Mary Martin, Director of the Long Hill Township Library in Gillette, New Jersey, asked her colleagues for "simple and/or easy things that have made a difference in your library this year (either in terms of staff workflows or in terms of service to patrons)", ideas to help "combat the summer blahs." She got a great list of ideas which are shared below. If you have more to add let Mary know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ways to Engage Patrons
Front Desk Raffle
Run a fun contest at the circ desk every few months (e.g. get a quote from a book, display it and have patrons guess origin of quote. Those who guess correctly are entered into a drawing to win something simple (a gift card to Starbucks, DD, etc)
Raffle Ticket Inside Book
Variation of above, but put a “raffle” ticket inside books so people will be surprised when they find the ticket. (Bestsellers, hot movers, etc). The raffle ticket could even ask people for their opinion of the book.
Does your town have a pool or a lake? There’s no law that says storytime must always be offered at the library. One library does a special storytime at the pool during the summer.
Book Bingo for the Whole Family
Join us to play Bingo and win a book! All ages welcome, parents and grandparents too! No registration required.” All you need is some refreshments and some books as prizes (they use donated books so there is no cost aside from the refreshments). This has been very popular – the library who ran this had over 70 people in July.
Adult Summer Reading Program
A librarian writes: Based on this year’s water theme, we expended to the elements in general. We asked people to read a book or watch a DVD concerning the elements. We provided a list of suggestions to get them going. For each title, they fill out an entry slip for a drawing. We’ll do a drawing for some mugs at the end of August.
Teen summer reading program
At Long Hill we run both a teen and an adult summer reading program. For each book the patron reads or listens to, they fill out a raffle ticket. We draw winners weekly, and they win either a mug or a book (we use donated books as prizes). At the end of the summer we have one grand prize teen winner and one grand prize adult winner, each win a $25 gift card to Borders. We also offer the option for the patron to review the book, and we post their reviews on our library blog.
Storytime for Grownups – because why should kids have all the fun?
Blind Date with a Book
In late January/early February, wrap up some books in brown paper, decorate with Valentine’s Day theme and encourage patrons to choose one to take home. Long Hill did this last year, it was fun and patrons enjoyed the opportunity to check out a book they might not otherwise have chosen.
Happy Holidays from the Library Staff!
Engage the staff by asking them to recommend holiday or winter themed books or DVDs. Then create a bookmark with their recommendations and give it out to library patrons.
Sharing Our Knowledge w/ Patrons
Staff Picks/May We Recommend?
Display backlist titles or staff picks that people may not have had a chance to read, at the front desk. You’d be surprised at how the staff picks fly off the desk. One caveat: pick books that are in good shape with interesting cover art. They are more likely to catch patrons’ interest.
If You Like cards in the stacks near popular authors
“If you like James Patterson you might also like….” these have been very popular at our library, I am happy to share the cards with anyone who wants to use and/or modify them.
Shelf End Cards
Help patrons find their way around Nonfiction with shelf end cards that include not only the Dewey numbers but the subject patrons will find within that Dewey range – e.g 910.202 – 940.54 Geography, Travel, Ancient History or 600 – 618.24 Nutrition & diets, health & medicine
Recent Returns cart
In front of the circ desk, we have a cart where we put recently returned new books. We deliberately put the cart next to the book drop at the desk, because right after people drop off their old set of books is when they’re looking for new stuff to read. It cuts down on shelving, gives people a smaller section of books to browse.
“Bestsellers You Haven’t Read Yet”
Create a new section right next to New Fiction (or even use a folding bookcase or cart in front of the circ desk) with colorful books by big authors (Grisham, Roberts, Patterson, Picoult etc). You could even do a variation on the theme and do a “Best Books You Haven’t Heard Of” or a “Staff Picks” section. Assign someone to keep the display fresh and replenish it when necessary.
Get those oversized books circulating!
A librarian writes: “One thing we do is combine our browsing shelf with two lower shelves, and we choose a selection of oversized books there. Our oversized books tend not to go out as much as the other books, mainly because they are shelved separately. By showcasing them, not only do they go out, but people will go to the oversize shelves more than before.”
Oversized art books
One library I visited has a special set of shelving near the circ desk where they display oversized art books. As soon as they created this special section, the circulation of this type of book skyrocketed.
Summer Reading Lists
Make sure you have printouts of the local schools’ summer reading lists (both required, and recommended), and put them in binders. It may also be nice to post links to the reading lists on your library’s web site. We didn’t have the K – grade 5 recommended reading lists printed out until one of our staff members mentioned that she was getting a lot of requests for them. So I talked to the elementary school librarian and got the lists, then printed them & posted on our website.
Creative use of volunteers
Reading Buddies (teen volunteers)
Teen volunteers come in to read to little kids. Great all year round but especially during the summer when you have all those teens who want to volunteer
Computer Tutors (adult volunteers with computer skills)
Adult volunteers who have computer skills come to the library once a week at a set time, and help whoever comes in with their questions. It’s been very successful at Westwood Library and they’ve gotten great feedback from their patrons.
Another library described a similar program, PC Tutoring. They offer one-on-one computer tutoring to patrons twice a month, on several PC basics.
Better Communication with Patrons
Ask patrons for help in maintaining your collection
Patrons complaining about DVDs, audio CDs not working properly? You can create a simple slip asking patrons “Help us keep our collection in good repair” and including checkmarks where they can indicate what is wrong with the item. Then train staff to look for those checkmarks when an item is returned. And clean/repair item before it is reshelved.
Ask for what you need in your answering machine message
At Long Hill, we noticed that when people left messages for us at the front desk they usually failed to give us the info we needed (e.g. if it was a renewal) or they would be crystal clear in their message up until they told us their last name, which always ended up sounding like “Blarfengar.” So we changed our answering message to say “We’re sorry we missed your call. Please leave a message with your name, and please spell out your last name for us. Provide your phone number and your request. We’ll return your call as soon as we can.” This friendly message that clearly tells them what info we needed from them. It has cut down on the head-scratching we were doing when we checked our messages.
“You don’t have enough mysteries.”
One librarian writes: I met an elderly gentleman at a community event. He told me he stopped using our library because we didn’t have many mysteries. When I asked him for more details I learned that he thought the only mysteries we owned were on the New Book shelves. So now we have a sign on our New Mysteries shelves that says “We have over 7,500 mystery novels and many others available from other libraries at no charge…”
Use printable business cards to advertise services. For instance, if you want to promote Reference USA you can print business cards and hand them out to business patrons for them to file in their wallet, where they might actually have a chance of finding it when they need it.
Contact your local newspaper and find out if they have “community blogs.” Long Hill’s local newspaper encouraged us to start a blog with them. We use it to promote library events and what is interesting is that the newspaper staff read our blog, so occasionally they will print an article in the paper about the library even though we didn’t send them a press release – they just take the info from our blog.
At Long Hill we get BookPage book review magazine (for patrons) and we subscribe to the NextReads database (providing 21+ book related email newsletters people can sign up for.) When BookPage comes we put a sticker on it saying “Like what you read here? Sign up for NextReads for even more great recommendations.” To increase use of NextReads newsletters we also created easy sign up sheets and put them all around the library (including in our New Book binder) to encourage people to sign up. (We also use NextReads for our monthly children’s events email newsletter.)
As you know the State of New Jersey stopped providing tax forms and instructional booklets this year. One of Long Hill’s staff members suggested we print out a couple copies of the instructional booklet, put them in binders and allow patrons to check them out for 7 days. This was a great way for us to serve the patrons
Easy Technology Tools
A librarian writes “We are a small library and only have 4 public Internet computers. We also have a large number of latchkey kids. This summer we decided to implement separate adult and juvenile usage times. Adults get their time on the computers from 10:30 to 12:30 and kids get their time from 2 to 4. Now we don’t have adults complaining about the noisy kids at the computers with them, and can guarantee that kids won’t be bothered by adults during their designated time period.”
You can get a cheap digital frame and put pictures from library events on it. Long Hill has this at our front desk. The kids especially are mesmerized by this – they look for themselves and their friends in the pictures.
I can’t believe I forgot to do X again!
I am always forgetting to do things like put out signs when we are going to be closed for a holiday. So now I have set up auto-reminders on my Yahoo calendar (you could use Google calendar too) yearly. So for example 2 weeks before Labor Day I get a reminder that says “Change web site, phone msg and put signs out – Labor Day” and then the day we return from Labor Day I get a reminder that says “Take signs down & change phone msg, website” – it’s much more reliable than my own brain.
Do you have a web-based calendar of events available to your patrons yet? There are several companies that provide this service for a fee (evancedsolutions.com being one of them: their product includes web calendar and event registration). Low-cost or free options include Google Calendar or LoCalendar.com (Long Hill Library uses LoCalendar.com for both public event calendar AND for staffing calendar)
One library recommends the ABLE software system for staff scheduling. “Easy to use and makes scheduling a breeze. Great stats as well.”
You can offer online registration for programs (as long as you don’t want to limit it to a certain number of registrants) with SurveyMonkey.com. (CoffeeCup Form Builder also offers a way to do this.)
Engage the Staff
Create a Staff Picks booklist – feature it on your website under “Hot titles” or “What we’re reading.” Ask staff to provide short reviews of books they’ve enjoyed.
Allow staff to pay to wear jeans to work on Friday, with the money collected going to charity. (Post a sign at the Circ Desk to let patrons know why the staff is sporting the casual look and what charity the collected $$ will go to.)
Whew! Thank you to Mary and and everyone in New Jersey Libraries for sharing!