Exploring Library Engagement Platforms, Tools, and Techniques
by David Lee King
Library software has come a long way from the early days of online union catalogs and databases. Today’s library utilizes one or more library engagement platforms with the goal of informing customers about upcoming events and new resources, wishing them a happy birthday, or inviting them to use their library card to check out something. These software-based platforms help the library and customer connect using a variety of communication channels—including email, text messages, and mobile phone notifications. Let’s explore these up-and-coming software platforms in more detail.
|[These tools] help keep our customers engaged and coming back for more.
Defining a library engagement platform can be difficult because each platform is unique. A library engagement platform is an online, software-based solution that allows library patrons to connect and engage with the library through a series of interactions. These platforms serve to make connections between customers and our collections and library services. In the process, they help keep our customers engaged and coming back for more.
Interactions in Library Engagement Platforms
There are many types of interactions customers have using library engagement platforms. I have organized these interactions into the following five types, based on the platform they use:
- Email systems
- CRM platforms
- Registration and reservation systems
- Mobile apps
- Advertising platforms
1. Email Interactions
This type of interaction involves sending informational emails to customers. Is such email marketing effective? You’d think everyone would simply hit Delete or unsubscribe. However, that is not the case. According to Campaign Monitor, the average open rate for email marketing is around 18%. This percentage goes up for industries that are more closely related to libraries. Educational email blasts have an open rate of about 24.9%. For government and politics, the open rate is around 26.7%, and for nonprofits, it’s about 25.5%. 1
What kinds of email interactions work for libraries? Here are some types of email messages that libraries might consider when using library engagement platforms:
- Welcome to the library—Send a welcome email to a new card holder and provide suggestions on how to use a new library card.
- Renewal notices for books and for re-registering a library card
- New book notifications—These can be generalized lists of new books the library has added to the collection or curated lists of staff picks.
- Promotional emails
- Reminders to use a library card—If customers haven’t used their library card in 6 months or a year, you can send out targeted emails to encourage them to check out something.
- Birthdays—Say happy birthday to your customers using email. Some of the library engagement platforms can be set to trigger an email when it’s the customer’s birthday.
Enewsletters are another type of email that you can send. Use these to share library news, upcoming events, or lists of new books and other materials. Be sure to include a way for customers to opt out of marketing emails. While many of your customers will be interested in library news, not everyone will want regular email from the library.
2. CRM Personalized Interactions
A CRM platform has many uses. In the corporate world, a CRM is a database about customers and their interactions with an organization and its products. A CRM platform keeps track of contact information and what people have purchased to generate potential leads. It’s also a handy tool to manage customer relationships.
There are a handful of library-focused CRMs that are offered along with other related products. For example, Springshare’s LibConnect works in conjunction with Springshare’s other products, such as LibGuides and LibAnswers. It can be a powerful platform to help a
library manage and gather customer data.
OCLC’s Wise and Innovative’s Vega and are adding CRM functionality into the ILS. This makes a lot of sense, since these systems already keep track of patron data and patron contact information. These CRM systems are introducing personalized email marketing to the patron database and will eventually be able to use patron information to send automated communications to customers.
3. Registration and Reservation Transactions
You have most likely used some type of registration or reservation system. For example, you have used one of these systems if you have reserved an Uber, a table at a restaurant, or a parking space at the grocery store for curbside pickup. Our customers are used to this type of interaction, and they are starting to expect similar interactions from their library as well. Thankfully, with library engagement platforms, there are many ways to provide online registration and reservation services in our libraries. Let’s explore some of the options.
Most libraries have a calendar of events. Modern library calendar systems allow customers to register for or reserve their space at classes and events. Some calendar systems also allow people to sign up even if the meeting is over capacity and will place them on a waiting list. In addition, many calendars offer reminders, such as the ability to add the library’s event to the customer’s personal calendar on their smartphone or to send an automated email or text reminder about the upcoming event.
Meeting Room Reservations
Calendars are a good solution for library-led events, but what if your customer wants to reserve meeting room space at the library? In today’s library, these spaces can be reserved online, using room reservation software. This software is often built into event calendar systems. For example, Communico offers modules for attending or reserving. Library Market’s LibraryCalendar product combines event and room management into one system.
Some library engagement platforms include a way to reserve nontraditional items such as tools, musical instruments, technology products, or Wi-Fi hotspots. These are items you don’t necessarily want to put in your ILS. For example, during the pandemic, Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library repurposed 20 customer training laptops for staffers. We used Springshare’s LibCal product to allow staff members to check out a laptop, which was convenient for employees and helped keep track of who had the laptops.
There are many reasons why someone might need to set up an appointment with a staff member. Library engagement platforms can help by offering a way to schedule these appointments.
Because of the pandemic, many libraries now offer some type of curbside pickup service. Thankfully, many library engagement platforms quickly built this new service into their products, which has been a lifesaver for libraries and for our communities.
4. Mobile Interactions
We use smartphones to read, make calls, answer emails, check calendars, play games, and listen to music. Today’s library can also be on our phones. Let’s explore some phone-centric library engagement platforms: mobile apps and
Mobile apps are a type of library engagement platform that keeps customers interacting with and focused on their library. There are a variety of mobile apps for libraries, including a mobile app version of your library website. A good website app should make it easy for customers to find information on your website, search the catalog, find an event, pull up information on services, and read blog posts.
Customers like to access the website from their phones. Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library currently uses Communico’s mobile app. We have approximately 5,000 downloads of it from the Apple App Store and the Google Play app store. So, our website app is on 5,000 customer phones. If you want customers to use your library app, you need to promote it often. You’ll also need to make sure it is easy to use and meets your customers’ needs.
There are many other library-related apps that your customers will enjoy, such as hoopla, Libby, Flipster, or Mango. These apps are all popular because they offer content your customers want. Plus, apps are the only way to access certain content. For example, if you want to read an ebook, you need the ebook mobile app.
Another type of library engagement platform is social media. It offers direct, two-way customer engagement. It’s a good idea to use social media to reach library customers, since they are probably already using social media platforms.
Here’s a simple-to-create example from Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library’s Facebook page (facebook.com/topekalibrary). We often post a simple question: “What are you reading?” These posts are generally very successful. People often comment by sharing books they are currently reading.
5. Ad Clicks
Koios can help you set up a nonprofit Google Ad Grant account and can assist you in creating Google Ads that will show up in your community’s search results. You can also make ads on a variety of social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. You can even create video ads that play before a YouTube video.
Why make ads? Because people click on them. According to WordStream, “clicks on paid search listings beat out organic clicks by nearly a 2:1 margin for keywords with high commercial intent in the US. In other words, 64.6% of people click on Google Ads when they are looking to buy an item online!” 2
If your library creates an ad to share a service or resource with your community, it will probably get clicked, which is another way to move people from Google to your library’s website for a small amount of money.
End Goal: Touchpoints and Next Steps
Our end goal when using library engagement platforms is to engage in two areas: touchpoints and next steps.
“Touchpoints” is a marketing and customer service term, which SurveyMonkey explains this way: “Customer touchpoints are your brand’s points of customer contact, from start to finish. For example, customers may find your business online or in an ad, see ratings and reviews, visit your website, shop at your retail store, or contact your customer service. Seems like a long list, but these are just a few of your touchpoints!” 3
Libraries have a lot of touchpoints—many of them built-in and traditional. For example, when a customer visits a reference desk with a question, that’s a touchpoint. When a customer checks out a book at the circulation desk, that’s a touchpoint. When a customer enters your building? That’s another touchpoint.
All of the library engagement platforms we have been discussing—newsletters, email marketing, reservation and sign-up software, delivery services, and mobile apps—have many built-in touchpoints. For example, getting a card, receiving a reminder to use the card, or using curbside pickup are all touchpoints. A library’s main goal with touchpoints is to make each one easy to navigate and to understand. That way, customers will be able to find and use the library’s resources.
“Next steps” is a term used to encompass a specific call to action. Each next step is a prompt for the user to do something after they interact with a touchpoint. For example, after you read a blog post about using a library database, the next step might be to connect to and use that database. If you are on a Calendar of Events page reading about an upcoming event, the next step on that page might be to click the Reserve Your Spot button and sign up to attend the event.
Touchpoints and next steps help lead our customers to engage and interact with the library. Thankfully, our customers are already interested—that’s why they signed up for a library card. Sometimes, people just need a little nudge to do that next step.
What are you doing to meet your customers’ need for connections? Library engagement platforms can engage customers in ways beyond the circulation desk. So, start exploring these emerging opportunities packed into a software platform, and connect with your community in new and meaningful ways.
For further reading, see my recent contribution in the Library Technology Report on library engagement platforms, published by ALA TechSource (journals.ala.org/index.php/ltr).