UIX: Heidi Nagel is increasing KDL's exposure to older crowds

Why should kids at story time have all the fun? It's Heidi Nagel's mission to expose the Kent District Library to older crowds, and she's doing so quite well with the addition of KD Ale events at local libraries. UIX editor Matthew Russell finds out how the KDL is connecting curious patrons with like-minded communities at your local branch.
It may interest those of drinking age that the library isn’t just for kids anymore. While past trends have shown younger audiences making up most of Kent District Library’s patrons, older bookworms are returning, thanks to the help of Heidi Nagel, communications manager at the KDL.
“Every library has service priorities that make up their brand, and for most of KDL’s history that brand has been services to children and family-friendly programming," says Heidi Nagel.

It's Nagel's mission now to expose KDL to older crowds, and she's doing so quite well with the addition of the beer-centered “KD aLe” and other such events at local libraries.
“For a long time, KDL offered adults a very limited menu of book discussion groups, computer classes and child development workshops,” Nagel says. “In 2013, we performed a significant demographic study and learned that our fastest-growing constituency is residents over the age of 45. The number of families with young children in the greater Grand Rapids area is shrinking and while the eggs we put in that basket are precious, we need to start diversifying our services to match our community’s needs.”
It’s important to diversify and adapt the library’s programming and services to meet the needs of all patrons, Nagel says. The last few years have seen an uptick in the interests of the maker movement. Patrons are looking to learn how to create and interact.
“Libraries have long ago let go of being simply content aggregators. We are now a place where shareable resources include tools and equipment, and our programs feature interactive and collaborative learning,” Nagel says. “A necessary part of our KD aLe program series is to offer resources, instruction and support for home brewers. The Home Brewing 101 classes are a free way to explore an interest many people have and to get them connected to each other as a supportive community. We also included these elements into our KDL Uncorked wine-making classes this fall.”
With the KDL’s adult services staff last year, Nagel led some brainstorming sessions and found that they were more likely to leave the house for events incorporating food and drink. Concurrently, the library was considering programming for adult patrons. It also just so happened that Grand Rapids received the final Beer City designation at the same time. Not every light along the way was green, though.
“I put two and two together and got…a little bit of resistance!” Nagel says. “I tapped just the right people, Morgan Jarema, communications assistant, and Josh Bernstein—now the manager of KDL’s Englehardt Branch—and gave them all the support I could to make KD aLe happen. Jumping through all of the hoops to get liquor licenses and host beer tastings in our branches was a challenge, but the municipalities who allowed their branches to host tastings were very happy with the results!”

Morgan and Josh have been instrumental in not only making KD aLe a success, but proving that KDL can offer successful adult programming, Nagel says.
“They’ve paved the way for an entire workgroup of librarians dedicated to offering an annual schedule of innovative adult programs,” she says. “Considering the possibilities is so much fun. Little kids are so excited to go to the library because it’s a place where they meet their friends, learn about things they already like, get their hands dirty creating cool stuff and have a great time. Why shouldn’t grown-ups have the same fun?”
Last winter, over 200 people attended KD aLe programs. Nagel says she heard many patrons comment, “I never expected to see this in the library!”
“I love that! It means we are changing people's perceptions of just what to expect,” she says. “I also heard from several of our staff that they saw people at these programs they’d never seen in the library before and that’s just awesome.”
This coming winter the KDL is offering 16 different KD aLe events: Home Brewing 101, tours of returning brewery partners Rockford Brewing Company and Schmohz Brewery, new tours of Osgood Brewery, screenings of “Great American Brew Trail” with host Amy Sherman, beer tastings, and a craft beer tutorial with Pauly’s of Lowell.
“And we are super excited to cap off the whole series with a tapping of the first batch of KD aLe, courtesy of Gravel Bottom Brewery,” Nagel says.
Nagel knows she’s on the right track with the increase in older patrons at KDL. Coming up with the KD aLe events was never a matter of expressing her own interests—“When it comes to drafts, I personally stick to root beer or ginger ale,” she says.
KD aLe and its sister program, KDL Uncorked, are products of looking closely at demographics and community trends and offering creative and useful programs people will enjoy, something Nagel has learned after being brought on by KDL six years ago as a training manager.
“That was a position that really appealed to me because I could share my enthusiasm for library service with all of our new employees,” Nagel says. “I held that position for four years, training staff of all levels and developing an internal leadership institute that I’m really proud of.”
In a previous position, Nagel managed several library millage campaigns. When KDL began planning for the 2014 millage election, the director asked her to become KDL’s communications manager. Now she oversees KDL’s marketing and promotions, website, outreach services and system-wide programming for all ages.
“Now that we’ve passed our millage, it’s all about ramping up these services and delivering on our promises to KDL customers,” Nagel says.
Nagel has a master’s degree in library science from the University at Albany SUNY, and a BA in political science/sociology from Michigan State University. Prior to coming to KDL, she was director of the Ionia Community Library for 11 years, and a librarian with the Flint Public Library for two. She also worked for independent bookstores for several years, and worked her way through “library school” as a research aide for the Small Business Development Center Resource Network

For more information about KD aLe and Nagel's work, visit http://blog.kdl.org/

Matthew Russell is the Project Editor for UIX Grand Rapids. Contact him at [email protected] 

Photography by Steph Harding 
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