Attracting the Older Adult Audience: Norfolk Public Library’s Meet, Learn & Discover Series
The Norfolk (Va.) Public Library (NPL) Meet, Learn & Discover (MLD) Series, which won the Virginia Public Library Director’s Association Award in 2010 for Outstanding Program for Seniors, targets an audience of adults who are “50 and better” with a series of programs that offer participants the opportunity to come together once a month to hear an informative presentation and to socialize with others.
Now in its fourth year, MLD was launched in 2009 with the help of funding by an Age in America Grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. That funding has ended but, based on the program’s success, the series will continue. This is how we did it.
Step One: Define the Program
The Norfolk Public Library is an urban library system with twelve locations situated across the city of Norfolk, Virginia. These locations include a new main library, the Slover Memorial Library; the Mary D. Pretlow Anchor Branch Library; ten neighborhood branches; and a bookmobile. We serve more than 240,000 residents and have an annual budget of $7.9 million. In FY2012, we had more than 1.1 million visits to the library.
The Age in America grant challenged us to “study the changing role of older adults in America” and required that we reveal our findings, not only in a written report to IMLS, but also in a tangible and lasting product for the local community. Photographic exhibitions, artwork, or printed materials were suggested. After assembling a small committee of library staff and community leaders to review what our library was currently offering for older adults, we determined it was very little. We proposed a sustainable monthly series of programs that would be relevant to our target audience, and IMLS accepted our proposal. NPL was one of only three library systems in the country to receive the grant.
We began with a series of daytime programs attended by a small but loyal group. Through an evaluation form distributed at the end of the initial series, we learned that the fifty and older members of our community are less interested in age-related programming, and more interested in programs that are fun, educational, and relevant to their lifestyle.
Step Two: Partner with Local and State Organizations
Partnering is key to success. With our target audience in mind, we were fortunate to have the interest and help of a Norfolk Public Library Trustee, who was also the president of the Virginia chapter of AARP. The chapter gladly endorsed our project, seeing it as a perfect way to introduce people to AARP while providing the opportunity for people to interact with each other in a library setting.
The support provided by AARP Virginia helped us to legitimize our program and enabled us to take advantage of AARP resources, such as speakers and informational materials. AARP allowed us to use their logo on all publicity, and also funded two display racks for the display of AARP materials—one at our main library, and the other at the anchor branch where the programming would take place. The same thing can be done with other local or state organizations that target the fifty and older age group.
Our committee also reached out to local residents and organizations that could serve as or provide speakers. We found no shortage of talent and enthusiasm. We were able to offer a program on fall gardening by a local master gardener, a travel program by a representative from Elderhostel (now called Road Scholar), and health-related programs such as Laugh Yourself Healthy and How to Shop for Organic Foods by a local chiropractic office.
Step Three: Develop a Budget
Careful stewardship of the initial grant enabled us to fund nearly four years of programming without dipping into the library budget. Once the grant ended, we developed a small but efficient budget to cover speaker fees and advertising. We are seeking sponsorship of the MLD Series through our Friends group for 2013.
The majority of our presenters do not charge for speaking, and the marketing materials we use are created in-house and printed using online print companies or the city’s print shop. A sample budget includes:
- Programming—$300 (3–6 speakers at $50–$100 each)
- Marketing—$3,000 (ads in the local newspaper, postcards)
Step Four: Devise a Marketing Plan
Title and Logo
To promote the MLD Series, we developed a title and logo for use on all advertising materials. This gave cohesiveness to our materials and promoted the purpose and target audience. We also use the AARP and NPL logos on all advertising materials.
- Flyers distributed in the library hosting the MLD Series.
- Postcards mailed to those who provided us mailing addresses at past MLD Series programs. We create the postcards using a template provided by an online printing website, and the cost is extremely affordable—about $40 for 250 postcards.
- E-Notice sent to those who provided us an email address at past MLD Series programs. We use Constant Contact for our e-notices and e-newsletters.
- Half-page ad in our local newspaper’s community section. Our City Communications department has a contract with the local paper for a reduced rate. Newspaper advertising is not as “antiquated” as we might think—we are constantly told by people who attend these programs that they heard about it in the Compass (our city’s section of the local paper that is published every Sunday).
What We Have Learned
Keeping your programs on a consistent schedule pays off! We host the MLD Series on the third Wednesday of every month at 6 p.m. Because of this consistency, we have a core group of ten to twenty people who come to just about every program.
Choose Program Topics Carefully
We have had our share of hits and misses with program topics. While programs should be informative, they also have to be about topics that motivate people to leave their homes and drive to the program location. We average twenty to thirty people per program. Programs with the highest attendance ( more than thirty people) have been about local history, genealogy, travel, gardening, healthy living, and, believe it or not, Feng Shui. Programs with not-so-great attendance ( fewer than twenty) have been about reverse mortgages, specific health-related topics (e.g., flu season cures), and energy savings.
Beware of “Selling” Presenters
On occasion your speaker may wish to focus the majority of the program on his/her business. It is important to emphasize to your presenters that the program must be topic-specific, and that they cannot try to “sell” their product or services to the audience. We found this out the hard way.
Editor’s Note: Want to learn more about programs for older adults? Register for the 80 Is the New 30! Preconference before the 2013 ALA Annual Conference, or check out our blog posts on the Creative Aging program: Creative Aging in Our Communities: The Public Library Project, Creative Aging at Wells Memorial Library, and Creative Aging at Rouses Point Dodge Memorial Library.