Happy New Year from the ALSC Committee on Services to Special Populations and Their Caregivers. Now is a great time to take a fresh, 2017 look at your community and to reevaluate how each library can better serve its special populations. For many, this may mean a new service or getting the word out about something the library already does. Marketing will play a big role in the success of the library in reaching these underserved groups.
There is fundamentally no difference between offering a great service that nobody knows about and not offering the service at all. When talking about access and serving underserved populations, these are the people who are least likely to know about library services. So if a library’s new year’s resolution includes an increased effort to include some of the marginalized communities in its service area, here are some tips to get the word out.
The best way to market a program is to make sure that it is well-designed from the ground up. Good marketing can’t save a sinking ship. When looking to target an underserved group, think, “What is best for this community? How do they prefer to receive information? What are their barriers to accessing the library? Why don’t we see this group here more often?” By starting here, the planning process by confronting these barriers, they can be curtailed before they ever become issues.
Now that the program or service has been planned, think about who is going to use it. That’s who the library needs to market to. The marketing needs to be focused on who gets to make the decision on whether or not the service or program is used. Most times, this will be the parent or caregiver. Marketing children’s services typically succeeds by either enticing the child and having them ask/convince their caregiver to let them come or by convincing the caregiver to bring the child.
Another point to consider is that not everyone receives information in the same way. What unique barriers do your target groups have? Will information need to be translated into a second (or third or fourth) language? Are you working with caregivers who may have visual impairments? Does the intended audience have trouble with reading or printed material? The library is a community cornerstone that is for every single person; the library’s marketing, though, should have a target that highlights the specific needs of a community and the solutions the library provides them. Don’t expect people to come to the library for information; instead, plan to meet the library’s target special populations where they already are.
Marketing to special populations is really no different than the process that is undertaken when marketing anything. However, libraries must consciously undertake it because it requires a recalibration of standard operating procedure. But remember, children from special populations, whether they be from LGBTQ familes, on the autism spectrum, have a print disability, are an English language learner, have incarcerated parents, or are affiliated with any other underserved group, are still children, and libraries have and will continue to offer a plethora of services to support and enable this key constituency.