My department has been stepping up our outreach efforts in a big way. We’ve been at street festivals, back to school events, church fairs, community toy drives, and more. Being noticed when sandwiched between the fire department and the dentist with a tooth fairy and a prize wheel can be hard. Our library system provides branded swag to help draw visitors to our tables or tents, but for the youngest visitors, all we really had was a hodgepodge of leftover stickers from past summer reading programs. Recently, we had the chance to explore purchasing items specifically aimed at helping promote our programs and services for young children and their families. Here’s what we’ve learned so far:
–Define your target population and your budget: When budgets are tight, it’s tempting to focus on finding the incentive that works for the most people possible, but if you want your swag to be truly effective, be specific about your audience. We want to target our baby programs to parents and caregivers. What’s appealing for them may be different from the preschool teachers we want to hear about our teacher services, or the families at a back to school event. Partner your targets with your budget to set priorities and goals.
–Ask what you really need: Determine your outcomes, and figure out what you really need to accomplish them. Depending on the outcomes you are looking for, investing in better graphics, new handouts, or staff training may be a better use of your funds.
–Consider safety: Is that a breakaway lanyard? Is your sippy cup BPA free? Safety is critical when items will be used directly by children. Look for product warnings and check for hazards online before purchasing. Test small items using a choking tester tube.
–Quality is important: If possible, ask to see a sample before purchasing, or buy testers. Items in a catalog may be smaller than they appear. If you’re having things branded with your logo, check the size, location and the quality of the print. For stickers, check the print, and make sure they come in a form that’s easy to distribute. If you’re buying boardbooks, are they titles you would keep in your library? Things that are cheaply made won’t last long, are unappealing, and won’t have much of an impact.
–Choose items that support your outcomes: Promoting your early literacy program? Things like jumbo crayons reinforce the importance of writing. Finger puppets help tip caregivers to the importance of talking with a child. At outreach events, your swag is an easy conversation starter for those programs, and adds value to the connections you make.
–It’s all about the experience: A sticker in a bag may not make much of impact, but we all know kids love the process of picking one out and choosing where to wear it. Some of our biggest draws for families have been having their picture taken at a photo booth created from an iPad and a photo printer, the chance to put on a library-themed temporary tattoo, or color a bookmark. The more time a family spends with you, the more opportunities you have to create the kinds of deeper connections that will draw families into your library.
We are currently testing everything from balls and rubber duckies to coin purses for library cards. If you have any suggestions for swag or incentives that have been a success for your library, please share them below.
Brooke Sheets is the senior librarian at Los Angeles Public Library’s Children’s Literature Department and is writing this post for the Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee.