Beyond The Books: Image Is Everything

Librarian Linda McMaken shares her advice in this new monthly column. She has sixteen years of library experience as Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator. Now she offers her wisdom and ideas for expanding your library's presence "beyond the books."

For many years libraries have had a reputation for being, well, stuffy. With signs posted reminding you no talking, no laughing, no drink, and no food. Unless you were a scholar, libraries were not a very inviting place. Unfortunately, many of them are still this way, much to their own detriment.

However, for those libraries with staff and boards that embrace the future and encourage change, this is an exciting time. Libraries still have their beautiful shelves of books, but there are also e-books, audio books, DVDs, CDs, magazines, children’s programs, home school programs, adult programs, author visits, access to the Internet and coffee!

Changing your library from that old stuffy image into a community resource isn’t easy, old images are hard to overcome. The best way to bring the community into the library is to make it a place people want to come, a veritable community center. Don’t misunderstand, there needs to be areas of quiet for study and reading, but library staffs need to stop being so militant and allow certain areas of the library or specific days for coffee, programs and simply talking. 

Reading clubs are great, but incorporate genealogy groups, programs tied to bestselling books such as Twilight or Harry Potter for teens, add a movie night for adults, and be visible at community events, such as school events, blood drives, business expos, and area festivals. 

Starting these programs is usually as easy as asking staff or patrons for assistance. Do you have a genealogy room or reference area? Is there a staff member whose hobby is family genealogy? If so, perhaps they would like to help form a genealogy group. Have you noticed certain patrons checking out genealogy related materials? Ask them to join or help organize the group. 

For successful Young Adult programs, don’t ever call them reading groups, that is an instant “kiss of death”. Try “Harry and the Potters” and read the Harry Potter books, then incorporate other science fiction and fantasy books into the group. If you have access to local businesses, ask them to donate pop, pizza or a snack to your group, food is always a great attraction, and it helps start conversations. 

Community events aren’t hard if you’re organized. Attend local blood drives and if someone donates blood give them a certificate to waive their fines, bring registration cards for those who don’t have a library card, bring flyers highlighting services the library provides.

Local business fairs are a great place to advertise the library. Most of these fairs will let libraries set up a table for free. Bring coupons for free coffee, or to waive fines, and if you have the technical capability create a PowerPoint of library services, bring resume writing books, and flyers highlighting all the job search help a library can offer for free.

School open houses are also very welcoming places for libraries. Set up a table, bring age appropriate books, registration cards, and give away goodies like suckers with a schedule of library events attached. Try to partner with the local schools and businesses to bring children and young adult authors and illustrators to the community, share the expense and share the author!

Make your library a place the community wants to come to, not a place they dread and only come to when they have to. Create one area for periodical reading and offer coffee for a modest price. Adding this is definitely extra work for staff, but there are a few things that can help offset the extra work.

First, if budgets allow, contract a coffee service. With a coffee service you have a complete service, which provides the coffee machine, coffee, teas, cups, condiments and display compared to only providing coffee. If your library can sell enough coffee to offset the cost this service is the very best option, as the company will maintain the equipment, replace if necessary and drop off all your supplies. Keep in mind, you aren’t serving coffee to make a profit, you are serving coffee to make the library more “user friendly.” 

Second, alternatively the library can purchase the equipment and supplies. While this option can be less expensive once the initial purchase cost is met, you might face repair/replacement costs, supply costs, and you will have to pay a staff member to obtain the supplies. In the long run, this may not be the most cost effective option.

Offering this service does add to the workload of the staff, but it can be made less of a chore. Designate an area where the coffee and supplies will be kept, near the circulation desk is best as it allows staff to watch the items and usually keeps any trash, theft, or nuisances to a minimum. Additionally, designate an area within the library where the coffee is allowed to be consumed. Create signs at the coffee machine and in the designated area that the coffee is NOT to be consumed elsewhere. This helps keep any clean up minimal. Usually all that is required is tossing an occasional cup into the trash. 

To ease the burden of providing coffee on staff you can:

1. Designate a staff person each week to oversee the coffee service, making, maintaining, and clean up.

2. Assign the task to any library interns.

3. Make coffee service a part of the pages job description.

4. Ask for staff volunteers and give an incentive such as an extra long lunch, the ability to leave an hour early on Friday, come in an hour late on Monday, or give one hour of comp time per week to be used as needed.

Since libraries are non-profits, most area civic organizations will allow you to have a table at their events for no charge. Highlight how the library can be an asset to business – great libraries attract more business to the area, they attract a better-educated workforce, and many offer facilities (community rooms) for programs and training.

Becoming an active participant in the community is the perfect way for libraries to attract new patrons and create a new image. The wealth of information, resources, and technology at many libraries is very underestimated and undervalued. Let your library shine; shout about how great you are. Once the community gets the message, you’ll be packing them in!!

Check back for the next installment of Linda McMaken's column in just a few weeks. Do you have questions about your library "beyond the books"? You can ask also ask her advice on any library conundrum here. Your question might even get featured in an upcoming article. And of course, you can read her daily blog online at