Outreach when tragedy strikes

Editor’s note: we are publishing twice this week to help librarians respond when tragedy strikes. Taking initiative to offer our resources and skills to our communities when facing adversity is one of the greatest gifts we can give through our profession. Anna Francesca Garcia felt compelled to write this piece while her community – and mine – reels from a blow. ~Lizz

When something awful occurs, social workers, psychologists, and chaplains are often part of the immediate trauma team. Librarians also have services to help communities heal. Call me a nerd; as soon as tragedy strikes, I run to the written word. People naturally want to know that we are not alone.

This week, my hometown made news around the world. Unlike last month, it wasn’t for the Spelling Bee.  Instead, it was due to multiple murders. Someone targeted the Jewish community and killed three people.  As it turns out, none of them were Jewish. However, as Victor Wishna writes in JTA: The Global Jewish News Source, “The victims may not have been Jews — as the murderer likely intended — but they were members of our community all the same.”

Kids may ask about what happened. I found a book that would be a strong choice for outreach to elementary schools. The Christmas Menorxmas menorahahs: How a Town Fought Hate by Janice Cohn, D.S.W. and illustrated by Bill Farnsworth, tells the story of a boy named Isaac. It is based on actual occurrences when Isaac was five-years-old. Billings, Montana experienced a slew of hate crimes, including a brick thrown into the window that displayed Isaac’s menorah. The entire town banded together.  Non-Jewish residents exhibited pictures of menorahs in their home windows.  They stood in solidarity to show that they didn’t fear bullies.

Anyone who challenges the worth of librarians needs to take note. We can use the record of history to comfort and empower. That is valuable. It is essential. It is a way that library outreach tangibly betters the world.

With book and educator site 2013Anna Francesca Garcia earned her Master of Library and Information Sciences Degree from the University of North Texas and has worked for over nine years in public libraries in Nevada and Missouri. She is checking out The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate to share with her almost-seven-year-old daughter.


Using mind-mapping in outreach efforts


No doubt you’ve heard of mind mapping. Perhaps you’ve even used mind maps yourself. But have you ever considered that mind mapping can help some of the people you serve in your outreach efforts?

Outreach librarians are more aware than many other educators of the obstacles that stand between the people they serve and the joy of reading. Many people in the under-served communities whom outreach librarians assist have reading comprehension or retention problems of one type or another. Whether it’s a child with high-functioning autism, a teenager with dyslexia, or an adult who never really learned to read, reading challenges can hamper education, and stymie job prospects. Not surprisingly, a person with such challenges might be unlikely to make use of the rich resources housed within  libraries, which is a loss for everyone.

Enter mind mapping, which works on the time honored principle that a picture is worth (at least) a thousand words. A brilliant guy named Tony Buzan invented mind mapping in the late 1960s as a graphic method of making one’s brain operate more efficiently. Today a lot of people teach mind mapping, and there are numerous software products and apps to assist in mind mapping.

But you don’t need software to create a mind map; drawing one is pretty simple (though anything but simplistic). Essentially you start with a blank sheet of paper turned sideways, and begin by drawing an image or picture in the center of the page. Buzan says that starting in the center provides your brain with the freedom to “spread out in all directions and to express itself more freely and naturally.” In addition, he believes that a central image is more interesting, keeps you focused, and helps you concentrate better. From this central image, draw main “branches” (curved lines, not straight ones), and second- and third-level branches as necessary, labeling each one with a single keyword related to that central image. Buzan believes that curved branches keep your brain more engaged than straight lines, and that single keywords give your mind map more power and flexibility than phrases do. Use images and color throughout; color also keeps your brain more engaged than black-and-white or monochrome, and, as noted, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Anyone can learn to create a mind map, and can teach others how to do it too. Here are some suggestions about the ways mind maps can help outreach librarians help their patrons.

1. Mind mapping can help struggling students study more efficiently.
Despite the e-book revolution, most students still have to deal with print textbooks and other assigned reading, and they often feel overwhelmed.They may plow through the books and read the words, but retain very little. If you’re working with any of these students or their frustrated parents, perhaps you can show them how mind mapping beats highlighting text and turning down the corner of every other page.

A quick and simple way to read books and remember more of what is read is to mind map the notes. An article by Arjen ter Hoeve on the Lifehack blog (http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/how-mind-mapping-and-books-hand-hand.html) explains how to do this. Create a mind map for the book; make branches for the chapters (or paragraphs) you will be reading first. You can do this before actually reading the book; simply take the heading and create a mind map structure of the book. Read the book and add notes to the map as you go. Before long you’ll have a functional summary of the book, which you can keep as a guideline for reading and studying. Hoeve notes that the map itself provides the “big tour through the book,” and you just need to add new ideas and thoughts when you are doing more comprehensive reading.

2. Mind mapping can help encourage the reluctant reader.
Many prospective readers are intimidated when they open a book and are met with what appear to be endless pages of text. This can happen with people of all ages, not just students. They toss the book aside without giving it a chance, never knowing what they’re missing. If you’re working with one of these reluctant readers and are familiar with the book in question, sit down with the person and help him or her draw a mind map of the book, using the same basic steps outlined in item number 1 above.

3. Mind mapping can help diverse readers.

Whether it’s an adolescent with high-functioning autism like 13-year old Danny in this case study (http://www.mindmeister.com/downloads/casestudy_dannycayelli.pdf), or an adult with dyslexia (http://dyslexicprofessional.com/mindmaps-are-the-answer-whats-the-question), mind mapping can be an enormous help in reading comprehension assignments or in everyday reading and writing.

4. Mind mapping can help elders or dementia sufferers continue to enjoy reading longer.

Many outreach librarians serve the elders in their communities, either through nursing homes, senior centers, or various clubs and organizations. Teaching elders mind mapping can help some of them continue to enjoy reading, and can even assist them in organizing and making sense of otherwise confusing information.

5. Mind mapping can help writers too.

It’s been said that everyone has a book inside. Whether that’s actually true or not,  the best writers are generally avid readers. If mind mapping can help readers, it can certainly help those who want to be writers. Mind mapping software exists to help writers develop their concepts, whether they’re creating a short article, a thesis, or a full-length book. Or they can simply sit down and draw out their mind map the old-fashioned way. If you’re working with an aspiring writer who has a great idea for an essay, a composition, or a book, but doesn’t know how to get started, share the secret of mind mapping with her or him.

Mind mapping is a useful, fun, and flexible tool. For more information about mind mapping and simple instructions on making a mind map, visit the Mind Mapping web site: http://www.tonybuzan.com/about/mind-mapping/

Rebecca Gray, a freelance writer with a BA in English from Texas A&M, writes about free background checks for Backgroundchecks.org. She welcomes your comments at her email id: GrayRebecca14@gmail.com.

National Library Week


It’s not too late to celebrate and stir up some fun and goodwill in your library! The point of this blog is to provide numerous ways you can easily and quickly implement outreach. The Outreach Librarian challenges you to plan something, anything to celebrate the best week of all. Leave comments to let us know how you are letting patrons and new users know how important libraries are! Be sure to use the hashtag #LivesChange when tweeting, using FB, or posting to other social media about NLW.



Brew up some outreach

Last week, my institution’s HR department sent out their health newsletter. This newsletter let us know what programs were available on campus to promote our health, informed us of an increase in benefit costs, and offered us a free cup of coffee from the campus cafe, courtesy of HR.  The newsletter provided some good news, some unwelcome news, and if you read the whole thing, the opportunity for something free. Genius. Especially since about 83% of American adults drink coffee, according to a 2013 survey from the National Coffee Association.  Looking for a way to reach more adults in your library? Consider any of these java-infused outreach techniques.

coffe on usMany churches have figured out that coffee is an excellent promotion tool. From in-church cafes to cappuccino mass (courtesy of the Episcopalian church down the block from me), coffee has become part of many a church’s culture. Could your Friends Group offer free coffee to anyone who brings a friend in to sign up for a library card during special times (they could promote their group at the same time)? Would Campus Dining Services offer discounted or free coffee to individuals who bring in a coupon obtained from your newsletter or Facebook page? It’s worth asking the coffeehouse you frequent regularly if they would offer a discounted coupon or come to the library to provide free coffee for patrons.  In all of these scenarios, everyone wins, from those getting free PR for providing coffee to those whose day just got a whole lot better from something free and desirable.

Outreach with every sip

Outreach with every sip

So maybe free or discounted coffee is out of reach. You can still use our mania for hot, dark caffeine to reach out. Sure, you can definitely put up table tents advertising your next event. You can also advertise your next event or new service literally right in front of folks.  I don’t need to attend a career expo at my university, and yet with each sip of my morning latte, I felt more convinced that I at least needed to check it out. Bright color, simple design, clear information stared back at me as I completed a much-loved daily ritual.

imagesFinally, use coffee to build personal relationships. The president at my former institution held causal, conversational coffee hours when he first arrived. They were simple, get-to-know-you affairs. They were held in public spaces so that passers-by could easily join. Got a library levy vote coming up? Perhaps you want students to learn that your library actually has librarians, who are anxious to help them? Steal from our president’s playbook. If you’re worried a librarian at a table won’t generate much buzz, come up with a conversation topic and partner with a local/student organization. The diversity coordinator at my last position often held Conversation and Coffee hours centered around topics students asked to discus. I joined as both a participant and discussion leader, no matter the topic, resulting in long-term relationships with many students and faculty.

As always, share your experiences in the comments section. Now get to brewing some new ideas.

In the Eye of the Beholder

1Swag is fun.  I don’t need more rubber bracelets or gummy erasers.  Really, who does?  To the people who distribute it, though, there is a deeper purpose.  The goods aren’t cheap.  Advertising rarely is.  However, people who take swag are like honey bees lured to fragrant flowers.  The bees fly and disperse pollen as they travel.  Because people take items from vendors and libraries, we take the logo.  We carry bags with the logo, use magnets with the logo, write memos on notepads with the logo, possibly using a pen with the logo.  What is the common thread in all this?  LOGO.

2It is more than a common thread in promotional products.  We have our library’s emblem on library cards, business cards, web sites, and attire.  As Summer Reading Program approaches, I just received a t-shirt with the “Fizz, Boom, Read” theme emblazoned on the front.  That way, even when I’m not saying a word, students, teachers, kids, parents, grandparents—whoever—get the message.

Why is this so important?  We have a public affairs department to deal with the details.  What I understand, though, is the need to uphold a certain aesthetic.  That is a fancy way to say that it has to look good.  I think of this like restaurants. The food at two different places may be identical, but the one with better ambiance is more likely to garner customers.  I think the food even seems to taste better when the table is clean before I sit down.  Great food + gross setting= bad taste overall. Great food + pleasing setting= the formula for return customers who tell their friends about this restaurant they like.

Here’s where our question comes: What does this have to do with outreach? We are walking billboards.  When we are well-groomed, wear clothing that sports our library’s logo, and share books that are clean and rip-free, we showcase the library in a positive light.  People want to come in to see our buildings.  Even if they never make it in, we still leave a pleasant impression about what the library is.  When we do outreaches to schools, the kids want to see us when they visit the library with their families.  When we do outreaches to the home-bound, patrons want us to return.  When we do outreaches at general community events, people who see the flyers that they pick up featuring the same logo that “that sweet person had on her shirt” lets warm-fuzzies about us transfer seamlessly to the library.

3So, be aware of how you present yourself when representing your library.  I will try to do the same.  Oh, who am I?  Here’s my business card. (Imagine firm handshake here).

With book and educator site 2013Anna Francesca Garcia earned her Master of Library and Information Sciences Degree from the University of North Texas and has worked for over nine years in public libraries in Nevada and Missouri. Currently, Anna Francesca is Kansas City Public Library’s Education Librarian. Even before needing to set an example for her daughter (who is almost seven), she brushed her hair and teeth and showered regularly.

Bag of Tools: ready-made outreach materials

AAL-female-thumbCreating outreach materials can be a time suck, even for the most creative citizen of Libraryland. For those of us who feel graphic design-challenged, creating outreach materials is akin to a level of hell.  Here is our attempt to provide a one-stop shop for templates, generators, and other helpful promotional tools of the outreach trade. Please let us know if we missed something you love to use.

Free sources

For purchase:

  • Smore: design online flyers to spread the word electronically, comes with a variety of templates
  • Youth services librarians Katie Dersnah Mitchell and Shelley Harris love Upstart: posters, bookmarks, reading records, decor, and more for the librarian with a bit of a budget
  • Middle/high school librarian Laurie Amster-Burton stands by the swag and decor available from ALA Graphics.
  • School librarian Erin Schramm recommends Demco for your attractive and ready-to-use promotional materials


Field nominations taken for 2015 Amelia Bloomer Project

hist0043I’m pleased to report I’ve been asked to join the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, along with some amazing librarians and educators. We create an annual booklist of the best feminist books for young readers, ages birth through 18.  We are part of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. I’m incredibly excited to be part of this important work. Pointing children and teens to quality feminist literature can help to increase the value of women and girls in society. To quote my six-year-old nephew (an enthusiastic reader of feminist lit), “It’s so silly that April always has to be rescued by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She can rescue herself.”

One of my favorites from the past list

One of my favorites from the past list

All official nominations must be submitted by members of the Amelia Bloomer Project Committee.  We do, however, encourage field nominations from any readers.  Please review our criteria through the link on the right hand side of this page before submitting a field nomination via the link below.

Field nominations for the 2015 Amelia Bloomer Project List will close on September 30th.


Reading is Outreach

Books.  For months now I’ve written about technology.  Technology is important.  However, we are in the business of information—no matter its medium.  Sometimes, the goal is to foster imagination and creativity.  That can come from an app or coding, but it can also be between pages.  For years and years, that is what books have provided.  That doesn’t change.

1It doesn’t matter that there aren’t really airships that use hydrium, a mango-scented gas that is lighter than air, to carry passengers across the ocean.  It doesn’t matter that there are not really air pirates nor flying creatures that resemble a mix of a cat and a bat.  When I read Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, I can picture all of these things.  I can use what my acting teachers long ago called “suspension of disbelief.”

2 Now’s the kicker—how does this relate to outreach?  For people who never make it into the library building, we are more than its face.  We ARE the library.  Which means we read, too.  We read for fun.  We read to learn things.  If someone asks us, “What are you reading?” we can answer that.  (I’m reading Freak Boy, a YA novel-in-verse about gender questioning by Kristin Elizabeth Clark).

Being able to navigate through technology, to ferret out strong sources, and to implement programs off-site are important parts of what we do.  They are not ALL of what we do, though. It doesn’t matter what we read.  It matters that we read.

For me, to enjoy reading came with the freedom to stop reading something I didn’t like.  I used to push myself through tales I found irksome at best.  If I couldn’t stomach another word, I stopped reading altogether.  One of my co-workers about eight years ago ended that.  She said that she will quit any book that she isn’t enjoying because it gives her time to explore other ones.

We are extremely lucky.  We don’t have to teach to a curriculum.  We don’t have to work off of pre-set lists.  However, “with great power comes great responsibility” (says the Spiderman series).   To encourage life-long learning is our calling.  We may spark the curiosity of whoever creates tomorrow’s next great invention.  How? We bring them books.  When the sparkle in our eyes shows that we love what we are reading, everything else follows naturally.

There is a comment box below.  Tell us, what are you reading?

With book and educator site 2013Anna Francesca Garcia earned her Master of Library and Information Sciences Degree from the University of North Texas and has worked for nine years in public libraries in Nevada and Missouri. Currently, Anna Francesca is the Education Librarian for the Kansas City Public Library.  She doesn’t think that technology will ever replace print books, but she does believe that they can coexist.  Anna Francesca enjoys using both.  She also gets a kick out of telling her six-and-a-half year old daughter that Mama is older than the Internet.

Sensitivity in outreach: why it matters, some ways to do it

Good-IntentionsWarning: DO NOT Google “politically correct” and look under the images on a Monday morning. The results are worse than your average comments section.  Being sensitive, nay even politically correct, while doing outreach is crucial. We never truly know the stories behind our patrons, communities, and co-workers. I believe it is my job to create as welcoming and accessible library as possible for anyone who could come through our doors. Here are a few things I’ve learned about doing this successfully, in no particular order.

Family structure

Not everyone is being raised by a mother and father.  Some kids we work with are being raised by grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings, two moms, two dads, one dad, two dads and a mom, foster parents, etc. Some kids come to programs with social workers, nurse caregivers, Girl Scout leaders, or teachers, among others. Luckily there is a really simple way to address this, no matter where you stand on issues or your community. Here’s what I do to try to make everyone feel welcome and on equal footing:

  • Use the term “caregiver” in your PR materials to refer to any adult legally responsible for a child. Sound clunky or awkward? It might be at first, but it’s a single yet comprehensive term to encompass all of the family structures to which your patrons might belong.
  • When talking with kids I often use “the adult you came with.” Okay, it’s a long one, but they understand it. For example, “you are welcome to have a cookie if it’s okay with the adult you came with.”

Has your library found a way to address these issues in comfortable, inclusive ways? Please share!


Here are a few questions to ask yourself about programs:

  • Are programs planned so all abilities can participate? And do you include that information in PR materials?
  • Do the presenters or facilitators speak other languages? And you guessed it, do you include that information in PR materials?
  • Are programs advertised and implemented in culturally appropriate ways? Example: have you considered offering single-gender activities for communities that do not allow mixed-gender socializing outside the home? Not all of your programming needs to do this, but ask patrons who might have cultural needs which programs they especially value and how you can make them more comfortable for them.
  • Do programs require attendees to “out” themselves in potentially uncomfortable/embarrassing/dangerous ways?
  • Do you offer programs that meet the needs of various family structures? I’m not saying throw out your mother’s or father’s day programming. But how can you include those folks we talked about above? How will you let families know they can attend the mother’s day program with an aunt, foster-mother, or grandma? How will kids know they can make both of their dads a father’s day card?

A word on murder mysteries: I did these frequently until I listened to an episode of “This American Life” in which a woman whose father was murdered relayed how seeing these events advertised impacted her. I’ve changed it to a Mystery Night and attendees solve the case of  Who Stole the Refreshments? Once they solve the case, the refreshments are returned and we all eat.  It actually works better (fingerprinting a plate instead of a body is easier!), it’s more lighthearted, and now the event is more inclusive.

A good rule of thumb in sensitive outreach is the impact vs. intention rule. Your intentions are wonderful, but what are the potential impacts? A wise woman once told me: “you might not intend to hit someone with your car, but the impact on them and you trumps your good intentions.”

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts at lizz.zitron@gmail.com

What I Learned about Outreach from Attending Weddings


This is NOT that wedding.

Just when you thought your days of doing “YMCA” and finding an affordable gift on the registry were over, you find yourself invited to a slew of weddings. I love a good wedding, but all too-often we find ourselves awkwardly talking to people we hardly know over the blare of “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll.” But sometimes you attend that wedding; the wedding at which the happiness and tastes of guests were considered during planning. That wedding is the dream of all Pinterest boards. That wedding can teach us about good outreach.

Start spreading the news… (cue your aunts to form a wobbly chorus line)

Who is your intended audience and how best to reach them? A good wedding planner understands this and crafts the medium and message to fit the audience. Sometimes this means multiple mediums. I love a wedding with a complementary website that features helpful and updated information. Does your library have an events calendar/page with adequate information? People appreciate images and descriptions.  Include images and bios of speakers. Hosting a knitting class and don’t have images from a past event to include? Scour a free image site.  A good rule of thumb is that 1/3 of your publicity material should be image-based.

A good wedding offers a variety of ways for people to RSVP and makes it easy, which is why we love people who include a SASE or postcard with their invite. Electronic RSVPs are great, but cannot be the sole method because my dad does not have a computer or email address.

table-tents-from-PLIA good wedding builds interest in advance. The website, if updated regularly, can do this. I love the save the date magnets so many couples use nowadays, but they are becoming de tous les jours. Got a really big event you are promoting for your library? Think wedding big: do a stand-alone save the date and a web site for the event, hand out little swag with the event info, have staff wear buttons, have volunteers stand out in front of the library promoting the event a la sign-spinners. Even your smaller events can benefit from more targeted promotions. Would your director consider table tents? Wouldn’t it be cool to have your TAB or scrap booking club make unique table tents for events? Think how much more they will stand out, your volunteers have contributed something highly visible, and they will probably look really cool.

We are family…

I recently attended weddings at which the couples did a great job of creating community at an otherwise socially uncomfortable event. Why do people attend library events? The topic or activity interests them, but many of them are looking to meet people. Whether they are new parents, newcomers to town, or stamp collectors looking for like-minded folk, many of your attendees crave the socialization opportunity. But our events don’t often facilitate this, so let’s see what we can learn from weddings about simple ways to do this.

Reading-Bingo-282x300Wedding bingo is a winner: it’s simple, easy, and provides the topic. Consider doing a similar game at your next baby story time, at the beginning of a book club, or before that talk on the civil war. You can either build in the time if the event allows or offer the game for early arriving attendees. Adapt the one to the left to get attendees talking about books. Or have them get more personal: find someone with an out-of-state driver’s license, find someone who was born in another country, find someone who has visited Canada. You know your community and can best decide how to fill the squares. DO have someone else check it first (i.e. my sense of humor is not for everyone.) You could offer a prize, but I find most people discover the reward is in meeting new folks. (I’ve done this game countless times in countless settings and it’s always gone over big time.)

Let’s give them something to talk about…literally

On the topic of the social aspects of events, there are a number of tricks you can learn from one of the most socially awkward events on getting attendees to interact with each other. A hint: when using these, try to make it sound like they “need” to do the activity. Use firm-ish language such as, “find someone to complete this activity with before the program starts.” You would be amazed at how much people appreciate being told “what to do” (and using it as an excuse to approach someone) and will do what a librarian asks!

  • A couple put crayons/markers and paper on seats with the prompt: draw someone sitting near you. A great way to keep folks occupied and socializing while waiting for something to start. Or build it into the activity.
  • Some friends put conversation starters on the table to help ease us past “how do you know the couple?” Topics ranged from a great movie you just saw or your dream vacation, how much stock you put into the Oscars/Grammys, or  a skill you wish you had.
  • I heard about another couple who provided games on their wedding program for guests along with golf pencils. Tic-tac-toe, hangman, and dots and boxes are just some ideas to get you started.

Can you feel the love tonight?


Credit: becomingthemrs.com

A take-home for attendees is an excellent way to top off an event or program. They have something tangible to remind them of their fun time and show off to potential future attendees. But before you go admonishing me about the price of swag these days, I ask you to steal the current best wedding trend ever: the photo booth. This is easy, fun, a way to collect feedback, a means for collecting photos of events, and a great way to build your library community. It can be as simple as a sheet hanging in a common area with a volunteer wielding a camera, iPhone, or iPad (if you check out technology, you can promote that at the same time). I’d suggest offering fun props, especially if you can manage something that connects to the theme. Even better, have small whiteboard or chalkboard on hand to have attendees express themselves. Here’s where it can be limiting: printing or direct email is a time suck. Make it clear all photos will be available, but not tagged, on your Flickr or Facebook or event web site page. And don’t forget the photo release!

Photo credit: Amelia Tarbet

Photo credit: Amelia Tarbet