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In the Tech Age, Libraries Are More Vital Than Ever

“Who goes to libraries anymore?” Since the rise of the internet, we’ve heard this argument again and again. Why are public libraries necessary when we have all the information we could possibly want at our fingertips? 

But two of the most powerful arguments for public libraries are – ironically – technology and information. Many Americans say they need help learning how to use technology and how to sort through and make sense of the enormous volume of information online.   

In fact, 76% of U.S. adults say they would benefit “a lot” from more help with accessing information that can help them make decisions, according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of survey data. Respondents specifically called out several needs – several of which public libraries provide – including technology training and help searching online resources for trustworthy information. 

These findings underscore what makes public libraries vital resources for their communities.  

Libraries as Technology Education Centers  

Public libraries are a key resource for people who want to become more digitally literate. According to Pew Research Center, nearly 80% of Americans believe libraries “definitely” should offer technology programs for their communities.  

Although 75% believe libraries are already effective at helping people learn new technologies, there’s always more that can be done. And according to Pew’s latest analysis, many library constituents are expressing the desire for more training on how to use computers, smartphones and the internet. This is important for our communities, because technology skills are highly valued in the job market and greatly enhance a job seeker’s value to potential employers.  

But because they aren’t comfortable with computers or online research, those most likely to benefit from technology help are harder for public library marketers to reach with digital marketing strategies. Traditional marketing activities continue to be the best way to get the word out about your programs. For example, you can:  

  • Post flyers in local business and municipal facilities frequented by this target audience. 
  • Run ads in local newspapers. 
  • Conduct outreach to community groups such as senior centers, the local Y, and clubs. 
  • Build relationships with leaders of multi-cultural organizations, who can help you connect with hard-to-reach audiences. 
  • Use public relations tactics such as posting details of workshops in event listings and reaching out to local reporters. 
  • Work with your township officials and other organizations to include mentions of your events in community newsletters. 

Mobile Access to the Website 

Three out of every four Americans owns a smartphone, so it’s not surprising that library visitors who access the library website are doing so more often from a mobile device. According to the most recent Pew data, 50% of those who visited the website used a mobile device such as a tablet computer or smartphone. That was up from 39% in 2012, which means in 2018, it’s very likely to be an even higher percentage.  

This points to the importance of having a mobile marketing strategy. Your plan for reaching mobile audiences should include the following: 

  • Build your website so that it’s easy to read on the Web. One of the simplest ways to accomplish this is to make the site responsive. That is, the content adapts to the dimensions of the device being used. With a responsive site, your content is easy to navigate and read in the browser, on a smartphone and on a tablet. 
  • In fact, all content should be mobile-enabled. That means shorter paragraphs, and clear images.  
  • Pay particular attention to optimizing email newsletters. The majority of emails are read on mobile devices, so be sure your newsletter is mobile-friendly. 
  • Build a presence on social networks that are predominately mobile-based, such Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. 

About Tiffany McClary

Tiffany McClary is the Director of Communications, Marketing & Outreach for the New Jersey State Library. She coordinates marketing and public relations initiatives in order to enhance the reputation of the State Library, and promote the value of NJ libraries and the services and programs that they provide to residents.