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Author of the Month

Chicago Public Library, IL
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Innovation Summary

Author of the Month was a year-long transmedia project to increase exposure to, and engagement with, Chicago Public Library’s (CPL) elementary school-level collections, featuring a new work by one author each month and providing diverse access points to it for a wide audience.

Innovation Leader: Andrew Medlar, Assistant Commissioner for Collections, amedlar@chipublib.org

Problem Statement

During a time of reduced capacity for supporting in-person author visits and staff training on literature, it was important to find ways to connect both users and staff to new content for this important age group on a regular basis. We were also interested in providing a ready-made programming opportunity not just for Chicago Public Library’s children and young adult services librarians, but for teachers, school librarians, homeschoolers, neighborhood book groups, and anyone else in the world with access to our web site.

Innovation

The core of this project was a digital experience in CPL’s virtual branch which included: • A personalized video greeting from the author, which ranged from a invitation to interact with the book (Deborah Hopkinson), to a reading of the first chapter of the featured text (Marianne Malone), to insight into their inspiration and process (Grace Lin), to an “Author of the Month Happy Dance” (Adam Rex). • A Q&A which included Chicago-centric questions to customize and enhance the connection between the author and Chicago’s kids. • CPL librarian-created extension activities to connect the book experience to opportunities for location exploration, community partners, CPL’s electronic resource collection, and art and literacy activities. • Discussion questions to support text engagement, increase the critical thinking skills of interpretation and analysis, and facilitate reflective exercises. • Readers advisory elements of recommended read-alikes and other works by the author as well as links to additional resources. Discovery was aided for on-site browsers by the development of full color “shelf talkers” distributed to every CPL location with the author’s photo and a QR code link to the online content and Catalog, and marketing components included Tweeting, Facebook posts, email signatures, and word of mouth.

Progress

We anticipated this would: • Increase awareness, circulation, and in-house use of new titles in a wide range of genres and by authors of diverse backgrounds and perspectives • Inspire branch promotion and programming around the literature • Support school use of the titles • Strengthen partnerships with publishers • Promote the use of additional related content across the print and digital collections • Drive traffic to the For Kids section of our web site We also wanted to provide special out-of-school time content for group and self-directed engagement by underserved ages in every neighborhood of the City, particularly those who have never had the opportunity to experience such a rich author exploration. These were successfully borne out and the aggregate circulation of the featured titles exceeded 6,000 across all print, audio, and electronic formats, with the web content being accessed more than 6,500 times. A well managed staff-time commitment concentrated in central administrative offices provided support to front-line staff that was cost effective and minimally impactful, and benefited thousands of users by enriching their library and literacy experience. The value of partnerships with the publishers was reinforced as they worked with the authors to develop content contributions and leveraged their own communication channels to promote their participation. Cooperation proved to be key internally with CPL’s web developer and Marketing team, and coordination with our Acquisitions Department and materials vendor was critically important to ensure the books were available across CPL concurrently with the web content.