3 Tips on Holding an Open House to Drive Community Engagement

by Mary Casey, Demco Director of Marketing

The Lake County Public Library collection was growing. It would soon reach sixty digital databases — that’s in addition to the print resources, events and programs that the library offers its Leadville, Colorado community! The problem: Many patrons were unaware of the wealth of resources available through their local library. “Of course we promote new databases when we launch them, but we also wanted to highlight our existing services as well,” described Technology & Local History Assistant Holly Henning.

So, the library decided to have its first ever open house. The two-hour event hosted in January 2017 provided community the opportunity to ask questions, give feedback, and chat with library staff. Guests enjoyed free refreshments while playing “learn about the library bingo” for a chance to win prizes, which were provided by resource and service providers like Demco Software. Since the first open house was so successful, the library scheduled its second one right away: “We decided that because September is Library Card Sign-Up Month,” shared Henning, “it would be the perfect time for another open house.”

What did the library learn from this innovative, engaging programming? What could a library like yours take away from it? Read on for three suggestions that Holly has for other libraries looking to leverage open houses to drive community engagement.

1. Diversify your marketing tactics.

To promote its upcoming open house, Lake County Public Library staff gave patrons “mini poster” handouts when checking out, but they recognized that some potential attendees may not regularly visit their local library’s physical branch. This realization inspired the library to diversify its marketing tactics.

The library sent local businesses invitations to the open house. They hung posters around the community, tweeted and posted about the event, and shared details in their outreach booth at the local farmer’s market. Most important, however, was capitalizing on word-of-mouth promotion. “We do a community survey and one of the questions asks how patrons hear about library events,” noted Henning. “Word of mouth is always the top answer.” Librarians advocated for the event to groups using the library’s community rooms, and patrons were asked to help spread the word.

2. Take notes.

At the first open house, Holly and her colleagues recognized something puzzling: nearly all attendees were adults. Furthermore, staff suspected word hadn’t reached the Hispanic community. To address this for the next open house, the library added Spanish versions of its collateral to its promotional arsenal. Next, they plan to reach out to schools and their students. “We’re on the lookout for clues about who’s not getting the information so that we can be sure we’re reaching them, too,” Henning shared.

3. Expand your definition of “success.”

For many library programs and services, success is quantifiably measured. If circulation is up or attendance is high, the event is considered a success. Holly suggests that libraries expand their definition of success to include qualitative metrics, too. Specifically, she noted that the September open house provided the opportunity for one of the library director candidates to meet stakeholders, and community members enjoyed the Bingo and learning about the library’s services. “One attendee works for a community group and was blown away by the amount of resources we have that she didn’t know about. She left very excited to share what she learned with her group,” shared Henning. “Our goals were to generate interest in our digital resources, promote our services, and connect with our community, and I would say this event was a success.”

Don’t delay! Get started today.

Promoting your library’s resources can be a formal process, one that involves open houses and official posters and videos, or you can start small. “Have your desk staff tell patrons about relevant resources when they’re checking out,” suggests Henning. “Mention them when you’re at the store or at a restaurant. You might be surprised about how much word of mouth promotion you’ll get simply by asking your community to share what they discover with their neighbors.” The key: Get started today! There’s no time like the present to start marketing your e-resources to your community.