Fighting stereotypes of library services #ADA

Fighting stereotypes of library services #ADA


James Powell, Marketing and Communications Manager and Hannah Foulstone, Marketing Assistant Suffolk Libraries explore ways to diversify their audiences. Part of their joint fellowship at the Audience Diversity Academy.

I work for Suffolk Libraries and together with my colleague Hannah, I’m taking part in the Audience Diversity Academy programme. Library services everywhere still have to fight against the stereotype many people still have of the traditional library service. Much of the work of our team focuses on challenging this view by promoting the wide range of services and activities we provide and the impact they have on individuals and communities.  

For a public service focused organisation such as ourselves, there are benefits and challenges in when it comes to participating in AMA activities. We work across a large and largely rural county where much of the population is spread out and we operate from many different locationsWe’re therefore not focused on promoting just one venue; we have 44, all providing core library activities along with their own varied programme of activities. Library services are experienced in promoting the more traditional aspect of their offer to local communities but the view of the library as a ‘venue’ or a place where someone may experience and enjoy arts activities still requires a bit of a jump. Of course, over the past eight months there has been shift in the way our library service has run, with the focus on online activity and engagement and only limited access to essential services from the physical library spaces. 

This probably isn’t the best time to be embarking on the Audience Diversity Academy project as many potential experiments and ideas aren’t an option. It also sometimes feels that some of the content of the workshops and discussions may be of more relevance to colleagues in the arts sector. So sometimes there is a sense of ‘do we belong here?’  

Because there is more of a focus on online communications and social media our team has been kept very busy since the end of March it’s sometimes been difficult to find time to focus on this project.  I suspect that’s the same for many of us. 

However, inclusion, diversity and reaching new audiences is vitally important to our organisation. 

Although it’s been a difficult year, at Suffolk Libraries we pride ourselves on being able to adapt So although some of our ideas have been parked for now we still have some experiments we can pursue and only the other day I had a very positive conversation with someone from the DWP about the benefits of perhaps providing some information in different languages for Job Centre customers explaining how they can access library computers for job seeking and benefit claims.  

We have also been looking at providing more information about libraries for people with autism to make visiting and using services more accessible in future. Although this is just getting off the ground so it means the timeline for some of our idea may shift a bit.  

We are also about to launch our second annual wellbeing campaign, this year with a physical health and fitness theme. It’ll largely be online and will hopefully enable us to target some specific audiences such as older or disabled people. 

These are just a few initial thoughts on how it’s going for us so far. It feels there’s still a lot to do and these are challenging times, but I feel there are enough threads of possibility for us to make some progress over the next few months.  

James Powell, Marketing and Communications Manager, Suffolk Libraries 

James is Suffolk Libraries’ Marketing and Communications Manager and previously worked for a disability charity. He manages the organisation’s internal and external communications and is responsible for their PR and marketing activities. He is hoping participating in the audience academy will help them to understand how to reach out to new audiences and to raise awareness of what Suffolk Libraries can offer them. 

Hannah  Foulstone, Marketing Assistant, Suffolk Libraries 

Hannah is a Marketing Assistant for Suffolk Libraries, an independent charitable organisation that runs Suffolk county’s library services. Her role involves social media management, creating website content, customer service and supporting her team with marketing campaigns. She is passionate about promoting and engaging customers through marketing and establishing a core offer for their service users. 

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Audience Development & Strategy
Resource type: Articles | Published: 2021