We Await Your Owl: Marketing and Collaboration Around the Harry Potter’s World Exhibition

Circulating Now welcomes guest blogger Eva Sclippa,  formerly at The Libraries at Alfred University in New York State and currently at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.  Drawn from a presentation given as part of a bimonthly webcast series hosted by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine called “NNLM Resource Picks,” this post is second in a series of four exploring how libraries around the country build programming around NLM traveling exhibitions.

Photograph of invitation style marketing materials.It’s hard not to bring some magic into the library when you’re setting up an entire event series about Harry Potter. The popularity of J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard crosses generational boundaries in a way that makes it easier than usual to get a variety of patron groups fired up about your library’s programming. But there are still ways to improve your reach. When The Libraries at Alfred University had the opportunity to host the National Library of Medicine’s traveling exhibit Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine in the fall of 2015, we carefully planned our marketing and collaboration strategies to make sure as many patrons as possible got to experience our wizarding world.

Marketing can sound like a dirty word, but in a library setting, it can be vital to getting your patrons connected to your events and resources. After the end of our event series, we ran a survey as part of our assessment of the program. Among the information this provided us was insight into which of our marketing tactics had been most successful in reaching our audience. The top four were, in order, Alfred Today (a university-wide daily updates email), flyers and posters—particularly in dorms, word of mouth, and Hogwarts acceptance letters (more on this later in the article!).

Not all institutions have a comparable daily newsletter, and, of course, word of mouth is difficult to control, but the flyers and acceptance letters are easily reproduced at other libraries. Two guiding strategies seemed key for our success with flyers and posters: visual consistency and reaching out to the residence hall team to distribute our flyers in the dorms. Visual consistency is vital for any form of graphic communication. In our case, it allowed people to quickly identify flyers that were connected to our series and gave a greater sense of professionalism. This meant that patrons who were interested in the series as a whole could more easily pick out relevant flyers about our upcoming events.

Working with the residence life staff was a newer approach for us. We arranged to meet with the staff and resident advisors (RAs) during their first training session of the year, and presented to the group on both the Harry Potter’s World project and a personal librarians program that assigned individual librarians to students, which we had recently developed. As a result, we were able to recruit the RAs as peer voices, spreading the word about Library initiatives to their residents and fellow students. They also brought our flyers and printed materials directly into the residence halls, where students were much more likely to notice them than in academic buildings or around town.

Of course, it would be a serious oversight to create an event series focused on Harry Potter and not make use of some of the uniquely identifiable items from the wizarding world. Some of our most iconic print materials were the acceptance letters we produced, based on the Hogwarts acceptance letters from Rowling’s books. Containing the URL to our LibGuide, relevant contact information, and a full program of events, these letters were a memorable, eye-catching way to engage our audience and make our program stand out from muggle Library events. Long time Harry Potter fans at Alfred were, naturally, thrilled to hear they’d finally be getting their own acceptance letters, and some even collected spares.

Photograph of the Hogwarts Acceptance Letter marketing materials.

The broad appeal of Harry Potter also made collaborations with groups outside the Libraries an obvious fit for our program. When planning such partnerships, we found it helpful to think of these other groups as external (outside of the University) and internal (other departments or divisions within the central institution). External partners can be harder to find, but in our case led to some of our best attended events, including the Hogsmeade Market Day, in which the local farmer’s market was transformed into a Harry Potter-themed fair. Our internal collaborations were also highly successful, including a partnership with the Pre-Vet Club that led to our best attended event of all—the live owl demonstration, “Care of Magical Creatures” class.

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Best practices for approaching potential new partners are the same for both external and internal partners. We found that the key step is to have a specific plan or idea when you reach out, rather than leaving the options wide open. People are more likely to participate if they can get some sense from you of what you’re hoping for and don’t have to come up with something from scratch, and of course you’re more likely to get the kind of collaboration you want if you lay it out in advance.

A fun, exciting traveling exhibit is a great starting point for a wide-ranging library event series. Consider what marketing options might be best for your institution, mine your thematic material for ideas, and reach out to community partners with a potential plan, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful program.

In late 2016, the University of Washington, based in Seattle, Washington, which serves as the Pacific Northwest Region (PNR) National Network library, hosted a brief questionnaire, using Survey Monkey, asking librarians what they would want to learn about hosting a National Library of Medicine traveling banner exhibition. Over 250 representatives from libraries across the country responded with questions, ideas, and preferences. Their replies shaped this webinar.

Eva Sclippa is the First Year Engagement Librarian at University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Prior to that, she was the Art Librarian and Coordinator of Instruction at the Libraries at Alfred University. She can be reached at sclippae@uncw.edu.

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