the school plays
    -Hosting storytimes and children’s hours, especially around holidays like Christmas and Halloween
    -Garden tours, beginning and ending at the library
    -Easter egg hunts
    -Being on Route 5 (hey, location counts)

    Other ideas I’ve seen or thought of: 

    -Book clubs
    -Community bingo
    -Coordinating with reading lists for local school districts
    -Coffee lounges, like in book stores
    -Publishing local authors and getting them to do public readings

    Any other thoughts are highly suggested. It’s easy for us to sit up in our ivory tower and say “We should empower our community to be more proactive!” but without trying, without that element of trial and error, we’ll never find out what exactly it means to empower our specific community. 

    • Anonymous

      I would totally go on a garden tour and easter egg hunt!

      • Anonymous

        I remember having the Easter Egg hunts as a kid, but I don’t know if they’re still doing it. They should be, because it was a great way to get kids to come in. Oh hey! It was always outside, around the grounds, but what if it was in the library itself? 

    • DainaBouquin

      I remember a chess club being organized through a local library near my old house and I loved watching them play. Definitely got a wide range of people into the library and elderly people using computers there.

  • Anonymous

    Inside would be great fun!  And playing even further off that idea- it could be a scavenger hunt (either for the easter egg hunt, or another activity all together).  The teams could have clues as to where to find the easter eggs (ex- in the children’s book section or in the biography section) so they are learning about the layout of the library at the same time