About 8 months ago I wrote a post offering kudos to one of our library staff members. It struck a cord with a fair number of readers. Now, with some new introductory material, it has been re-published in the October issue of OCLC Cooperative eNews.
I did not agree to this because it would be something to add to my curriculum vitae and pat myself on the back. Rather, I did this because I saw an opportunity to use an available channel to cheer a well-deserving library staff member AND spread the word about the value of libraries and those who work in them.
May we all continue to collect our “success stories” and use them to advocate the value of libraries every chance we get. Whether it’s in a newsletter, newspaper, board meeting, YouTube video, or on the street corner, talk it up with anyone who is willing to listen.
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.
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.
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)
There has been a lot of focus on advocacy for libraries recently. And for good reason. In light of our current economic situation, library funding dangles feebly amid swinging axes. About a month ago, Jessamyn West offered a roundup on some recent library woes. Libraries across the country–public, academic, school and special alike–are fighting (like many other organizations) for survival. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Los Angeles Public Library, New Jersey libraries, Ohio libraries, and the list goes on. Things are no different here in South Carolina, and it is likely the same where you are.
Advocacy is one of our greatest tools during such times, and we are putting it to work. It is a primary way of communicating with library users, governing boards, institutional administrations, state legislatures, etc. to raise awareness of and garner support for the mission of libraries. In a recap of Ken Haycock’s keynote address at the Computers in Libraries conference, Meredith Farkas highlights the point that, in our advocacy efforts, “we need to build relationships and connect with the values of the people we want to influence.” YES!
As I was reflecting last week on the purpose and focus of our library advocacy efforts, I reminded myself to remain aware of a group of supporters that come from perhaps the most unlikely place. I am speaking of those library defenders who never darken the door of a library. That’s right. People who have no personal connection with the library as place, but are avid supporters of the concept of libraries. Advocates from without. Supporters from beyond the sidelines.
Given the fact that we just celebrated National Park Week, John Muir’s birthday, and Earth Day, I have an illustration that I believe is fitting and helps drive home my point. In the modern classic on conservation, Wilderness and the American Mind, Roderick Nash conveys the passion of John Muir who advocated for the conservation of American wilderness from the vantage point of one who knew and loved the experience of the wild. Muir spoke out from inside the issue. Nash also tells about Robert Underwood Johnson, a contemporary of Muir, who likewise championed the cause of wilderness preservation with zeal. Nash writes that Johnson, however, “had little desire for actual contact with the primitive, and, by his own admission, was an inept outdoorsman. His interest, rather, lay in the idea of wilderness.” Johnson advocated as one speaking from the outside.
There are those who are advocating for libraries while sweating on the playing field (librarians, regular users of libraries, etc.). We are the Muir’s of our efforts. And then there are those championing the cause of libraries from well beyond the sidelines (those who support libraries and yet have never visited or made use of them personally). They are the Johnson’s of our efforts.
As strange as it may seem, there are passionate supporters of libraries who have never had the inclination to set foot in one and yet are willing to fight for them simply because they embrace the idea of libraries and what they represent for society. (I can think of donations to my library that came from such individuals.) Imagine a mother who hears from her neighbor–a librarian–that multiple branches of the local public library will likely be facing closure. “I didn’t realize it was that bad,” she says. While she never used a library herself, something just doesn’t seem right to her if libraries disappear and her daughter looses the opportunity and choice to make use of them.
It is true that support for a cause flows most naturally from personal experience or investment. Nevertheless, belief in an idea can be equally powerful. My advocacy challenge is to reach out and connect. As I do so, I want to cast a broad enough net to try and reach even people who have no real memory of time spent in libraries. Some of those individuals will catch the vision because it connects with a societal concept that they value. Perhaps they simply need to hear the message. And maybe–just maybe–one of those supporters from beyond the sidelines will eventually even decide to visit a library and fall in love not only with the idea, but also the experience.