CILIP Thames Valley’s 2012 meetings opened with a talk by Madeleine Bentley, Senior Reader Services Librarian from Reading Public Libraries and running a successful events programme. It was pleasantly informal to not have a PowerPoint presentation; instead we got to browse through a hard copy portfolio of some of their publicity materials and hear a talk in the ‘6 Ws’ format which I have *tried* to replicate here.
They have managed to increase footfall for library events from 0 to 5,000 a year – no mean feat (there is a pun in that somewhere).
They run a programme of workshops, local author days, crafts, quizzes, murder mystery games, comedy, reading groups, writing groups, and more.
Seemingly they choose what to put on through experience and trial and error. They have learnt that non-fiction sells better than fiction and new fiction writers are particularly hard to sell (n/b: This was probably bad news for the début fiction author I was sharing a table with so I’ll give him a mention here – Prof. Chris Rhodes’ book is called University Shambles and is also available on Kindle). But this was followed by a handy tip – their publisher should be doing their promotion for them! One genre of fiction that does pull in the crowds is crime writing and Reading Libraries have capitalised on this with their annual Crime Writing Festival which is a huge hit every year. Local authors can benefit by a local authors day as this is more likely to draw a crowd than individual events. Oh, and ticket all events, even if they are free. People will feel more of a commitment if they have a physical ticket reminding them!
Reading libraries always keep national events and celebrate them in some way. They also normally run events in the evening, for the obvious reason that this captures working people as well, but also (this hadn’t crossed my mind) because the library staff are not distracted by other tasks. It also very much about knowing when to cancel an event. You may get a big name at short notice but won’t have the time to do it justice. Or it may be better to cancel an event if very few tickets have been sold. Or perhaps for that certain event, well, they are just not en vogue, be it because of season, fads, or political climate, for instance.
Publicise in multiple locations well in advance. This may sound obvious but it took surprising long to learn where the publicity had greatest effect. Don’t be afraid to use a mailing list too – but old fashioned posters and flyers still work.
I fear I have not done justice to the varied and full event programme at Reading Libraries, so don’t take my word for it, come and see for yourself!