My _________ brings all the adults to the library
September 15, 2018 8:22 PM   Subscribe

Would you please talk to me about strategies to promote adult education programs in public libraries? Do you know of any good articles/research on this topic? Have you designed successful engagement aimed at adults? Can you point me toward programs you think are being promoted particularly well?

A grant to my county's library system makes possible a series of programs geared toward both working and retired community members. I see the libraries posting physical flyers in their buildings, posting the programs in advance on Facebook, and placing ads in local free publications. Attendance is...low, despite the topics being of general interest.

If asked, I'd like to be able to suggest some additional ways of getting the word out. The local community consensus seems to be that libraries are for kids and students, and not so much a place for adult learning opportunities. Surely other small/rural systems have overcome this hurdle, and I'd like to hear how they did it.
posted by MonkeyToes to Education (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know of any research, but I can tell you that I frequent my local library because of: 1. Book sales, and: 2. Language classes.
posted by 256 at 8:39 PM on September 15, 2018

I question whether the topics are truly of general interest or not.

...assuming temporarily that they genuinely are (as opposed to us thinking that they ought to be), then in that case perhaps a referral bonus scheme? The problem seems to be a matter of reaching people that have no idea you exist (or, if you do exist, that you are merely a kids environment. People have very solid preconceptions.).

There have to be preexisting interest communities in your area (small engine repair, etc.), look at how you can hijack them? I mean, for example, partner with the local lawn/sport machine supplier, or something of the sort?
posted by aramaic at 9:28 PM on September 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

For working community members, maybe contact the local nonprofits and government agencies that provide employment support and assistance, and ask what they think is needed to help their clients get jobs or get better jobs, i.e. do people need to learn how to navigate the internet? Use email? Look for job opportunities? Write resumes? If there are specific needs addressed by the library programs, then the nonprofits and agencies will likely promote the programs to their clients, and fliers and informational materials can be distributed there as well.
posted by Little Dawn at 9:34 PM on September 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you have public transport coordinate the class times with the buses or trains.
posted by fshgrl at 10:02 PM on September 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

My ___Free Childcare___ brings all the adults to the library. Done.
posted by Toddles at 10:03 PM on September 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

This is probably very specific to my town which is middle class and suburban/rural but local nature and history lectures attract standing room only crowds. The audiences are probably 2/3 mature adults and the rest families with children. If you have any local societies they could offer programs at the library, open to the public and publicized through their own newsletters. School teachers might help if the subject fits their curriculum and the students will bring their parents. Not sure this will help if your location is very different.
posted by Botanizer at 5:52 AM on September 16, 2018

Physical fliers in other places. When we post fliers in lunch spots around town where people at work tend to stop to grab their sandwich, we get better attendance--especially for programs that are not necessarily aimed at our usual customers (frequent readers, parents, etc.) A really good flier posted at the five most popular lunch spots in town has worked pretty well for us. In the teacher's lounge at the high school; in the lobby at City Hall, in the break room at any local businesses where you know someone who'll post it for you.

If you want to target senior citizens, I'd also go to the senior center, any kind of local seniors housing, etc.

Word of mouth is also a thing--talk to people you know around town. Our director is on the board of a retirement home, so everyone there always knows what we're up to and many of them come to events. A coworker's friend works at a city department nearby, so everyone in that department generally knows what stuff we have going on.

Note that these have worked well for us, but most of what we do are not classes or recurring events, but rather just one-time items of interest--a speaker, a musical performance, a special event. I do think a recurring class is a harder sell, in that it feels like more of a commitment.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:37 AM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I see the libraries posting physical flyers in their buildings, posting the programs in advance on Facebook, and placing ads in local free publications. Attendance is...low, despite the topics being of general interest.

Does the library consider this a problem? I only ask because sometimes low attendance isn't necessarily a bad thing. If yes, then read on. I am heavily involved in adult programs at my local library.

Advertising: In my rural community the way to advertise programs to adults is, in addition to flyers specifically in places like the supermarket and the one kiosk downtown, the newspaper. This costs money which is why they don't often do it, but getting on the calendar there (or maybe the one on the town website) is good. Also they have a bi-monthly mailing list with attractive pictures and write-ups of the programs coming up. Having people on social media be all "Hey this is going to be cool" or "This was cool" can help. Sometimes having RSVPs can incite people to say they'll go and then actually go but this is a double-edged sword.

Perqs/Schedule: Food and childcare and coffee. Easy parking and/or transportation. Sometimes having adult programs NOT IN THE BUILDING (this kills the librarians but seriously) and during the weekends when people are around. Super convenient times. Short-ish programs on weeknights. Having a regular thing like "Thursday Winter Evenings" can help people get it in their head so maybe if they missed the first of three programs their friend went, said it was cool and then they came to the next one.

Topics: the best programs in the library have been where they have an existing community that gets to share what they know with others. This can be a one-off like "Learn about ham radio" (all the hams show up and so do some other people) or a regular meeting like "Knitting!" which is whoever wants to come and it's wildly popular. Other libraries have done this with board games, legos (for adults!), scrapbooking, scanning photos, doing your kids' hair, learning about local plants and animals, that sort of thing. I've seen tiny libraries do a local "speaker's bureau" where they get people in the community who have some specific knowledge and get them to come to the library to talk about it. Bob restores antique tractors and he's here with a slideshow. Jessamyn just got back from Dubai and she's here to talk about it (actual program!)

And, of course, stuff like "Computer help!" (my specialty) can be a program and not just a service. Have Computer Coffee time, people get together to ask questions, drink coffee, talk about whatever issue they are having with their phone, their facebook, their camera, whatever. And see what works in your general local area. Are there local libraries that seem to have it going on? Ask them what works for them and what their secret is. I always check the 4-5 libraries in my general area (we're close enough so that people cross-pollinate programs) to see what works (going to the farmer's market works!) and what does not (late night winter things). It's a bunch of knobs to twiddle but I'd suggest it's just as much as reconceptualizing "programs" (tool lending!) as it is reconceptualizing the library's offerings. Best of luck, happy to chat if it's helpful. Community engagement is hard.
posted by jessamyn at 7:08 AM on September 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

My city (suburban, sort of rural) sends out a monthly newsletter that includes the library schedule. Before they moved to monthly, the library sent out something every few months with the same. It helps me keep up to date on things I would probably do if I was retired.

Music and film programs always interested me, but I honestly don't have the time to attend most of the programs I want. :(
posted by fiercekitten at 7:42 AM on September 16, 2018

For adult language education, specifically English, get in touch with your local Adult School. This ESL teacher always promotes opportunities for improving English outside the classroom, and I usually have some flyers available from the local library, advertising when their weekly ESL Conversation group meets. Some local libraries also feature Literacy tutoring; we would mention that in our school as well.
posted by Rash at 9:44 AM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm part of an organization that does regular adult ed programs on development, urban planning, and urbanism issues. We use a room at the local library, we regularly draw 80+ people to our events.

The main thing the library could do to help us would be a working sound system. They have a great set of devices labeled "Bose". The one time I've seen the sound system work it was after several tries of shutting everything off and starting everything up in a different order. This was when we were checking out the space, not when we were actually doing our event.

I brought my sound system as a backup to the first event. Sure enough, we couldn't get the main sound system to work. Now I don't even bother.

I'm pretty sure the meeting room is already mostly booked, but a working sound system there would make it our first choice...
posted by straw at 12:20 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

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