One of the most effective ways for a rural library to communicate with its community is by the electronic newsletter.
The electronic newsletter (or e-newsletter) is something we are all familiar with — as recipients. Organizations, associations and even vendors, at times, like to impart information to members, clients, customers, etc., via regular newsletters that arrive in our email inbox. We put up with them, for the most part, because they sometimes give us valuable knowledge, advice or notifications of events or products that we are interested in and use. Sometimes when we are not so pleased with content, we delete them, but they keep coming until we “remove ourselves from the list” altogether. But others, no doubt, will soon take their place, mostly because it’s the age we find ourselves in.
When I thought of writing and distributing an electronic newsletter for the Gilpin County (Colo.) Public Library, I wanted to be relatively certain that most people on the receiving end opted to be on the distribution list in the first place. Of course, some people are not given a choice — the library board of trustees, the Friends of the Library board, the staff and colleagues in county government, including the county manager and commissioners. These people form the core group of recipients, but I found the numbers soon increased when I put the word out that all you had to do to get on the list was send me an email with the phrase “add me” in the subject line. The distribution list doubled and then tripled within a few weeks, and continues to grow. This is in no small part, I think, attributable to positive word of mouth. (Although some recipients have moved away, none have “opted out” of the list. So far, so good.)
Since I already publish weekly columns in two local newspapers, I had to decide what I wanted to say in the e-newsletter. I wanted this newsletter to make the recipients feel special, like they were getting inside information, or perhaps advance information, about library services and programs — the kind of notification that distinguished them from the run-of-the-mill library patrons, and made them part of an exclusive “club,” so to speak.
I decided to make each edition of the newsletter one page long, and divided into two columns. That way it looked a little bit different than other informational formats. I thought of a name that gave the library a brand; actually I “borrowed” the name from the concept of Ray Oldenburg of “the third place," and put the following at the top of each issue of the newsletter:
That masthead became standard, with only the volume and issue numbers changing with each new issue. Then by filling the space of the two columns on the remainder of the page, I have a newsletter ready to be distributed electronically. I load each issue with relevant and timely bits of information: dates, times, descriptions of upcoming programs, or sometimes links within the text to outstanding articles about libraries in general. The ultimate goal is to showcase to the recipients what a fine library they have in their community, and in doing so, promote programs and services to draw them in, and make the library the important “third place” in their lives.
I don’t distribute the e-newsletter weekly, or even monthly, but rather I send it out whenever I had something important to share, so the perception would be that each issue was meaningful in its own way, and not “just another installment in a series.”
After the people on the distribution list (which, by the way, continues to grow) were accustomed to receiving periodical issues of the e-newsletter, I realized the list had an unforeseen attribute. I now had a ready-made list of library users to send news and informational blurbs to, very brief messages, reminders, announcements, outside of the format of a formal newsletter. Just an email message of note, in a few sentences, to be read in a few seconds. I like to think of these messages as mini-telegrams that have some value to the recipients who are, hopefully, glad to receive them.
The cost of the e-newsletter is virtually nothing (no pun intended). Your distribution list could be 75 or 7,500; the cost remains the same because there is no printing, copying or mailing expense. And you can utilize color in your e-newsletter without worry of adding to the cost. Likewise, you can easily insert pictures into the text. Sending it by email insures that each recipient has instant access to your contact information, as well as the library’s, making it easy to provide feedback or ask a question. And one important advantage of the e-newsletter over social media, such as Facebook, is that you don’t have to monitor it frequently, or at all.
Next month, my Rural Roots blog will be about Oldenburg’s concept of “the third place,” and how it is of particular relevance to rural libraries and the communities they serve.