MHLS Home Trustee Resources: Across the Board
Community Communications
Fall 2008

Across the Board | Fall 2008 | Topic: Community Communications
The Mid-Hudson Library System's Quarterly Newsletter for Public Library Trustees

As the citizen control over the public library, the board of trustees has a responsibility for telling the library's story to the taxpayers who support it. Even the best programs and services are of limited value if people don't know about them. Conversely, people are more likely to support programs they understand, value and use.
-Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State, 2005 edition by Jerry Nichols

To be a successful library, you need to establish visibility in your community as a viable and valuable resource. You do this by getting the word out about the library and its services.

Look around - is it easy for a new resident in your community to find the library phone number, hours, street and web addresses? Making sure basic information about your library is available in print and on the library's web site is the first step (and one of the NYS Minimum Standards for public libraries).

Building an effective visibility campaign can be done if based on a solid strategy that utilizes a variety of vehicles, such as print, email, web presence and word of mouth.

Annual Report to the Community
Often, generating a summary of the library's activities, successes and plans for the future is perceived as a bureaucratic burden, when it should be seen as an opportunity to communicate the vitality of the library in the community: showing what has been accomplished in the year, how active the library's staff and trustees have been, plans for the upcoming year and most importantly, what type of impact you have on the quality of life for residents.

A well-done annual report can be a useful tool when speaking with elected officials, community organizations and even in grant applications throughout the next year. It should help people unfamiliar with you get the picture quickly.

A combination of statistics and anecdotes will help you respond to the different ways people take in information. You will want to make sure you have something for everyone. For example:

While the annual report can be distributed in many ways - via mail, email, in the library, on the library's web site and around the community, it is very important that the library work to send the annual report to the entire community. Reaching out to non-library users, many of whom may be leaders in the community or a social group, is critical. It can go a long way in convincing someone unfamiliar with the library of the worth of your organization.

An annual report to the community is also one of the NYS Minimum Standards for public libraries. For more help in creating an annual report, attend the upcoming MHLS Workshop: Best Practices & Tips for an Annual Report to the Community on Wednesday, December 17 from 10:00a.m. - 12:00a.m. at the MHLS Auditorium (105 Market Street, Poughkeepsie). Register online: ( See also: "Annual Report to the Community Resources" on the MHLS web site: (

Newsletters & eNewsletters
Newsletters are becoming key in building up support for libraries. While the content is important, more important is a regular communication piece that goes out to a maximum number of residents showing the value of the library, a sampling of "the good stuff" going on, and information about how to join in and get the most out of the library. A quarterly newsletter is ideal.

Content should be simple and streamlined. Content could include a feature article or a message from the director or board president as the center-piece, a listing of upcoming programs for all ages, some useful tips in using the library's web site and lists of new items or staff picks of books, movies and music. Keep it short and useful, many people may not have the time to sit and read a lengthy newsletter so keep that in mind.

Don't forget the basics! Avoid the trap of always focusing on what is new - there are many people in your community who don't know simple things you may take for granted. Here are some examples:

More libraries in our region have branched out to eNewsletters. An eNewsletter, sent via email, has the added benefits of helping reduce postage costs and streamlining a reader's experience with the newsletter as information becomes "clickable." Include plenty of links in an eNewsletter for readers to follow up and read in more detail. (This can keep your word count down too!) Through links a reader can immediately put a hold on that great book the director recommended in the newsletter, read an article about washing machines in Consumer Reports through HOMEACCESS or register for that new program on planning for retirement from the body of the eNewsletter.

People that subscribe to your eNewsletter are subscribing to more than just an email from the library, they want to be a part of your organization. Look for ways to interact with readers through the eNewsletter like - quick opinion surveys, feedback forms, vote for your favorites, how to get involved - quick, easy ways that people can interconnect with you and come back for more.

While it is not advisable to rely solely on an eNewsletter (you may miss many loyal patrons who are uncomfortable with email, non-users and many local leaders), this is a great way to build up an online community of library supporters.

Developing a rapport with your community through your newsletter can help improve community relations and customer service by increasing your points of contact with your "customers" and helping orient people to your services in a positive and proactive way. A newsletter is the place to put all those things you wish people knew about your library! (For more content ideas, visit the Marketing & PR Resources section of the MHLS web site:

A word about using patron email addresses: When patrons register for a library card they often supply their email address for "library business purposes." We recommend that you also offer an "opt out" check box on the library card registration form if they do not wish to receive mailings from the library via email. It is also wise to always include information on how to unsubscribe from the library's eNewsletter in every issue.

Letters to the Editor
Regular letters to the editor in the local newspaper can help build good will towards the library. While most libraries only use this mechanism around budget vote time, it can serve you year round. General, feel-good letters from trustees, Friends, and patrons - just writing to say thanks to the library or comment on a program or service they benefited from helps paint a picture for those not as familiar with your services that you are doing good for the community and that people appreciate you, and, that you have supporters out there who care enough to write in.

Web Site & Beyond
The library's web site is a crucial piece of the communication pie. Some residents rely heavily on the library's web site to connect with you - using the online catalog to search for and reserve items, check your program listings or use the HOMEACCESS databases for research. New residents may only find you after doing a Google search on their new town's name. Your web site should be up-to-date and the contact information and hours should be readily apparent once you arrive on the home page. A map or directions to the library, basic policies like borrowing, internet and computer use and the Patron Code of Conduct are helpful too, along with a general listing of services (books, movies and music for borrowing, children's, teen and adult programs, computers and internet connectivity, Wi-Fi, copier, etc.) Finding out-of-date information on an agency's web site can be a big turn off; a board's role in supporting the web site is to provide the resources needed (funding and staff) to keep that information current.

Online awareness beyond the library's web site can really pay off. Trustees can be the eyes and ears of the library on the web and help tap into online communication going on in the community - local blogs, Facebook or MySpace pages, Twitter feeds, a local newspaper's online article comments area and listservs for example. Rather than have library-centric versions of these interfaces, look for these "social-networking" opportunities that are hosted by others in your community and participate! Get the word out to a built-in audience already involved - you'll be reaching a lot of people without having to maintain your own version of the technology.

Word of Mouth
You can begin practicing the best and most cost-effective communication tool today: Word of Mouth. People listen to those they trust, and chances are good that you are a pretty trustworthy person - at least that's been our experience with public library trustees! When you speak, people listen. If you are talking about the library you are reaching more people than you might think. Always have a "factoid" about the library at the ready. "Did you know you can use the library in your pajamas? We're open 24/7 online." "Did you know that we have audiobooks?" "Did you know people spend less than the cost of one book per year on our library?"

Pick something with a clear, consistent and compelling message - one that can be said at the checkout desk or in a grocery store line. Being strategic as a board about what you say can have an even bigger impact. Here's an example - a library board in Columbia County decided to talk about the fact that the library now offered Wi-Fi access to the Internet. For the next month those trustees told everyone they knew - friends, family and the guy in front of them in line to get coffee at the corner market. The director reported seeing people never seen before in the library within two weeks. It works!

Take it a step further and highlight a chosen tidbit in all library communications for the month. Promoting National Library Card Sign-up Month (September)?

Take it another step further and target your messages to specific groups.

Pull It All Together
As you consider these methods, do a communications audit. Pull together all your materials - bookmarks, signage, program flyers, a print-out your home page - and put them all on a table. Look them over. Do they have a consistent look and theme? Do you have a library logo on every piece? Do they reinforce your library message? The key to a successful visibility strategy is repetition and regularity. Once you have established that, the rest is easy.

New Trustee Consultation Menu
Beginning Fall 2008
All consultations are free of charge, customizable and can be brought to your library at your convenience. Contact: Josh Cohen,, 845.471.6060 x17 or Rebekkah Smith Aldrich,, 845.471.6060 x39.

Board Basics | Get the basics on trustee responsibilities in two hours or less. (Includes role of the director.)

Planning for Success | Find out how to become a better library and streamline board decision-making through planning.

Building Your Base | Tools for connecting with your community to build support.

Smart Growth for Your Library | See where your library falls in the Public Library Growth Cycle and find out how your library can evolve to prepare for change.

Sustainable Funding | Learn about your library's options to secure adequate operational funding.

Getting to Yes | Know-how for your library's vote.

Fundraising Facts | Basics and Best Practices.

Make the Most of Your Space | Running out of space? We can help you see your space in a whole new light.

Facilities for the Future | Looking to expand or build new? Start off on the right foot. (Includes funding options)

Financial Fun | Make sure your board is on the right path: Financial Policies and Budgeting.

Essential Policies | Learn about the policies essential to protecting your library and staff.


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