Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Guest post from Emily Clasper on reaching connected moms

Thank you to librarian Emily Clasper for her recent commentary to the post "Mom power." In her response, Emily mentioned that she could relate to the experiences of on-the-go moms and their use of social networks to stay connected. I asked her to tell me more about her perspective and how librarians can do a better job of reaching out to moms like her. Fortunately, she took me up on the offer and contributed this guest post on the subject, which I'm copying in its entirety here (with permission, of course):

As a parent of a young child, I definitely use social networking a lot as a parenting resource. I started when I was pregnant and joined a forum for mothers with a February 2006 due date. About 40 of us from all over the world got to know one another, and it's still going strong as we now all have children the same age and can relate to one another really well. These ladies are now some of my very best friends and I don't know what I would have done without their advice and support!

From there, it was a slippery slope...I've also gotten involved in the "Mommy Blog" (or Daddy Blog!) subculture that is thriving online. We post pictures of our little ones, along with our thoughts on the trials of motherhood, and a lot of advice and information that's helpful to other parents (we hope!). I am constantly researching parenting topics online, everything from developmental milestones to the best toys for a one year old (I've come to rely on recommendations from other parents for that one). Being involved in online parenting communities has enriched and informed my offline life immensely!

So how can libraries use the power of online social networking to reach out to young, modern mothers...not only to provide them with more and better services, but also to take advantage of the word of mouth buzz such ladies can give your library?

In her post on Mom Power, Jill summarized the important aspects of providing services for savvy Gen-X and Y moms well: "Make services for this group quick, convenient, and online if possible by creating more specialized online content and taking advantage of the social networks they rely on for quality information."

Some tips for attracting young mothers to your library (and keeping them there!):

1. Provide programs and services that interest Gen-X and Y parents.
Children's programs are terrific. There is nothing like a good storytime! But I don't often see programs that are geared towards the parents of young children and the issues that we face these days...and I'm not going to take the time to participate if I'm not really interested. What about programs on juggling work and family? Or choosing a good childcare situation? Or dealing with food allergies? Or using social networking to get support and information from other parents? And why not hold one of these really good, topical programs for parents at the same time as a children's program so that both the children and parents can participate? Bibliographies of parenting resources are found in most Children's rooms...why not take these a few steps further and publish a wiki for your patrons? I’d love that!!

2. Make us aware of these services.
My library's monthly newsletter generally goes directly into the garbage with the junk mail when it reaches my house. It's not that I'm not interested in my library or what is going on in my community, but we are (like most people, I think) completely bombarded with junk mail each day and it's hard to make a distinction. Therefore, putting a mention of an upcoming event, program, service, or collection targeted at mothers is going to completely unnoticed in my house. Libraries need to find other ways to reach out to busy young parents. Go where we are, and speak our language. I'm more likely to notice a library event on the local newspaper's online events calendar, or from a brochure at the pediatrician's office (sometimes the only place I ever get to sit down and rest for a second!). If your library has a blog, publicize it and encourage patrons to subscribe...but give us something interesting to read while you plug your programs and services, and encourage us to participate in the conversation! A blog that reads like a string of press releases won't hold our interest for long.

3. Go by our schedules, not yours.
One of the main reasons why online social networking appeals to me more than the "live" Mommy group has to do with time. With the hectic lifestyle most young moms find themselves leading, it's nice to be able to participate when we can - whether that's for fifteen minutes at 11:30 at night or at work while we take a lunch break. Scheduling programs for young moms (especially for those who work) should respect the difficulties many of us face in squeezing anything extra in. In addition, providing online resources and opportunities for online participation are great because we can access them at any time that is convenient for us. That great parenting program you had last week? Put the video up online so that those of us who couldn't make it can still participate!

4. Put it online!
I do not bring my son to library programs. There are too many rules, signups are a pain, and I can't fit the programs into my schedule as they're all when I'm at work. So I take him to music classes on the weekends instead. We were able to sign up online, pay online, and we can schedule makeup classes online. I got my references for the program online, too. If the library would give me the same options, I'd be there in a flash. Until then, I can't be bothered. IM or email reference help is a good idea, but often seems a second thought and is not often consistent. Not only that, but it is generally pretty poorly publicized, and I don't know that I would be aware of these services if I weren't a librarian myself. I think good library blogs, wikis for resources on topics that interest me, and more consistent online reference (paired with marketing to raise awareness) would be a great way of catching the attention of parents these days. It would also be great if libraries could help parents create online communities as well. With all of the YA departments getting involved in MySpace, etc for the teens, this seems like a natural direction for libraries to go. We talk a good game these days about libraries as community centers...why not libraries as community creators?

5. Make us want to come again.
I've often heard that the most effective marketing tool we have is customer service. If you can give us a good experience while we are in the library, we will come back. And we'll bring friends. But if we don't have a great experience, you're done. We won't be back, and we will tell everyone we know how awful it was to boot. This goes double for online content. If we find what we need, it's interesting or useful and easy to access, I just might come back. Especially if there's a way to subscribe.
I appreciate Emily's insights and am grateful to her for sharing these useful ideas. She touches on a lot of themes addressed here, and it's nice to see a personal account of them in action. As you probably noticed from her post, Emily has no shortage of ideas and is a terrific writer. That's why I was glad to find she started her own blog, Library Revolution: The Status Quo Most Go (nice title!). Though less than a month old, the blog is off to a great start and I'm looking forward to watching it develop.

Good luck in your efforts to reach those busy moms!

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