Audience Building and Diversity

The first step in diversifying the audiences for your library’s cultural programs is deciding who you want to attend. A “general” strategy is almost sure to fail—e.g., deciding to try to attract more young people, more Latinos, and more men with the same program is going to be tough. There are exceptions, of course. A reading by Junot Díaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) or a film screening of Motorcycle Diaries could conceivably attract a sizable audience of young Latino males.

But you get the idea—you’re not always likely to get a broad spectrum of ages, ethnicity, and gender with the same program. Not that you can’t have more than one target audience, but you’ll need a separate strategy—and probably separate programs—for each group.

You also may need to choose between larger audiences and more diverse ones. Topics with a broad appeal may get you the most people, while much more narrowly focused ones will attract specific groups and likely be smaller. An exception to the size rule, though, was a program at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore with Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club and Pygmy. “We had 500+ show up to hear Chuck Palahniuk last night,” says Pratt staffer Judy Cooper. “Average age 25! Lots of piercings and tattoos—most of them had never been to the library before.”

So, a few key tips for developing a successful strategy:

  • Know Your Audience
    Not just who you want to attract, but what will attract them. This may mean diversifying your planning team as well as your audiences.
  • Know Where to Find Them
    If you’re looking to attract people that are not frequent library users, library-based advertising and promotion (or even appearing on your website) are not likely to be very effective. This is the place to work with partners that can help deliver your message to your target audience—get them to cosponsor and get involved, not just share their mailing list.
  • Keep at It
    Don’t give up when you only get small numbers of your target audience on your first try. Enlist those initial folks in reaching further and deeper into their communities—find out what brought them to the program, what obstacles you need to overcome, where else you can promote your programs, etc.