November/December 2012, Volume 4, Issue 10
Check Your Calendars!!
Picture Book Month
Native American Heritage Month
National Novel Writing Month
International Games Day
American Education Week
SDLA Legislative Day
ALA Midwinter Meeting
Digital Learning Day
Featured e-Resources of the Month
Full-text reference books, new and updated, at your fingertips 24/7
Battle against "poutreach"
By John Pappas, Library Branch Director, Primos Branch of the Upper Darby Public Library, Upper Darby, PA; formerly Outreach Services Coordinator, Rapid City Public Library*
poutreach: (n.) Where librarians grudgingly go out in public to sit behind a booth avoiding eye-contact with strangers.
I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that many librarians (and plenty of libraries) undervalue outreach. The reason could be they are intimidated by walking outside the library in a professional capacity, or they could be frightened of opening themselves to the whole of the public or, the simple fact is, many are too busy to attempt something new.
However, to the outreach librarian the job is defined by relationships—not by number of contacts, questions or size of our catalog. I am not overly concerned with how many circulations we had last month, our entry count or how that weeding project is going. Relationships fuel me. Relationships with civic organizations, chambers of commerce, governance, teachers, parents, businesses, higher education, professors, the homeless, students and the public at large. If it has a face, we want to listen to it. We want to talk to them. It is our bread and butter.
Along with those relationships comes a certain amount of uncertainty. There is so much unknown that follows going out into the community. We find that farmer's markets are loud and dirty. Job fairs are busy and stressful. University campuses can be rowdy and uncontrolled. Sometimes there are pirates or zombies (if you are lucky, both). Librarians feel out of their element and with good reason. It can be scary outside the walls that bind us.
The problem arises when uncomfortable people cocoon. They wrap themselves up in the familiar. But cocoons do not work for the community, and they certainly don’t work for outreach. If there ever was a time for your forced extrovert to shine, it is then.
So, I have seven rules to help make it easier. They are practical, simple guidelines to follow, and you probably already know most of them.
- Garner your goals: Research the crowd. Who is attending? How many? What are their expectations? Will people browse from booth to booth? Answering these questions help you set goals and expectations. Nothing destroys morale more than walking away from an event disappointed. For example: At a college event I was told to expect 800 attendees. The event was not mandatory so I thought, at most, 400. Even on my best day, 400 people in 5 hours equals 80 people/hour. That is more than one person per minute. The best I could do solo is 150-250. So that was my goal, really more of a floating target. But I walked away happy with the results.
- Modify your message: Do you focus on awareness of library services, library use/sign-up or public exposure for the library? All three are valid. All three are important. All three can include a toilet paper roll craft. Back to my example: These students are the proud recipients of a brand new joint library. They already have guaranteed access, so signing up for cards is out. This event was purely about awareness. Since it was a school registration event, I assumed most students would want to be in and out without too much hassle. No time for conversation. Quick and fast was the rule so I used that to determine my message, but how to express it…
- Practice your pitch: A pitch is hard. Try to think of one ahead, but most pitches will need to be modified. There are too many variables to pretend that what you prepared will last. So arrive early. Do not bring a book. Do not open your laptop. Don't blend in. Don’t do what most people do when they are uncomfortable. Instead look for early attendees, event-organizers, wandering people, facility workers. Whoever is there is there for you to practice on.
Talk to those people and see what sticks, what falls away and what makes them respond. This is an art. Try it. Your pitch will refine itself over time and use. Make it simple. Make it memorable, and make it quick. You don’t want people walking away with a "1000 points of light." You want them walking away with one message that blows them away that they will share with others. So your pitch should be three lines of about five to seven words each. Remember that your pitch is an idea to develop, not a script to repeat. Modify as needed. My basic pitch for the college event — Your student ID is your public library card. Since most were heading to get their student ID card and had to wait in line, it was the perfect seed to plant.
- Remember your results: You need to report on the success of an event. Find the number of attendees from the event promoters. Keep track of your contacts. Some use a little clicker kept in a pocket. I tend to count the material I hand out to people beforehand. I knew I had 150 handouts that I would hand out with my pitch. I assign myself a quota, but quality of contact is as important as quantity. Remember, successful outreach is not measured by the number of cards signed up. It is measured by the quality and saliency of your message.
- Be proactive: Please do not stand behind your booth. Stand in front and talk to people. When you make the first contact, most will stop to talk. If you wait for people to be interested enough to talk first, you will likely wait a long time and miss most of your opportunities. There is a massive amount of social capital inherent in the library. For that reason people trust, like and are willing to listen to librarians. Use that and spark conversations.
- Be ready for anything: Memorize your funding and be able to explain it quickly. Know your selection policy. Be prepared for questions about technology. These are the three questions I hear the most. A few of my more interesting experiences:
- Irate homeschooling moms at a street fair.
- Confrontational businessmen at a Chamber of Commerce meeting.
- People trying to convert me to various religions and non-religions (including one drive-by baptism).
- A delightful Greek family once offered to take me in like an orphan.
- Drunken pirates harassed me!
- I chased a gang of zombies!
- I was asked to please quiet down because the crowd around us was too loud (I appreciate the irony).
- Try anything once: The event itself is an adventure. It is like a first date. Be gracious for the space even if the turnout is small. Never leave an event early; it is rude and can cause others to leave in a domino effect. Remember that even outreach relationships run their course. Sometimes it is time to stop attending an annual event if it outgrows your organization. However, you are never too big for a small event.
- Bring Duct-tape: No more explanation is needed. Always bring duct-tape. Apply it liberally, especially in these South Dakota winds.
- Have something for everyone: Have a pitch for patrons, soon-to-be-patrons and those that are out of district. Always have something prepared for those that are not eligible for a card (out-of-towners, tourists, visiting relatives). It could be a web resource that you developed, a public programming series or an author event coming up. It includes people, and those people talk to other people. Who do they talk about? You.
- Have fun: Be approachable. Smile. Laugh at jokes and make a few. Many groups are uncomfortable about library services. Some may not trust a government organization. Some are intimidated by the structure. You are an ambassador to those groups. Make it count.
This article originally was published on the blog "Letter to a Young Librarian". John would love for you to comment there with any poutreach experiences.
Reference resources for legal assistance and federal publications
The Libraries and Access to Justice Webinar Series recently presented “Helping Patrons Find Legal Assistance in Their Community: Online Referral Tools.” This webinar provided some excellent resources for legal assistance that you may want to keep handy.
Legal information: lawhelp.org - The state list on this site helps one find information related to housing, work, family, bankruptcy, disability, immigration and other topics. The direct link to the South Dakota site is helpsouthdakota.com
lsc.gov - Legal Services Corporation is the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans in the nation.
apps.americanbar.org – Broken down into information for each state in the U.S., this site guides a user to specific resources in each state. In addition, it also lists some national resources for foreclosure information.
legalhotlines.org - legal help for seniors, listing by state
thehotline.org - National Domestic Violence Hotline
immigrationlawhelp.org - help for low-income immigrants who need legal help, listing by state
statesidelegal.org - legal help for military members, veterans and their families
Also of note: sdbar.org - State Bar of South Dakota website
Federal Publications: A new government website, beta.congress.gov, was just released recently. It is currently in beta version and contains legislation from the 107th Congress (2001) to the present, member profiles from the 93rd Congress (1973) to the present, and some member profiles from the 80th through the 92nd Congresses (1947 to 1972). Eventually, it will incorporate all of the information available on THOMAS.gov.
Don't forget to call us 800-423-6665 or email us for research help.
Congratulations SDLA door prize winners
As always, State Library staff members enjoyed seeing those of you who made it out to the SDLA Conference in Huron last month. Staff members were busy with a number of different sessions and we thank each of you who attended. If there are topics you’d like to see covered at future SDLA conferences or continuing education topics for which we can build a presentation to take on the road or produce a webinar, please don't hesitate to contact us at 800-423-6665. Ask for anyone on the Library Development team.
Also, thank you to everyone that stopped by the State Library’s booth to visit and enter our door prize drawings too. Congratulations to all our door prize winners:
- LeAnn Kaufman – Freeman Public Library
- Doris Ann Mertz – Custer County Library
- Jackie Hess – Mitchell Public Library
- Elvita Landau & Katherine Eberline – Brookings Public Library
- Katie Pelzel – Siouxland Public Libraries
- Amber Wilde – Grace Balloch Memorial Library
- Sandy Urbanick – Presentation College
- Jane Norling – Beresford Public Library
- Pat Nelson – Lennox Community Library
- Dianne Frigge – I.D. Weeks Library
- Jean Deidtrich – Custer School District Libraries
- Vicki Grimli – Ortonville Public Library (MN)
- Ashley Courtney – Edgemont Public Library
- Linda Chandler – A.H. Brown Public Library
- Sabrina Olson – Alexander Mitchell Public Library
- Vi Leonard – Bison Public Library, and
- Melanie Argo – Madison Public Library
Working in the Virtual Stacks: The New Library & Information Science and other resources in the news
Reviewed by Jane Healy
Working in the Virtual Stacks: The New Library & Information Science by Laura Townsend Kane, Chicago: ALA, 2011, 167 pages.
Ever wonder what a veterinary medical librarian does all day? Considering moving into library directorship? What is a digital branch manager? Librarianship offers many new roles for 21st Century employees. Kane, a medical librarian and author, explores five of these roles in this book, updated from her 2003 title. The five areas of librarianship examined are subject specialists, technology gurus and social networkers, teachers and community liaisons, entrepreneurs and administrators.
Each chapter follows a similar format with a brief description of the role, the work environment, responsibilities, required skills, education and training and professional organizations.
The most interesting part of the book are the “spotlights” that conclude each chapter, short interviews with librarians well known in their specialty area. We follow their blogs and tweets, and now we get to hear from them in the trenches. Jessamyn West, Michael Porter, David Lee King, Michael Stephens, Steven Bell, and many others give us a glimpse into their professional lives and advice on how to nab a similar job.
Notes, pertinent web addresses and an index enrich this book. This and other books about librarianship are available from the State Library.
Other resources in the news:
- Black Hills Knowledge Network
- Google Cultural Institute
- Transforming Libraries – ebooks and digital content: ala.org