5 Steps To Redefining Your Library

McAllen Main Library, McAllen, TX
Interior Architecture & Design by MS&R. Photo by Lisa Swimmer.

In the past month, I’ve had some revealing conversations about the perception of libraries. In one, a friend said “libraries are going away. Everything is going digital.” Another friend was talking about her purchase of an e-reader for her daughter, and how much money she was spending on books. Both were unaware that libraries offered e-books for download and that they could receive free “how-to” tutorials from their local libraries. Another conversation was with a woman I met on an airplane, who just recently became a library card carrier and frequent visitor of her neighborhood public library. She was giddy when sharing her discoveries of all the resources and programs libraries offered.

You and I know 21st century libraries have an abundance of programs and resources to offer. However, for many people libraries remain synonymous with books. They are unaware of the innovative programs, services, resources and appealing spaces available for people of all ages. This article focuses on ways you can strengthen your position in the community and increase awareness about all you offer.

Group_discussion1. Stay Connected with your Community Awareness and perception are hurdles that can be overcome. Engage with your community to understand their needs and gather their viewpoints. Start by polling your library users, non-users, community leaders, community members, business leaders, etc. Reach out to as many diverse groups as possible and then be inquisitive listeners, learning all you can.

Employ a variety of information gathering strategies. Leave your library. Go into the community and host forums in popular venues; meet with community leaders; conduct surveys in your library, on your web site, in partnership with local businesses, agencies and schools. The goal is to gather real-world, unbiased information.

  • What is their response when they hear the name of your library?
  • What brings people into your library?
  • Are they aware your library offers . . .  (highlight services and programs)
  • What are the priorities for community agencies, businesses and schools? What are their struggles
  • How are the demographics shifting within your community?

In addition to surveys and meetings, spend time in the community observing what’s happening in other public spaces. It is equally important to observe patrons in your library. Devote time to watching people. What are they doing and how are they interacting in the space? This can give you insights into what works well and what could be adjusted to improve space utilization and flow.

2. Dive into the Findings A job well done will produce a wealth of information. Rich and deep insights can be realized when minds are open to discovery. You can approach your analysis from a variety of perspectives:

  • Review comments and identify general themes
    • Identify areas of strength. What are needs that overlap with existing library programs and services?
    • Identify gaps, or opportunities. What are the needs that your library does not currently fulfill?
  • What are some of the most surprising findings?
    • How well did you and your staff know and understand what matters to your community?
  • Break your findings into groups where the gap can be overcome through awareness building vs. a need for new service development or greater resource commitments. You will likely have a mix of short-term actionable items with longer-term planning needs.

3. Mash Insights with Current Reality Understanding the current landscape gives you a foundation on which to build your brand communication strategy. Branding your library is more than a logo or a tagline. Branding is creating a strong, positive emotional connection with your users, wrapped in a compelling story that is memorable and repeatable.

Start with an audit of your marketing materials, posting them for a review.

  • Is there a consistent tone or voice in your messages?
  • Is there a consistent use and style of graphics and fonts used?
  • Do you have different styles and treatments for the various areas of your library?  Adult vs. Teen vs. Children?
  • How is your logo and tagline applied? If you don’t have one, create one

Next, identify as many current communication channels you have within the library, as well as community partnerships.

  • Is there alignment and integration across all your marketing communications and channels? (print media, digital signage, website, social media, mobile apps, billboards, bus wraps, etc.)
  • Is there a consistent theme and compelling story being told?

4. Take Action & Think Differently At this point, you are likely filled with ideas and could go off in a hundred different directions. Greater success will be achieved if you develop a plan of the changes you wish to implement that address your findings. Everyone’s situation and timelines will vary depending on their needs. Possible scenarios for change could be:

  • A complete brand identity makeover
  • Creation of marketing communications guidelines for signage and visual merchandising
  • A public relations campaign to create awareness and educate the community
  • A redistribution of space allocation based on usage patterns, program and service needs
  • Development of a long-term plan for innovative program and community partnerships
  • Community outreach — including new service delivery model
  • Incorporating new circulation technology equipment that allows for staff resource allocation to support changes

5. Cultivate Lifelong Library Users Your library has much to offer. Don’t leave it to chance for your community to find you. Reach out and bring them in your doors. Once there, they’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover your rich array of programs, services and spaces that will keep them coming back time and again. Some examples of what they may find:

  • Early literacy programs and resource.
  • Early childhood development screenings
  • After-school programs
  • Robotics, Legos  & chess clubs
  • Gaming tournaments
  • Teen Alternative Fashion Show — kids create designs with recycled clothing and materials
  • Video and audio production studios
  • Free access to the digital world (email, internet, online learning tools, etc)
  • Job training center and resume writing
  • Local history collections
  • Traveling art and history exhibits
  • Book clubs
  • Fitness programs
  • ESL programs
  • Community outreach programs

Cultivate lifelong library users with an experience-based learning eco-system. The following are a few examples of the amazing range of emerging service concepts taking place in libraries.

Additional Resources


Angie Schoeneck

Angie Schoeneck

Growth Strategy Manager at Demco, Inc.
Angie is the Growth Strategy Manager at Demco. She focuses on the evolving needs and trends in education and library environments, their patrons and communities, and translating these into relevant products and services. She has an extensive background in new product development, product management and business process improvement.