At Searles Graphics we do a lot of work for our public libraries. With the recent closings of large gathering places due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many libraries are questioning exactly what purpose they can serve right now, if any at all!

It's understandable. After all, most of the communications that come from our public libraries are centered on physically bringing people into the library for the programs offered inside the walls.

This makes sense as these are the items and schedules that are constantly changing. But with the cancellation of those programs, the question becomes, what do we communicate and how can we serve our patrons?

The good news is you actually have a tremendous opportunity right now, provided you're willing to take advantage of it.

First, the most important thing to realize is an entire population is currently looking for something to do.

The number of social media posts I see every day about parents looking for things to do with their kids (or for things their kids can do on their own so they can actually get stuff done around the house or work from home!) is evidence enough that people are desperate for activities.

1. Offer an Easy Way to Sign Up for Library Card Digitally

Do whatever you have to do to allow your patrons to obtain a library card from home. You have a chance to reach an audience that has never been to your facility, take advantage of it!

If you're able to showcase how your library services your community even when your doors are closed, you'll come out the other side that much better off than you were before.

Use the tips below to make your offer compelling.

2. Promote Your Digital Services

I can almost guarantee your library has spent the last 15-20 years building up your digital services. Streaming movie services, audiobooks, e-book collections, music streaming services ... these are all services your patrons can take advantage of while they're doing their social distancing duty.

PROMOTE THEM!!!

Make sure people know exactly what they can access from home and how to do so.

3. Offer More Programs

In a world where just about everybody is working remote, there's no reason you can't engage your patrons in the same way!

Speak to the leaders of your programs about hosting them online instead of in-person. There's no reason you can't do Mommy-and-Me Yoga, book discussion groups, or most of your other programs over Google Hangouts (just an example of one option).

Offering digital programs also means there's no reason you can't work with other local libraries to offer their programs to your patrons, and vice versa!

Every such relationship you're able to cultivate means you're delivering 100% more value to your patrons than before.

4. Curate Reading Lists and Digital Content

Engage your staff while they're working from home to share reading lists. Have them set up forums or their own hangouts for live, online discussion groups. Ask your patrons to curate their own content.

Create playlists of topic-specific educational content on YouTube and share them on your blog. (Set up a blog! <- we'd be happy to help with this if you don't have one already ;-) )

Dedicate one staff member to manage your social media accounts and make sure all of this content gets shared regularly over social media.

5. Work with Your School District

Many school districts were behind the 8-ball when they were told they needed to close their doors. As such, teachers and entire districts are scrambling for ways to educate students while their doors are closed.

Work with the administrators in your district to help advance their goals and address the needs of their students utilizing your library's resources.

Communicate with the schools and encourage teachers to incorporate your efforts into their remote learning plans. Work with those teachers to coordinate your staff's activities with the goals and needs of their students.

6. Develop a Communication Strategy and COMMUNICATE MORE, NOT LESS!!!

One of the primary comments we've heard from some libraries is that they plan on cutting down communication because they don't have programs to promote.

That couldn't be further from the truth!

You truly have an opportunity to be the invaluable resource your community needs right now.

Now is the time to step up and prove to your community that their library is willing and more than able to support and help them during a tough time.

Social Media

If you're able to effectively use social media to promote the items discussed above, you can amplify your voice and your effectiveness and engage a population that you don't typically reach.

Be active and consistent, and most importantly, provide value!

Direct Mail

Your newsletter is hugely important right now. Promote your digital services on the cover, make sure you clearly explain how to sign up for a library card from home, promote everything I wrote about above and show your community you're there to support them now more than ever.

Use your pages to provide activities for adults and children. Even something as simple as a page of puzzles for adults or a coloring page for kids can go a long way for people that are desperate for activities!

And remember, your newsletter is great, but it's not enough! Once you get the programs above in place, promote them early and often! Send out a postcard immediately to let people know what you're doing for them. Follow up with another announcing new ebooks or movies that they can stream online with their library card. Follow up again with information about your digital program initiatives!

It's time to be a huge presence, not to slink into the background and just wait for things to get back to normal. Take advantage of the opportunity you have and show people why your library is just as important to your community as it ever was!

Chris Searles is a Partner at Searles Graphics, President of Searles Media, and the host of The Messengers podcast. He specializes in helping small businesses grow through the use of effective and efficient marketing. Visit Website

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