I live in a town that has several library branches. Of course, we have our regular branch, of which I am a fairly regular customer. I read a lot and I don’t like paying for books, either on my bookshelves (which are overflowing) or my Kindle, which I’ve sort of grown apart from.
Libraries are changing. The nature of people’s relationships with the printed word is changing. In addition, libraries and their free access computers are serving all sorts of customers, particularly those who now need a computer to apply for jobs and manage other aspects of their lives that a smart phone isn’t quite up to. Librarians’ tasks are different than they used to be. They have to help with online searches and resume builders, in addition to helping find and reserve books, both print and electronic.
But, truth to tell, I went to the library for a very ordinary, not 21st century task. My daughter’s English class now requires that all of the students read 20 books of their choosing (with faculty approval), some of which must be of specific genres. My daughter had completed her book on a Thursday night and didn’t get a new one checked out at school on Friday (English class didn’t meet that day). She wanted to be ready for Monday morning with a new book. So, off we went to the library.
The tale of the two library branches began when we arrived at our “regular” location to see that the library was closed due to a planned fundraising event that night. OK, this was a little bump in the road; We can deal…off we headed to branch #2, a few minutes away. I have been to branch #2 before. Admittedly, I didn’t like it as much, but when I would go there, it was because there was something I needed there that day (a DVD, a book title that I didn’t want to wait to get shipped to my branch, etc.). I never really did a compare and contrast as to why Home Branch and Further Away Branch were better or worse than one another.
We arrived at Branch #2. It wasn’t great and it wasn’t because of us. We were in a good mood, ready to check out good books.
I discovered why I love my home branch. My home branch knows how to market books to their customers. They make me want to read their collection, to check out their DVD’s, to peruse the magazines that they get that I don’t get. So, what was missing at Branch #2 that I thought every library had?
- My home branch has big displays of all of the new books and DVD’s, easily visible and in a prominent place. They also display (laminated so you can pull it down to read it) the New York Times bestseller list. And it’s right next to the computer so you can reserve a title while you’re thinking about it.
- My home branch always has used books for sale. It’s a fundraiser for the library and ends up being a regular impulse buy at $1 per title right by the check out station.
- The children’s librarian is visible to all and the adult librarians know a heck of a lot about all literature. At Branch #2, my daughter had to find a librarian to ask for some recommendations for a fantasy book (she’s already read a lot and wanted a new idea). The librarian recommended The Hobbit (OK, not the most original suggestion) and then showed us how to see suggestions on the library computers. But when we went to the library computers, none of the pull-down menus worked.
- The children’s librarian at the home branch has all sorts of stuff to hand out to kids: recommendations for middle school readers, new series to try, all the Caldecott and Newberry winners, etc. All of these are printed, so you can carry the list around to see what’s in the collection or go reserve it on the system. (Sometimes, printed is ok.)
- My home branch rents out tools (you need hedge trimmers, an edger, a chainsaw…free at the library!)
- The home branch keeps its computers in tip-top shape. Somebody there is always making things function.
- The staff at the home branch either know me or pretend to know me, either of which is fine, by the way.
It’s interesting that there are lessons in good customer relations and good marketing wherever you turn. You know when you as a customer or client feel valued and when you have been well-served. Perhaps that is the strongest marketing component any business or non-profit possesses, and one that should be regularly assessed and tweaked.