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Libraries Read: 1 Book wrap up

Library staff throughout Indiana and Michigan read and discussed “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” by Jonah Berger this summer. The discussions, led and sponsored by MCLS, resulted in various ideas for how libraries can use the principles of marketing presented in the book to make library services and messages go viral. Berger presents six principles that he says “drive all sorts of things to become popular, from consumer products to policy initiatives.” He posits that we should follow these STEPPS (or as many of them as possible) to craft contagious content.

Social currency

People care about how they look to others. They want to seem smart, cool, and in-the-know.

book cover image for ContagiousHow do we make people feel like insiders? Library staff had many ideas for how we already accomplish this, and new things we could try.  Some of the ideas suggested were:

  • “Friends only” preview book sales
  • Special library cards for volunteers (Kokomo Howard County has a silver card for young volunteers and a gold card for adult volunteers.)
  • Summer reading clubs and book clubs
  • Library rewards program. Patrons earn rewards at local businesses for using the library. Mention was made of the My Library Rewards program. An example of a library using this program is the Plainfield, Indiana Public Library. Another variation of this suggestion was the patrons could present their library card at local businesses for discounts or special offers.
  • Personal service was also discussed. Everything from curbside delivery to drone delivery, as well as making people feel special by using “I” instead of “the Library” and “you”, instead of library patrons. “I will renew that for you.”
  • Start young and let a child open the door to the book drop.
  • Giving patrons access to cutting edge technology, like the Arapahoe County (CO) Public Library.
  • Customizing the 1000 books before kindergarten program with a custom journal and a special backpack.
  • “Preferred Customers” night: Give select patrons an opportunity to try database trials, debut new products, participate in usability testing. Preferred customer could be friends members, volunteers, high volume borrowers…maybe call it something else.
  • Produce a song/video about your 14 digit access code to virtual materials.
  • Using “Wowbrary” to announce new titles prepub.

Social currency also includes leveraging game mechanics to get people talking.  Participants came up with some elements that libraries can gamify.

  • Read away your fines
  • Earn a comic book when you sign up for a library card
  • For Summer Reading Programs—change the name to Summer Reading Challenge.
  • Create a group competition for Summer Reading, in which schools compete against each other for a trophy that gets passed around. Everybody wins.
  • Utilize digital leader boards for number of minutes spent reading.
  • To market the library as open 24/7—utilize social media to ask people how they used the library at 4am.
  • Have social media contests about virtual materials. If you download the mystery Freegal song you win a prize.
  • Battle of the books.
  • For Summer Reading Program—badges emailed to participants for levels achieved, that they can share on their social media.
  • Also for Summer Reading—Bingo Card with reading from different genres. Take Bingo card into community to earn discounts or prizes from local businesses.
  • Earn points for checking out materials to level up to drone delivery. (Yes, you will keep seeing “drone delivery” come up in our discussion!)


Top-of-mind means tip of tongue, so consider context and grow your habitat so that people are frequently triggered to think about your product or idea.

What are some natural triggers for the library, or how can we grow our habitat so that people are frequently triggered to think about our product or idea?

  • The Cloud and library access to ebooks, Freegal, streaming media
  • Libraries and learning
  • Libraries and books
  • Libraries and summer reading
  • The library card makes people think of the library
  • The universal library symbol
  • Summer slide and libraries (preventing it)
  • Fitness and summer reading
  • Children and the library
  • Nostalgia and the library
  • Associate a day of the week with new book day—the day you always put out new books.  Wowbrary Wednesday.
  • Coffee and libraries
  • Libraries and intellectual freedom
  • Libraries and safe places (although not always true)
  • Libraries and free movies
  • Libraries and a place to socialize
  • Library and family destination
  • Library book drops at grocery stores—every time you go to the grocery store you see the book drop and begin to make a connection.
  • Library and adventure
  • Drone = Delivery


When we care we share. Emotional content often goes viral.  So focus on feelings rather than function, and kindle the fire using high arousal emotions. 

How can libraries focus on feelings and kindle the fire using high arousal emotions?’

  • Children’s programs and photos always generate happy emotions
  • Ask patrons “what have we done for you lately”?
  • Create something along the lines of throw back Thursday for patrons to tell stories of using the library as children, or favorite memories of using the library.
  • Genealogy services evoke emotions.
  • The Lake County (IN) Public Library has “wow” cards instead of comment cards, so patrons can say what wowed them at the Library. Comments are posted online.
  • Drone delivery is exciting


Built to show, built to grow. The more public something is, the more likely people will imitate it.  Design products and initiatives that advertise themselves and create some behavioral residue. 

How can our products or services advertise themselves?  How can we leave visible social residue?

  • Drop boxes at remote locations like grocery stores makes use of the library public
  • Library card—using it for rewards at other locations, hanging it on a lanyard around neck, card on key chain.
  • Book bags
  • Window cling that says “my kid participated in summer reading challenge”
  • Logo for profile pages—participating in summer reading
  • Share buttons for library virtual products
  • Vendors develop badging that talks to ILS
  • Yard signs for summer reading participation
  • Library card selfies
  • Digital leader boards
  • Drone pulls a banner with a logo on it
  • Drone has a specific sound identified with it (like an ice cream truck does)
  • Materials delivered by drone have a special sleeve (delivered by drone-and the drone has a name)

Practical value

News you can use. Useful things get shared. So highlight incredible value and package knowledge and expertise so that people can easily pass it on.  How can we highlight our incredible value and package knowledge and expertise so that people can easily pass it on?

  • Library Hacks: Vines on how to access on ebook, video on how to download an app to your phone, video about INSPIRE GED materials.
  • Life Hacks—how to get a divorce, wifi hotspot, showcasing technology
  • Emphasize it is all free
  • Use infographics
  • Market a drone design contest to promote STEAM learning and partner with local schools.
  • Value calculators
  • Receipts showing value of the materials checked out—ILS report on total value of materials checked out in one year.
  • Sign like McDonald’s—a big digital door counter that everyone can see the number when they walk in the door
  • Orion Public Library (Michigan) participates in Libraries for Life (organ donation awareness/sign up).
  • Drone delivery saves time and gas money for patrons.


Information travels under what seems like idle chatter.  Stories are vessels. So build a Trojan horse; a narrative or story that people want to tell which carries your idea along for the ride.

  • Military wife Skyping with husband at the library—Trojan horse story
  • Post the “wow” cards online
  • Nostalgia—use the throw back Thursday concept again.
  • The first drone delivery to a homebound child who wants to be an engineer=a great story.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Twitter and in-person discussions for all these ideas.