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Volume 13 No. 4 • April/May 1999
• Cover Story •
Marketing Adult Reading Programs to the Public 

Editor’s Note: Lots of public libraries have reading programs for kids, especially in the summer. But do you find you’re having trouble reaching adults and encouraging them to read? I found a few people who have very successful adult reading clubs, and asked each of them to share their stories so that other libraries can copy them as the summer reading season rolls around again.

Easier Rules Mean More Readers
While this is only the 9th adult summer reading club (ASRC) for the Washington-Centerville Public Library, we have seen tremendous growth in our program—over 1,100 participants in 1998 alone! To what do we attribute this great response? Lots of hard work, plenty of creativity, and some unique ways of marketing ASRC to the community and library staff.

 The actual execution of our ASRC is fairly standard. Patrons sign up, read or listen to books, and fill out a review form. Reviews are then thrown into a fishbowl, and weekly drawings are held to pick winners. Grown-up prizes like free food, rounds of golf, and theater tickets were big motivators for participation. But the execution is the simple part. The real work, and the work most likely to determine the success of your ASRC, begins long before the first patron is registered.

 At Washington-Centerville (Ohio) Public Library, a two-library system that serves a population of about 55,000, our first step was to determine what we wanted to accomplish through the 1998 ASRC. Along with the ultimate goal of increasing circulation, we came up with three targeted goals.

  1. Increase the number of ASRC participants.
  2. Increase the number of ASRC participants who really read after the initial sign up.
  3. Increase awareness of ASRC throughout the community.
 With these goals in mind, we came up with some unique marketing activities that helped pave the way to a sizzling ASRC.

 In order to increase overall participation in ASRC, we had to make the club appealing to many different lifestyles. So, we ditched the old standard of  “read X amount of books, win a prize” and instead adopted a random drawing system. This was a great marketing tool for getting people with busy lifestyles to register. With the old system, we found that busy people didn’t get involved with ASRC because they couldn’t read the 10, 15, or 20 books necessary to win anything. With the new random drawing system, even the person who read one book had a chance at winning. So a simple marketing strategy came to life by staff asking library patrons, “Do you have time to read just one book in the next 8 weeks? If so, you could win one of these great prizes.” On the flip side, patrons who read more increased their odds of
winning something because they had more entries in the random drawings.

 In the business world, they say it costs less to keep an existing customer than to go out and find a new one. We followed this axiom by looking at the list of people who participated (and read at least one book) in the previous ASRC. We sent each of those people a postcard reminding them to sign up for this year’s club. In addition, the postcard entitled the patron to an automatic entry into a weekly drawing when they signed up for the 1998 ASRC. The patrons loved it. Not only did this marketing strategy help to increase participation but it created a preferred-patron status for those who participated in the previous year’s club.

 Beyond getting patrons to register, we wanted them to actually read. The random drawing helped, but nothing can replace the staff members personally encouraging patrons to read. We found that the efforts of our front-line public services staff were crucial in keeping people excited about reading for ASRC. So, we decided the best marketing opportunity would have to occur on the front line. To encourage our staff to “sell” continued participation, we created a unique incentive program. At our library, each staff member takes a turn signing up patrons for ASRC during the first few weeks of the summer. Thereafter, if a person they registered for ASRC wins a weekly drawing, the staff member wins a gift certificate for lunch at a local restaurant. Thus, staff members’ chances of winning are directly tied to the reading efforts of those they registered for ASRC. Staff loved the gift certificates, and we loved the fact that the number of ASRC participants who actually read increased 74 percent over our 1997 numbers!

 We often find that people are surprised to hear we actually have a summer reading club for adults. As a result, we wanted to take a more aggressive approach to market ASRC not only within the library, but also within the greater community. To accomplish this goal we enlisted the help of many local businesses. We began by sending all of the businesses that donated ASRC prizes a colorful flyer that said: “Heat up your summer by joining Summer Reading Club at Washington-Centerville Public Library. Your participation could win you [insert prize donated from business] compliments of: [insert business name].” Each of the businesses hung it in their establishment. (And why wouldn’t they? People love to patronize businesses that support their community.)

 The fliers accomplished two things. First, they helped us market our summer reading club to a much larger audience. Even if people didn’t come directly to the library, they still had a chance to become aware of one more program offered by Washington-Centerville Public Library. Secondly, placing the fliers helped to foster budding relationships with local businesses. Businesses appreciated that we were touting their support of our program to their customers. Often, the only time libraries contact businesses is when they want donations or other fiscal support for expensive programs. This sets a bad precedent. Since businesses legitimately need to see “what’s in it for me,” the summer reading club flyers served as evidence of how their summer reading club support could be beneficial for business.

 Marketing your ASRC doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor. We had a budget of $1,400 and a committee of six. Best advice: What you lack in cash and manpower, make up for in creativity and use of basic marketing principles.

Georgia Mergler, public information specialist, Washington-Centerville Public Library, Centerville, Ohio;

Publicize Outside Library Walls
The Williamsburg Regional Library consists of two locations and serves approximately 60,000 people per year. The Williamsburg Library is located in the heart of downtown Williamsburg, Virginia, just blocks from the campus of The College of William and Mary and the historical area. James City County Library is located in a more rural area in a section called Norge.

 Our summer reading program for adults, “Goodies for Grownups,” encourages adults to share what they’ve read with others in exchange for weekly and grand prizes. “Why should kids have all the fun?” the publicity posters ask. Adults who bring in their children or grandchildren for the summer reading programs may ask themselves that same question and decide to participate.

 The library’s Youth Services Department handles “Goodies for Grownups,” along with other reading programs. Youth Services director Noreen Bernstein says, “What I love about the program is that adults are being given—and taking—the opportunity to model behavior for children. Just like their child or grandchild, adults are doing a summer reading program.” Youth services librarian and “Goodies for Grownups” coordinator Betsy Barry agrees. “It encourages the love of reading in adults and provides the children with adult role models who show them that reading is both fun and important for everyone.”

 The program’s format is simple: A participant reads a book, picks up an entry form at the library, writes a short review, and puts the entry into a box at either library location or at the bookmobile. Weekly winners are drawn at random for baskets of “goodies.”  Winners’ names are posted alongside all of the entries in a public area at each library building. At the close of the program, several grand prize winners are drawn from all of the entries. The grand prizes are gift certificates to area restaurants and other things donated by local businesses.

 “Goodies for Grownups” participation has steadily inclined since the program’s inception in 1995, due in large part to the publicity efforts that we’ve made. Youth services librarians are encouraged to remind parents and grandparents that there is a summer reading program for them as well as for the little ones they are signing up. Fliers are displayed on reference and circulation desks, and posters that advertise the program are hung in the library as well as in public places like the post office, community centers, and grocery stores. The library’s Web site is used as a promotional tool, with a page devoted to the explanation of the program. (Last year’s page can be viewed at Local papers and radio stations have also been a great help in getting the word out by using press releases that we send.

 Most of the prizes we obtain for “Goodies for Grownups” come from simply making phone calls to local businesses. As the program has grown, so has the number of prizes donated. Many businesses have been repeat donors and find that donating prizes for the program is worth their while. They are thanked publicly on the library’s Web site, in our newsletter, and on posters in both library locations. At the end of the summer we also run an ad in the local paper that lists all businesses that have donated to the youth and adult summer reading programs. Personal thank-you letters are also mailed to each business.

 Participants get involved with the “Goodies for Grownups” program for different reasons—some for the prizes, some for the opportunity to be role models for children, and some simply for their love of reading. Whatever the reasons, the program has been increasingly popular, with entries growing from 224 in 1995 to 444 in 1998.
 The Williamsburg Regional Library anticipates another successful adult summer reading program in 1999 and hopes to draw in even more enthusiastic readers for “Goodies for Grownups.”

 Jennifer S. Payne, graphics and publications manager, Williamsburg Regional Library, Williamsburg, Virginia;

Snow Helps Reader Numbers Grow
About 7 years ago, the Kent District Library (KDL), which has 18 branches and serves a population of approximately of 296,000,  took advantage of the cold West Michigan winter and developed the “Let It Snow” Reading Club for adults. The club is open to everyone ages 16 and older and runs from December 1 through March 31.

 KDL has participants register and fill out a frequent reader card to track the books they’ve read. Traditionally, we’ve asked them to read 15 books, but this year we added a new twist—a Reading Challenge. First, the participants must read 10 books (any titles) and they earn a commemorative mug. Then, they can take the Reading Challenge and read five additional books in specified genres to enter their name in a prize drawing. Great prizes were donated, such as a museum membership, movie passes, tickets to a baseball game, and other gift certificates.

 When patrons register for “Let It Snow” they receive a reader’s advisory handout. Last year it was a brochure called Award Winning Books to the Rescue (Pulitzer, Edgar, RITA, etc.). This year, they received a packet entitled “Hot Reads for a Cold Winter” with 14 “If You Liked ...” bookmarks tucked inside.

 The name of the program stays the same every year but the logo changes.  We usually pick a polar or winter animal for the mascot. In the past, we’ve had a Saint Bernard carrying books, a walrus, a polar bear, and a snowman. This year we have a moose. The mascot becomes the logo for the year and appears on all the printed material and also on the mugs. The mugs have become collectible items for some of our patrons.

 We promote the program through posters in the library, bookmarks, the Web page, public service announcements (PSAs), and news releases. A local radio station sponsors the event and runs a public service announcement at no cost to KDL. This year KDL also produced a spot that will run on local cable channels as a PSA.

 However, the best promotional tool has been the staff selling the program to our adult patrons. For the past 2 years we have offered an incentive to staff, giving a special prize if participation is increased from the prior year.  Last year, the winning branch was rewarded with home-baked pies for the largest percent increase. This year a challenge was issued to increase our record participation from last year. With a month still left before the end of this year’s program (this article was written in February), the goal has already been achieved and all 235 staff members have enjoyed brownies personally baked by the director. The club’s participation has grown steadily each year, from 350 in 1991 to 3,074 participants in 1998!

 We end the program with an event during National Library Week that we call the “Let It Snow Somewhere Else” celebration. We bring in an author to speak and sometimes we have musical entertainment. The event is held at a local museum (since KDL does not have a main branch) and we give away theme-based book baskets as door prizes. About 150-200 people usually attend.

 The “Let It Snow” program is funded through the KDL budget, in-kind donations, and grants. The budget this year is $6,000. (Our total operating budget is $8.1 million.) The program takes four to six branch staff members to serve on a committee. This is our major effort to reach adults, but most importantly “Let It Snow” allows staff members to focus on providing reader’s advisory and gives them a chance to talk books with our patrons. The numbers prove that the program works, and the main reason is that staff members have fun with it.

Cheryl Garrison, program manager,, 616/336-2013; and
John VanValkenburg, public relations manager,, 616/336-2557; Kent District Library, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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