Next to Summer Reading, Library Card Sign-up Month is the most significant event of the library year. For 35 years, libraries across the United States have focused their energy during the month of September on recruiting new cardholders. This year, #1000BlackGirlBooks founder, 16-year-old Marley Dias, is the honorary chair.

Libraries use full promotional campaigns to attract new users. That may involve tactics like posters, flyers, signs, and press releases. But many libraries are not fully re-opened. Still, others are working with reduced staff or services. And community members may not yet feel comfortable entering a physical branch to do anything more than pick up their holds. So, to reach those potential new cardholders, you may need to go beyond the normal campaign this year. Here are five “outside-the-box" ideas that can extend your efforts and reach new cardholders.

Your staff as your “hype squad.”

Your library’s most important promotional tactic during this campaign is the people who work with the public every day. Library staff must be empowered to think of themselves as marketing ambassadors for the library.

Start now by creating a page dedicated to Library Card Signup Month on your library’s internal staff website. Use that page as your hub. Ask staff for ideas. Share your plans for promotion, including the materials you’ll be using and the timing of your promotions. Post talking points and tips, so staff are ready to turn every encounter with the public into the chance to recruit new cardholders.

You might also consider incentivizing staff to recruit new cardholders. Get some gift cards and give them away to the staff who sign up the most cardholders. Or give away an extra day of vacation or the privilege of wearing jeans to work for a day.

During September, send a weekly all-staff email to remind everyone to focus on the campaign and to continue to build excitement. LibraryAware subscribers can upload their staff email list as a subscriber interest group and then use one of our templates to quickly create these emails.

Your collection is your centerpiece.

At NoveList, we’re passionate about empowering librarians to make reading recommendations every chance they get. And we believe everything a library does can be strengthened by books. So, lean into the thing that makes your library so special... your collection. It’s the key to getting people interested in the library and all the other things you do as an organization.

If your library is a LibraryAware subscriber, you can use your NextReads newsletters as a recruiting tool for new cardholders, offering them consistent and updated reading recommendations right in their inbox as part of their cardholder benefits. You can also market NextReads to your current cardholders, to get them reading again while expanding your subscriber list. Launch a form-based Readers’ Advisory service in September... the two campaigns complement each other in promotions. It’ll be easy to fulfill those requests using the NoveList database to search for books. Then, send the list of suggestions to the patron using LibraryAware.

Your partners can do some of the work for you.

Ask partner organizations to distribute a bookmark or small print promotional piece to their visitors promoting library card sign-ups. Local realtors and rental agencies could give your promotional piece to prospective homeowners or new renters. Send some of your library card sign-up print pieces to daycare providers, teachers, summer camps, and recreational centers. You can even ask restaurants to include a library card signup flyer or bookmark in their takeout bags!

Your stories will attract new users.

The goal is, of course, to convince people to sign up for a card. But instead of sending out a generic press release about the benefits of a library card, share an example of a real person who got help with a real problem at the library. Finding these real-life examples is not as hard as you might imagine. Send an email to your cardholders asking them to share how the library helped them during the lockdown. Or ask for user stories on social media. Pinpoint the best stories and ask the permission of those cardholders to share their story. I used to do this often when I worked at a library. Whenever I asked a cardholder if I could share their story, they always said yes!

Next, put your storytelling skills to work and write an article about that cardholder with emotion, some drama, and a resolution. Make it compelling. Send it to your local newspaper. They’re more likely to print a story about a real person than a press release. You can also ask your local radio or TV stations for a chance to bring a librarian onto a show. Ask your library staff to talk about an instance in which they’ve helped a member of the community. Examples of real people getting real help from the library are much more effective than a straight promotional ask for library card signups. You can turn your staff into storytellers by hiring a Learn with NoveList expert to lead training on telling your library’s story.

Your onboarding process will turn new cardholders into lifelong library users.

Convincing people to sign up for a card is only half the battle. When September ends, the important work of making sure every new cardholder uses their card as often as possible must begin. And the key to doing that is to properly onboard your new cardholders.

Onboarding is a process of introducing your new cardholders to the resources available at your library. It’s not enough to hand a library card to your new patrons and send them on their way. A solid onboarding campaign turns new cardholders into lifelong loyal users of the library. LibraryAware subscribers have an advantage: you can use our series of onboarding emails to create a campaign that energizes your new cardholders. Read more about it here.

Tell your library's story

Hire a Learn with NoveList expert and turn your staff into storytellers.

Angela Hursh is Senior Engagement Consultant for NoveList. She is listening to Four Hundred Souls by Ibram X. Kendi and reading Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen.