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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > March/April 2014

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MLS - Marketing Library Services
Vol. 28 No. 2 — Mar/Apr 2014
We Made Outreach Work Mandatory for Library Staff Members
by Amie Thomas

It’s always a challenge to get the word out about everything that public libraries have. An overview of a recent Pew Research Center study quantifies that fact: “Americans say libraries are important to their families and their communities, but often do not know all the services libraries offer. ... [J]ust 22% say that they know all or most of the services their libraries offer now. Another 46% say they know some of what their libraries offer and 31% said they know not much or nothing at all of what their libraries offer” (“Library Services in the Digital Age”;

Our employees enjoy having a break in their routines and hearing the public’s compliments.

We all hear the phrase, “I didn’t know libraries did that!” For those tasked with marketing library services, it is incredibly frustrating. So what can we do? At Brownsburg (Ind.) Public Library, our administration is increasing outreach to cultivate a community that doesn’t just value the library as an institution or ideal, but one that also actively uses all its library has to offer.

Gathering Data, Developing Goals

So where did we begin? Data, data, data—we all have a love/hate relationship with it, I know. But by putting the pieces together, you can see the demographics of your community, where your gaps are in cardholders (by age group), and what your community values (via surveys). I used several different sources to get the big picture, including 2010 Census data from STATS (, lots of data straight from our integrated library system (Polaris), and some local survey results (our own from 2010 and a survey the town sent out in 2011; I also asked our staff for feedback on our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, giving us a SWOT analysis to broaden our view.

Then it was time to use the data to develop overall goals and objectives. We identified the following three goals: build awareness, increase usage, and create advocates. Based on the data, I knew we had some age groups that we could target a little better, but I also felt that we just needed to get out there and make our community more aware of what we have to offer. So I asked my director if I could try something new to give us a physical presence at various events in the community. Luckily, she understood the challenges and gave her full support for my somewhat-radical proposal.

Enlisting Everyone for Outreach

Click for PDF - Brownsburg Public Library Outreach Points System
Click for PDF

As of Jan. 1, 2013, we implemented a new staff directive. We started formally requiring our employees to do some off-site outreach work at community events, and we tied these activities directly to their performance evaluations. We developed a points system for various outreach activities and started requiring every staffer to earn a certain number of points per year [right]. The system is tiered according to the events’ times and days of the week, and different types of workers need to achieve different numbers of points in order to fulfill their obligations. (I knew that some people wouldn’t be comfortable being “on the front lines,” so I included points for doing in-house displays as well.)

When we first told staffers (a couple of months prior to implementation) that we’d be sending them out to the front lines to talk about the library, there was some fear and uncertainty. But after they did the outreach for a while, their feedback was overwhelmingly positive. (Happily, we have a great staff that rolls with the changes.) Our employees enjoyed having a break in their routines and being able to talk to local citizens. Many of them were surprised by how complimentary people are about what we do, and outreach events wound up being a nice pat on the back for them.

We did pretty well with our quantifiable goals too, which were tied directly to our strategic plan. We met two of these goals. One was to increase physical circulation numbers by 1% annually (that’s up by 2%), and the other was to increase the number of new cardholders (that’s up by 12%). In addition to those successes, I feel good knowing that we’re trying to connect with our community members. Without them, we don’t exist; it’s that simple. And it’s important to keep their input top-of-mind. Each community and its needs are unique, and what better organization to represent and serve it than the local library?

If you’d like more information or want to see our outreach plan, follow this link:

Amie Thomas is the public services administrator at Brownsburg Public Library in Indiana. She holds an M.L.S. from Indiana University in Bloomington. She has worked in public libraries for 11 years and is passionate about sharing what they can offer. Her email address is
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