Deb Czarnik, Library Manager for Technical Services and Collection Development for Lee County Library System, shares her experience promoting digital downloads at the Southwest Florida Reading Festival.

Southwest Florida Reading Festival

On a beautiful spring Saturday in Southwest Florida, we celebrated reading, literacy, and libraries at our 11th Annual Southwest Florida Reading Festival. Nearly 20,000 attendees came to see their favorite authors, like Lisa Scottoline, R.L. Stine, James Grippando and Chris Claremont. Set in downtown Fort Myers, the festival has programs for large crowds in the Harborside Event Center, outdoor venues for kids and teens, an exhibit hall for local authors, vendors and library services, and an outdoor food court.

The event lasts only six hours from 10 am to 4 pm, but it packs a lot of activity into one day. Activities include author presentations, book giveaways, book signings, a mock TV broadcast booth, library card registrations and much more. Tucked away in the corner of a chaotic exhibit hall, a library team busily demonstrated the Download Depot, Lee County Library System’s OverDrive service. The team of four talked to a steady stream of about 400 people, showing the web site on projected screens, along with hands-on demos of eBooks and audiobooks on a Droid phone, Sony Reader, iPod and an MP3 player. The Download Depot booth drew quite a bit of attention, initially because of the MP3 drawing and giveaways of bright orange ear buds, but then caught more attention as people pulled their spouses closer saying, “Check this out! Did you know the library had eBooks”. The eyes of kids and teens were caught by the Astro Boy videos or cover art of their favorite authors flashing on large screens. People stopped to see the Sony Reader, which many thought was a Kindle, making it a great opportunity to educate the public about e-reader compatibility with library downloads BEFORE they made a purchase.

Preparation for the festival starts a year in advance, but it reaches a crescendo about a month before the event, when advertising activity goes into full swing. This year, our download services were included in the media outreach from the start, with local news interviews, newspaper articles and social media. Using a dedicated Twitter account (@downloaddepot), we sent dozens of tweets about the festival and the Download Depot. With links to our website and a special Reading Festival authors collection on our OverDrive site, social media was an ideal tool for promoting the Reading Festival event and our library system’s OverDrive service.

Surveys and usage statistics help us evaluate the success of the event, and the Reading Festival has shown great success and steady growth over 10 years, but what of our little booth in the corner? There were dozens of interactions with the public when we witnessed “that moment” of understanding and the excitement to try it, to prove that this venue is worthwhile. There are other clues too. Logistically, we had to double our booth space and staff after the first year, in order to handle the crowds. On the event survey, a common answer to What new thing did you learn about the library? was “downloadable books”. But the most telling sign of success this year was a twenty-two percent (22%) increase in OverDrive activity from February to March! There’s no question that we’ll continue THIS promotion.

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