I work in a library where children’s and adult programming is incredibly successful on the whole–I’m talking standing-room-only in a room that seats 175 people, and in a town of about 20,000, that strikes me as pretty good. Teen programs…not so much. We’ve had a few programs where I was floored by the number of teens who came–nearly 60 to a Black Tie Party that the Teen Advisory Board hosted, about 50 to our Summer Reading Finale party. But some, like book groups, chess programs, craft stuff….get zero kids, two, three–teeny numbers. So I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of publicity I’ve been employing and how it should change.

Basically, the kind of publicity we do for teen events can be boiled down into three categories: print, in-house, and virtual. For print stuff, I send out press releases to the papers. In-house means electronic signage on our flat panel, flyers, and talking to the teens in the Teen Lounge. And virtual is email distribution lists, Facebook, and posts on the library’s website.

Having tried ALL of these methods exhaustively, I’ve determined that for our library, the best outreach is…in-house! Yikes. Not such good news, considering we’re trying to not just reach the teens who are already in the building. But I also think that, because the program is still growing, there’s nothing wrong with working what you’ve got. For example, the reason so many teens came to the summer reading party is because Heather, our awesome part-timer who organized the event, made hundreds of tickets on cool craft paper and handed them out to every single teen who walked through the doors.’  I think that her personal connection with each teen she spoke to, plus that feeling of “I’m invited to something special,” was what did it. It was an active interaction instead of a passive one. A blurb on the library website might not stick with a teen in the same way that a smiling, fun Heather will.

We’ve also started building programs around the teens who are already here. Sounds like a no-brainer–and many librarians are probably doing this already–but I can’t tell you how many times I ended up eating the pizza that was intended for a 7 PM book group that NO ONE came to. So now, we basically go into the Teen Lounge when there are a bunch of people in there, throw down some Flip cameras or a bucket full of craft supplies and let them have at it. It’s worked like a charm!

None of this is to say that I don’t want to keep hammering away at publicity that reaches out to teens outside of the library. I just don’t think email, press releases, or Facebook work as well as I would like them to. Press releases might reach parents, but definitely not teens. Teens don’t read their email, either. And the problem with Facebook is that you risk turning teens away when you invite them to 453786 programs a week. Right now I’m looking at text messaging outreach. If I could only send out text message blasts somehow….anyone out there have any solutions?

About Sarah Ludwig

I am the Academic Technology Coordinator at Hamden Hall Country Day School in Hamden, CT. Prior to that, I was the head of teen, technology, and reference services at the Darien Library in Darien, CT. I started my library career as a school librarian at a small boarding school in Western Massachusetts.

10 Thoughts on “A few thoughts on publicity

  1. You can send out texts as emails for most carriers. For example (123)555-1234 would be 1235551234@vtext.com if they had verizon wireless. If you find out an easier way to do this let me know. I’ve been thinking about the same thing for some time!

  2. Sarah Ludwig on October 13, 2009 at 6:48 pm said:

    That could work though! I could send out a mass email to all those call phone numbers…they would have to sign up with me somehow.

  3. Andrea on October 13, 2009 at 9:29 pm said:

    I’m having trouble with publicity as well! I’ve found that getting flyers/info into the schools it helping, but not a whole lot. Word of mouth sometimes works the best.

    Oh, and I would love to hear more details about the black tie event!

  4. I’ve had luck dropping off my first month’s worth of flyers at the local middle school and more luck doing face to face school visits for my summer reading programs. It can be hard to arrange, but if you can put a face on the library it helps.

  5. To back up a bit, is it a round peg/square hole? Programs, teens, libraries can vary; can vary even year to year, because the teens change (either they change what they’re interested in or you literally have new teens as some grow, move, etc.)

    So why programs? Why programs with big attendance? Is it a top-down requirement (director wants & expects it), self-imposed (we always do programs) or what teens want (they say they want x and then no one shows up).

    To borrow the “r” word (risk!), maybe for some of us, the risk is to back off the traditional programming model for teens and instead do what you say — the teens are here, what do I have prepared to be spontaneous (ie flip cameras).

    I guess what I’m saying (just in general!) is sometimes the reason people don’t come to programs isn’t publicity, it’s that they aren’t interested in programs, so what can we do instead?

  6. During my stint as a YA librarian at a public library, I noticed that the best publicity was generated by the Teen Advisory Board members themselves, whether taking flyers (that had been designed by someone on the TAB and approved by the school district) to their school, or recruitment.

    The other reason for low attendance? Timing. I had the worst time trying to figure out when to schedule an event so that they would be able to attend. In spite of consulting the school calendars!

  7. Meg A. on October 14, 2009 at 9:42 am said:

    I, also, feel like I was banging my head against the wall in getting my teens into the library…Until I realized that they, to a person, are so busy with sports that they had no time to attend anything. Now I just wait until after soccer and softball and 4H season are over (mid-November) to plan ANYthing. I am a lot more relaxed and the teens aren’t feeling so pressured to do something they can’t. In a nutshell, if you can’t beat ’em join ’em!

  8. Brooke A on October 14, 2009 at 11:35 am said:

    You can used a service like http://www.txtblaster.com to text an entire group of teens a reminder. As I was reading your article, I was wondering if teens know what happens at a book group. As a teen I would have loved it, but never attended because I didn’t know what happened at a “book group,” and was too nervous to try it out. Maybe a re-framing/re-naming might work too. Loved the idea of the surprise activities as well!

  9. Andrea – the black tie event was a fancy dress party that the teens threw in one of our large meeting rooms. they decorated with tulle and fairy lights, played music, and had refreshments, including mixed fruit drinks that they named after their favorite literary characters. it was really fun! everyone had to wear black.

    Liz – Stats are important to directors and boards, yes, but they’re also important in helping the staff figure out what, exactly, the teens want. And I agree that it really has a lot to do with the teens in your community. The teens here are so busy and overscheduled that many of them don’t have the time/interest in coming to a book group or a craft program. So what we are starting to move toward is the drop-in stuff and then programs that are focused on volunteering (which teens here are really interested in) and educational topics — college admissions, learning new skills, writing contests, etc. Things they can put on their college applications or that will help them in school. Part of what I am experiencing in building a new teen program is just what you say: “sometimes the reason people don’t come to programs isn’t publicity, it’s that they aren’t interested in programs.” So we try new things all the time and see what sticks. And maybe in THIS community that’s not traditional programming. Maybe it really is something entirely different.

    Brooke – That is a really good point. At my library we’re focused a lot on marketing and giving things catchy names, so I dropped “book club” and started “Teens Read,” which is not about everyone reading the same book and then talking about it, but rather about teens getting together to talk about books they love and then doing a book-related activity, like making a book trailer, making a playlist for their favorite book, or making a t-shirt with their favorite character on it.

  10. i’m quite good in witing but i have not yet signed up on a writing contest “

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