Monday, January 27, 2020

Teen Subscription Boxes: One Library's Journey

In January of 2020, my library launched a subscription box service for teens, similar to an Owl Crate or a Book of the Month club, but 100% free.

First, I have to say, this concept was not our idea. The idea came from a presentation our Library Director heard at a conference, and we really need to thank the lovely and kind Maura Schoo from the Hinsdale Library in Illinois who was the presenter. She also later helped me tremendously via e-mail so hats off to her for her generosity in helping us out.

For those of you already scratching their heads, let's begin with what a subscription box is (I was surprised how many of my coworkers had never heard of these things, considering that between my Library Director and myself we probably subscribe to about 20 different ones!). Basically, sub-boxes work like this: you sign up, pay a fee, and each month you get a box in the mail with "stuff" inside it. There are boxes for EVERYTHING from makeup to books to food to alcohol, and if you wan to see how vast the world of box subscriptions really is, I recommend taking a peek at My Subscription Addiction, which does a great job of cataloging almost everything out there.

Now that you know what a subscription box is, let me tell you how my library set ours up. First we needed some boxes. After measuring some books, and looking at the measurements of some boxes, we decided on these mailers from Amazon: BOXES LINK. These are a good size, and are sturdy as well as capable of holding quite a bit of stuff. We also purchased this crinkle-fill for the boxes: CRINKLY FILL LINK and some large printable mailing labels so we could give the boxes some kind of pizzazz.  MAILING LABELS ARE HERE. The money for these items came from our regular annual programming budget.

We used Canva and the talents of one of our artistic employees to create a cute label for the boxes and printed them out on our regular old printers.

Cute, right? The bear is our library mascot and his name is Booker.

Each of our boxes has a theme, which we left very open-ended so as to allow us to pick a wide variety of books from our collection. Example: our first month's box was themed "action and adventure." Each box contains a library book, chosen by staff based on the subscriber's reading preferences as well as a short survey response card on which we asked the teens to rate the book we had chosen for them and their overall like or dislike of the boxes. There is also one edible item in the box, as well as two other small prizes (box 1 had stickers and a pencil case, box 2 was a DIY picture frame kit and a 3D printed keychain). Money for the food and prizes came from our Friends of the Library group.

One thing to note, we allowed 12 subscription slots for the first month, mostly because everything we could find for prizes was sold in 12-packs at places like Oriental Trading Company or Amazon. We also made a waiting list available in case we had more than 12 people wanting to sign up, with plans to allow more subscribers for every 12 people who were interested. Our first monthly box looked like this (except with a different book in each box).

Photo courtesy Dominique Sandoval. 

We offered a brief questionnaire to teens who wanted to sign up asking their reading preferences (genres they like, were they open to series or graphic novels etc.) and required that in order to join, they have a valid library card in their own name. On the 1st of each month we sent out an e-mail blast letting teens know their box was ready to be picked up at our library (to save on shipping costs) and gave them until mid-month to pick it up.
The teens have to check out the box through Circulation or our self checkouts, books are due back in 3 weeks and they are also to return their empty box before the end of the month. Signups do not expire unless the teen fails to pick up the box or they tell us they no longer want to be subscribed. (Or if they fail to return an item and their card is blocked). In our first month we had one teen who never picked up their box, and one who did not return their empty, but we do not charge a fee in either instance.
That is pretty much it, it has not been too much work for our teen staff of 2.5 (2 full timers one part-timer), the teens have not made a mess, and every single returned survey had nothing but positive comments. Considering something like Owl Crate costs about $30 per month, people are SHOCKED we are doing this for free, and some parents have tried to give us money. All we do is suggest they make a donation to our Friends of the Library.

So far it is working VERY well, though only time will tell as we have only been doing this for two months. If you have any questions, hit me up. Also, if you do something similar at your library I would love to hear how yours is set up.