Tip: Handouts


When you think about handouts, what comes to mind? For most of us, handouts = text-based documents given out during a library's program or presentation.  At a minimum, these are aesthetically pleasing, engaging and serve as a positive representation of your library.

Some examples:

  • Questions used to guide discussion for a book discussion group.
  • Biographic info plus interview excerpts for an author event program.
  • Bibliography of online/print resources plus strategies for a job-seekers workshop.
  • Listing of book titles/songs/fingerplays shared with parents during a storytime program.

However, escalating printing costs plus lack of counter space can be an issue.  And, what presenter wants the handout from his/her program to end up as fodder for a customer’s kitchen counter? So it’s especially important to make sure your valuable content gets used, and then repurposed.  Content will be even more visible and accessible when you use all the different communication channels (including mobile ones) that your customers see and use daily.

Getting Started

Three things to consider before you create a Handout

  • Why create a handout? 
  • What do you want your customers to know?
  • What do you want your customers to do? (Your Call to Action)

Why create a handout?

Ask yourself whether a handout will truly be helpful? There are benefits to creating one -- the customers who attended will have a way they can follow up on what they learned and enjoyed at your program. Also, you can repurpose handouts for other channels of communication, further conveying your library’s value to your community. There are also intangible benefits:  the caliber of the handout communicates an overall impression (and value) of your library. 

What do you want your customers to know?

Consider what you think a customer would find most helpful; also, handouts can stand alone as a program re-cap.

But think about what your customers would really benefit from, and then, how they might like this information to be presented. For example, you might email or text participants a list of the books mentioned at the presentation so that they will have access to them. Or, you might follow-up with an email or tweet about a similar upcoming program.

No matter what channel you use, be sure to include information/resources to inspire action -- a segue to our next section.

What do you want your customer to do? (Your Call to Action)

  • Sign up for another program?
  • Provide their contact information to your library?
  • Share the handout with others?
  • Use the information in the handout (check out books listed; call the reference librarian with questions, etc.)?

Tips For Good Design

1. Fonts

  • Use only one or two fonts.
  • Does your font choice convey the tone you’d like? What would appeal to the audience you’re expecting?
  • Is your font choice readable?

2. Text

  • Correlate the amount of text in your handout  to the complexity/length of your program.
  • Chunk the text into easy-to-read, digestible bullets.
  • Want to set off key text points? Add  visuals --  like shading, boxes or arrows.

3. White space

  • Improves readability.
  • Directs a viewer’s eyes.
  • Creates a clean and refreshing visual effect.
  • White space isn’t wasted space – it allows the important content to remain the focus.

Tips For Writing Great Content

  • Use power words.  Action verbs (like those used in a resume) add punch and interest.
  • Use conversational terms, not library jargon.
  • If you want to preserve the shell of the program, follow an outline format.
  • Choose carefully, giving just enough detail for the handout to stand on its own.
  • Include a call to action --what would you like customers to do?
  • Find a way to make the content memorable.  Post a podcast of storytime songs for parents.

Measuring Success

How will you know the handout was effective?

  • Were all the handouts taken?
  • Did your customers who attended look at the handout? Make notes on it?
  • Did you get verbal feedback during or after the program?

Active measures of success:

Gather metrics from relevant portions of the handout.

  • How many people signed up for the newsletter you mentioned in the handout? 
  • How many registered for the upcoming program(s)?
  • Did circulation for the books listed in the bibliography increase?

LibraryAware Tip: Challenge: Re-think how you measure success. 

Added Value For Your Library

  • A well-designed handout will communicate your library’s value after the program is over.
  • Repurposing the content within a handout (redistributing into different channels; re-posting to blog, website, etc.) will help build your customer base.
  • Cross-promoting to other customers who might like to know about the program is another way to increase your library’s visibility and build your customer base.

So as you continue to prepare for and provide programs for your library community, consider this.

Five Things To Do

  1. Write using terms that your customers use, with language that resonates.
  2. Use channels that mirror ones your customers see and use daily.
  3. Direct relevant content to a specific audience.
  4. Redirect customers back to your library with a call to action.
  5. Give your customers enough specific information to take further (desired) action.

Five Things NOT To Do

  1. Do not let your handout become text-heavy; include only key information.
  2. Do not include dead links or inaccurate, dated information.
  3. Do not forget that handouts may be viewed by customers who did not attend the program.
  4. Do not forget to include your library’s branding along with contact information for customers who might have questions.
  5. Do not use library jargon; use a conversational tone and terms your customers will know.

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