If the pandemic has reshaped our understanding of anything, it is the difference between need and access.
The pandemic offers libraries with a rare opportunity of a captive audience through which to grow cardholder relationships. According to a June 18, 2020 article in Fortune, OverDrive, a provider of e-books to libraries, saw the following trends:
"...e-book loans have jumped 53% on average since before mid-March. Kids, or grownups checking out kids' books, have increased their e-book reading the most, the company says. Young adult nonfiction e-book checkouts are up 122%, and juvenile fiction is up 93%."
Home improvement projects have also increased over 50% since the start of the pandemic, as individuals have reshaped their lives to be home centric.* In fact, it would be an even odds bet or better that you are sitting in a home or remote office as you read this article. And while consumer patterns have changed in terms of location and mobility, demand has remained the same in most industries and grown for entertainment.
Tapping into this opportunity requires a mix of approaches, new and old, to be successful. At OrangeBoy, we have been partnering with libraries throughout the country to solve the access challenge by building build Community Outreach programs through a mix of channels. These programs are designed to solve this challenge by building awareness of available library services in lieu of branch visits, acquiring new cardholders in underserved areas, and extending library capabilities beyond the branch network. The long-term benefit of Community Outreach programs is a larger, more connected cardholder base that taps into library services regardless of physical location. This is beneficial for the library now, and in the future.
Here are some of the best practices we've developed alongside our partner libraries to create an effective Community Outreach program:
- Identify the Goals, Set the Investment – Community Outreach is much more than increasing your library's number of outbound emails. Whether the goal is to increase new cardholder signups, increase physical and/or virtual traffic, support job search and career development programs, or to build circulation; clear goals for the program should be set in advance. Once established, your library team should make a decision on the level of initial investment for the program. After all, outreach requires time, and often money, to be successful, and understanding both goals and investment will allow you to build a realistic measurement effort.
- Measure Twice, Reach Out Once – Tap into your cardholder database to build a better understanding of your cardholders. Consider pairing this dataset with an external, community-wide data set, like the new Community Outreach module for Savannah to allow your team to identify underserved areas, flag households with either no cardholders or inactive cardholders, and to overlay critical information like unemployment data or households with school-aged children. Examining your available datasets first will allow you to target your efforts, reducing time and money spent while increasing outcomes.
- Change the Channel(s) – More than likely, your email list is already comprised mainly of people who are engaged with your library system. Consider using the data collected in the previous step to grow this list either by using a syndicated list provider for email, or matching your internal data to external household list data in order to create a near complete picture of your community which includes both cardholders and non-cardholders. With a complete list in hand, your library can expand the channels through which you conduct Community Outreach. Consumers today prefer to connect with brands through multiple channels before truly engaging, and so reaching out via email, direct mail, and even events can help build your presence as a valuable, and accessible, resource.
- Go Beyond the Walls – Organizations that will successfully navigate the pandemic will need to think creatively. Many of our partner libraries are using "beyond the walls" strategies to bring library services to the community, especially in underserved areas. Consider ways your library can recreate the benefits of the library outside of the branches, including mobile and pop-up library stands, outdoor setups (weather allowing), delivery services, and virtual events designed to meet social distancing and safety guidelines while also providing a way for cardholders to connect in safe, fun ways.
Building a Community Outreach program is a way to fulfill the mission of your library while meeting the new rules of operating in a pandemic. In a time when many members of the community feel isolated, Community Outreach can serve as a method to create lasting connections with the library and among cardholders. It can also serve as a way to keep your library front of mind for cardholders. One thing is for certain, the need remains high, and so the impact of any outreach will return strong dividends for everyone.
If you would like to learn more about how partner libraries are shaping Community Outreach programs, check out the recently recorded webinar on the topic by clicking on the "OrangeBoy Productions" logo on the right side of this page. You can also learn more by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.