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The strategy your library needs to improve email engagement

Welcome to episode 004 of Library Figures. In each episode, we interview a new guest and hear about one of their favorite marketing strategies. In this episode, we have the pleasure of  speaking with Angela Hursh for a second time, this time focusing on her success with email marketing strategies. She shares with us how she keeps her cardholders engaged and aware of new content coming into the library, what a typical email marketing campaign might look like, how her library takes advantage of the email software, Orange Boy, and how she schedules her marketing content.

Key Takeaways:

How to keep cardholders engaged and aware of new content;
Orange Boy vs. Mailchimp;
Ideas for what content to include in your libraries email newsletter;
Engaging teens through email marketing;
Key metrics your email marketing campaign should be using;
Email marketing trends;

If you enjoyed this episode then you won’t want to miss our first interview with Angela Hursh in episode 01.

“They’re looking for things to read that are not things that their teachers are asking them to read…”


Without further ado, we introduce episode 004 of Library Figures with Angela Hursh.

Email Marketing with Angela Hursh
Angela Hursh

Read the Episode Below

[00:00:32] Tyler Byrd:
Hey, Angela. Welcome back. As most of our listeners know, you were our very first podcast guest ever. And now, you’re going to be our first repeat guest ever. So, hey, thank you so much for taking the time to jump back on the show and share some more about the marketing strategies and tools that you’re using to see such huge results at your library. If you’re a new listener, and you didn’t hear that episode, I would definitely encourage you to go back and listen.

Angela shared with us some of the strategies that she’s been using to drive really significant results when it comes to increased attendance at her library’s events. I think it’s something that any library could easily use to see very similar results. Okay, today though, we’re going to be talking about email marketing and the tools and strategies that she’s using right now to drive even better results when it comes to total and digital circulation. I think it’s something all of you are going to love. So, Angela, without further ado, why don’t you take it from there and dive right on in.

[00:01:28] Angela Hursh:
Well, thanks for having me back. And email marketing is honestly my favorite tactic to reach out to our cardholders at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County because it’s easy to create, and it’s very effective. So, at our library, we use a system created by a company here in Ohio. The company is Orange Boy. And they have a platform, and it’s called Savannah. And the great thing about it is that it breaks down your library cardholders based on how they use their card. So, they create personas or clusters. But instead of doing demographic breakdowns, they’re using cardholder data. It’s integrated with our ILS system.

And so we’re able to send messages to people that are targeted to how we already know that they want to use their card. So, for instance, if someone is really into eBooks and checks out a lot of eBooks on Overdrive or Hoopla, we can send them messages about new eBooks coming into our collection. And we know it’s going to a person who will likely check out an eBook. The same thing goes for print books, for children’s items.

We have a cluster that’s targeted towards folks who just check out DVD’s. There’s a cluster for people who use our Wi-Fi and our computers in our building. So, it’s really targeted. And I find it to be incredibly affective. But a lot of libraries are using other methods to create personas or clusters with other platforms like Mail Chimp and Constant Contact.

[00:03:15] Tyler Byrd:
So, this is integrating directly with your ILS then to bucket patrons based on circulation and usage behaviors that you can market to them via email.


She's redefining how we think about library websites.

[00:03:25] Angela Hursh:
That’s correct. Now, let me be really clear, because I know a lot of librarians are worried about privacy policy. So, Orange Boy will tell us what kind of item a person is checking out but not the actual item. So, there are limitations. For instance, if somebody checks out a lot of print books, but really the only thing that they’re reading is mysteries, and it’s just showing up in Savannah as they are a print book user, I might be sending them email messages about books that are not mysteries that they have absolutely no interest in. But I’m kind of limited in that way with the privacy stuff, because I can’t see exactly what it is they’re checking out, just the type of item that they’re most attracted to.

[00:04:09] Tyler Byrd:
Okay, got it. So, we can’t target them based on preferences for genre. But we can help them find content that’s available in the format that they like. Now, is that a restriction of your library or of Orange Boy and the software?

[00:04:22] Angela Hursh:
That is a restriction of Orange Boy and the software, yeah. And most libraries that I’ve talked to that use Orange Boy are fine with that. Because as I said, I think librarians are in particular very concerned about the privacy of their cardholders. So, they are more willing than other marketers in other spaces to work within those type parameters.

[00:04:43] Tyler Byrd:
Got it. Makes total sense. Now, tell me, before Orange Boy, what were you using?

[00:04:48] Angela Hursh:
Before Orange Boy, we were using Mail Chimp, and we were not doing any kind of collection based email marketing. So, all of our marketing was newsletter or event marketing.

[00:05:00] Tyler Byrd:   
Okay, so real generic at that point, everyone gets the same email.

[00:05:03] Angela Hursh:
Yep. And that was about five years ago. And yeah, it was in the era of, “Let’s send it to every single one of our cardholders. So, for us, we’ve got upwards of 200,000 cardholder emails in our database. That’s a lot of people. And many of them are not interested in the things that were in the newsletters. But we didn’t use that system for very long after I got here. So, a couple of months after I started is when we switched over to Orange Boy, and it’s just been great ever since.

[00:05:35] Tyler Byrd:
All right, so tell me this – why do you think this is so important, and then are you also monitoring any of the engagement and what happens after you’re sending those emails out?

[00:05:44] Angela Hursh:
Yes. So, I am a huge advocate of collection email marketing. And there are many libraries that are coming on board finally. I’ve kind of been preaching and screaming from the rooftops for quite a while about the fact that I think that libraries are behind the eight ball in terms of marketing by email their collection. And there are a lot of reasons for that. There are a lot of libraries out there who have budget concerns. And they’re worried that if they actually promote the collection that the holds list will be too long, and people will get frustrated.

They won’t have enough copies. So, I’ve tried to alleviate some of those concerns with the talks that I’ve done and some blogs that I’ve written about this subject. Because honestly, if you think about… If you ask people, “Why are you signing up for a library card,” the number one reason has been and probably always will be so that they can check out items. So, they’re interested in stuff. And they’re not particularly interested for the most part in the old stuff. They’re looking for new books, new records, new DVD’s. They’re trying to get access to all that stuff that you might have to spend money on at Amazon, or Walmart, or whatever for free using their card.

And we spend a lot of time talking about the value of a library card but not a lot of time actually letting people know the exact things that they can get with that card. So, I do a lot of specific new book, new item collection marketing. And trace the engagement rates on all of those messages. So, that means not only open and click rates, but how many holds and checkouts happen after the email is sent out.

[00:07:03] Tyler Byrd:  
So, tell me this – how are you actually tracking that? Most libraries that I know can’t track when a user goes from the email to the website and then to the third party catalogue. Because once they move from that website to the third party catalogue, there’s no more tracking code that exists. And so they can’t tie that conversion or that increased check out to the email campaign. So, how are you doing it? How do you know what’s going on here?

[00:07:56] Angela Hursh:
The library marketers should be…when they’re creating these email messages with links to specific books or items, they should be using the link from the catalogue, and they should be using tracking links. So, there are two big ways that I do that. One is just with Bitly. We have a Bitly subscription, so we have a specific short link, and I can track those clicks through there. Or you can use Google. Google Analytics URL tracker, which I do quite often also. Using that is a little more cumbersome. I find their product is a little harder to work with. But it still works to track. Folks are actually getting into that specific item in the catalogue. And then the rest of it, quite honestly, is just me doing math.

So, what happens is once a month, we send these new item messages out. Let’s take the print one, for instance. So, my folks in the collection department pick three new books that they think folks are going to be interested in. They send me the links to the books in the catalogue. I create the email message. For each of those three books, I create a special tracking link that I embed in the email message. So when somebody clicks on that, like the book cover or the name of the book within the email message, it tracks that they’ve gone straight to that item in the catalogue.

And then they place a hold. And so before the email messages goes out, I look a those three books, and I write down how many holds and checkouts there are. And then I wait three days after the email has been sent out to recheck the number of holds and checkouts. And I picked the three-day number because over the course of doing all of these emails for the last five years, I’ve just anecdotally noted that if someone is going to take an action, if they’re going to click on an item in an email, they’re gonna do it within the first three days of receiving it.

Usually actually they put the hold the first day that they get it. But we give folks who might need to save that email and go back to it later…we give them three days to get to it. Is it true that it’s possible other people coming to the catalogue are finding that book and checking it out? Yes. And I don’t have the technology to be able to say that those checkouts are coming specifically from my messages. But I have instructed my collections department to pick books that are not being promoted anywhere else like on the home page because they also send books to be promoted on the homepage to our website manager.

And we make sure that we’re not promoting those books on any other social media platform. So, we can be pretty sure that if we have 150 holds placed on a book in the first two or three days after an email message is sent, most of those are going to be coming from the email. Because that book is not being promoted anywhere else.

[00:10:49] Tyler Byrd:
Got it. I like this. So, a little bit manual process. But at the end of the day, you’re able to tie back exactly what’s happening via email or via your social media feeds because you’ve removed all of the other variables, and you know that the only variable left or the only source of traffic left is really that organic or that promotional channel that you’re sending it out from. So, with that though, you’re doing what a baseline…looking at what the checkout was for that content previously, and then what the increase is, and looking at that difference to say, “Hey, this is the impact that we’ve had.”

[00:11:25] Angela Hursh:  
Absolutely. That’s it. [Laughs] I use an online percentage calculator to help me because I’m really bad at math. But then I can tell what the percentage increase in circulation was for that book in the three days following a message.

[00:11:38] Tyler Byrd:
All right. So, can you share with us an example of what that looks like?

[00:11:41] Angela Hursh:
Well, as a matter of fact, I was working yesterday on going through… So, once a month, I go through all of the statistics for the month prior and start doing the calculations. Because I like to be kind of on top of it so that if I see something…if there’s a trend in the way people are engaging with the message that I can adjust my messages the next month to accommodate that trend. So, I was going through yesterday. I was going through October’s messages. There’s a weird thing that I’ve noticed in the last couple of months. And it’s hard for me to explain exactly why this is happening. But I’m getting ready to write a blog post about this, too.

There is a perception among libraries that we have a really difficult time engaging with teenagers. One of the clusters within Orange Boy is called Bright Futures, and those are teens… I think they’re between the ages of 13 and 18 who are frequent users of the library. And I don’t know the exact statistic, but they have to use the library a certain amount of times within a 90-day period to get put into this Bright Futures cluster. There are only…at my library, there’s only about 5,000 or 6,000 kids who are part of that cluster. But over the last couple of months, they’ve really started responding to email messages that I send to them with book recommendations. So, we have a featured book of the month. And the book in October was ‘Written In The Stars.’ Which we sent that email to our fright futures cluster. The click through rate on that message was 59%, which is huge.

[00:13:20] Tyler Byrd:

[00:13:20] Angela Hursh: 
Yeah. And this is like… I don’t know what’s going on.

[00:13:24] Tyler Byrd:
That’s the click through rate.

[00:13:27] Angela Hursh:
I know. It’s amazing.

[00:13:27] Tyler Byrd:
That is amazing. So, what’s the open rate?

[00:13:27] Angela Hursch:
It was only nine percent. So, what I think is happening… One of the things with Orange Boy is that we can create the massages so they don’t actually have to… They can look at it and preview and see what it is. And it doesn’t actually count as open. So, I think they’re seeing the image, or they’re seeing the name of the book. And then they’re clicking on it. And that’s what’s getting them interested. They see the book, and then they want to click on it and go to the webpage. And we have an 81% conversion rate on that particular email message. And this is kind of a trend I’ve noticed with teenagers. So, we’re actually going to start in January emailing teens specifically with new book recommendations beyond what we have been doing in the past. Because I think they’re looking for things to read that are not things that their teachers are asking them to read. [Laughter]

So, that’s a big win for us.

[00:14:23] Tyler Byrd:
So, is that eBook content or digital, print? What is that?

[00:14:27] Angela Hursh:
No, these are print books. They’re print books, yep. I think that’s the other thing. We have this perception that teenagers will only want to read eBooks, and I’m finding that that’s not necessarily true. I’m going to do some experimenting in January which of those two particular formats, and I can tell you later. [Laughs] After I do those experiments whether print or eBook is the better choice for them. But at the moment, it looks like they’re just clicking on the print stuff because they just want to read that particular title.

[00:14:55] Tyler Byrd:
Hey, everyone. I wanted to take a second and tell you about a project I’m really, really excited about. We’re launching a new digital library branch that’s called Piola, and you can find it at Piola is based on thousands of hours of research on user behavior, specifically patrons and how they’re using current websites and current technologies.

Everything from heat maps, to video recordings, to focus groups, and user testing, Google Analytics reviews, content audits, and a whole lot more to find exactly what patrons want and expect from a library website. We’ve taken all of that information, and we’ve rolled it into a single product that you can get real quick, launched in less than 30 days at the most affordable price of any website available to libraries. If you’re interested, we’re offering some demos, and we’d love to get you to take a look. Head on over to and check it out. I think that you’ll be really impressed, because there’s nothing else like it on the market. Thanks.

[00:16:01] Tyler Byrd:
Okay, so describe this email to us. Is this just a picture of the book with the title? Is there a description?

[00:16:07] Angela Hursh:
I usually try to keep it to two sentences. Like a two-sentence plot description, which can be a little difficult. It’s a good challenge for your creative writing skills. But yeah, it’s got a little plot description, the title of the book, and the book cover. And funny enough, one of the things I’ve told our collection folks as they’ve picked these books is that the cover has to be really colorful and something that’s inviting visually. Because I’ve noticed that if the cover is text on a white background, it doesn’t do as well as something with a lot of color in it. And that’s just a subjective thing that I’ve noticed, but it works for some reason. [Laughs]

[00:16:48] Tyler Byrd:
Yeah. We see the exact same thing for a lot of our digital ads. But tell me about this email. Inside, do you include links for each different kind of format or content? So, audio book, eBook, print book?

[00:17:00] Angela Hursh:
I have not for those teen messages. The featured book of the month, when we do the adult one, we do include all formats of it. So, if it’s print, fi there’s large print, eBook, audiobook, if they have a book on CD available, all of that stuff. We have Evanced is our catalogue. And so I can create an advanced search that includes all of those formats. That gives me a link. And then I trace that link. That’s the link that I use for Google Analytics and/or Bitly to trace how many people are clicking on it.

[00:17:35] Tyler Byrd:
Got it. So, how many different books are you putting in that email? One, two, three? How many options do we get?

[00:17:41] Angela Hursh:
For the featured book of the month, it’s usually one, because we’re targeting it towards age groups. So, there’s an adult. There’s a teen. And there’s a kid. The other messages that we’re doing right now – print, eBook, and audiobook – are targeted based on the use of items. So, the print one goes to people who we know like to check out print books. The eBook version goes to folks who check out eBooks. There’s a cluster in Orange Boy called transitionals, which covers people who kind of are 50/50 with print and eBook. And so that’s another thing for me to keep in mind as I’m sending these emails. I can’t do the same book in my print message as in my eBook message because there are a section of people who are going to get both of those messages, and that’s redundant for them. So, I’ve got to pick out another book that I can use on those messages if that makes sense.

[00:18:30] Tyler Byrd:
It sure does. So, if I’m in both segments, I will end up getting two different emails from you then?

[00:18:37] Angela Hursh:
Yeah, you are. But they’ll have different books in them because I am aware that you might get both of them, so I don’t want you to see the same books.

[00:18:45] Tyler Byrd:
Got it. So, I got to guess that you’re not sending those on the exact same day and that I’m getting multiple emails in one day. How often do you send them? Once a month? Once a week? What does it look like?

[00:18:54] Angela Hursh: 
Yes, you’re correct. I do not send the same email…or more than one email a day usually to a cluster. A cluster will get one email a day. It really depends on the week to be honest with you. The cluster that we send the most emails to is called bedtime stories, and that’s parents who are checking out…parents or grandparents who are checking out a lot of kids’ materials. We also have a segment that we pulled out of Orange Boy where folks are checking out print materials for kids, but they’re using their Kindle or their Nook or whatever for themselves. So, they tend to get the most emails because I’m sending them stuff for kids, and I’m sending them stuff for adults. And I might send them… I usually try to keep it to three or less messages a week.

[00:19:42] Tyler Byrd:  
So, do you have a promotional calendar or something that you’re using to keep track of everything so that…? You send bedtime stories on Tuesday, and to parents on Wednesday, and then brighter future Thursday…?

[00:19:54] Angela Hursh:
I do. I have a lovely Excel spreadsheet, and I usually program about six months in advance. So, I can see at least with those collection emails…I can see where they fall so that when I have other emails I have to do for events, or system wide things, or service notices like, “A branch is closed today because it has no heat,” that I have holes in the schedules where I can send an email message to those people.

[00:20:21] Tyler Byrd:
All right, so let’s say I’m a library marketer listening right now, but I’m not using Orange Boy. Maybe I’m using Mail Chimp. Do you have any ideas that you could share with us on how I might be able to do this without switching software platforms but could get similar results maybe?

[00:20:36] Angela Hursh:
Yes, I do. So, a lot of the libraries that use Mail Chimp has an opt in function, which means that they have a form on their website where people can indicate what kind of materials they like most. So, if they like print books, they have a form. And they can send their email and say, “I really like print books.” And then you create clusters within Mail Chimp based on that opt in form. So, there is a way to get to the kinds of items that people want to receive information about. It’s just a little bit… It’s not as automated as with Orange Boy, but it’s doable. And I always tell libraries that are getting ready to jump into email marketing on the collection side to just really start slow.

Because it can be very overwhelming. It takes some time to get into a rhythm of it. It takes some time to learn how to get into the catalogue and remember to write down the holds and checkouts before you send it, and then write them down afterwards. I am a fan of my Outlook calendar. I literally put into my Outlook calendar appointments for myself to check messages three days after I sent them, because I will forget. Unless you are a fan of post-it’s, which I’m not. There’s so many post-it’s all over your desk. So, I just put it in my Outlook calendar so that I can…when I get three days past when I’ve sent a message, I’m reminded to go in there and check the data.

It just takes time to kind of get into a rhythm. So, I would even start if you feel comfortable sending one message a week. Start with one. The very first month that we started doing collection marketing, I think we sent five messages total. So, now we’re sending 20 a month, which is a lot. But it’s kind of all automated. I use a template, and I kind of copy the template from month to month and change a few little things. It doesn’t take me long anymore to create an email message because I’ve been doing it for five years. But that first month, man, every message was like we were starting from scratch, and we had to figure out where to…how to…where in the message to actually put the book cover. Because that’s a thing, too. And how big should the book cover be, and how big should your font be. And you need some time. Give yourself some time to figure all that stuff out.

[00:20:36] Tyler Byrd:
Yeah, and see what’s going to work.

[00:22:53] Angela Hursh:
Yeah, even four or five messages a month is going to start to give you data on your cardholders. It’s going to make the next month work better, because you’re going to say, “Oh, of the three books, this one, everyone wanted to check that book out. And then the first book, nobody wanted to check out. So, I’m gong to pick out more books that are like this book.” Or, “On this message, I had a giant cover, and it did really well. And on this message, I had a small cover. And it did really well. And I can adjust the next month so that we can start to see the kinds of visual and text things that are really going to make people engage with the message.”

[00:23:29] Tyler Byrd:
Alright, so your click through rates. Those are unbelievable. They’re really, really impressive. Open rates, little bit on the low side though. So, are you doing any kind of testing right now with say subject lines or anything else to see how you can get more opens and better engagement with those emails?

[00:23:46] Angela Hursh:
Yeah, I just started doing that. [Laughs] This is going to sound so simplified to some people. But we started adding emoji’s to our subject line where it’s applicable. And we’ve only been doing that for probably two months. Maybe not even two months. And not on every message. But boy, an emoji… You wouldn’t even think that a silly, little clipart drawing would have an effect, but it certainly does. Words like ‘alert,’ or, ‘this just in,’ or something. I’m getting ready to send a message out on… Oh, today is Wednesday. Tomorrow. And it’s going to say, ‘this just in,’ because it’s our annual list of holiday themed books for adults and kids.

And I just kind of wanted to imitate my days in the news business and see if that kind of a headline will garner more interest than just a regular like, “Hey, here’s the holiday book list.” Something very generic. So, I’m just starting to experiment with that. It’s fun. It stretches your creative juices. I don’t really have any data yet that I feel comfortable sharing in terms of subject lines. Orange Boy does have AB testing, and we have not been able to do it yet. But that is something that I would like to get into in 2019, too. Because I think that would be a more scientific way to go about testing subject lines, testing where you put images in a message, and that kind of thing.

[00:25:15] Tyler Byrd:
Yeah. I think you’re absolutely correct. With your click through rates right now, too, if you can increase those open rates, your results are just going to go through the roof.

[00:25:24] Angela Hursh:

[00:25:24] Tyler Byrd:
It’ll be really impressive to watch. Really curious, emoji’s, I see a ton of stuff right now on that. And people seem to be seeing great results. I know I open my email…tons of emails in there. If it has emoji’s, it really pops out. So, what success you get from that moving forward, I’m really curious to see what it looks like.

[00:25:45] Angela Hursh:
Yeah, we actually…we’re getting back a little bit into the newsletter business. So, we have a newsletter that we send once a month to a specific group of people. It’s only like 350 people. And they’re young professionals. And then they’ve signed up particularly for this particular message. But we use emoji’s every month, the last three months, in the subject line of that particular message. And I’m getting ready here to open. And we have 33% open rate in September for that message. I haven’t gotten to the ability to get to the October message yet and calculate. I haven’t gotten that far in the month yet with my calculations. But in September, it was a 33% open rate and a 17% click through rate. So, for a 350-person group of people, I don’t think that’s too bad.

[00:26:33] Tyler Byrd:
No. No. Not at all. Now, you said a 33% open rate.

[00:26:37] Angela Hursh:
Correct. And 17% click through.

[00:26:40] Tyler Byrd:
So, about 100 people open it, and 17…

[00:26:41] Angela Hursh:

[00:26:41] Tyler Byrd:
…click through.

[00:26:43] Angela Hursh:
Yeah. And in August, we had an 88% open rate but only a 5% click through.

[00:26:49] Tyler Byrd:
Yeah. So, you look at that 300 people, and you think, “Okay, nine percent are going to open it. That’s about 27 people.” And then you say that 51% are going to click through it, you’re getting 13, 14 people. That open rate increase is really translating into a lot better results at that point.

[00:27:06] Angela Hursh:
Yep. So, that’ll be a fun experiment to do, too.

[00:27:09] Tyler Byrd:
Yeah, it will. Well, Angela, that brings us to the end of our show for today. This has been really interesting. Thanks for coming on and sharing again with us.

[00:27:18] Angela Hursh:
Well, thank you, Tyler. I appreciate it.

[00:27:20] Tyler Byrd:
Thanks, Angela. Alright, to all of our listeners, if you’re interested in seeing some of the emails that Angela has been sending out to get such amazing results, we’re going to be uploading examples for you to check out. You can find them online at Again, that’s

[00:27:48] Tyler Byrd:
Alright, before we head all, just a couple more quick things. If you know somebody that you think would be a great guest on this podcast, and you’d like to hear us interview them, I’d love the opportunity. Send me their name and their contact information at That’s and I’ll do the hard work of reaching out and getting them scheduled so that all of our listeners will have the opportunity to learn more from them about the great marketing strategies that they might be using. We’re constantly looking for new guests and great guests on the show, and I would really appreciate the opportunity to meet with your connections and get them up here to learn more.

Second, if you’re enjoying the podcast episodes and so far you like what you hear on Library Figures and the content, head over to iTunes. You can subscribe to the podcast to get future episodes. And while you’re there, if you could give us a five-start rating, that’d go a long way in letting us know that you like the content, and you like the show, and we should continue doing it. All right, until next time, all. I look forward to being on the air again and the next great interview we’ll have up. Take care. We’ll see you next time.

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