Soccer + Serendipity = Success @ PPL
Princeton Public Library has recently discovered that the axiom “the best plan is no plan” can sometimes be applied to outreach and programming at public libraries. We have had a unique experience for the last several weeks surrounding the World Cup — it is a story of serendipity, an unintentional buzz campaign, and common sense — it also has elements of a smart mob and lots of use of the old-fashioned grapevine method of communication.
In the early June Chris Ducko, our building manager, had a request from a patron if they could watch the afternoon match of a World Cup game somewhere in the library. Our high-tech community room was not being used, so Chris turned it on for him. The next day he came back with a few friends and from there the crowd continued to grow through word of mouth around town. We had suddenly become THE place in town to watch soccer! In fact, by the time we reached the match between France and Brazil we had a large crowd of about 70 who had gathered to watch and cheer on their team.
We had done no marketing and we had no plan to do this … but it was making people happy, so why not do it? I was at the reference desk on Thursday afternoon on the 2nd floor and I could hear the cheers coming clearly from our first floor community room.
We have a great community room with a large movie size screen of about 16×16 feet, a state-of-the-art surround sound system, air-conditioning, clean bathrooms close by and a great library cafe that offers coffee, soda and scrumptious food that can be eaten while you watch. For many people, our “community living room” offers better ammenities than their own homes, plus you get the excitement of watching with others.
This afternoon is the finals between France and Italy and we are expecting it to be packed to capacity. Our word of mouth phenomenon even got some press this past friday in an article that appeared in the Princeton Packet — an article that also occured by serendipty. A reporter was in the library interviewing Leslie Burger for a different article, one about her upcoming term as president of ALA, and noticed the crowd watching the game. He talked to a few staff members and we got a front page story as a result.
To highlight a bit of the article:
“There’s a good distribution of genders, nationalities — it’s exactly what the World Cup is about,” Mr. Keith said. “It’s very indicative of the shift in libraries.” He said Princeton Public Library’s goal is for the library to embrace all forms of media. “Why preferentially treat one type of media?” he asked. Mr. Keith described the soccer tournament as “the world getting together” and, he added, “This is our little piece of it.” Reader Services and Programming Librarian Sue Roth said the spontaneous gathering for matches has been “amazing.” She added, “It really is a sense of watching it with the community.”
Princeton Public Library has been called a “programming machine”, we offer over 1,000 programs on an annual basis, and yet one of our bigger success stories of this summer is something that we did not plan… makes you stop and go “hmmmmm”.
I am off to the library in a few moments. I will take some pictures to share… and write the final update on soccer mania at the library.
p.s./ We have also been showing Wimbledon matches between soccer games recently and we may try to cover the Tour de France as well… stay tuned.