25 Budget-Friendly Ideas to Kick-start (or Refresh) Your Library’s Community Outreach

Jun 6, 2019 | Articles

Community outreach is likely a major focus for your library, but knowing where to focus your energy when you have a small or nonexistent budget for it can be overwhelming. The good news is that many libraries on limited budgets have made significant impacts in their communities. Let these 25 ideas inspire you to get started with community outreach (or refresh your current strategy) regardless of the size of your budget.

Take Your Library to Community Events

You know that old saying about not reinventing the wheel? It certainly applies in this context. Your community already hosts popular gatherings that draw crowds. Piggyback on their success by establishing a library presence at these events.

Limit costs by keeping it simple — start with a folding table, a branded tablecloth, and a few outgoing staff members wearing shirts with your library’s logo and URL on them. Then, take a look at your current programs and resources to determine which ones are mobile. Do you have a craft class that you can re-create outside of your branch? Or perhaps you have tablets that you can take along to showcase your online resources? BrainHQ™, for one, offers fun (and scientifically proven) brain training activities that can be enjoyed anywhere.

All of these events are great opportunities to show community members that your library is more than just a place to borrow books:

  • Farmers markets
  • Art and craft shows
  • Parades
  • Food and clothing drives
  • Races and other athletic events
  • Plant sales
  • Festivals
  • Small business grand openings
  • Holiday markets
  • PTA meetings

Partner with Community Organizations

Your library is not the only organization that’s focused on enriching your community, so you don’t have to go it alone. Join forces in order to have the greatest impact. Establish an ongoing relationship with community groups so that they’ll keep your library in mind as a valuable partner or resource when they’re planning future events or campaigns.

If you haven’t already, consider reaching out to the following organizations to see if they’re interested in collaborating with your library on an existing or new opportunity:

  • Historical societies
  • Museums
  • Nursing homes
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Local government departments (e.g., Parks and Recreation or Health and Human Services)
  • Hospitals and clinics
  • Day cares and schools
  • Nonprofits (e.g., CASA or Big Brothers Big Sisters)
  • Media outlets
  • Public health organizations (e.g., Planned Parenthood or the American Cancer Society)
  • Real estate agencies

Get Creative to Engage Community Members

What exactly should you do at your festival table or at a community partner’s event? Here are a few reasonably priced ways to engage community members:

  • “Matchmaking” sessions: Offer on-site reader’s advisory through one-on-one consultations with librarians. Ask community members a few questions about what they like to read, “match” them with titles that fit their interests, and show them how to put a hold on the titles through your online catalog. For those who don’t yet have a library card, provide an easy way to sign up on-site.
  • Photo booths: If you’ve scrolled through a social media feed lately, you know how much people love posting photos of themselves. Shawano County Library in Wisconsin recognized this as an opportunity to engage its community members. The library created a simple backdrop and then promoted a library-related hashtag to those who used their makeshift selfie station. You can create your own version with cardboard and construction paper for props (cut out Harry Potter glasses, speaking bubbles with popular book quotes, etc.), and even go as simple as using a large photo frame instead of a full-on backdrop.
  • Welcome packets: Create a packet that includes a paper copy of your library’s event calendar (if you need help with planning your next event, check out our Event Marketing Checklist for Libraries), a branded giveaway, and promotional materials that highlight some of your unique resources. Then, have your real estate partners provide one of your packets to new homeowners as a part of their closing gift, and have museums provide them to their new members as well.  
  • Family movie nights: Another way Shawano County Library engages community members is by hosting outdoor movie screenings. Partnering with their local Parks and Recreation Department, library staff rents a screen and a projector and hosts movie nights for the public. If you’re interested in doing this yourself, make sure to work with your Parks and Recreation team to find the best week or day to host movie nights, and try to have an IT person on-site to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Now that you have the ideas, your next step is to find events and organizations with which to partner. Once you’ve implemented some of these outreach tactics, it’ll be no time at all before you’ll be on the receiving end of requests to have your library play a part in community events.  

Kayla Fargo

As Demco Software's Marketing Director, Kayla champions our efforts to educate public libraries on the need for a robust community engagement strategy. She works alongside our other teams to ensure that Demco Software's solutions effectively complement and amplify libraries' community engagement efforts.