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Libraries Find New Patrons in Non-Traditional Locations

Librarians reach out to patrons at a mallIn Ukraine, librarians are going outside the library walls to bring their services to new audiences. Three libraries found momentum by setting up shop in shopping malls and outdoor locations, and their success is inspiring others to replicate their efforts. Tulchyn Raion Library director Vira Vihurzhynska had been contemplating new outreach activities for awhile. With grant funding, a new laptop and promotional materials Vihurzhynska immediately targeted a high-traffic spot: “I went straight to the large shopping mall to negotiate a possible location. The owner responded that their best spaces were always available for [the library] and told me to go ahead and choose a spot I liked most!”

The town residents welcomed the initiative: “It’s great that the librarians don’t sit around in their offices and turn to people instead. They realize it’s time to use new approaches and activities,” says City Council Deputy Serhiy Chepernatyi, who is an active patron himself. Younger patrons were eager to volunteer by distributing leaflets and inviting everyone to use library services. Library staff members were really excited as well. “I didn’t expect my colleagues to take up the task without hesitation and hit the street right away. All they needed was an opportunity,” shares Ms. Vihurzhynska.

Once the space was set up, librarians visited the mall once every two weeks on the busiest days to offer books, newspapers, and magazines, along with free internet access, to the visitors and vendors. The library reported 665 new patrons and 649 more visits compared to the same period a year ago. According to the librarians, the initiative was ‘eye-opening’ for many people who learned about the full range of library services. Although the project was initially planned for only three months, its success inspired the library to continue the campaign.

In Vinnytsia, the oblast children’s library permanently relocated to spacious premises in a new shopping mall downtown. During the summer, librarians complemented their traditional school and kindergarten visits with weekly activities near the library premises.

Hosting libraries in malls is just one way that Ukrainian librarians are reinventing their spaces. In the summer of 2011, Vinnytsia Timiryazev Oblast Universal Scientific Library pitched a tent in the street, inviting passers-by to read new books and magazines, browse the web, and learn about clubs at the library. Visitors left comments as “messages on the wall,” and many spoke to the communities’ enthusiasm: “It was awesome! Thanks for the initiative and a place to relax.”; “It’s really convenient – an intellectual ‘lunch’ in the open air”; “All I can say is ‘Wow!’ The library is the best! I love you.”

The tent was especially popular among students and businesspeople, who were inspired to become regular library users. “I pass the library every day, but it’s the tent that prompted me to finally subscribe as a patron,” said one of the 1,068 new people to sign up for a library card. These achievements inspired library staff in other regions to replicate the project in their community.

Bibliomist is a five year IREX program that equips libraries with computers and helps librarians implement new services.