Public Libraries Advisory Group – 3rd Meeting

We had our third meeting of the Public Libraries Advisory Group (click on the tag to see other posts on this group) this week and I’d love to get feedback from you on the discussion we had about involving the community in the library.  This isn’t library outreach into the community but rather getting the community to give input to the library on their needs and concerns via planning sessions, focus groups etc.  With reduced budgets and economic stress, we all want to serve our communities as well as possible with the money we have, so their participation in our planning processes is essential.

One of our members lamented that they had a library planning event which despite promoting heavily, had only 20 outside attendees.  She was wondering how successful others have been at creating an interest in library planning in their communities and what methods they used.

Food is often used as a lure, but other members have found that inviting community leaders and asking them to represent their constituencies can be effective.  Others contact people they hope will attend right before the meeting to remind them.  One library is extremely involved in their community – their staff are members of many local groups and they have a great relationship with local media – and these preexisting relationships mean that many community leaders attend planning sessions.  Since the library has shown an interest in their group, they’ll show an interest in the library.  I attended one of them and was amazed at the turnout and how vocal and helpful attendees were. 

We also thought that using trustees, Friends, volunteers and Foundation members to spread the word and garner feedback might work.

So how do you get input from the community for your strategic planning?  What methods do you have the most success with?

We also discussed how to make our expensive databases more popular.  Low database usage is common in public libraries and it’s painful to spend money on them when their usage statistics just don’t seem to justify their cost, especially now when reduced funding means the money spent on them could go to more popular resources. 

Some members have had luck marketing databases to specific groups (e.g. showing auto repair shops the Chilton’s database), or putting bookmarks with access instructions near the physical auto repair books.  Others find classes with enticing names (Winning Web Strategies vs. Learning About Library Databases) have helped draw people in.  Some members go for the one on one approach by demonstrating them to patrons when the opportunity arises, which works well, but is very inefficient in terms of greatly increasing their use.  

We also discussed sharing database fees with outside groups that have a need for them as they would in turn promote them to their members.

Do you suffer from low database stats too?  What do you do to increase use of your databases?  What methods do you think work best?

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