To newsletter or not to newsletter, that is the question

A hot topic of debate on many librarian listservs is the usefulness of newsletters. Are they worth the time and energy? Do people actually ready them? Are they an effective means of communication? The answer is a resounding “sorta, kinda, yeah.”

We send out an electronic newsletter once a month. We’ve been doing this for a year and until this month published twice a month. I found that I scrambled for articles and that most people didn’t realize we published twice monthly. So, now we are focused on once a month with quality articles. Our newsletter is sent out to faculty, staff, students and our Board of Trustees. In other words, we have a broad audience. Over the past year we’ve watched our readership nearly double in terms of students and increase steadily by faculty and staff. I’ve tried to analyze how we’ve done that for you.

First, to get the technical questions out of the way. My college subscribes to an e-newsletter program called Campaign Monitor. Find out if your alumni, publicity or web departments use an e-newsletter program or could help you obtain/build one. Campaign Monitor is cost-effective, allows me to break out lists (staff, faculty, students) to collect readership stats, and mimics most blogging or word processing tools.

A 12% open rate (meaning that the email was opened; we can also get info on what links readers clicked on) for e-newsletters is considered high. So starting with that piece of information can help you gauge success. Our faculty/staff readership is 19%; a year ago it was 14%. Our student readership started out at 5.1% and is now steady at 9%ish.  Some things we do:

  1. Give it a snazzy subject line. I went from “Library Newsletter February 2010” to “Apps, online courses and other signs of spring.” When I got to put Harry Potter in a subject line, that was pure gold.
  2. Pictures. They add life and dimension and interest. Use them.
  3. Enlist others to write articles. Students doing nothing on the desk? They can write an article on the student perspective of Fill-in-the-blank. They will read it and ask their friends if they read it. Get professors to write about how they use Clickers or their fave database.
  4. Think outside of your library walls. We are purveyors of information, so we cover other purveyors of information on campus. Like the Career Center and how they get info to students. Or the Admissions Office, or Dean of Students. People love reading about themselves! We write about information and technology on campus, not just within our department.
  5. We have regular features like Student Spotlight of the Month in which we highlight a student worker. We also have the Helpful Tip of the month which is anything from using email better to searching databases.
  6. We write about larger trends, how they are used around us and on campus. For example, we wrote about apps, explaining what they are for the technologically-challenged and then talking about students use them on campus. We interviewed students on how they use them and what they mean to them. We had a poli sci prof write about the use of social media around the world recently.

By making our e-newsletter something bigger than ourselves, we are able to capture readers and ensnare them in our little web. Honestly, I used to stress a lot about our newsletter, but once we started going outside the library and expanding our scope, it became easier to produce.

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