Best Practices: Meeting Your Users Where They Are

Imagine how frustrating it is to get off work at five and have errands to run, but everywhere you go is closed at five as well. Or you prefer to order online but a business only takes phone calls, or the cafe is cash only and you only use
cards. These are some of the same barriers our users face when it comes to our libraries, and we need to constantly evaluate and tweak our services and institutions to meet our users where they are.

Some things to consider in children’s services are:
1.Do you offer evening programs for working families? If not, why not? Sometimes evening programs need to be a bit bigger and brighter than your daytime standard storytimes, because it’s often difficult for families to work up the energy to leave the house again once everyone’s home from work and school.
Also, carefully consider the time you offer programs. Little ones (ideally) are
in bed by eight p.m., and older kids often have a lot of extracurricular commitments.
Some nights of the week are better than others as well, and this will vary from
community to community. You might just have to commit to a period of
experimentation, where you try different programs on different nights. Once you
find a committed group, though, keep that program consistent until attendance
wanes. If it works, work it!

2. Do you offer weekend programs? Especially when the economy is down, families
appreciate a free, fun outing on the weekend, and libraries can perfectly meet
this need. Try holiday specific programs on the weekend, such as a Father’s day
program or a pumpkin decorating program close to Halloween.

3. What about your hours? Most libraries are now open til 9 or 10 p.m. Monday
through Thursday, and some libraries that warrant it are staying open later on
Fridays. I think almost all libraries could stand to stay open til at least six
on Fridays to accommodate people stocking up for the weekend after work.
Employees might complain, but put yourself in your patrons shoes–wouldn’t you
appreciate a bit of time at the end of the week to indulge in browsing for some
material for the weekend? It would also be a great time to hand sell your
fabulous weekend program that’s happening the next day!

4.Where are your families technology-wise? As tech gets cheaper and cheaper,
you’re going to be seeing more kids with smart tech, including smart phones and
e-readers. Can you help them connect to your library’s wi fi on these devices?
What about downloading e-books and audio books? The old saw is to be one step
ahead of your community when it comes to tech, but I often find that children’s
librarians allow themselves to fall two steps behind, seeing tech as something
that other librarians (or the youngest employee in their department) will worry
about. No librarian can allow themselves the indulgence of being this
lazy–which is all you’re really being if you allow yourself to fall behind.

5. What’s your outreach strategy? Most children’s librarians do at least some
school outreach, but where else do you go? Some ideas are farmer’s markets,
doctor’s offices, local cafes to perform storytimes, and the like.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a start. So tell me–how do you meet
your users where they are? And how’s it working for you so far?

Julie Jurgens <jjurgens@glensidepld.org>

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