You really do–without strong community support, it’s all too easy for local governmental bodies to cut library budgets. If the library just “exists,” it will soon not exist. Libraries need to keep growing and implementing change in order to stay alive. It sounds like evolution because it is. Darwin was right. Without adapting to the current climate or environment, animals die. So do businesses and government services.
Libraries can lose a once-strong community support if they don’t adapt to the community’s changes. An example in Management Basics for Information Professionals, 2nd ed, by Evans and Ward, illustrates this well. A library was historically in a dominantly white neighborhood, and maintained the collection accordingly to the neighborhood’s demands. However, over time it became a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, who weren’t appealed by the “white” collection, and neighborhood library attendance dropped dramatically. This caused the library system to decrease funding, because they couldn’t justify spending scarce funds on a poorly performing library.
So, Rule # 1 might be: Know thy customers. And change your acquisitions plan accordingly. Appropriate programming wouldn’t hurt, even if it means a little old white librarian lady bringing in a black rapper to rap about the summer reading program if that’s what the community likes.
Okay, let’s say the neighborhood dynamics stays pretty much the same. The mix of white and various minority groups have been the same proportions for a while. Does this mean you can cruise along? Absolutely not. A boring library is a dead library. If it’s always the same thing, people will stop coming to the library, just like the students who stop going to class ’cause the professor is boring. And that leads to a funding cut. You have to push the envelope a little bit. Dramatic changes is a turn off, too, so be careful of that. Remember the uproar when Facebook kept making drastic changes? Learn from their lesson.
So Rule #2 is to keep changes small and gradual. Just enough to keep people sharp, on their toes, and make ’em want to come back for more.
Now, about that fanbase. First off, a good marketing campaign keeps things spicy. It’s like a good marriage–you keep chasing your loved one even after you’ve already caught him or her. Make your partner feel wanted. The same idea applies to libraries, leading to Rule #3: Make your customers feel wanted. Even though you may have your regulars, and you have people coming in all day, every day you’re open, they need to feel wanted. Feeling wanted makes them actually WANT to go to the library more often.
When the Omaha Public Library got a new logo, they marketed it heavily, paring it with activities to draw people in, make them want to learn more about the library’s services. It was very successful. There were new people who came in, probably saying, “We have a library?” There were people who hadn’t been in ages, and still had the old library card. And there were people who were regulars, but were really excited for the library’s logo redesign.
You knew it would come to this. Rule #4. Make effective use of Social Media, and create and sustain a conversation with your customers. Southwest Airlines is a great example of effective social media use. They use both Twitter and Facebook to spread their message that Bags Fly Free! They built a strong loyalty base because they appear committed to their customers. If you ask them a question, they will respond, either on Facebook or Twitter. They run awesome promotions sometimes, and some are available only through Facebook or Twitter, to reward their followers. How’s that for incentive to stay on top of things? They actually act as if they want customers. Their constant small changes and improvements–service to new cities, adjusted flight schedules, and even discounts/promotions count as changes–all indicate that they know what their customers want, and that makes them do very well as a company.
If you can build a loyal base of customers, of patrons, the community will want to be involved, and an involved community will make lawmen recognize the need for libraries in the community, and allocate money accordingly.
There, you have some basic ground rules. There may be more ideas and tips that I didn’t think of—feel free to share!