When I got this job as outreach librarian, I emailed a mentor and asked for ideas in getting started. The best pieces of advice she gave me were 1. talk to everybody and 2. don’t work in your office. Great advice, but a wee bit daunting, especially if you are new to an organization. And especially if you are concerned that folks will think you aren’t actually doing any tangible work. If we are to promote and help users make best use of our resources and services, we need to spend the time cultivating these relationships. Which might be a no-brainer. What’s not always clear is who to talk to. And about what. The groundwork laid in relationships pays off in ways large and small, immediately and for the long-term. We get to know student assignments, curriculum, perceptions of us, student and faculty skill-sets and aptitudes, and so much more. Who are these people and what do we need to talk about?
- Admissions office: do they info on incoming classes? Is the library part of campus tours and if so, is the information accurate? If they do run tours, find the point person and offer to do trainings, send them regular emails about changes in the library.
- Adult Education: got an Adult Ed population? They have distinct needs. What are they? Can the library help meet those through class visits, specialized trainings for faculty and students, embedded librarians, special office hours? Host an Adult Ed welcome night and make it FUN, let them bring their kids to it. Are there mailing lists for faculty and students you can send emails to? Adult Ed faculty and students tend to be harder to reach, but I found being available even one night a week is appreciated and used.
- Alumni office: do we have any published authors among our alumni who might do a visit for their alma mater? What are our user policies for alumni and do they meet their needs? Interested in following the University of Alberta’s example and assessing students’ information literacy skills after graduation? Got display cases to fill? The Alumni Office could be a great connection for doing programs you might not have thought about.
- Athletics: half-time trivia contest using library resources! Student athlete office hours, away game chat office hours. Let their coaches know about all of the stuff athletes can still access while traveling. One Wisconsin library hosted a Fantasy World Cup that had students use library resources to make brackets and then sponsored weekly contests that students had to use library resources to win. Do a special library presentation to student athletes connecting their game research and prep process to scholarly research. Show how library resources can provide real-life benefit (um, anyone interested in seeing latest research on preventing/treating injuries? On overcoming mental blocks in performance?) Get athletes to be your library “spokespeople” in videos, posters or ads in the student paper.
- Bookstore: good partners for author events. They also might donate prizes for your programs. Potential partner for book club, too.
- Career Services: they are just like us! They are purveyors of information that most students need but don’t come get. They use databases, print materials and digital collections to help students. They try to partner with faculty to get students to use their resources. Students need research skills to use their services effectively. They provide tons of great resources and services that so many students don’t use or know about. Most students go to them at the last minute! We are spiritual twins! Partner with them! How cool would a co-partnered event be for business students: library teaches you how to research for your business plan and career services teaches you where and how to hawk it. Or for theatre students wanting to start their own company. Or for art students…well, you get the picture.
- College Relations: these people are invaluable! Find out who the PR people are. Maybe you are doing cool programs or have resources the community can use; PR can help you promote. Maybe they know people or organizations in the community with whom you can partner. I found out Jelly Belly partners with my college and I worked with College Relations to obtain candy for my Harry Potter event. (Probably a good idea to let your supervisor know if you decide to contact these people.) These are the people who know what’s happening on campus and off.
- Counseling Center: if you have one, this could be an interesting partnership. Perhaps host stress-beating sessions during finals time in the library together. Or offer to provide their print resources in the library.
- Dean of Students: (See my Get a Clue article) You all have something
major in common: engaging students. Meeting with DOS staff has been my best move yet. I worked with the Leadership Director to put on a mystery in the library for a group of students who do a Big Brothers/Big Sisters program with kids in our community. They had to use library resources to solve clues leading to a culprit who stole cookies. We’ve discussed dorm lounge library office hours, putting on floor programs, and I beg RAs to remind their students librarians are uber-helpful. They made attendance to my first year students CarnINFOval mandatory (don’t feel bad for the students, I had to kick football players out of the craft room when the night ended.) They are invaluable and FUN partners.
- Department heads: when do the departments meet? Can you come introduce yourself? Find out their objectives and desired outcomes for student research and learning. Are they up for an embedded librarian, do they have capstone/theses for seniors, do they have a research methods class for majors/minors? Department heads can be a good place to start getting to know faculty, curriculum and developing those valuable relationships we want. Also, they could point you to where faculty tend to congregate, so you can stake out their lunch and coffee breaks.
- Division and college heads: see Department heads. Tend to be busier and overloaded; you might have to go through formal channels (an assistant) to get on their calendar. Also, might want to bounce this idea off of your supervisor, depending on your school’s take on hierarchy.
- Education department: they deserve special shout out because developing teachers need opportunities to practice. Here is where you come in. Perhaps your library can host space for them to tutor community kids. I love the community workshops our Education students develop. See if they can develop programs with you geared toward faculty, staff, and students with families. Does the local school system have a different spring break from your college? See if Education (or even Theatre, Art, Phys Ed, Music) students can work on a spring break camp with you. Even a half day camp could help those at your college with kids needing something to do. Have them work on book displays (a skill they don’t yet realize they need.)
- Facilities: meet these people. Bring them cookies. You need them to do your job. Send them random thank you notes with more cookies.
- Faculty committees: you can get this info from the Provost or Dean. Faculty committees are a great way to connect with faculty and find out what they are working on, especially if you are not a tenure-track librarian and already serving on committees. Perhaps you could host a professional development workshop for them, or attend theirs. Find the Undergrad research and curriculum committees. Status of Women on campus committee: you could help put on a resource fair or do book displays or host events in the library for International Women’s Day. Joining committees, if you are permitted, is even better for getting to know faculty and convincing them of our value.
- Frats/sororities: I love them! And yet I hated them when I was actually in college! Offer to do office hours for them or library presentations. Do they have established study hours? Offer to visit during them. Host a trivia contest between Houses in which they have to use library resources. Or a scavenger hunt. Get to know them; it’s key to getting more students using the library and librarians, especially the ones we lament don’t come in.
- Health services: like counseling services, you can do cool stuff with them. One of my mentors, Rudi Leon of the University of Illinois’ Undergrad Library works with them to distribute Finals Week survival kits in the library (granola bars, toothbrush, stress relief balls, the like). My ALA Student Chapter in library school worked with them on their Sexual Health Fair: we ran a sexual health reference desk complete with books to read and we would find reliable sources of information for any question.
Soak it in and start scouring your campus directory. Set up coffee meetings, attend student events, go to basketball games. (M-Z coming soon!)