Thursday, October 27, 2005

Changing habits - one habit at a time

Author visits are something that we do as part of our credo of bringing people and information together. For a small public library we have been pretty brave in inviting well-known personalities such as Jackie French and Sandra Cabot to visit our very small neck of the woods. Generally these authors will waive their normal speaking fee, or curtail it significantly, and we only have to foot the bill for their travel and accommodation.

Normally it goes something like this - we may be contemplating a particular theme - one of the staff members suggests a few names - we search for their contacts on the web - we email the author explaining who we are and what we want to achieve - we are surprised and delighted at an early and positive response - we negotiate a date - we do our lead in promos (flyers, press releases, community notices, advertising - some days I feel my job is exclusively about marketing), pick the celebrity up at the airport, trundle them around to our various activities (typically wine and cheese nights and/or straight out lecture style talks); put them up overnight and if possible show them around a bit; take celebrity back to airport; breathe sigh of relief that all has gone well.

We have just had another author visit us and she, too, was a delight to have. She is perhaps a bit lesser known than our previous guests - Cyndi O'Meara is a nutritionist who has written a book called "Changing habits changing lives" which has been a reasonable solid seller for Penguin. One of the staff members saw her being interviewed on TV, and ... well, the tried and true strategy kicked into action. During her 24 hour visit she called in at our local retirement village, giving a talk to a small but enthusiastic "crowd" of 6 ladies; a public lecture at the library drawing a very respectable turnout of 32 people; and as she had to stay overnight and catch a mid morning flight, we organised a healthy walk at 6 am followed by an over breakfast talk al fresco with the idyllic setting of the marina as backdrop from 7 - 8 am. For this we charged $20 a head ($15 of which went to the restaurant who supplied a healthy brekky based on Cyndi's recipes). Now I don't want to brag, but with all this talk about "virtual" services , how many other libraries out there are really going beyond their physical walls to deliver services to their customers? There are now 25 people who can now talk about the wonderful experience their library provided to them whilst possibly motivating them towards a life changing healthier lifestyle!! And even the pre- and post-publicity works to draw attention to both the message and the library for a wider audience than the actual attendees.

So what goals did we achieve with all this effort?

  • Promoted the library as a source of information about health and lifestyle
  • Brought seekers of knowledge about health and lifestyle into direct contact with an accredited information source
  • Promoted a healthier community
  • Brought people with similar interests within the community into contact with each other
  • Made people happy, laugh, and have fun, and some even got some exercise!

In addition, even some of the library staff changed their habits for the better! In fact a funny thing happened at the supermarket on the evening after Cyndi's visit - another member of staff, C, and I bumped into each other when we were both starting our shopping. We met each other again about 5 aisles on, and each of us surreptitiously checked out each others' purchases so far - I saw that C, like myself, only had about 5 lonely items rattling around in the bottom of the trolley, when usually by aisle 5 the trolley would have been full! We had both been carefully analysing product labels based on Cyndi's healthy message and rejected nearly everything! We didn't need to say anything, we just burst out laughing uncontrollably right there in the middle of the supermarket! And as a postscript, C and I both greeted each other early the next morning at the farmers' market where we were stocking up on all the fresh produce we could lay our hands on, along with many of the public who had attended Cyndi's events...


  • If staff did change habits, there must be some programme participants who did too. And it's these subtle outcomes that don't get measured. Unless library customers blog about it, maybe.

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