Written by: Suzanne DeKeyzer James, Rapides Parish Library System
Coming into the position of Public Relations Officer at the Rapides Parish Library was a complete digression from where I had been for the last ten years – in a very competitive and stressful communications and marketing department of a local hospital. While hospitals and libraries might not seem to have much in common, there is a one thing the two have in common – the assumption that both will always be there.
It’s a given. If fortunate, you live in a city that has a hospital and are doubly fortunate if you have a library in your town. Both are taken for granted! In the case of the local hospital, you know it will always be there when you have an emergency or illness. And as for the library – it’s an assumption that a library is there just in case someone needs a book or needs some kind of research done.
How should you go about promoting your library?
Hospitals commonly advertise in the newspapers, on television, or radio about the services offered to the community. This is where the similarity between hospitals and libraries seem to diverge. Libraries are a bit squeamish of self-promotion. Because of that they are often casualties to trendy big-box bookstores, Internet cafes and pricey business seminars and workshops.
Promotion. Marketing and promoting what the library has to offer is not as easy as one might think – in fact the first hurdle is image. Despite the modernization of libraries with the latest technology available, the image of the library is still perceived as a bastion of musty books and stern-faced keepers of knowledge in sensible shoes. This perception couldn’t be further from the truth! The library is at the forefront in latest technology – in the form of 3D printers, roaming reference specialists with tablets to assist customers, computer classes, digital books and magazines, music downloads, and a whole range of programs, resources and activities designed to keep pace with the demands of tech-savvy customers.
So who do you target? Take your message to those individuals, businesses, and companies that have “assumed” the library will always be there for those who need the library – and the message for them is: Everyone needs the library!
One of the best ways to reach potential customers is to go where they are: through social media apps (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine and YouTube). Become a part of their social media community and tell your story and let customers tell their stories– why everyone needs the library!
The local media (newspapers, community magazines, television and radio) can also help reach potential customers. You can garner free promotion with public service announcements and pitching a program or activity to entice the media to your library. Learn the tastes of your demographic. Morning television and radio programs will catch potential customers heading off to work. You’ll catch teens and X and Y generation customers online through popular social media apps. You’ll have one or two specific messages but will tailor them to your audiences. Keep it short and to the point. You have less than a minute to get your message across or lose them to the world that is going on around them.
Persistence. Marketing and promotion of library services requires unrelenting and dogged persistence. The fine-tuned messages you’re broadcasting to targeted audiences must be consistent, concise and constant! Select three messages you can showcase and launch a major campaign with the idea of drawing in potential customers into the library. Remember, the library is competing with everything else in a potential customers’ life so while it may not look like you’re doing any good — continue to be persistent and it will pay off.
Partnerships. The library is an integral part of the community. As a part of the community, the public library must become involved with community initiatives and draw upon and form collaborative partnerships with other businesses, organizations, schools and colleges and individuals that all share a common goal – to help deliver the tools and resources that assist the customer in achieving their own personal ambitions and successes.
The library is a quiet and ever-present organization continually working to deliver the materials, resources, activities and programs to help our customers to accomplish their dreams. The library has a voice, a strong voice, and it must learn to use it in a direct and targeted manner or else be eclipsed by the trendy bookstores with Wi-Fi hotspots, coffee bars and overpriced macadamia nut cookies – which by the way – most local libraries offer (except for the overpriced macadamia nut cookies) free!
Suzanne DeKeyzer James is the public relations officer of the Rapides Parish Library System in central Louisiana. The Rapides Library System consists of a Main Library, five urban branches, four rural branches, a bookmobile, outreach services to the homebound and child development centers, as well as youth programs and services throughout the growing central Louisiana area. The mission of the Rapides Parish Library is to promote lifelong learning, enhanced quality of life, and literacy through print, audiovisual and electronic resources. The Library staff ensures that all citizens receive the maximum value from available informational, educational and recreational materials. For more information about the Rapides Parish Library system, visit the any of our parish libraries in person or visit the library online at: www.rpl.org.