“For a successful awareness program, you’ve got to make it personal. Whether it’s in-library or online, people want more than information. They want to laugh and feel a real connection.”
– Jenna Harte-Wisiniewski | Marketing Librarian, Sterling Municipal Library
ABOUT STERLING MUNICIPAL LIBRARY
With roots dating back to 1925, Sterling Municipal Library serves a population of 75,000 in Baytown, Texas, an industrial city anchored by oil refineries and chemical plants. The present library, dedicated in 1963, provides a wide variety of traditional books, reference materials, digital resources, and activities for a patron base that is largely blue-collar and extremely ethnically diverse.
Located in the Greater Houston area, Sterling Municipal Library in Baytown first began offering eBooks and other digital resources to its 50,337 card holders through a consortium with other libraries on the Gulf Coast. But with an area-wide population of 6.2 million and more than 90,000 card holders, competition was fierce. “For popular titles, the wait list on the consortium’s system can be as long as 58 weeks,” says marketing librarian Jenna Harte-Wisiniewski.
“Baker & Taylor is one of our biggest providers of books,” Harte-Wisiniewski continues. “We had picked up Axis 360 when it was new and still working out a lot of the kinks. Since then, it’s evolved into a great app that offers a lot more to our eBook patrons and has features that we as librarians prefer as well. We love how patrons can easily recommend titles for purchase, so we can make sure that we’re always buying what our customers want to read. Plus, Axis 360 is ours alone. Suddenly the wait for that best seller drops from a year to just four weeks.”
There was just one problem—most patrons didn’t even know Axis 360 existed. “Our usage was super low,” says librarian Katie Beverly, who spearheads the use of new technology at the library. “We needed to reach out to our core eBook users and get them to switch. Then we wanted to recruit new people who hadn’t used eBook services before.”
Beginning in 2016, Sterling Municipal designated January as Axis 360 Awareness Month. As Harte-Wisiniewski points out, “People get tablets and other new technology as holiday gifts. The idea is to capitalize on their enthusiasm with events where they can bring their new tablet to the library, get help downloading the app, and see how easy it is to check out books.”
To raise the profile of Axis 360, the staff also put stickers (provided by Baker & Taylor) on physical books that let patrons know when the title was also available on the eBook platform. “A lot of patrons will let us know that they downloaded the eBook and left the physical copy there for someone else. For high-demand titles, we even posted photos of the book with the sticker, so patrons started to internalize the idea that Axis 360 is another good place to check for the books they most want to read.”
The event has grown each year. “We realized that the outreach was really working,” says Harte-Wisiniewski. “Most of our top users of the consortium’s eBook system have also become our top Axis 360 users. So this year we shifted our focus to patrons who might not have considered eBooks before. You can’t just hand those patrons a flyer and tell them, ‘Figure it out.’ You need to show people you care enough to work with them—personalized one-on-one engagement.”
To do that, the staff got creative. Baker & Taylor contributed Axis 360 prizes, such as screen wipes, headphones, pens, and stickers. To win, patrons got a turn at a colorful prize wheel after completing an activity, such as downloading the app for the first time, recommending a book on the app, or simply asking a question about Axis 360. Patrons could also enter into a weekly drawing for larger prizes such as a Kindle Fire or iPad, contributed by Baker & Taylor.
“We make them work for it a little,” says Harte-Wisiniewski. “When we first started Axis 360 Awareness Month, engagement was the big problem. This year, the prize wheel was very visible. People saw it when they were checking out books and wanted to know how to enter. Getting them to spin the wheel really helped bring about more investment. From there, they wanted to figure out how to get the app and find the books they wanted.”
The staff continues to host ongoing eBook events for patrons to bring in their devices for help getting started with Axis 360. “A lot of the people coming in are older patrons who want to use eBooks because of the ability to display large print,” says Beverly. “Many of these patrons have become total converts. There are so many advantages. It’s so much easier for them not to have to come to the library every time they want a new book. They don’t have to lug around big heavy books, and they’re not restricted to what’s available in large print.”
To reach out beyond in-library promotion, Sterling Municipal has created an outside-the-box social media presence. “The Facebook algorithm doesn’t always work in our favor,” says Harte-Wisiniewski. “People don’t see every single post. The more you post, the better the word gets out, and the more people engage with your post, the more likely it is to be displayed. Many libraries are still posting very dry, impersonal updates. They’re afraid to show that there are humans behind the computer. What we’ve done is create a persona for the library itself, as if the building itself is talking.”
The result is posts that people want to like, comment on, or share with their friends. “We use a lot of pictures, memes, and videos about books and reading,” Beverly relates. “That was another way the Axis 360 prize wheel benefited us. We had a lot of really good photo opportunities and looked for the chance to create fun mini videos. There are a lot of easy apps now that let you create effects and capture cute moments that get people’s attention and are very shareable. We promoted everything—people completing the daily tasks and spinning the wheel, drawing for the weekly grand prize, and then showing the winners with their prize. People see these things online and say, ‘How can I win that?’ It generated a lot of interest.”
The engagement has broadened Sterling Municipal’s relationships with patrons. “On social media, patrons are sharing their own images of themselves or their children in the library,” says Beverly. “People see this as a safe space and a fun space and they feel comfortable engaging back with us. And as far as Axis 360 goes, people are taking the initiative to suggest the titles they want. They want to read on the app instead of trying to get the physical copies.”
Patrons know their library is listening—and so is Baker & Taylor. “With the huge consortium, people felt like they had to take what they could get. The relationship with Axis 360 is totally different,” says Harte-Wisiniewski. “We send every comment and suggestion to Baker & Taylor and they actually respond to every single thing. They try to give the patrons what they want. People are seeing that this is their app and they can make a difference.”
The bottom line: “Axis 360 Awareness Month is a whole library effort,” says Harte-Wisiniewski. “The creative team does the legwork to create the social media and the in-library promotion, but the service desk is critical to having those conversations with patrons, making it sound interesting, and keeping up the momentum. It’s a commitment. You have to be as excited on day 30 as you are on day one.”
The commitment has paid off, according to Harte-Wisiniewski.. “This January was the first month we’ve broken 1,000 checkouts from Axis 360, and February was just as good. The more checkouts we have, the more the community is maximizing its investment in Axis 360. With this eBook platform, Baker & Taylor is helping us stay relevant. We’re not just a warehouse of books. We’re a place where the community is connecting with books, the internet, digital resources, and programs they can’t access anywhere else.”
To learn more about Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 Services, visit our website: baker-taylor.com/axis360