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Spring 2000

Across the Board | Spring 2000 | Topic: Newsletters
The Mid-Hudson Library System's Quarterly Newsletter for Public Library Trustees

Welcome to the new Mid-Hudson Library System trustee newsletter. It has a new look, a new tone, and a new focus: Useful information for MHLS trustees.

When I was elected president of the MHLS Board, I promised to improve communications with trustees and announced four board initiatives: (1) A single point of contact at MHLS. (2) Board-to-Board visits. By the end of this year, each MHLS member library board will have had at least one meeting attended by a MHLS Board member. This will help all of us get to know one another and appreciate the questions and concerns faced throughout the System. (3) Advocacy and Research Teams. These are groups of individuals who are drawn from the public, member libraries, and the System-both staff and boards. They will meet for a limited period of time to discuss issues of concern to the System. (4) The trustee newsletter. This irregular publication will be available at least twice a year and will focus on useful information for trustees.
Each of these initiatives is under way. If you have any questions and don't know who to contact, call Phyllis Cohen at 914.471.6060 extension 10. She'll make sure that you're put in touch with the right person. In the first quarter of this year, MHLS Board members have attended board meetings at a quarter of our local libraries, so we have every expectation that the goal will be met. An Advocacy and Research Team focusing on contemporary fiction has been meeting via e-mail; they will be reporting their results shortly. As for the fourth initiative - here it is.
This newsletter focuses on newsletters. Libraries use newsletters for a variety of purposes including fundraising and fulfilling the state's requirement that reports be made to our communities as to our objectives and operations. Some newsletters appear regularly and frequently; others appear irregularly and/or infrequently. Often, a newsletter is a pet project of one or more board members; when they leave, the newsletter falls by the wayside. (And every time this happens, that library thinks it's the only time that has happened and it's a disaster! It's actually very common.)
This newsletter is an example of one of the services that MHLS can provide to libraries on a fee basis. As you know, MHLS offers a number of services to all of our member libraries including frequent deliveries of interlibrary loans and other System materials, our union catalog showing holdings in libraries throughout the System, continuing education programs for professional staff and trustees, and a wide array of consultation and support services in areas ranging from children's services to library governance and funding.
You may not know that MHLS also provides fee-based services at or below costs. We don't set out to compete with the private sector, but there are areas in which our centralized buying power or our specific library skills can be particularly valuable to libraries. In the past, we have arranged group purchases of computer hardware; we currently coordinate shared purchases of licenses to databases for those libraries that want them; and we provide printing and design services. Starting last year, we also provide fee-based circulation services to libraries using our online automated circulation system. (Previously, the libraries that used our online automated circulation system shared its cost, and the year-to-year variations in their fees sometimes were large.)
I hope you'll find this newsletter useful, and that you'll appreciate its reinvigorated design as much as I do. The staff at MHLS has worked long and hard on this project; please let us know what you think. The easiest way to do so is to send e-mail to
—Jesse Feiler, MHLS Board President

New news is good news: How the Grinnell Library got its newsletter
Grinnell Library published the first issue of the Grinnell Gazette in March. Producing the newsletter was definitely a learning process. Although there were moments when we wondered if it would be a reality that final product was worth the effort. The goal was to create a newsletter for patrons to be aware of programs and services offered at Grinnell. Initially I consulted library listservs to solicit responses from librarians with experience producing newsletters. I received useful advice and some examples of newsletters.
Deciding newsletter content, choosing a printer, and sorting out bulk mailing were the main concerns throughout the process. Early on it seemed the content of the newsletter was the priority. However, as I began to investigate the mechanics of distributing a newsletter it became evident that bulk mailing was a major hurdle. Grinnell Library serves a large area and sending 8,830 items through the mail is not easily accomplished. Eventually we located a bulk-mailing firm familiar with postal requirements and the ins and outs of mailings. They charged us $569; the cost of postage was $650.
Finding an affordable and creative printer was also labor intensive. Eventually we hired Deborah Begley at Mid-Hudson Library System who created an attractive and professional newsletter with a distinct logo and layout. Once the newsletter reached the printer, everything went smoothly and quickly. When the layout was approved the 10,000 issues were printed and back in a week. Design was free; the cost of printing and folding this two-sided letter-size newsletter, which included a special ink color, was $485.
The bulk-mail company labeled, barcoded, tabbed, and delivered the newsletter to the post office in a couple of days. Patrons received the first issue in mid-March.
Anyone considering a newsletter should be prepared to invest considerable person hours producing the initial issue. I expect subsequent issues will require less time and energy. Was it worth the effort? Absolutely. Patron response has been overwhelmingly positive and issue two of the Grinnell Gazette is due out in June.
—Kathleen Eaton, Assistant Director, Grinnell Library Association, Wappingers Falls

Valatie Free Library and Kinderhook Memorial Library are sending out a biannual newsletter, co-written, outlining what is happening in each library and what changes are made possible by the passage of the chapter 414 referendum. We split the cost of the printing and mailing.
We mailed 5,410 copies, and the cost of postage was 7.2 cents per copy for a total of $389. Printing cost us $564, done through the State Education printing facilities. Layout was four letter-size pages front and back, bi-folded; two colors of ink were used.
The two libraries have established the Val-Kin Library Council and are meeting quarterly. We discussed, in addition to the newsletter, printing regular one-page front and back updates for patrons, available in each library and on each library's web page. Links already enable patrons to go from one library's web site to the other.
Lee Sharp, president of the Valatie BOT administers the web site for Valatie and Ellen Sullivan, Librarian, does the same for Kinderhook. Valatie's address is Kinderhook's is
—Ronald Huff, Kinderhook Board Treasurer and MHLS Board member

Consider this…
A newsletter can be an effective method of promoting your library to the community, to supporters, and/or to funders. It can be used to inform the public of activities and events at the library; or it can be a powerful reminder of the value of your library; or it can attract new users to the library. While a newsletter can be a vehicle to do all these things, it will not be successful without careful planning and understanding of purpose. Before you begin, notice what newsletters attract you. What is it about them that made you look at or read them? Gather examples from libraries and other organizations and determine what features you like. Then, choose the primary purpose of the newsletter. Although there may be multiple messages, not defining the primary objective will lead to no message at all.
Define your target audience. Is it library card holders, funders, the general public? Make it clear that your newsletter is directed toward that primary group, and remember to select your topics for and write to that group.
Plan a reasonable schedule. Quarterly is a good choice, but frequency should be determined by primary purpose, budget, and available labor. If you intend to publicize events, timing is crucial - the decision about frequency will effect content. MHLS tries to avoid the rush of regular deadlines by producing this newsletter as an irregular publication, making it possible to work within the framework of a small staff and limited budget.
Write catchy headlines. People generally decide to read an article based on the headline. If it doesn't attract attention or arouse curiosity, the article won't be read.
Save on postage. Here are a few free alternatives to mailing that some libraries use: (1) an insert in the local newspaper; a letter-size folded sheet included in monthly bank or utility statements; (2) distributing copies at the local supermarket, laundromat, gas station, whatever; (3) placing a stack of newsletters at the library's circulation desk.
Think about regular features. Having a monthly column - picks and recommendations or spotlighting an event - provides stability and builds readership.
The effectiveness of a newsletter, after the initial impact, is in consistency. Repetition can be build an audience.
After four to six issues have come out, review them as a group to determine what message our newsletter is sending. Newsletters reflect and come to represent your image. Are you comfortable with the image your newsletter is projecting?
Once you begin producing a newsletter, continually look around for ideas and features. Keeping it fresh is easy if you focus on what similar publications are doing and mold that information to your needs.
—Joshua Cohen, Director for Outreach and Community Services, MHLS

No Pain, No Gain?
Sometimes producing a newsletter can produce, well, you know - pain. But the design and production of Across the Board has been one of those sublime periods of, well, no pain.
How? Through teamwork, a generous design/production schedule, and an in-house print and design department.
What did it cost? Across the Board is mailed first-class at 33 cents per piece. Since MHLS mails 784 pieces the total postage is $258.72.Another 250 copies are distributed to member libraries via MHLS truck delivery, and to staff via in-house mailboxes - no cost for mailing. Although this newsletter is a tabloid broadside rather than the more standard tabloid booklet-style newsletter, mailing costs are not increased. Folding and stamping are handled by the printing and shipping departments.
Printing in two colors increased the cost by $15 per side, making the total for 1,200 copies $147. The use of a heavier weight tabloid-size text increased the price of 1,200 copies by approximately $24.
MHLS can design and print for you or print from your camera-ready copy or produce camera-ready copy for you to take to your local printer. Prices are comparable to those listed in these articles. What we can't do is act like a mail-house. Please give me a call at 914.471.6060 extension 22 if you'd like a quote or more information.
—Deborah Begley, Print Services Manager/Designer, MHLS

We hope that the information provided is useful. A newsletter sounds like a nice, simple matter. Board's, however, must understand that it is a significant undertaking. How will the newsletter fit into your overall chain of communication? Today, we must also ask - "How can you link production to the electronic arena - especially to your Web site?" Newsletters also bring the inherent dangers of meeting deadlines, dunning contributors for their copy, planning for mailing and processing costs, and knowing that someone will catch the inevitable typo. Don't commit to such a venture without careful thought.
As Deborah Begley informs you in "No Pain, No Gain?," Mid-Hudson Library System is ready to help you meet some of the challenges. Depending on her schedule, Deb can arrange a design session with you and also arrange for printing at MHLS. Allow at least one month's notice for projects requiring design and printing, approximately two weeks notice for other projects. At the moment, MHLS can still afford to absorb the cost of design services (roughly $500 in the regional marketplace for a simple newsletter) and continue to provide printing at cost.
Finally, I invite your comments about this latest version of MHLS's trustee newsletter. Do you like the new look? Is the content practical and informative? Do you have other topics of general interest to trustees that you would like covered? Let us know. Thank you.
—Dr. Fred Stielow, Executive Director, MHLS

*Mid-Hudson Library System will be conducting a tour of the System for member library directors, staff, and trustees on June 6, 12-3 p.m. Please register with Peggy Winn at extension 216 if you would like to participate.


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