Organizational loyalty and personalization are huge goals when trying to gain audience support. How can you see those concepts playing out in a library setting?

Two years ago, the library where I work had requested funding from our county government to construct a much needed larger and up to date facility. The county leaders voted to send it to referendum, and let the people decide. While this might sound like democracy in action, in a cash-strapped county like ours, any cause, no matter how worthy, is doomed to fail in a referendum vote because it could lead to a much-dreaded tax increase.

Our library enlisted the help of John Kraska of EveryLibrary, a non-profit PAC that guides libraries through the political process of local referendums and vote yes campaigns. Mr. Kraska emphasized the importance of the personal connections forged between our public services staff and our patrons. He pointed out that our circulation and reference staff were on the front lines of everyday operations, as well as the political campaign for funding support, and stressed that they were the “face of the library”.

When attempting to gain support from the community, a feeling of social engagement or loyalty to the organization is essential. In local political campaigns, people tend to vote with their pocketbooks in mind, and unless a connection has been developed that demonstrates the personal relevance and usefulness of an institution, individuals often decline to extend financial support.

In this week’s reading from Simon’s The Participatory Museum, the author highlights the importance of a personalized experience for visitors and supporters of museums. In both museums and libraries, excellent customer service skills, and a friendly and responsive style of interaction between public services staff and customers can lay the foundation for engaged connectivity. Once this basic relationship has been established, staff can better assist customers in finding the information, services, and programs that are of most interest to them.

Personalizing the library experience is not just limited to public services staff, as technical services staff and ILS providers can work to provide a customizable OPAC experience that offers suggested titles based on the search terms entered by the customer, or other customers with similar reading habits, as well as the ability to save lists of titles for future reference. In the physical space of the library, well-designed displays and signs can not only allow browsing patrons to strike up conversations with other customers or staff members, but can also direct customers to portions of the collection they might not have otherwise discovered.

By utilizing brief surveys, marketing and outreach staff can create customized newsletters that call attention to upcoming programs or services that are in line with what library patrons have indicated that they would be interested in. Furthermore, by offering relevant and inspiring programs with a participatory element, the library can facilitate connections between itself and its customers, and also between patrons who share a similar interest.

Building loyalty and support from community members must be an ongoing process, and cannot occur only during political campaigns. My local library lost the referendum, but only by a narrow margin (52% no, 48% yes), and after much effort to demonstrate our relevance, have finally received approval for partial funding for a new facility from the county. We are continuing to develop relationships in our community, and are constantly evaluating ways to improve the services and programs we offer. I am optimistic that this will lead to “an environment in which everyone will feel confident and energized about participating in your institution and with each other” (Simon, p. 34).

Simon, N. (2010). The Participatory Museum. Santa Cruz, CA: Museum 2.0.