Reflective outreach: you as outreach

bffbea16825da6f9ed78cb14be07f3b4University of Nevada-Reno librarian Rudy Leon noted in a presentation we did on outreach at Annual 2012 that outreach is first and foremost about relationships. Often overlooked – or rather, underlooked- in the literature, relationship-building is the core of outreach.  This crucial piece of any successful outreach program depends on people. Pencils can be a nice piece of swag to hand out to potential users, but what matters most is the person handing them the promotional item. That person is you. In our post on creating reflective, intentional outreach we talked about what you are doing here and why. in this post, we talk about who you are. It’s all very existential.

1. Who has made you care: Are you passionate about a cause, a television show, a graphic novel series? Do you pin more recipes than you could ever cook in your spare time? Perhaps you volunteer or have a yarn stash that could fill a ball pit. What do you care about to the core of your soul? Write that down. Now start free writing on why you care about it.  Did anyone mention a specific person? If you did not, take a second and see if a particular person comes to mind. Maybe it was your second grade teacher or Martin Luther King, Jr.

Often at the core of our passion we find an individual who made us care. A person who opened our eyes, heart, and soul. For example, this post is inspired by the amazing, enthusiastic, witty Char Booth. I’ve never met her and yet I could free write on what qualities her writing conveys to me about her that inspired me to want to become a better instructor. Think of the person who inspired you. What qualities do they have that inspired your passion: enthusiasm, care, knowledge? Do you see any of these qualities in yourself? (I suggest asking a few folks who know you well about this; it’s embarrassing but incredibly effective.)

Some of the qualities you list may be ones you can cultivate, such as knowledge. Others might be harder to adopt, such as bubbling effusiveness. If it’s not YOU, it’s simply not YOU. Not all outreach librarians need be effervescent cheerleaders. It’s not what every patron needs. You have plenty of gifts to bring to the table.

2. What are your outreach strengths? Find 2-3 people to help you with this one. Don’t be afraid to ask colleagues and your boss if your library culture allows this. But definitely ask someone in your personal life as they often see sides of us more genuine and relaxed. Explain you are working on effective outreach plans and are taking a quality inventory. What qualities do they think you bring to the table for planning and implementing effective outreach? I know this feels weird and awkwardly self-focused. But outreach is about the self you communicate to others. Getting to know the effective ways in which you do this is extraordinarily helpful.

If something is not clear, ask for examples. Think of your own examples. Now, look at the list and feel amazing. Have you made an outreach mission statement, goals, and plans as outlined in the previous post? See which qualities listed complement and support your goals and plans. Are you missing any (because you cannot embody all qualities)? Perhaps a plan requires someone to dress up and play a detective which is decidedly not you. Who on your team could fulfill this role? Who in your life could you rope into helping you? My husband was often called upon to dress up in costume and portray a curmudgeonly old kook. I got to know students with particular skills and qualities that I could call upon to meet particular outreach needs. For example, Sage was an empathetic young woman with a soft voice who made the developmentally delayed adults we worked with feel safe so that they could comfortably participate.  She brought calm and order in ways I never could, but which some of the users needed.

3. Crafting your outreach persona: for your sanity. You probably think this whole post is some joke I’m playing on you. I promise I am not. I promise I am borrowing from best practices in other fields to help you create effective outreach. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses are crucial to ensuring your plans, goals, and mission can be accomplished effectively.

You now have some tools at your disposal: your inspiration, your list of qualities that allow them to be effective, and your list of personal qualities. These will be helpful in crafting your outreach persona. An outreach persona is not faked. An outreach persona is what you pull on when you do not feel like passing out cookies at new student orientation. An outreach persona is a slightly exaggerated version of yourself. It helps you direct your energy, connect with programs and patrons, and creates a “face” for the library. Importantly, it can help you create good healthy boundaries. My outreach persona is every inch who I am, and more.  I put it on when I am tired or uninspired. I put it on and then take it off when I go home.

librarian-superheroCrafting your persona is a bit like creating your superhero. You might find you want a superhero persona. Go for it! One librarian I’ve heard crafted a cranky persona. Kids loved it! They laughed at her crabbiness and tried to make her crack her persona. The trick is to pick a persona you can stick with and that will help reach your  goals and objectives. Creating your persona is fun but if the qualities of that persona will not help you meet goals and implement plans, it’s ineffective.

Marvel has a fun tool for creating your superhero and bitstrips is a highly amusing way to create a cartoon version of yourself. Having a visual serves many uses. Pin it up for inspiration. Use it in social media and marketing to promote activities. Your persona can serve as the voice for your social media. This allows you to maintain your personal social media for your personal life but gives your professional social media a personal touch.

You should now have a fairly complete toolkit for outreach including plans, goals, and a mission AND a sense of how you can effectively complete them all while saving your sanity, creating a face for the library, and reaching out to users. You might feel like taking a rest but it’s time to put that stuff into action. Go forth and conquer.

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