The public library where I used to work has developed a new position: Library Outreach and Communications Coordinator. There are a couple of reasons why I’m excited about this:

1. I loved working at Beloit Public Library (it was my first library job) so I have an invested interest in what happens there, and 2. my senior thesis reseach was all about how to improve attendance of, and participation in, public library events and programs. The creation of this new postion seems to offer a real solution to the findings in my research, namely that there needs to be greater analysis and evaluation of the success of library events and programs in public libraries, in order to improve them.

Here’s the job description:

This position plans and conducts marketing, public relations, communications, and outreach in support of the Beloit Public Library’s (BPL) strategic plan through publicity, media relations, special events, publications, signage, exhibits and displays, and networking with key groups.

Specific duties of this new role are:

Develops and maintains partner and volunteer relationships to keep the library presence in the public eye.
Coordinates library programming and special promotions.
Coordinates library outreach, marketing and PR communications, external advertising and social media.

But my favourite part of this new job description is this: Evaluates success of library programs. This, really, is something that every library should be doing, as a matter of course, but as I discovered during my research, this often gets neglected. A brief summary of my research findings is given below. For the full text of my thesis, click here.

  • Poor attendance of library programs appears to be a symptom of a disconnect between the public library and the community. Public libraries need to maintain knowledge about their communities, and one of the most straightforward ways to achieve this is by routinely collecting feedback from library users. If there were greater opportunity for members of the community to express their opinions, wants and needs to the library, then perhaps the library staff would be able to plan programs better suited to the community, which in turn, would improve attendance levels.  The purpose of such information is not to simply judge how good or bad one particular program was, but to use the feedback when planning future programs, with the aim of improving the ways in which programs are planned and implemented. Currently, there appears to be a lack of communication between the public libraries and the communities they are intended to serve. Instigating a mechanism for feedback would help to open up this communication, and hence, help librarians make more informed choices when planning programs.
  • From a marketing perspective, public libraries should explore, new, more dynamic ways to reach their intended audiences. Relying on listings in the local newspaper is not enough, but similarly relying on Facebook alone is also ineffective. There needs to be more synergy, to connect online marketing through social media, with physical print marketing, and word-of-mouth marketing to reach the intended audiences. If programs are not marketed effectively, they will have poor attendance figures no matter how great the programming is. Public libraries need to experiment with marketing strategies, to find out which methods are the most effective to reach the audiences they are seeking.
  • Library staff need to actively seek feedback from library users, in an attempt to discover what kinds of programs are desired and needed by the communities they serve.
  • Forging greater collaborative partnerships with other educational institutions in the community. Reaching out to other institutions would help bring fresh ideas and new opportunities for different kinds of programming that may not have been explored previously.
  • Implementing the kinds of programs that are of interest to the community, perhaps through greater collaborations, combined with effective marketing, could help to increase attendance figures, and hence strengthen the public library’s standing in the community as one of this nation’s greatest educational institutions.

Beloit Public Library is located in the United States, where the funding of public libraries fares slightly better than in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, I highly doubt that public libraries in the U.K. would be able to fund a position such as a Library Outreach and Coordinator.

As always, thoughts or comments are welcome…