Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Iron is Hot: Libraries as Innovative and Creative Community Catalysts

I was fortunate to be able to listen to a WebJunction MN webinar: The Iron is Hot: Libraries as Innovative and Creative Community Catalysts presented by Mary Lou Carolan, Director of the Wallkill Public Library. (NY) This presentation has been archived and the recording and slides are available on WebJunction.

She spoke about her experience volunteering and working with the library, first as a Children’s Specialist, and now as director.  Mary used the quote “the successful library serves as a vibrant and active community center, taking a leadership role as a creative catalyst-exploring new ways to build partnerships, strengthen community, and contribute to local development.” She said that she us to take away the mnemonic HOT: H-Hope, believing in the fact that libraries have a place in the digital world and being able to communicate why libraries are still relevant, O=opportunity, to look for ways to market the library to make people aware of what we have to offer both as a resource and to help gain supporters of the library and T=Time, Seeing the urgency in the need to market one’s library and its services in order to amp up funding and make sure people are aware of what the library is doing. She also wanted us to remember R&D which she said stood for “Rip-off and Duplicate” because she feels libraries should keep track of what each other is doing and replicate what seem to be successful programs.

The Wallkill Library was the library to participate in Geek the Library which is a community public awareness campaign aimed at spreading the word about the vital and growing role of your public library, and to raise awareness about the critical funding issues many U.S. public libraries face.  Mary said that this was a great free program that provided information on low-cost ways to raise awareness for the library.  There is a Geek the Library webinar coming up in March for people who are interested.

Mary talked about the Inside/Outside Approach of marketing and used the quote “In order to draw people in, first you have to reach out” (Nitkin and Jackson “Libraries that Matter”) She talked about how their community was struggling with fewer people coming to use the businesses and the library. The library received a cardboard cutout of the “Get a Clue” dog for their Summer Reading Program and wondered what to do with it. They came up with the idea to approach local businesses about having this cutout hidden in their business and the kids would receive scavenger hunt clues to help them find it. The cutout was hidden at various businesses throughout the summer. Businesses, who thought they were doing a good deed for the library, found they had increased traffic and were grateful for how the library was reaching out to the community; the ice cream store would have loved to keep the cutout for the whole summer!

Mary gave us another mnemonic “GOYA”-Get Off Your A… and Out into Your Community. She said it is vital to let people know why you matter so that they support you at budget time and that we have to shape our future by sharing out story of what we do and why we matter. During the webinar there was a lively chat session going on and as Mary spoke participants starting sharing information on ways they were reaching out and programs that had been offered. Some that I jotted down is that a library had hosted coffee chats at a local coffee shop as a way to let people know what was going on at the library. Another library shared a public electronic bulletin board with the community and in turn for library staff entering community notices, they were able to add in library events. Another library mentioned offering story times at the local farmers’ market and another told about collaborating with a local arts center and hosting concerts indoors and outdoors. If you view this webinar on WebJunction you should be able to see that chat session for other libraries’ ideas.

Mary next spoke about “What is Marketing for Libraries”. “Libraries can no longer afford to leave getting repeat customers to either chance or goodwill. Libraries are in danger of becoming irrelevant relics rather than key players in the New World order.” (Blueprint for Your Library Marketing Plan: A Guide to Help You Survive and Thrive) Some projects that Mary’s library staff created are: Books Alive-a children’s theatre project where kids work with retired teachers to turn books into plays, Programming in the Arts –they’ve used volunteers, retirees, people from the community to offer crafts programs like Maker Space, Multicultural Programs to help kids learn about the world, and Common Core-Mary’s library partners with schools and families to show the library resources that can help them, they arrange for field trips to or from the library. When talking about these programs Mary wants to show that the library is filling a gap created by schools needing to cut back on arts programming and school library resources to show the value the library is adding to the community.

Marketing is important to the library because “it matters little what you are doing if no one knows you are doing it”. Mary spoke about the challenges to libraries: change over a short period of time, the struggle for community funding after the recession, librarians and library staff taking on new roles-educator, informers, program creators, technology is causing library staff to learn new skills at a rapid pace, library staff and board members must learn to be comfortable talking with people about what they do and why it is important and of value. This is in addition to other barriers including how to begin, staff/board resistance, time limitations, size of library, budget constraints. Mary recommends trying to get to “How can we…” instead of “We can’t…”. She said it is important to try things and then share what happens, to find cheap and quick ways to try things by using volunteers, seeking funding, asking for help from the community, partnering and sharing funds.

She next spoke about how libraries add value and that libraries need to be bold about naming what they do and claiming the value that it creates. The head of the library system that Wallkill belongs to said “We don’t communicate with the community consistently enough. If we did they would know what we are doing. We must give them a reason to pay attention.”

Marketing Segmentation means marketing through different approaches for different segments of the community. One approach won’t work for everyone; some people will read flyers, others will find information on social media, in person, etc. We have to reach our target markets with the most relevant message to provide the best customer service. As part of their Geek the Library campaign, Mary and her staff had a table at an local evening baseball game to meet the community where they were at.

Placemaking is community organizing, using a people-centered approach to designing and revamping public spaces into attractive, gathering places for fun, communication, connection, cultural enrichment, learning and enjoyment. It is about observing people, their behaviors, their interactions with space and how they return to use the space again. The Wallkill Library Friends’ Group bought nice wooden chairs and had the name of the library printed on the back of them and then put these on their front lawn; the library is set back on a rather large lawn and they wanted to make this area a welcoming space for people to relax, enjoy library materials, explore, and play. They put up signs that said “Please, sit, relax, and enjoy our lawn”. They found that people really enjoyed these chairs and came into the library to tell staff this. Mary said that efforts like this were a way of showing that the library is an anchor to bring people to the community. The chat in the Webjunction webinar is full of examples from other libraries of their placemaking efforts.

Mary advised that we must extend our mission beyond a place for the storage of knowledge to being an anchor for the community; a destination for the public. We should reach out to the community and experiment with quick, cheap projects like Wallkill’s chairs on their lawn which helped bring people to the library. She also recommended collaboration and communication with other businesses, town councils, political leaders to make sure we have a seat at the decision making table and that the library’s presence and purpose is known.

In closing Mary reminded us of GOYA-Get Off Your A.. and to make sure we are connecting and collaborating to let people know why we are here and then figuring out how we can work together. She ended with the quote “The time of the quiet library with the all-knowing librarian is over. Public libraries have, during the past ten years, been changing from collections to connections and now also towards creativity and collaboration.” (Skot-Hansen, Dorte, Casper Hvengaard Rasmussen, and Henrik Jochumsen, 2013)”

Erin Z-R., Librarian I, Central

This is an article that was mentioned during the webinar:

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