Reaching the Frosties

By Molly Skeen

Some people use and support the public library, no matter what. They visit the library regularly, borrow books, take the kids to story time, join the Friends, and visit new libraries on vacation. Let's call them the Fans.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who never use the library, no matter what. They have their reasons. We could call these the Frosties. Between the two extremes, there's a broad range of library use patterns.

Here are some numbers taken from a 2006 study titled Long Overdue: A Fresh Look at Public and Leadership Attitudes About Libraries in the 21st Century. When asked how many times they visited a library in the previous year, survey respondents replied with these frequencies:
Not at all - 27%
1-5 times - 15%
6-10 times - 11%
11-25 times - 16%

How can we convert library Frosties to Fans? And how can we engage the people who use the library once a year to use it more often? I'm convinced that a great many of the Frosties have needs and interests that could be met at the library, but they are simply unaware of specific services that could help them.

  • Take Joe Frosty – a busy guy who works full time, takes the family camping, and likes to tinker with his car. He never uses the library, but maybe he would if he knew that his library provides access to EBSCO's Auto Repair Reference Center on its web site.
  • Joe's son Jason is in middle school. He loves comics, but can only afford to buy one or two a month with his allowance. Jason doesn't know about the library's extensive manga collection.
  • And there's Grandma Frosty, recently diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease. She'd like to spend more time reading, but watches daytime tv instead. Granny doesn't know about the large print and audio books she could be borrowing from her library.

Most libraries do an excellent job of outreach and publicity for special programs. We work with the schools, create signs, and host events to promote the summer reading program. We send out press releases for author events. We publish newsletters that list story times and other programs. But many of us don't publicize our core services and subscription databases, possibly because there's nothing “newsy” about them.

Perhaps we could publicize core services and subscription databases by reaching out to different populations in a variety of ways:

  • The entire community with a weekly column in the local “shopper” newspaper
  • Public utility customers with monthly stories in the gas/electric newsletter
  • Social media fans with Facebook and Twitter entries
  • Library users with articles about core services in the library newsletter
  • Public service announcements on radio stations that reach different demographics

Marketing professionals say it's important to repeat your message often and, judging from how often Pepsi ads run on television, there must be some validity to this concept. However, Pepsi has a huge advertising budget while libraries operate with shoestring publicity budgets.

So, here's my idea...

Libraries have a long history of sharing resources – cataloging, summer reading program materials, digital art for posters and bookmarks. We could develop a shared archive of articles and features that libraries could use to publicize core services and subscription databases. It would work like the Associated Press where member newspapers have reprint rights to syndicated articles. My concept allows for each library to customize and personalize the articles with information about their hours and locations as well as quotes from the library director. There would be a small subscription fee, say $25/year. Compared with the time it would take a staffer to write the articles, this could be a bargain.

A shared articles archive would make it easier for libraries to reach out to Joe, Jason, and Grandma Frosty with articles about Auto Repair Reference Center, resources for low-vision readers, and the library's manga collection. In addition to the articles, it could include word puzzles, art work, and radio public service announcements.

What do you think? Would your library use an article archive? If so, I'm tempted to create one!

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Two points

1. Not all Frosties are actually anti-library. I know many people who never visit or use the library themselves but can still be counted on to vote for every tax levy, write pro-library letters to the editor, and donate at fundraisers. You can recognize the value of a service to your greater community without using it yourself.

2. Our state library's PR department already provides such an article service and for free. Not sure how many other states do the same.

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