Cynthia Orr Consulting

Increase Circulation

How to Increase Your Library’s Circulation

By Cindy Orr


Library customers by definition are looking for something they’d like. If they can find it without too much inconvenience, they will take it. With that in mind:

* Give them lots of stuff they want, when they want it. Everyone wants the latest bestseller when it is still a bestseller. That’s not unreasonable. It’s natural.

* Weed, weed, weed…so they can see past the old stuff no one wants when they’re browsing…and most people who come looking for something to check out are browsing.

* Display, display, display…face out. Do this at the checkout desk (the point of purchase) as well as throughout the library. One study showed that displays increased circulation of older titles by 93%!

* Piggyback onto free advertising by buying what’s hot…vampire books, TV and movie tie-ins, fads, items that will be used by groups booking your meetings rooms…model railroading club, chess club, etc. Then put them out where people can see them…on display.

* Think about the collection from the point of view of your public, not the staff. Sit and watch for an hour or so. How do people use your library? Chances are they either head for the computers or the displays. Not many go into the stacks nowadays. Do you have the real estate divided up in the most efficient way, or are you giving too much space to the stacks and not enough to displays?

* Make it easier for people to use the library. Experts say the desire for the item has to outweigh the cost of getting it. Cost includes going to the library, looking for the book, placing a hold, waiting for it to come in, then going back to the library again, etc.  For example, do you block people with fines from placing holds? (They’ll probably pay them when they come in to pick up their items.) Can you add a drive-up window? Better parking? Remove those barriers.

* Make it easy for patrons to place holds, and encourage staff to suggest holds. Many times, when the hold comes in, the patron will browse and take other items when they pick up their hold.

* Make it easy for customers to suggest purchases. Except for the occasional specialized request or the handful of unreasonable people, chances are if one person suggests something that fits your selection policy, others will want it too.

* Consider providing digital downloads so patrons can check out eBooks and audio books without coming inside your buildings. And count that circulation as part of your regular circulation. This is a quickly growing sector of patrons.

Get a big bang for your buck:

* Think about affordable formats. Magazines subscriptions are cheap and make patrons happy, especially in times of economic stress when they may have cancelled their own subscriptions.  Older, but classic DVD movies may be on sale.

* Ruthlessly cut unused expensive reference books in favor of circulating items. 

Know your circulation figures in detail:

* Check your circulation figures carefully. Has there been a drop in your nonfiction circulation since the onset of Google? Do you still need as many nonfiction books on various subjects? 

* Are you buying things “just in case” and not checking to see if the items are ever used?

* Do you need a larger materials budget in certain areas? What is going out and what is not?

* Consider measuring circulation by the current 12 months. That way you can tell how you’re really doing each month compared to the month before.

Make increasing circulation a real goal:

* Train staff to be readers’ advisors. If they send people out the door with two books instead of one, that doubles your circulation and keeps customers happy so they’ll be back. Don’t forget to train circulation staff as well. Many of them are readers and can chat about books. Even if not, they should assure patrons that the floor staff is there to help them.

* Make sure that all staff knows about your goal. Public service staff can help the most, but if selectors and Technical Services aren’t getting the items to the shelf in time, that’s a huge disadvantage.

* Bring in a consultant if you need help in convincing staff that this is a worthy goal.

* Know the numbers. Be able to tell everyone how they’re doing…our circulation this month was up x% from last year. Say it over and over so they understand that it’s important.

* Celebrate gains and make sure everyone knows how the library is doing. Parties are good!

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