Libraries: Its Time to ReEngage your Community
Most Public Libraries across the world are still feeling the impacts of the pandemic. While our core key performance indicators of visits, loans and attendance at events are improving, for a lot of libraries this has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels. Our funding levels, our efficiency measures and our impact are all measured by these indicators amd whil it is true that the pandemic is the reason, it cannot be used as an excuse for much longer or our funding will be reduced. Here at Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries in north-east Melbourne, Australia, we are tackling the issue of re-engaging with our communities in a number of ways.
Firstly we asked our community why they have not yet returned to the library. The answers were collated into five themes.
1: There is still a lot of Covid-19 anxiety within key segments of the community and they are unsure of how safe it is to return to public spaces like the library. There is an opportunity here for Library communication to focus on the Covid safe practices in our library to reassure these community members.
2: Many of our members have discovered our improved and expanded eLibrary and are very happy using this aspect of our services. And they indicated they wanted more! The opportunity to continue to grow and promote our eLibrary offer to this segment is strong and these respondents could become great library advocates if we reach out to them more. And there are new members we could attract with our eLibrary to broaden our membership reach.
3: Others had forgotten about us and confessed they were out of the Library visit habit after being locked down for so long. These community members were so happy to hear from us and made comments like “Now you reminded me about the library the family will be back”. This really reminded us to reach out more and re-connect with our lapsed members as this could have an immediate postive response.
4: Many community members are more than 20 minutes from a library branch and this mattered now that they were working from home a lot more than previously. So distance does matter. This requires more library touchpoints away from our existing branches to entice these community members to take the required travel time to come back to the physical library branch. Let’s take the library to them. It is also another opportunity to promote and connect this segment of our regions with the eLibrary.
5: The increase of people working from home meant that they were not passing the library to call in and their children were coming straight home from school rather than heading to the library after school which was their previous habit. We realised we would need to create some targeted messaging about alternative workspaces. Promoting the library as a place to work when for those who were sick of working from home could attract this cohort back to the library as it meets their current need.
Our new YPRL Library Plan #ThisLibraryCan is focused on the road to recovery for our communities. Key impacts of the pandemic in the community were loss of jobs / income; feeling socially disconnected; children’s lack of social connection; and, failing mental health with high levels of stress and anxiety. In response to this our priorities are Knowledge and Learning; Wellbeing; Connection; and our Organisational Strength to deliver in these key areas. Having the strategy aligned with our communities’ needs has helped to hone our messaging to re-engage with our communities and to prioritise what we do.
Don’t get me wrong. Our community members did miss us as these feedback walls told us. We put these up when we re-opened and staff got a lot of joy from the positive messages. We even got a valentine’s message “ I love the library” signed from “the boy who comes in every day”. Because of course we must know which boy he was.
From all this feedback and analysis of the data here at YPRL we have focused on four areas to re-engage with our communities.
1: The Return Yourself to the Library campaign is a Victorian statewide marketing campaign led by the Public Libraries Victoria Marketing Special Interest Group. You can read all about the campaign here. It comes with professional video collateral which can be locally branded and a wide variety of other marketing collateral for all libraries to use and here at YPRL we are going to run a strong campaign in the local regions. We will also be asking our three member Councils to also amplify this campaign in their marketing to ensure the widest reach possible of the message #ReturnYourself to the library to find something new and surprising.
2: YPRL piloted self-serve Click and Collect hubs over the pandemic in community centres. These are a pick up point for reservations, on open shelves, and a small curated browsing collection to match the users of the centres with a self serve check out machine. These have been very successful with minimum loss rates and we are in the process of expanding these touchpoints to more community centres. We are prioritising those towns that are not serviced by a Branch Library. We are also working on an outreach program of events to these centres, beginning with regular storytimes, to attract new members and use of the hubs. This is a true partnership model with member Councils, local developers and the local cafe to find opportunities for the library to reach more deeply into underserved communities.
3: Outreach Programming and Outdoor Programming is also a focus to ease the community back into attending events. Our Outreach programming plan is to be in places where we know our community gathers outside of our Branches. This will connect with our new Hubs but will also connect with other Festivals, larger community programs and we will seek new partners to work with. We are in the Australian summer and autumn so outdoor programs can work at this time. Our families are starting to return to our storytimes and we have just opened an amazing outdoor learning garden with a giant lizard (with personality) which we are marketing as a safe place to play, learn and read.
4: Reconnect with Lapsed Members — Our community survey showed us the value of reaching out and reconnecting with library members who had not used us for some time. They loved the fact that we invited them to participate in a library survey and reminding them we were still here meant they often made the decision to reconnect with us by planning a visit. Now instead of purging members who have not used the library in a traditional way (loaning a book) we reach out to them with an email asking for an action. Give us some feedback, check out this event, or simply connect them to the eLibrary or a new blog post as a start. We are hoping that this approach acts as that reminder the library is here for them and that we want to reconnect. Time will tell whether this approach works and we will be monitoring the data and response so that we can hone our messaging.
And lastly what the community and staff are telling us is that they want some joy and hope back in their lives. What can we, as libraries, do to bring the joy back at the local level? Libraries cannot bring joy back to communities unless we ensure our own wellbeing. What can you, as an individual do, to ensure that in every day you can add a bit of joy into your life, to counter the anxiety of the past two years and to combat library burnout? Take a break, learn something new, do a Wordle were some of the ideas generated when I gave this keynote.
And what can your library do to ensure you and your team can have some joyful times? We here at YPRL have focused on staff wellbeing with a lot of resources, activities and focus on keeping yourself well. We have a wellbeing hub on our Intranet for staff to use and contribute too and we would be very interested in your ideas so we can build on this work.
This blog post is adapted from a keynote address given in February 2022. Thanks to Biblioteca and Raeco for their invitation to speak at their international webinar Remaining Relevant in the new normal: Bringing the Community Back to Your Library. Click on the link to see the full recording of my keynote and hear from the other great speakers.