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Libraries Without Borders

The Connecticut State Library partnered with Libraries Without Borders US to build deeper and more authentic connections between libraries and community.

Project in Review: West Haven Public Library

Photo of four young children grouped on the WHPL Bookmobile, each holding up a picture book.West Haven Public Library wanted to increase their outreach and engagement strategy both physically and digitally, and they started this project with a huge asset - their underutilized library van. With a bit of re-envisioning and refreshing, the WHPL Bookmobile is now a library-on-wheels complete with books, a mobile hotspot, and library materials to meet community members where they are for book borrowing, getting a library card, and programming on the go. On the social media side, WHPL staff invested in a strategic framework for content, scheduling, and ongoing evaluation of their updated approach and engagement.

Data Sources

  • 28 community stakeholder interviews, in-depth interviews with library staff
  • Communications analysis across all social media platforms
  • Infrastructure mapping of identified stakeholders, organizations, meeting places, and pillars of the West Haven community
  • CT State Library data, American Community Survey Census data, Advance CT reports, and CT Data Collaborative information used to gather community demographic information

Key Findings

  1. West Haven has a higher poverty rate, lower median income, and higher unemployment rate than the state of Connecticut overall. Residents and staff describe the West Haven Public Library (WHPL) as a community center, meeting a wide range of needs and providing access to information and education while serving as a safe place for the community to gather. The closure of the Allingtown branch coupled with limited public transportation options left the most underserved neighborhood in the city without access to this valuable resource.
  2. The ability to meet people where they already spend time is a critical component of outreach for the library. WHPL has both a library vehicle and an outreach librarian - two valuable assets that can enable the library to reach under-resourced areas of the city. Further, WHPL already has a number of key community connections with organizations that provide essential services to populations who would benefit from expanded access to library resources such as seniors, veterans, and people experiencing homelessness.
  3. When asked what would bring them to the library more often, many residents list services that are already available at the library. This suggests that community members in West Haven may not be fully aware of what the library has to offer. Residents also report getting information about West Haven happenings via social media. On average, WHPL’s social media posts reach just a small fraction of the West Haven population. Further, engagement rates for both Facebook and Instagram fall below industry standards (1-5% indicating a strong engagement rate).

Outreach Strategies

  • Bookmobile Redesign and Implementation
  • Library Promotion Through Social Media & Strategic Community Outreach


Improved Social Media Strategy

WHPL obtained tools to increase social media reach and engagement within the West Haven community. These tools include:

  • a social media strategic framework that informs effective content for each platform (ex. photos over graphics or flyers) and an efficient posting cadence;
  • multi-session trainings focused on implementing content creation strategies, outlining social media best practices, and discerning the most impactful content topics;
  • guidelines for differentiating platform-specific content;
  • a content analysis system and ongoing data tracking tool that informs relevancy and future posting.

When these strategic tools are utilized, individual posts show improved performance on WHPL’s social media platforms. For example, posting photo content in place of program flyers increases viewers’ connection to the content and, accordingly, reflects an increase in average engagements per post by 121% for Facebook and 136% for Instagram. Importantly, the same strategy increases the average reach per post, a metric used to identify the number of community members who view library content, by 52% on Facebook and 22.4% on Instagram.

In order to increase community awareness of and connection to library resources, the next step is for WHPL to consistently implement the provided strategies.


  Flyer Photo
Avg. Engagement per post 13.4 29.6
Avg. Reach per Post 513.5 780.5



  Flyer Photo
Avg. Engagement per Post 3.47 8.17
Avg. Reach per Post 69.8 85.5

Increased Access to Library Resources through a Revamped Bookmobile and a Strategic Outreach Calendar

Most recently utilized for the delivery of books to homebound residents, the WHPL bookmobile is now outfitted to bring library resources and services directly to the community in a fun and engaging way. The bookmobile van is stocked with books, a mobile hotspot, promotional materials, and other library supplies. This provides an opportunity to bring library offerings - including book checkout, library card sign-ups, and mobile programming - directly to schools and other community organizations. The van can attend pop-up events in non-traditional locations, which dramatically expands the potential for use in Allingtown and other under-resourced areas of West Haven. Of the bookmobile, CT State Librarian, Deborah Schander, notes that it “can both bring resources to new locations around the city and can serve on its own as a temporary satellite location wherever it goes.”

In order to optimize and maximize library reach, WHPL should utilize the provided partner tracker and outreach calendar. These tools will enable the library to evaluate staff time allocation and outreach opportunities and to strategically prioritize community connections and partnerships.

“We have begun to recognize the different ways we can utilize our relationships with groups and organizations in town to best meet the needs of our patrons.” -WHPL Staff Member

Next Steps for Sustainable Implementation

  • Implement social media guidance and tools
  • Upkeep bookmobile aesthetic - ensure interior space stays clean, organized, and inviting to attract interest
  • Implement outreach calendar and community partner assessment tools
    • Strategic plan for bookmobile at community events and community partner visits
    • Organization of other outreach initiatives to supplement visits


This project is funded by the State of Connecticut and the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Connecticut State Library. 

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