You can be a Marketing Guru!
Photos, photos, photos
Think photos! And, if possible, video. Create a photo database so you can keep those photos handy and organized. Have photo consent forms handy. Images can be used in so many ways to advertise your local history collection and liven up your textual information. And don’t just keep a photo database; also think about a database of personal anecdotes from patrons that describe how your local history collection has helped in their research. Just a couple of lines from each patron are necessary. These short testimonials can be powerful proof to library administrators, funders, and others that your local history collection has value to the community.
One of the most basic and wide-reaching methods of marketing your local history collection is through a brochure. PLASC has provided a template for you. Brochures can be everywhere you want them to be – in a stand at the library’s circulation desk, handed out at your presentations, and mailed with other information to the media and existing or potential advocates and researchers. Take your brochures to the local genealogy society and Family History Center – and offer to display their brochures in your library in return. It’s important that they – and your patrons – realize that organizations in the area that care about history are cooperating, not competing, with each other for the patrons’ benefit.
Most likely your library has an existing website. Adding a page describing the local history materials is a great way to reach a general audience. No need to overwhelm yourself with potential content on your local history website. Your Web presence can be as extensive as you have the time and resources to spare. Remember that you can always start simple and build up. The important idea to keep in mind is to at least create enough content to relay the variety of materials in your collection and to spark interest in its use.
(This website was designed with a free WordPress.com template. Coding knowledge is not necessary. The image on the main page is from a local history collection.)
Invite a reporter to lunch
Have you thought about using the media (radio, television, newspaper) to get the word out about your LHC and its activities? It can be an extremely effective outreach tool. The relationship can be mutually beneficial: the media can use local history materials to help with historical pieces, back stories, and filler on slow news days. In turn, they can help you get the word out to potential patrons, and show your administrators and library board that there is enough interest in your LHC to inspire a news article! Reporters typically need information on very short notice, so it will be important to decide how much assistance you can afford to give them. But, whether you will do their research or just guide them in using your materials, you will be surprised how little they know of what you have. PLASC has provided a press release template so you can simply insert your information and go! You might want to give them a copy of your brochure, too. Be savvy with media deadlines and best contacts at the media outlet. A good source for information about working with the media is the Society of American Archivists’ publication, Public Relations and Marketing for Archives (2011). Although written for the archival community, the advice translates well for libraries with local history collections.
How to be Well-‘Liked’
A social media presence is no longer a choice for libraries; today it is a necessity in order to remain relevant. Social media tools can let an entirely new audience know about your local history collection. Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Historypin, Pinterest are all tools that can be useful to you. It’s important to remember staff and time constraints before deciding what forms of social media you will use. Consider creating a publishing schedule for the social media tools you decide to use. That way you can be consistent in getting out your content.
Try to avoid simply telling your audience that you have a new item in the collection. Think of something particularly fun or interesting to grab their attention. Does your collection contain a funny photo that just begs for an equally funny? Think about a contest for the best description. Ask for polls with questions like, “What is your favorite place in the community? What is your favorite history resource? Put a picture of a card catalog up and ask how many people are old enough to have used it. With social media, many libraries focus on what the library is doing. What are the patrons doing? Most people will “like” a library page in hopes of being informed of current happenings, or entertained. If your posts just clog up their ongoing feed with updates on new acquisitions, you will quickly find yourself “unliked” or hidden. Highlighting a patron’s project is a great way to thank your users – and encourage them to give you their finished projects for the collection!
Dare to Blog
Although a social media tool, we give blogs special attention due to their effectiveness in telling the story of your local history collection in a personalized, intimate style. Instructions for setting up a blog can be found in sources such as the various “23 Things” websites (starting with the first Learning 2.0 site). If you haven’t tried one of these programs, they are an excellent, self-paced way to discover all sorts of social media options. Another nifty site tells you best methods of styling your blog posts. Decide early who will have editorial authority over your blog and if you will allow viewer comments. Consider, too, that those beyond your ideal audience will be able to find what you have written, including funders, other libraries, and your own library’s staff. Don’t worry if you don’t get the blog right immediately – it may take a number of tries before you hit on the right mix of tone and promotion. Typically a blog highlights exhibits, events and programming, new items, or recent research, but you can get more creative. Blogging once a week is a good baseline; if you go more than a month between updates, it will look like your blog is no longer used. Are there others at your library you can tap for blog posts about local history and the collection? What about asking a researcher to write a quick post? A middle school or high school History Day student using your collection could create an appealing post for a younger audience. Mix up your content, images, and other media as you can.
How do you know if your blog is being read? There are a number of free tools and resources that can help you analyze the blog’s popularity and what users are searching for. You can use the information to help you decide future content, and help in making decisions about what part of your local history collection to highlight. Google Analytics is one option to consider; StatCounter is another. Both tools provide reports such as visitor paths, popular pages, search terms, and maps of where visitors are coming from. Be sure to encourage readers to subscribe to your blog through RSS feeds so they are notified every time you post a new entry.
A newsletter, whether online or hard copy (or both), is a great way to serve a particular audience, and bring positive attention by that group to the local history collection. The first step is to identify the audience and why you want to reach them. Perhaps you’re looking for volunteers from that group? If so, write about the interesting items in the collection, possible uses of the materials, and opportunity for readers to actively participate by assisting researchers. Do you want to reach out to K-12 teachers? Through your newsletter’s content, let them know how the local history collection can assist with teaching local and state history, Social Studies, U.S. History, and more. Before sending out such newsletters to your school districts, check with their protocols regarding such publications.
Don’t forget there are lots of free newsletter templates out there, including in your basic word processing program. We have also provided one on this site. Once in place, you can base further issues on that template. For content, think repurpose! Press releases, blogs, annual reports, upcoming event lists (consider the timeframe), information on volunteer projects and more can be added judiciously to the newsletter. Allow enough time for the new content to be completed, as well as for possible review by library administrators and for revisions. To create a connection with readers, write articles in the first-person plural when possible. Articles about people, including staff, volunteers, researchers, and donors can be of interest to your audience in addition to articles about items in the collection. Creating a story file of unpublished ideas and materials can help you if you need a quick back-up story.
You will either love or hate the idea of giving public presentations. But they are one of the most powerful tools in your marketing toolkit. Connection to an audience can be made immediately, especially in the question and answer portion, and can gain you some valuable advocates. Think about creating an adaptable template for your public presentations consisting of basic information such as staff contacts, access to the collection (both onsite in the library and online), collection strengths, digital content, copying and scanning policies and fees, description of users, and more depending on your collection. But you’ll need to adapt your content to your audience to engage them. A unique, well-designed handout is helpful in taking your message beyond the presentation itself. Presentations fall into two main categories (though they can also be combined). You can explore the collection, encouraging use, and highlight resources. If possible, include a hands-on component so attendees can see what you have. Or, you can prepare a presentation based on research in your collection, for example, “The Early Days in Our Town.”
Who are some groups to consider for presentations? Groups that come to mind are genealogists, historical societies, and local preservation groups. Lure genealogists to your collection by showing them how to use databases like Ancestry.com then show them all your other resources. Offer to speak at the regular meetings of the local historical society or preservation group (or better yet, to host it at your institution). They may not have realized that you have older published local histories, newspapers, vertical files, and city directories – the raw materials they need to research local buildings and properties. Rotary clubs, the local PTA, school district in-service programs, and service clubs can be valuable audiences, and advocates, as well. Also other resident groups interested in the history of their houses, churches, schools, communities, and businesses. For example, in the Minnesota Twin Cities, there is a club of homeowners devoted to a fabulous collection of bungalows built in the early twentieth century. There might be such a group in your area. Checking in from time-to-time with a particular user group can provide real results.
Ready, Set, Market
Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of marketing and outreach. Your library is probably doing a lot of the steps already – you can start by tapping into those and build from there as you learn about the audience for your local history collection. Have fun with the marketing – some of the best marketing campaigns have probably looked goofy on paper but, once enacted, have gained attention due to their off-the-wall humorous slant. Be bold, but not overwhelmed. And remember there are a number of resources out there to help.
Excerpted from Local History Reference Collections for Public Libraries by Kathy Marquis and Leslie Waggener and published by ALA Editions.