Ten Ideas for Public Libraries in College Towns

From issuing library cards for freshmen to advertising in the college newspaper to partnering for programming, here are ten ways to leverage your library’s position in a college town:

For Marketing & Outreach:

1. Reach out to students and welcome them to your community. Social media is a great way to do this – engage student organizations on Twitter, “like” the college paper on Facebook. Reserve an information table at a student orientation fair and pass out community maps, library pens, or library card applications.  Invite the Student Body President, Pan-Hellenic Council, and other student leaders to come into the library for a tour. 

2. Make sure students know that they can use your library. Whether you do it on Twitter or face-to-face at an event or in a letter to the editor, tell students about the library.  Tell them that they can get a card there and tell them how to do it.  Tell them you have great stuff in your collections – books on their reading list, books off their reading list, movies, video games, music. Tell them you have space to study and you have free Wi-Fi. When the student leaders show up for their tour, issue them library cards.

3. Include the college media in your press releases. College newspapers, radio stations and news channels are always looking for story ideas, so be sure to include them in all of your media alerts and press releases.  Let them know that those student leaders are coming in for a tour and they will most likely send a photographer and a reporter to cover it.

4. If you have an advertising budget, consider buying a few ads in student media outlets. Usually these ad rates are very reasonable. Be strategic – advertise for events and services that will be of interest to college students. Make sure the tone of the ad appeals to their age demographic.  In the ad, you could use a photo of or testimonial from those student leaders who visited.

5. Get some free labor an intern. If the university has a Communications department, a Journalism school,  a Graphic Design department, or a Library Science program, then advertise for an intern – paid if you can afford it, unpaid if you can’t. These are often highly motivated students who want to build a portfolio or resume. They’re likely aware of new ideas and trends in advertising, PR, and social media and can infuse those ideas into your marketing efforts. They can write press releases, contribute to social media, and more.  Have them develop that ad featuring student leaders for the campus newspaper or record the voice over for the spot on the campus radio station.

For Programs & Partnerships:

6. Create a “Town & Gown” program series. Feature professors speaking on their topic of research, but be sure to choose speakers and topics that aren’t too esoteric. Most colleges and universities have some sort of broad institutional commitment to community service and this is a great way to achieve that in a visible way.  Check to see if they have a Speakers Bureau.

7. Create an “Off Topic” series of programs. Ask well-known professors to speak on a topic other that what they are known for. Perhaps the world-famous physics professor is also a Civil War buff. Maybe the Shakespeare scholar is also a Bob Dylan junkie. A series like this would have fresh appeal to the general public, the student base, and the professors themselves.

8. Look to the university for support or sponsorship of programs.  A university’s commitment to community service can be realized in many ways beyond professors giving lectures at the library.  If you have a major event – Summer Reading, Meet the Author, One Book/One Community, etc., consider asking the university or university library to come on board as a sponsor.  This could be a direct ask for dollars or it could be in-kind support – they could provide graphic design services or materials.  Be clear about what the benefits of sponsorship are – logo placement, event tickets, reception with the author, etc.

9. Get more free labor.  Enlist student volunteers to assist with major programs and events. Often student organizations will have a “Day of Service” or a quota of service hours to fulfill. They could help with a family festival, a book sale, or be enlisted as a street team to deliver program posters around town or campus.  Contact the university’s Office of Student Life or Alternative Spring Break program as a start.

10. Develop a librarian swap program with the university library. Send a few public librarians to work for a day at the university and host a few academic librarians at your library. You’ll build relationships, get fresh ideas for issues faced by all types of libraries, and everyone will have a better understanding of just what each library offers by way of collections, services, and programs.  Be sure to let both town media and gown media outlets know about his – it’s the kind of thing they might both cover.

Want to know about programming in college town libraries?   Last year, a banana suit-wearing colleague of mine spent a good deal of time surveying and interviewing librarians at college towns around the Midwest and Central Plains about their program standards and successes.  Read what she found out here.

Are you or have you ever been a public librarian in a college town?  Care to share a great idea for marketing to and/or marketing with the university?  Please post in the comments!

4 thoughts on “Ten Ideas for Public Libraries in College Towns”

  1. Our local university has a literary society who needs books to create journals, etc. that they sell as fundraisers. One of their officers contacted me to see if we had books that we were discarding that they might be able to use. They just made their second trip to our library to dig through our recycled book pile and were thrilled to take away 7 boxes! These were books that our Friends couldn’t sell because of age or condition or that had been discarded by the library due to poor condition. In return, the students help us promote our Friends books sales on campus. At our last sale, we noticed a big increase in college students who attended and purchased books. It’s a relationship that benefits both groups and doesn’t require a lot of work for anyone!

  2. Debbie – That sounds great! Makes me think of a recent Friends of the Lawrence Public Library Sale – they had many, many boxes of LP records that did not sell. Somehow the campus radio station got wind of it and they were looking for some for a project, so the Friends swapped records for radio ads for the coming year. Like you said – benefits both groups and doesn’t require a lot of work!

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