County News

Pop-up libraries find new ways to promote services, improve outreach

Members of the outreach team display comic books at one of the pop-up library locations at Comic Orange in 2018 in Orange County, Calif. Photo courtesy of Orange County Public Libraries

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Many individuals are unaware of the variety of services public libraries offer.


Bring pop-up library booths to different community events to promote library programming.

When looking to find new ways to promote library services to the public, staff from Orange County, Calif. Public Libraries knew they would need to go beyond the typical promotional items to bring awareness of what libraries can offer to the community.

Regional Services Manager Matthew Patsel and his team launched the Pop-Up Libraries Program in 2018 to raise public awareness of the services that are available at Orange County libraries.

The pop-up libraries bring library programming and services such as remote library card signup, online music streaming platforms and e-books into the community by setting up mobile booths at events to provide information about the resources libraries can offer.

At each event, a member of an outreach committee, which consists of 15 library staff members, sign up to volunteer and facilitate at each location.

The volunteer staff members visit a variety of community events at locations where libraries typically do not have a presence. Events include pet expos, job fairs, music festivals, comic-cons, nature events and holiday celebrations where library staff issue library cards, demonstrate online library databases and promote branch programming.

At each location, volunteers set up tables, hotspots, laptops, promotional materials and hands-on activities to promote library services to both regular library patrons and non-library users who are able to learn about the library’s offerings if they haven’t recently visited a branch.

Orange County’s public library system, which includes 33 branches, offers residents a variety of services including music streaming, e-books, job searching resources, free Wi-Fi and free lunches for children during the summer.

Patsel said prior to the pop-up libraries, promotions involved internal flyers and social media posts that targeted those who already followed the library’s activities.

“We were trying to find people who didn’t know about some of the services we offered,” he said. “We wanted to let them know that we still offer traditional library services, but then there’s a whole bunch of new things that they maybe weren’t aware of.”

In 2018, Orange County Public Libraries saw a 6 percent increase in circulation, a 12 percent increase in library cards issued and a 12 percent increase in program attendance, according to Patsel. In the last two years, the outreach team attended 70 events, reached over 10,000 visitors and issued 600 library cards.

“We’ve had reports that people have heard about this from this event and then came to the branch so that’s the more one-on-one experience we’ve had,” he said.

County Librarian Julie Quillman said word spread about events happening at the library because of the pop-up locations. 

“It has really turned out to be one of our biggest pushes and one of our great ways to do outreach in the community,” she said.

The library system focuses on attending county-sponsored events, city-sponsored events and privately sponsored happenings throughout Orange County.

Patsel said it was easy to connect with individuals for county or city events because of already formed partnerships. For private events, he emailed organizations and asked if a library booth could be set up at their event at no cost because they were a county agency providing a public service.

“All the ones I contacted were really welcoming and said, ‘Yeah, sure,’” he said. “They basically gave us a boost and then once we got that secured, we put together the promotional materials we wanted to target to those events.”

The county attended a variety of events including the Doheny Blues Festival where they promoted online music streaming platforms, the South County Pet Expo where they highlighted books related to pet adoption and training, the Orange County Parks Summer Concert Series and even the County of Orange Career Expo and Open House.

At Wondercon, an annual comic con event, the team set up a pop-up booth and offered online downloads of comic books.

Patsel said the pop-ups are a convenient way to get the word out about a variety of services. 

“It was just ‘What services do we have to offer?’ and ‘What places can we offer those at?’ and then how we could market it at those events,” Patsel said.

He added that the pop-up libraries program has strengthened partnerships with other county departments through cross-promotional events.

“By just building that partnership and starting that dialogue, it’s led to a mutually beneficial impact for both agencies to help the public,” he said.

Quillman said she has been amazed by these connections with other county agencies that strengthened and increased the library system’s reach.

“While our aim was to reach more patrons, we realized that we also made so many more connections that have been really valuable and really extended our reach in our community,” she said.

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