A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Pop-Up Libraries: Meeting Patrons Where They Are

by on September 28, 2017

The Wichita, Kansas, Public Library has a great idea: if the people won’t come to you, go to the people. Similar in concept to cities that are providing libraries in housing developments, the idea is a simple one. Readers may have forgotten how much they like to read, and just need to be reminded. So twice a month during the summer, a librarian takes a vintage trunk filled with a couple of dozen books down to the Pop-Up Urban Park (downtown Wichita) at lunchtime and offers literature to go with the food truck cuisine.

A side of Hemingway with that corn dog? Park-goers can get both in one place, and are encouraged to share pictures of themselves, the librarian, and their books (which are free, and they don’t even have to return) using the hashtag #PopUpLibrarian.  Here are some tips for replicating their success at your library:

Use Creative Outreach

The Wichita Library may be using a unique approach, so consider that a pop-up library may not work in your town or city. But there is definitely something you can do to reach patrons and draw them in. You must get creative, but you can even piggyback off the creativity of others.

  • Pay attention to your community calendar and participate. Every community has events that offer vendor booths or other outreach opportunities. Be a constant part of them.
  • Don’t be afraid to go outside. There are probably places within easy walking distance of your library where potential patrons are engaged in everyday activities. Whether they are visiting food trucks for lunch, picnicking in a park, or riding bicycles on a riverside trail. Go meet them, offer them books, and remind them the library is still alive and well.
  • Give away what is given to you. Often libraries get donations of dozens of books they can’t put in their collection for various reasons, or maybe your library needs to weed books that have aged or been damaged. Giving them away at events activates the law of reciprocity — people who have been given books are more likely to return to the library.

Using creative methods of outreach and thinking outside the box and beyond the Internet and digital library offerings will bring in more library visitors. These visitor counts are usually vital to funding and community support.

Use Social Media to Spread the Word

Often, people are very willing to share their experiences on social media, tag you or your organization, and even use specific hashtags. But you have to put the request out there — complete with the hashtag you’d like them to use. You should also plan to follow up and thank them on social media. Social media is just that: social. If you never talk back to your patrons, they can’t tell that you appreciate them sharing what you are doing.

This means you must actively post and respond to messages, Tweets, hashtags, and other social media communication. This is a part of social listening, a technique used by many businesses to learn more about their customers. Libraries should be no different. This will also help you create and target events in the future.

Invite Patrons In

Librarians in Wichita can’t issue library cards in the park. They can, and do, invite patrons in to the main library branch that is easily in walking distance to obtain or renew cards.

The purpose of outreach is engagement and to bring more visitors into the library. If you have events or special programs going on, hand out flyers or bookmarks with the free books as a reminder. Those things are all good, but they are not enough. When at outreach events of any kind, extending a personal, warm invitation for the person to visit the library in person. Give them a reason to visit. In marketing, this is known as a “call to action” and you need to do the same. Outreach is marketing and advertising for your library, and though it is often neglected, libraries need advertising for the same reason other businesses do.

The Wichita librarians saw a unique outreach opportunity and also used the power of social media to ultimately invite patrons to visit the library. Let their ideas and innovation inspire you in your community as well.

Further Reading:

The Psychology of Sales – Why Reciprocity Matters

Eight Ways to Use Social Listening for Your Business


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