Create a Signature Event at Your Library

By Jim Gill, Dover Public Library

 “Cause something to happen.”

                        -Paul “Bear” Bryant, legendary University of Alabama football coach



Let’s face it, libraries today are dealing with ever-increasing competition for the time and resources of our patrons.  Your local library is NOT the only game in town.  As the father of three boys with the ages of 6, 10, and 12, my wife and I are amazed at how quickly their activities consume our family calendar.  From youth sports to Cub Scouts to church activities to after-school events, I sometime wonder if all their involvement in “good things” is simply too much.  I have realized that our family is not an exception and that many of our patrons deal with lives that are as lively as ours. 

So when you think about it, the library is not only competing against super-busy families, but also with the obvious competitors we are already well aware of:, Barnes & Nobles, the Internet, neighboring libraries, etc. The list goes on and on.  Last year I noticed our local Target store offering Saturday morning storytimes! 

One way our library has decided to fight back was by creating an annual event that was so unique to our library that even our fiercest competitors could not replicate it.  Our “signature event” called “An Overdue Open House” first appeared in February 2011 as a fundraiser for our library’s levy campaign.  The group behind the event was The Citizens for the Dover Public Library—a Political Action Committee (PAC) charged with fundraising for our library’s levy campaign.   Translation: The Citizens for the Dover Public Public Library consisted of our Friends of the Library group, library staff and their families, and library volunteers—in a small library we all wear many different hats!  The event consisted of a high class bake sale, live music, storytelling, a book sale, a scavenger hunt, face painting for kids, free food, a raffle, and more.  Patrons who brought back their overdue library items that day had their fines waived.  Dozens of local organizations donated gift baskets and gift cards for the raffle.  Hundreds of people came out to the event and everyone marked it as a huge success.  In fact, the local newspaper ran pictures of the event on the front page!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Although it was intended to be a one-time event, members of the planning committee brought up the possibility of making it an annual event.  The more we discussed the idea the more we realized that not doing it annually was not an option.  Our library strives to be a community center so continuing with community-based events such as the Open House was a no-brainer.  We realized that even if we only made a buck or two, the effort was worth it because it brought in so many new faces—including elected officials we have never seen in our building before.  As a small library with limited resources, it is essential that we remind our communities that we are here and that we are alive and that we are growing.   

 In 2012 and 2013, proceeds from the Open House (now sponsored by the Friends of the Library) went towards our children’s department remodeling project.  We had on display the architectural drawings of the proposed project so members of the public could see what we planned to do.  A few minor changes were made to the day, including having a professional magician on hand and more storytimes for kids.  A handmade quilt featuring our library’s logo made by a staff member’s mother soon became one of the most coveted raffle prizes.  In 2013, a record amount of money was raised for our children’s department remodeling project.  Here is a news story from our local paper that helped us promote our event:


After only three years, members of the community have come to expect our Overdue Open House every February.  Without knowing it, we created a way to keep our library on the forefront of people’s minds.  Small libraries can pull off a signature event.  Having a healthy Friends group is definitely a plus but even without one it is possible to have success using library staff, board members, and volunteers.  Our teen librarian got her teen group involved by having them design the backdrop that was placed behind the bands playing at the event.  VIP invitations were sent to school board members, elected officials, potential donors, etc.  We asked our local pizza shops if we could tape flyers to the pizza boxes that went out on delivery the week before our event.  Because it was Super Bowl weekend, this turned out to be a great success!  Flyers also went home with every school-age child in our local schools.  What we learned is that the community cares about the public library and they want to see it flourish.  As long as our library is receptive to the needs of the community we will continue to have the support we need.

Whether it’s a book fair, an earthworm race, an ice cream social or  a wine-tasting, it is possible for your library to create an annual signature event that will keep your library front and center.

I would like to encourage you to participate in WebJunction’s March 19th webinar called “Signature Events for Small Libraries:  Signature Events for Small Libraries: A webinar exploring signature fundraising events that help libraries raise funds and create friends.”

From “chocolate in the stacks” tastings to 5K runs to off-site literary dinner parties, small libraries are getting creative in offering signature events that raise funds and create friends. This webinar will be a “show and tell” of library fundraisers, with quick tips on how to get started in your community.  This webinar, hosted by WebJunction in collaboration with the Association for Rural and Small Libraries, is an encore presentation of one of the most highly-rated sessions at the ARSL conference.  Presented by: Cassie Guthrie, Executive Director, Pioneer Library System (NY).  Start time: 2:00 Eastern / 11:00 Pacific


What signature event ideas have worked for you or your library in the past?  Please feel free to share!



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