Library Marketing

Using the Little Free Library to Promote the Big Free Library

Two of the most important questions to ask in traditional marketing are these:

What wants or needs do I meet?
Where else are people currently meeting those wants or needs?** 

For now, let's answer the first question in the simplest way possible: free books. Libraries offer far more than free books, but we can agree that this is the most common and recognizable use case. Reframing the second question, then, where else are people currently accessing free books? 

The most common place could be your local Little Free Library. Something like a birdhouse for books, a Little Free Library is a small wooden enclosure with 1-2 shelves of books inside. Usually, these books are originally stocked by a private individual known as a steward and then maintained in a "take one, leave one" model. Civic organizations such as churches and boy scout troops may also be stewards. For a list of registered LFLs in your area, check this handy map.

Little Free Libraries attract the exact population that you want to bring to the library: those who are both intellectually curious and community-minded. By design, though, they have a limited and sporadic stock of books. Often, a person walks up to the box, quickly browses the shelves, and discovers that nothing suits his or her taste. What better moment could there be to remind that person of the public library? In marketing speak, here is a person in your target audience who has expressed intent to use a product that you offer.

Here are three ways you can market your public library using a Little Free Library:

1) Add your information to the shelf

Most Little Free Libraries are maintained by people who love public libraries. In fact, of the 17 in our area, 2 are maintained by retired librarians. Ask for their permission to include some materials from the public library in their LFL. 

2) Donate books from your withdrawn items

You might also recruit the person in charge of withdrawing items from your collection. Ask them to cherry-pick titles to donate to Little Free Libraries and place some specially-designed stickers or bookmarks inside. 

Note: a particularly friendly steward might let you put these in all the books within their LFL.

**Notes on measuring effectiveness: give away something small if they bring the bookmark when they sign up for a library card

3) Build your own

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Note that the ideas expressed here don't just apply to Little Free Libraries. Coffee shops, churches, and retirement communities also have the same sort of small lending library. If you see success with your LFL campaign, consider extending it to these locations as well. Did you find these recommendations helpful?

Do you have a Little Free Library success story to share? Let us know in the comments!

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