I have been to more than few conference sessions on marketing, outreach, and how to get the word out about all the awesome things libraries are doing. And well-funded systems point out all these initiatives they were able to take on that had a fantastic return on investment. But the first question in the Q&A is almost inevitably:
“So, what if your library doesn’t have any money to make that stuff happen?”
I have worked in libraries like that for the last five years. We were never on the verge of closing our doors, but there isn’t a lot of money for extras. However, something that we’ve been able to do at the West Georgia Regional Library is to buy equipment that allows us to bring production in-house and cut our costs while expanding our capabilities.
Our first purchase was an HP DesignJet T120. It’s a large format printer that prints on 24 inch rolls of vinyl. Now, the vinyl is thin and isn’t meant for outdoor use, but having this printer means that we can print banners for internal initiatives, important programs, and for consistent advertising. The printer itself was less than $500, and the supplies run to be less than $1 per foot printed. Stack that against VistaPrint which starts out charging $15 for a 3 foot banner, and bringing this in-house has allowed to have way more banners than we otherwise would have.
It also has led our staff to be more creative when it comes to advertising. For instance, several of our branches have had us redo signing for moving sections to bring more attention to growing parts of their libraries. Another branch has had me make reusable vinyl prints of their storytime songs so that they can be seen by everyone and reused repeatedly. After having it for a year, I don’t know what we would do without it.
Our next purchase was a padding press. We do a fair amount of outreach, but having giveaways besides paper can be difficult due to the expense of ordering knickknacks that are immediately going to walk away. In times when finances are still tight, it can be tough for some libraries to justify that expense. Our new training person Justin and I were talking one day, and I mentioned I wish we could make tearaway pads for use as giveaways. Justin mentioned that he used to work in a print shop, and a low cost padding press would easily fit in my office.
The press and the supplies for 400 pads came to less than $150. We bought a nice heavy-duty rotary cutter to make sure we’d have straight edges for another $100. The cheapest price I was able to find online was about $2 apiece for scratch pads. So in addition to having giveaways that we can readily produce and use without scrambling, we are also piloting a new program advertising guest access to our e-magazine collection that will be placed in waiting rooms around our region. People can tear a sheet of instructions away and read up-to-date magazines while they wait.
Sure, we don’t have everything I want. I would love to have a budget to get things professionally printed more often. I would love it if we had higher quality printers and I could ordered branded items to my heart’s content. But small and mighty can be, well…mighty. These tools have allowed us to extend our reach and offer up services to our branches that we otherwise would not have been financially able to. And so I’m an advocate of bringing production in-house and keeping the markup that exists on printed materials in your own bank account.