I did a series of public focus groups at the OLA SuperConference last week and met a few teens, higher ed students, boomers and seniors. The differences and similarities were quite interesting and here’s another interesting statistic:
“Usage was also down 1% among 18-24 year olds, 18% among 25-35 year olds, 8% among 35-44 year olds and 12% among the 45-54 demographic. Because oldsters are continuing to migrate online in droves, web email use actually saw an uptick in the AARP-eligible sector, with 22% gains among 55-64 year olds and 28% among those 65 and older. Obviously this was not enough to offset the decline in youth usage.”
So, how do you communicate with your cardholders? Is it just mail? e-mail? phone? SVA? text? social networking? Also, what is the generational demographic of your library cardholder base. You should be able to run a report. This report would use the birthdate in the library user record and you’ll know the mix of your users. With more sophisticated reports you can also cut this data by usage and borrowing.
If you don’t have the data you need you need to get on that. This data collection can be entirely optional and voluntary on the user’s part but it has been my observation that people trust libraries and share the information most of the time. Most, if not all, ILS OPAC systems support this kind of user profile.
You want to know how your patrons want to be communicated with. Most ILS’s have this as an option and support such information as address, telephone, cel, text, fax, e-mail, etc. You want to know their birthdate or at least year so that you can target programming. Getting an age range is not enog since they age out of the range over the years. You might also want to start a family card option where parents can be tied to kids borrowing and alerted to overdues, story hours, programs, etc.
Either way, it is clear that the old days of snail-mailing stuff is too expensive and slow and just e-mailing might not work for others. The need to ad more dimensions to our ability to commnuicate with library users is getting more complicated. Some privacy and data collection laws require that there be explicit permission so that needs to be added to the strategy and staff training. These rules rarely say you can’t communicate, just that you have to follow the rules.
Some libraries have ancient data on their users. Most regular users of the library come in at least every 90 days, usually more often. I have seen data that for some libraries this is the vast majority of their users. Training front desk staff to update records as circulation events happen could go along way to a cleaner patron database and a campaign could be done in 90 days. An online campaign could provide more additional information and even new cardholders if your ILS supports online registration. Those users who choose not to provide data are OK but are choosing to receive less service and communication from the library. It is their choice. You’ll want these good records when you have a threat to your budget, conduct a bond issue campaign, promote your programs or get those books and DVDs back! At the same time you can have front desk staff promote the library’s services and benefits.
Sometimes, modernizing a database of library users is just a matter of a good slog – simply work and a smile.