Community Engagement Outside of Campaigns
We're happy to have a guest blog from Jeannie Allen, the Marketing Manager at Kitsap (WA) Regional Library, about using Library Card Sign-up Month in new ways.
She and her team took the ideas from our recent article in Library Journal - I Don't Need Two Forms of ID When I'm Standing at Your Door - and ran with it. And took it out on the water, too! Follow Kitsap's innovative outreach work on Facebook and at http://www.krl.org/.
Using Library Card Sign-up Month in New Ways
by Jeannie Allen
John and I have had many conversations about new ways to engage the community in impactful, memorable ways. In August, he challenged us to use Library Card Sign-up Month in a new way, one that shifts our sign-ups away from an exclusively inbound model to one where we canvass our community and bring library cards to them, where they are. As part of the challenge, EveryLibrary provided us with a $100 gift card as a tool to entice people to sign up for a library card.
With a very short timeline to plan or prepare, we were able to execute some very successful events. It was a great opportunity to see what new avenues of exposure were available to us. At the beginning of September, KRL staff brainstormed 8 opportunities - both events and locations - to leverage during Library Card Sign-up Month that could reach non-users outside of the library. Of those venues we discussed, we were able to follow through with four: The Bremerton/Seattle Ferry, the Kitsap Mall, the Kingston Farmers Market, and a “Fall at the Mall” event. All were new contexts to talk to the public about the library and our services.
On the Bremerton Ferry- Jamie, Jill, Tammy
The Bremerton Ferry is a main transportation artery between Seattle and Bremerton, one of our 9 communities with a branch location. The trip is just over an hour. We were very strategic in selecting a time period where we would have exposure to the maximum number of people. We looked for an opportunity to leverage a popular community event, where we could theme our efforts to match the interests of the groups we would encounter on the ferry. There were 2 major sporting events happening in Seattle. Staff dressed in Seattle Sounders and Seattle Mariners gear, and we colored promotional material to match the teams. Over 2 round trips and 3.5 hour time period we were able to sign up 16 new cardholders and have quality conversations with 47 people. Most were surprised to see the library on the ferry and eager to talk to us. The ferry was very supportive, giving us a place to set up and making announcements inviting people to join us. Linking into a large community event like we did played a huge role in the success of this event.
Tabling at the Kitsap Mall- Sarah, Erika, Becky (Jeannie)
The Kitsap Mall in Silverdale is the largest shopping area in Kitsap County, because of this there is a great opportunity to reach people from all over the county. We choose a morning on a weekday setting up right next to a children’s play area. We hoped to engage individuals that were enjoying a slower pace to their day and the parents that go to that area to socialize their children. While our team worked the table, I took an observational/advisory role. I wanted to see how people were reacting and watch how the team approached individuals. During our 4 hours there, we had 20 library patrons enter the drawing for the $100 Gift Card and we signed up 7 new people for library cards. The interactions were very positive. Silverdale is an area that has a branch which is currently too small for the population it serves. Being visible in the Kitsap Mall increases our visibility for that branch and gave us a place to start educating the public on the needs of the library in that area.
At the Kingston Farmers Market - Tomi, Karen, Whitney
The Kingston Farmers Market is an outdoor market place within walking distance of our Kingston Branch. During the summer months the festival atmosphere of the market makes it a destination for people from all over the county.
September is the end of the market season on the Kitsap Peninsula and the weather was particularly bad. While the team did not see a very large number of people during the 4 hours they were there, they did feel that this opportunity would have value earlier in the season when the market is in full swing and the weather supports a more leisurely pace. Like on some Election Days, the weather doesn’t play to your hand.
Fall at the Mall - Jeff and Ruth
For the last 3 years, KRL has been given an empty space within the Kitsap Mall for a series of Saturday events in September and October. We wanted to leverage our access to this space and interact around Library Card Sign-up Month. This was probably the least successful outreach effort for us. During the hour our team was in front of this space, people were very quick to avoid them in a way we have not encountered in other places. It was our feeling that based on the location (right next to the doors of a main mall entrance) people walking by either were just getting started and had a very specific purpose, or were on their way out. Another possibility for difficulty in this area is a company that conducts surveys is stationed in the mall just a few steps from our location. Mall customers are accustom to being approached by them.
What We Learned
Based on feedback from my colleagues who participated and my observations at the events, it would be useful to have a specialized group of staff trained for the unique challenges and opportunities these events present. Staff from frontline to management would benefit from training that teaches them how to initiate contact in a way that best opens your audience up for impactful conversations about the library. Basic training on how to ask open ended questions, how to listen to what your audience is saying, how to mirror behavior, and how to tailor a conversation to meet the needs and interests of the person you are addressing is needed. It is like the reference interview, but different…
How do we talk about our services? What is the real goal we are trying to accomplish with these outreach efforts? We completed 4 events in just over 10 hours (for a total of 36.5 staff hours in the community). We signed up 27 people for a new library card. But we had quality conversations with 104 people in our community and were seen by thousands of other users and non-users in a new context. The impact we made by being out in the community in these unexpected places was significantly greater than the number of cards alone. When orienting our teams, we emphasized that signing people up for a library card was secondary to being out in the public having quality conversations about the library.
Training, and having more in-depth conversation about what we are trying to accomplish with our staff, will ensure that the time, energy and money we are placing into these community outreach efforts has the greatest impact. We have big plans for our outreach efforts in the coming months. In October we will be using the re-open of our newly renovated Port Orchard Branch as opportunity to go door to door inviting our neighbors to join us for a Renovation Celebration. In April we will use National Library Week as an opportunity to hold Open House events at each of our branches. This will be a larger scale effort where each branch in our system will invite their neighbors in to explore the library.
P.S. You have to check out Jeannie's promotional video for Kitsap's One Book project this fall. It's wonderful.