The focus of outreach is to “bring the library to the people,” and it includes making contact and fostering relationships that increase awareness of the library and its services. Here are great examples of innovative outreach that engages library communities, from flash mobs to freeze reads.
Target your audience for your outreach efforts. Begin by evaluating gaps in your programs and services. Fill those gaps and draw attention to the new services and products you’re providing. Examples might be ESL classes, or classes on social media or Ereaders, or creating a technology petting zoo.
Example of services which have been designed to match the needs of a target audience outside the library include airports and train stations. The airport library at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport contains cultural materials that reflect Dutch culture (here’s the library’s website: http://www.airportlibrary.nl/). Nashville, Tennessee’s airport provides a book exchange. At the Broward County airport (Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport) in Florida, the library provides free book downloads in the airport. At a cemetery, one library has provided a customized library of books on bereavement and grief.
Raising awareness is still our biggest hurdle in libraries. The Geek the Library campaign is one example of a successful effort. Libraries have to show that the library is more than books.
Because patrons are often unaware of all that the library has to offer, it’s smart to use fun and engaging posts on Facebook and other social media to raise awareness of less well-known library services. The Metropolitan Library System (Oklahoma City) in Oklahoma got a 20% circulation spike for books they promoted on Facebook.
Try reaching a new audience in a new way. Famously, Wyoming librarians promoted the Chilton auto repair manual database by sending promotion materials featuring the “Mudflap Girl”. Becoming successful at raising awareness may require skill-building and putting a spin on the traditional can be very effective.
Put a Spin on the Traditional
In Jonesboro, Arkansas, the library succeeded in getting a lot of attention by purchasing a billboard that read: “Dumbledore dies on page 596.” (If you’d like to find out more about the PR & marketing efforts at Jonesboro, visit this 2012 link on Librarian in Black: http://librarianinblack.net/librarianinblack/2012/10/marketing-2.html).
The University of Washington I-School generated a tremendous amount of views when they posted a spoof of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” “Librarians Do Gaga” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_uzUh1VT98). Other libraries have organized flash mobs (Seattle Public Library: DANCE this Flash Mob, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iITUxFo9hB4; Gail Borden Public Library: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IdnrRo-2Aw) and freeze reads (Onondaga County Public Library’s Freeze Read 2012 at Carousel Mall, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBIuWy1K6FY).
Don’t be afraid to introduce a “fun” factor. One library’s annual Family Learning Day had a slogan, “Put your nose in a book,” and attendees always received a free book and a foam nose. Children got a chance to enter a raffle for a free bike, ensuring they visited every booth.
Get Out from Behind the Desk
At the Poudre River Valley Public Library, library staff responded to a community crisis when forest fires forced families to evacuate to an emergency shelter by providing a laptop lab, books and storytimes for children.
Librarians performing outreach need to get out from behind the desk and show patrons inside and outside the library that we’re eager to help them. In Lima, Peru, librarians noticed that families that came to sell products at the city market brought their children, who then stayed in the market all day. Lima librarians decided to bring the library materials to the children.
At British Columbia’s Fraser Valley Regional Library, Smitty Miller, charged with providing mobile service but having too few funds to acquire a bookmobile, fitted out a Nissan Cube to take her both to traditional PR events like parades and to other places like food pantries and transitional housing. She issues library cards, forgives fines and teaches seniors about technology (learn more here http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2012/06/library-services/meet-the-bookless-mobile/).
Outreach is everything a library does to reach users outside of the library, to raise the library’s profile (participating in parades, book cart drill teams) and to provide services outside of the library. The best outreach also means thinking about what your patrons need and want and giving it to them. While that might mean offering ESL, GED or other classes, don’t forget the fun stuff: photos of staff in costume on Facebook, celebrating sports victories, and even playful kittens.
Christine Bradford works for the Vigo County Public Library in Terre Haute, Indiana and Jeanne Holba Puacz works for the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.