Outreach librarian toolkit: a pictorial

So what’s in your outreach toolkit? Probably some promotional bookmarks and pens, a pamphlet or two and other tools of the trade on which we depend. A key to successful outreach is thinking outside the box and experimenting with new ways to reach our patrons. Here are a few of my favorite things to use in that process.

No quarters needed!

Signs are great, but everywhere. How else can we get them to read important info? We thought outside of the box and created these video game-y boxes to highlight parts of our new portal system. The portal is where students register for classes, access financial aid, get to online courses, sign up for housing and so much more. A student worker needing more work to do this summer created these pieces which we put around the library to promote the portal. The signs next to pieces said things like “how do you get to this level?” and “get in like Flynn!”

Education, art and theatre majors usually have excellent visual work to share.

Promoting student and faculty work through our display cases works to everyone’s advantage. It helps librarians get familiar with the curriculum we want to support. It shows students we care and are invested. It shows off to visitors. And it’s a way “in” with faculty that we can develop into more. In her recent guest post, Anne Jumonville talked about conversations with faculty and how we sometimes need to change our words and approaches to get them where we want them. Offering to display class work, or their research, is one way to have a new kind of conversation with faculty.

I am not above giving out promotional swag. The trick is finding what works. This year we created an online student guide which we are promoting by giving new students a bag of microwave popcorn stickered with the new website. This was quite cheap; I bought bags by the bulk from Sam’s Club and designed the stickers myself which I printed on to labels. I estimate I spent about $100 more than I would have on printing paper copies. I like using VistaPrint for items like magnets or pens. I use portable whiteboards to hand out magnets. I cover a board with magnets and plop the board someplace students pass by. Within a few days, they’re gone!
It’s a struggle to obtain feedback from users. Many librarians have had success with a whiteboard placed strategically to invite conversation. I do a question of the week every week. Sometimes it’s silly and in good fun (when is summer officially over?). Other times I want to get meaningful information (how do you get information for papers?). I usually put a large Post-It up for them to write their answers on. Yes, I am killing trees. But paper I’ve noticed invites more meaningful answers. Perhaps they feel if I’m willing to collect it on paper that it means their answers will be considered more. I bring the filled-out sheets to meetings for my colleagues to peruse. Over the summer, I saved trees by having them write directly on the whiteboard as I used it mainly to keep in touch and keep the habit going.
I obtain craft supplies cheaply online and by asking colleagues to bring in old magazines, paper towel rolls and other sundry items begging for reuse. My job requires that I put on events for the community, but I can’t tell you how many times a student comes up with a fantastic promotional idea that requires tape, a glue gun and colored pencils. Maybe some feathers. Having a well-stocked supply bin on hand is crucial for encouraging my student staff to creatively promote our library and putting on a weekly event for families. Usually it’s an investment of $200-300 upfront for markers, scissors, etc. but they’ve paid for themselves multiple times over. I find having such supplies on hand encourages me to be more creative in how I promote (forget printed signs, how about a hand-made one). And the biggest hit at our Freshmen Orientation party is the craft room!
I love my prize wheel. You can read all about my many uses ranging from instructional to fun here.
And finally, the main ingredient in any outreach kit would be coffee.
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