OK, I feel the need to comment about this NPR article that's been making the rounds in US library circles. It's called "Why the Next Big Pop-Culture Wave After Cupcakes Might Be Libraries." I think just about every library-type person I know has posted it recently. Most are thrilled about it. And it is a good thing, but I have some reservations.
If you haven't read it yet, here's a piece of the opening:
And about the fact that a local news story skeptically questioning whether libraries are "necessary" set off a response from Vanity Fair, and a later counterpunch by Chicago's Public Library Commissioner won her support from such diverse, non-library-specific outlets as The A.V. Club and Metafilter, and from as far away as The Guardian.
Call it a hunch, but it seems to me that the thing is in the air that happens right before something — families with a million kids, cupcakes, wedding coordinators — suddenly becomes the thing everyone wants to do happy-fuzzy pop-culture stories about.
So someone at an influential media company thinks libraries might be the next big pop-culture hit. That's great! Really. And it would be cool if they were. But here's my thing: Then what??
Pop cultures comes & goes. Fads are hot, then not. So if you're serious about promoting your library and you want it to thrive, and to be loved & funded, then you're excited about this new wave of publicity. Now, ask yourself: What are you going to do during your 15 minutes of fame to build new visitors into regular users? (either in person or online) What's your plan for converting the fad-followers into lifelong supporters?
Don't get me wrong. I love NPR and am thrilled that this idea is floating around. And I want to thank blog post author Linda Holmes for her publicity & her vote of confidence. The awesomeness that is a library deserves to be known by all. But even if it happens, it won't solve our long-term challenges of branding and funding. I don't mean to be a downer, I just want you to be thinking ahead, preparing, planning. So, seriously -- whenever new people discover your library (any type of library), how do you encourage them to come back? Do you have strategies in place for this?
1. Giving new visitors a library card is NOT enough.
2. Getting their email addresses is practically essential.
3. You need to personally invite them back; don't assume they'll return on their own.
4. You should be doing all of this not only in person, but also online.
Just as with retail stores, a first-time visitor is not automatically a customer for life. All libraries should have tactics for addressing this. You need to be welcoming, be extraordinary, be interesting, be useful, and be available. What makes you worth returning to, and how can you get that message across? If you're just starting out, think about what appeals to you and what makes you want to go back to a place you've just discovered.
Again, don't get me wrong. I'm not against publicity or getting noticed or being the Next Big Thing. I just want to use this opportunity to build longterm customers and advocates. Why accept being just a flash in the pan when we are really so much more?