I am 100% guilty of random attacks of outreach that never get assessed and maybe don’t meet any real need. This is a great thing…some of the time. It’s great to re-energize yourself, your patrons, and colleagues. It can jump-start your outreach program. But it’s can’t BE your outreach program. I’m taking a page from the instruction librarian world. Those people are great when it comes to planning, assessment, and being deliberate in order to meet user needs. This post is great for newbie outreach librarians, teams needing new energy, outreach programs lacking directions, and anyone who wants to be more deliberate about how they do outreach. Grab a writing utensil and somethings to write on. (And I do suggest manual writing instead of typing for this. It helps break you out of your regular work mold and can be grounding in a way that keyboarding is not.)
Exercise 1: Create your outreach vision. I suggest either a collage or writing. Not even kidding about the collage; visually creating your vision can be inspiring and gets your creativity flowing.
Where do you want outreach to take your library and your patrons? Do you envision a library overflowing with people asking for librarian assistance? Do you picture patrons swarming the library with a sense of what they want and where to find it? Maybe a little of both? Or perhaps you want a sea of smiling faces engaged in myriad activities ranging from group study to solo reading to dancing in the stacks?
This is your destination. We’ll help you create the map, find your vehicle, recruit road trip buddies, and figure out if it was worth it after all.
I used to HATE vision, mission, goal statements. Until I realized they were tied to things such as funding, getting people on board, and connecting my work to my institution in a meaningful way.
Fact is we are employed by our institutions, whether they are public, private, academic, or special, because they think we have special skills and talents to help reach their mission. That’s so cool! We should know what that mission is and where the library fits in. Go find it and start underlining, making notes, cutting it up. How does the library already meet the mission? Write that down. How can outreach contribute to the library meeting the mission? NOW: how does your outreach vision bring all of those pieces together?
For example, let’s say your institution wants to create life-long learners. Great. You can say the library contributes to that by providing materials that enable people to continue learning. Okay. Well, outreach can increase the possibility that people will know about and use those materials. Is your vision a library that resembles a really fun rave from the ’90s? That says to me you want people to get REALLY excited about using the materials to become lifelong learners and have them engage in fun ways to reach that excitement. Now you know your outreach should include ways to create those connections and excitement. We’ll talk about assessing that later.
Exercise 3: Let’s set some goals!
So you should have a clear understanding of what your mission is as a librarian at your particular institution. You also have a lovely, helpful picture of where you want outreach to take your library and your users. Now, what? It’s all a big kumbaya without goals.
This is a great exercise to do with others, even if you are the sole outreach librarian. For list-makers, this exercise is your cocaine. Consider starting small with 2-4 goals. For the year. Because you need to assess them. Oh, and make them happen.
And I challenge you to be specific but know you will have to be flexible as you meet these goals. I don’t think a goal of “get more people in the library” is particularly helpful because I could simply send out a campus-wide message that Justin Bieber is performing on the quad and the library is the only safe place to be. Voila: I have more people in the library. So what? Sample goals for the example above could include:
- Partner with the Dean of Students office to host an Amazing Race in the library or a mystery that can only be solved using the library.
- Create a weekly Facebook post that highlights a person on campus and their favorite item in the library (make sure they tag themselves.)
- Work with local hobby groups or student organizations to create bibliographies for them based on their focus. For example, work with the fencing club to help them connect to the appropriate resources. Work with the model train club to create a reading/watching list based on age group.
Melissa Wong, a gifted librarian instructor, taught me the importance of assessment. She taught me to assess quickly as I go along (bored faces? Sighs or yawns?) She taught me qualitative assessment is just as effective as quantitative and, in fact, the two make a nice pair. If I don’t assess, I’m not listening to my users. Then, I’ll have none.
You should have some very nice goals that are specific in front of you. Pick one. Any one. How will you know that you met that goal successfully? And in a way that aligns with your vision and mission? Yes, I know this sounds like bad dialogue from OFFICE SPACE. It’s what will help you go to your boss to get more money. It’s what you can point to when you bust out of your routine and do something just for fun (which you should, more on that later.) It’s something to include in board reports and other fun documents.
For example, if you choose to partner with a group to create bibliographies, you can point to a few measures of success. You can keep track of how many are taken; you can look at circ stats for either those items or items under that subject for a period of time. If you use Facebook, track hits for certain posts. It helps if you include data comparing those posts to others on your page. Do not be afraid of surveys or focus groups either.
Exercise 5: Create a plan for a goal. This is the FUN part.
Pick and goal and outline how you are going to pull it off. Include a Plan B. And Plan C. Because a speaker will get lost. Only 5 people will sign up for an event. Etc.
This is seriously the fun part. If you have partners/a TAB/enthusiastic colleagues, bring them in. The best ideas often stem from a group. And an eagle-eye team member will discover the fatal flaw in your plan, which you can then plan for. Be as specific as possible here: who needs to be where and when? What supplies do you need: from where, how much, how many? What are your room needs? How will you publicize this? Timeline! Build in the assessment piece especially if you offer incentives for participating in assessment.
Sadly, a collage won’t accomplish this exercise.
Exercise 6: Create something just for fun.
What’s your dream outreach activity? Mine was turning the library into Hogwarts. I did it without any assessment or any intention of connecting the library to the mission. Guess what? I ended up doing that stuff anyway! I was able to keep track of how many attendees came (350!) I got qualitative data from attendees I wrote up later. I could point to the student groups and number of students who volunteered to help put it on. I started keeping track of how many times I heard tour guides mention the event on their tours. And we could tie the event to the school’s mission to involve students in service to the community.
But, also sometimes you just need to host an arts and crafts room over finals and not over think it. Plan that and make it happen.
(Post inspired by the amazing Char Booth’s REFLECTIVE TEACHING, EFFECTIVE LEARNING)