The Battle for Attention: Strategies to Engage Communities


Ken Chad is passionate about libraries. From using his personal time to tell young parents at his local coffee shop about story time at the local public library to discussing community engagement with overseas librarians at 4am BST for his professional life, Ken is a devoted library expert, advocate, and user. His personal experience and original research combine in his May 2021 research paper “Community Engagement Solutions for Public Libraries.”  

Ken shared highlights from the paper and recent findings with us during two webinar events hosted by Innovative in September. The on-demand video is a must-watch for any library that is: 

  • Worried about a decline in library activity 
  • At a roadblock for reaching new users 
  • Interested to develop stronger relationships with their patrons 
  • Eager to step-up and deliver new library experiences 
  • Committed to elevating their community profile  

It’s no surprise that libraries are facing challenges as community and user needs evolve. The shift to increasingly digital content and services accelerated last year as libraries and communities coped with building closures and lockdowns. Even before the pandemic, core library services had been in decline.  As noted in the Freckle report, “UK public libraries have seen a 70% decline in their core service of book loans since 2000. In the US, the fall is 22% in seven years; in Australia it is 21% over the same period.” 1 


Shifting the mindset: From collections to users 

Despite these challenges, there are ample reasons to be optimistic about the future of libraries and the critical role they play in communities.  

Ken described some local government agencies and community organizations that are recognizing how libraries are uniquely placed to help deliver their strategic objectives. Community platform provider Bang the Table suggests, “if you are looking to access more members of your community and drive involvement in your consultations, then look no further than your city library service.”2 From making wellness telephone calls to community members, assisting at vaccination centers and distributing meals, there are numerous examples of library staff taking on new or expanded responsibilities during the pandemic to support community and public health needs. The shift of mindset from collections to users is what Ken described as key for libraries to live up to their opportunity as a major contributor within communities.   


Community engagement solutions: The right message, to the right people, at the right time 

Community engagement solutions combine marketing tools with data from library management systems so libraries can communicate with their users more effectively. Staff can create personalized, branded communications that intersect across all points of library engagement including card sign-up, notifications, renewal notices, program announcements, and more. They can create marketing campaigns that match patrons with specific programs or resources. Two-way communication using chat or digital assistants offers real-time engagement between the community and the library. Together, these multi-faceted engagement solutions increase the profile of the library by delivering timely, relevant information and targeted communications that better meet end-user expectations and align with their experiences with major brands.     

These solutions are most effective when implemented by libraries with a strong strategic positioning focused on connecting and supporting the community. By deepening user engagement, libraries can better demonstrate their value and impact. Ken concludes his paper by noting that community engagement solutions, “have the potential to reshape the library’s profile in the community.” 


A tailored library experience for all 

Innovative believes every person in every community deserves a tailored library experience. Engagement solutions can play an important role in achieving that goal. Innovative empowers libraries to deliver on that promise with our new Vega Library Experience (LX) suite, a cloud-based platform that allows library staff to easily communicate and manage the full range of materials, programs, and services available to their community. Contact Innovative to learn how Vega LX can extend the reach of your library and strengthen connections to your community.   


1Coates, Tim. The Freckle Report 2020: An analysis of public libraries in the US, UK and Australia. February 2020. 


2Connors, Nathan. How your public library can help with online engagement. Bangthetable [Blog]. 23 July 2018. Last modified on October 13, 2018.