This post is a part of the Library Thinker Series where we examine some of the larger questions that we struggle with in librarianship and try to come to some insights together.
This week we’re examining the question “how do we get people who don’t use the library to actually use it,” which Steven Bell posed in the comments last week. This is a difficult question. How do we make non-users into users and convert those with library apathy into library enthusiasts?
Here’s my take:
The most useful strategy that I have found for turning non-users into users is two pronged. It consists of getting out of the library and talking about it a lot. This is key in making people more aware of the library and what it can do for them. First, you are not going to reach non-users by only hanging out in the library and hoping that they’ll come to you. It’s a dead-end strategy. You need to go where non-users are. If you are at an academic library, go eat lunch in the student union or cafeteria periodically. Hang out in other public places and go to campus events and parties. If you’re in a public library the same thing is applicable. Go to community events and hang out in public places. Being visible and creating relationships in the community are the first steps.
The next step is talking about the library and what it does. But when you talk about it don’t just mention the obvious stuff. “We have a lot of books.” People know that. Most people don’t realize all the other awesome stuff that your library does because it’s not on their radar. Talk about the author who stopped by last week or the chili cookoff you recently had. Talk about the collaborative workspaces where people can have group meetings. And don’t forget to listen when you are talking with people. If you hear that someone has a certain need or desire, perhaps there is an easy way for the library to meet it. Connecting the library to something that a non-user values will make them much more likely to take notice and try out the library.
In my opinion relationships are one of the most powerful weapons that you can have in promoting your library. I’m sure there are other things we can do though? How else can we make non-users into users?