Home > Libraries > 5 Thoughts about the Applecart: #5 – Outreach

5 Thoughts about the Applecart: #5 – Outreach

June 17, 2010

With this post, I complete a series of reflections concerning issues I have been contemplating related to my library. All of them involve a challenge to improve and the prospect of change. This final thought concerns one of the most basic attributes of service-oriented endeavors–outreach.

Thought #5: What are some ways that our library can reach out to engage and share with the campus and beyond?

Libraries–including ours–have much to offer. We, the librarians, know that, but how many people beyond our doors are truly aware of that fact? Rather than make passive assumptions, I am inclined to seek opportunities to spread the word. What better way to spread the word than to let the people see the value of libraries in action? And all the better if those people see us making the effort to get out and bring library services to where they are.

The benefits…

For those to whom we reach out, the benefits include things like shared resources, value-added services, knowledge and skill-set contributions, and the realization that someone cares. By definition, the offer of help to someone other than yourself is at the very center of outreach. If those efforts are genuine, the benefits to the one who is helped will materialize.

For the library, the greatest benefit of outreach is advocacy. Outreach is intrinsically woven with advocacy. And this type of advocacy is proactive and positive rather than reactive and defensive. I don’t want to wait until my administration tells me that we will have to make some hard cuts in our library before mounting an advocacy effort. We have been spared major cuts to this point. However, if that time does come (I pray that it doesn’t, but the perfect storm looms large), I want to be able to share–right then and there–a story of the library’s value that draws not only from statistics but also from relationships forged by our outreach efforts.

The players…

My thinking involves both internal (engagement with other departments, organizations, etc. within our institution) and external (engagement with the local community, the larger academic community, etc.) outreach. With internal outreach, our library could contribute resources, services, skill sets, etc. to campus activities going on all around us, such as a student-led research project in an academic department, a data-gathering effort by a student organization, the development of an online teaching resource for faculty, the creation of a school history by the Alumni Office for distribution to alumni, or a records management assessment by the Institutional Assessment Office. I am convinced that there are groups on campus that could benefit from library support but would simply never realize that possibility unless we approach them with an offer to assist.

With external outreach, we move beyond the grounds of our campus to represent our institution in efforts that give back to the community. One way we do this is through consortia efforts. Our library participates in a statewide academic library consortium, PASCAL, contributing staff, resources, and services for the greater good. We also participate in a local consortium composed of the academic, public, and special libraries located across two counties (and we have begun conversations with high school media specialists in the area). Through these consortia our libraries not only seek benefits for our individual institutions and organizations, but we also use them as vehicles to offer benefits to students and citizens across the state and in our regional area, respectively.

Back at my own library, we have opportunities all around us for external outreach. In our small rural town alone, for example, there is a retirement center, small business owners, and a number of home schoolers. (Also, it may be helpful to know that the closest public library is a small branch located in an adjacent town four miles away.) Does anyone else see the potential for special programming–either on our own or in coordination with the county’s public library system? I have also been thinking about the local high school only two blocks away from our library and the elementary school four miles down the road. Here’s a radical thought: How about offering to volunteer a few hours a week in their media centers? I don’t know how the idea would be received, but I have to believe that those schools and their students would certainly benefit. (Perhaps a small way to help address the real challenge of bridging the gap between high school senior and college freshman?) And my own institution would gain additional exposure (particularly in the high school) with some students who will be considering college in the near future. I see a win-win, but it would shake the applecart.

My hope is that moving forward our library will  remain vigilant with eyes wide open, identify needs–both on campus and beyond, and be willing to step out and offer assistance when and where we can for the benefit of those we serve, the library, and the institution.

Pic credit: Cieleke (via stock.xchng)

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