11 January 2021
Date Night at the Library: Image credit: Donna Forbis.

In 2019 BC (Before COVID), our library hosted a self-directed program for couples called “Date Night at the Library.” It was quite popular, and the plan was to run this program again this year, but we all know what happens to “best laid plans . . .” Even though we may not be able to invite couples in to explore the library in person, the concept can still be adapted for distance usage. The ultimate purpose is to get people to explore your collection, resources, and services.

The original program encouraged participation as a couple or team. We had husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings, and friends all participate. The program ran for three weeks prior to Valentine’s Day, with a participation rewards in the form of gift certificates, freebies, and discount coupons from area restaurants. The idea was for teams to visit the library, complete the program, then redeem their prizes for dinner or dessert.

Participation consisted of completing four (participants’ choice) of twelve challenges across two categories, The Great Library Hunt (collection exploration tasks) and Library Double-Dare (fun or silly activity challenges to perform in the library). Library Hunt tasks included finding things in the collection, like a movie you think your date has never seen, a romantic recipe in a cookbook to fix together, or a biography of a great, romantic figure. Challenges ranged from silly and embarrassing (asking the librarian for books on irritable bowel syndrome or spontaneous human combustion) to artistic (finding a “learn to draw” book and practicing a picture or completing a coloring page from the children’s department) to down-right child-like (reading a comic book or picture book about animals and making all the fight and animal sounds or reading a joke out of a joke book to a total stranger). The tasks and challenges were different from packet to packet, but one challenge available in every packet was to take a selfie together and post it to social media with a ‘Date Night’ hashtag. This simple challenge served a dual purpose: offering a super-easy task for the Challenge portion and providing organic marketing of the library to participants’ social media contacts.

Even though “hanging out at the library” isn’t a thing right now, we can still use programming to help promote our collections. If you use a reading challenge platform like Beanstack, you can create challenges that encourage catalog exploration, such as a genre challenge, where a reader must complete books from a variety of different genres. A challenge using reading prompts, such as those found on the annual POPSUGAR Reading Challenge list, encourages patrons to look outside their own traditional bookbags for something different. Just this week, Cynthia Stowell from the Bedford Public Library in Virginia shared an idea online for a twist on Blind Date with a Book called “Pick Up Lines.” Patrons select a book based on the opening line to a book, without knowing what book they are getting. A list of opening lines could be shared with patrons as a printed “menu” during curbside service or posted on the library’s website or social media. Book Match programs are another way of pairing patrons with your collection, by using their responses on a questionnaire to guide a selection of titles for them to choose from.

Regardless of how you go about it, marketing your collection to your patrons helps expand their understanding of everything your library has to offer. Encouraging collection exploration through programming adds a gamification aspect to usage, and everyone loves getting rewards. Additionally, when you partner with other area businesses, they become stakeholders in the success of your programs and, by extension, the library itself. The greater appreciation your patrons have for your collection, the greater their use of the library will be.

Our guest blogger today is Donna Forbis. Donna is the Marketing & Events Coordinator at the Illinois Prairie District Public Library in Woodford County, IL. Donna is also a member of the My Library Is.. Advisory Team.