Engaging Conversations | Field Reports

Kitchener Public Library, Ont., serves a city of about 252,000 people. One of our missions in the community is to ignite conversations. Our premier 85 Queen series, which takes place at and is named for our flagship Central Library location, features in-depth events: not just a reading from a big-name author but an interview conducted by an experienced journalist; not just a screening of a controversial film but a panel of experts to discuss it; and not just an appearance from famous musician but full concert-style performances with storytelling.

Kitchener Public Library exteriorKitchener Public Library (KPL), Ont., serves a city of about 252,000 people. With five locations, it is consistently rated as one of the top public services in the City of Kitchener.

One of our missions in the community is to ignite conversations. Our premier 85 Queen series, which takes place at and is named for our flagship Central Library location at 85 Queen St. North, features in-depth events: not just a reading from a big-name author but an interview conducted by an experienced journalist; not just a screening of a controversial film but a panel of experts to discuss it; and not just an appearance of a famous musician but full concert-style performances with storytelling.

This series draws audiences who tend to be intensely interested in the given topic, and our hope is to provide inspiration and a way forward for them to learn more and continue those conversations with their own networks of family, friends, and colleagues.

In 2018, we started reaching out to all new cardholders and existing customers through Patron Point, a library-centric marketing automation platform, to welcome them to the library, provide timely news updates, and give them an opportunity to renew and update their cards online.

We also saw another opportunity to ignite conversation by targeting the people who attend 85 Queen events, offering extra value to contribute to their library experiences.

Driven from our Patron Point system, “After 85 Queen” emails arrive in their in-box the next day, with a thank you for attending and a quick synopsis, with quotes from the event. Content is event-targeted: Was it a younger or older audience? Does the topic lend itself to shorter, more entertaining pieces, longer newsy pieces, or a mix?

We keep the email concise and visually appealing. Three large images link to items that help to contextualize the ideas, such as links to a podcast featuring that author, relevant newspaper or magazine articles, and reviews.

For instance, after an 85 Queen program about the relevance of a live staging of To Kill a Mockingbird in 2018, the follow-up email included an article about “white saviours” and an interview in the Toronto Star with the play’s black director.

A fourth image links to all upcoming 85 Queen events, to help promote the series to this specific audience.

The final section of the email circles back to KPL resources, with “read/watch/listen” suggestions—resource lists curated to tie into the event. This section may also include links to the panelists’ or guests’ social media, again, to help ignite conversation.

 

CONTINUING BENEFITS

The results demonstrate the benefits of well-aimed email campaigns. Over our fall and early winter events, attendance ranged from 40 to more than 160 participants at each of eight sessions, resulting in more than 1,000 follow-up emails. Open rates and click-thru rates averaged just shy of 70 percent and 17 percent, respectively, making these some of the highest-performing emails the library marketing team has produced.

Results have been steady, with the most recent emails continuing to perform as well as the earlier ones, and an aggregate unsubscribe rate of less than 0.25 percent, telling us that targeting can drive interest and engagement.

We also have feedback from customers that attests to the value added: “The 85 Queen programs are a must-attend for me. I look forward to the interesting discussions they always stimulate,” says regular library user Kayleigh Platz.

“The After 85 emails give me a great jumping-off point, and through them I often discover new podcasts, magazine articles, and books that help me explore these ideas further. I love that the events are just the beginning and that the emails link these narratives to broader conversations in my community.”

We continue to fine-tune the process for creating these emails and hope to replicate this success in similar ways with targeted emails for other library programs and services.


Megan Clare is Manager of Strategic Planning and Projects, and Charlotte Prong Parkhill is Social Media Editor, Kitchener Public Library, Ont.

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