The Secret to Deeper Community Engagement for Your Library

Apr 24, 2019 | Articles

You’ve likely tried a few different tactics to pull community members into your library’s branches and keep them coming back for more events, programs, and resources. There’s no one-size-fits-all community engagement strategy that will translate to sure success for every library. However, the secret to many successful libraries is their drive to understand their communities’ unique needs. In this post, we’ll explore ways to learn more about your patrons — and potential patrons — so you can better serve them. 

Get Patrons Involved with a Short Survey

The community members who visit your library to check out books, use your computers, or participate in your programs are already convinced of your library’s value. Call on this group for help turning their friends, family members, and neighbors into library supporters as well.

Start by conducting a survey that asks patrons for their feedback on current programs and invites them to share their ideas about new resources that your library should offer. To distribute your survey, try one or both of the following ideas:

  • Load the survey on a tablet and ask people to complete it at checkout. Don’t limit yourself to just the patrons who are checking out books, though. To capture feedback from people who use the library for other purposes, have librarians walk around the branch and ask patrons on computers and in study areas — make sure you wait until they look like they’re taking a break from studying! — to complete the survey as well.
  • Include a link to the survey in your monthly email newsletter and on social media. This will help you collect feedback from people who are not regular visitors to the physical branch. Be sure to include questions about your digital resources if you go this route.

No matter how you end up distributing it, you’ll want to make sure that the survey is short and to the point — ask clear, concise questions to get at the information you want to know. It might help to offer some sort of incentive, even a small one, to entice people to fill it out.

Attend Community Meetings

Interacting with engaged patrons is great, but you’re going to have to think outside the branch to get a more holistic view of what your community desires. Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone! There are active groups in your community that are already reaching people who are unaware of what your library has to offer.

Approach local businesses, organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, and associations like SCORE to offer your support for their programming. Find out when their next meeting or event is so that you can attend. While your end goal is to have some time in front of these groups to share more about your library, start out slow. Simply listen and learn more about their members, spend some time thinking about how your resources meet their needs, and then make your eventual pitch specialized to what resonates with each specific audience.

Go Where the Crowds Are

Does your community have an annual 10K run? Do you have a St. Patrick’s Day parade that draws large crowds? Is there a weekly farmers market where families from all across your city spend their Saturdays? These are great opportunities to promote your library and to have conversations about how you can better serve diverse community groups.

For instance, try setting up a booth at the pre-race expo that highlights all of your health and fitness resources. While you’re there, ask for suggestions of other ways the library could support the athletes in your community.

Also consider having librarians walk along parade routes passing out flyers about your next big program or event. You might also try hosting a “pop-up” library at the farmers market. Highlight books and online resources about gardening and healthy eating, and ask shoppers for feedback about where they look for information about community events and about any relevant programs you are considering launching.

Be SMART About Your Community Engagement Goals

Boosting community engagement is a large undertaking, but it’s manageable when you have a clear action plan. Demco Software wants to help, so we created a worksheet for libraries that want to build awareness, drive engagement, and measure impact. (If you attended ALA Midwinter 2019, you may recognize this from the hands-on workshop that we hosted to improve community engagement strategies.) Download the free community engagement worksheet here to help you set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely), build actionable strategies, and fundamentally transform how your library engages your community.

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.