Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Outreach is dead. Long live outreach?

Excellent, excellent article about outreach services in libraries.

Some good points:
  • "If the people who you’re attempting to reach seek services from you (rather than you reaching them) it is not outreach."

  • "But let’s face it, these services and the community-based nature of public libraries are essential to what today’s library is. It is not extra, it is mandatory and we should all be engaged and providing targeted, community-based services to our constituents."

  • "We have the ability to be in our communities, to engage them and offer specific targeted services. Our engagement with our communities can be the defining aspect of what a library is to any given community [....] Traditional “outreach” services should be an integrated part of what we do, not an aside, a tacked on item."

  • "How are we going to train library staff to provide those 30 second elevator speeches? Who will take the lead to ensure that circulation staff, reference staff, and others know how to engage in the services we’ve been calling outreach? If we expect everyone to engage in this work, staff need to have the skills and knowledge to be able to do so." Such an important point. Not everyone is inclined to be good at outreach in general, or "30 second elevator speeches" specifically. Why don't we use the people who have those skills, train the ones who want to learn, and let the others apply their numerous other skills to numerous other aspects of library services?

  • "Outreach is usually considered a separate department, when marketing and promotion of outreach activities within institutions get delegated to separate “marketing,” “communications,” or “public relations” departments. Wouldn’t it be best if the two were integrated? These departments often produce and distribute printed and written materials such as press releases, brochures and flyers, or craft an organizational mission statement. This kind of community engagement remains essential. We must learn to embrace marketing and collaborate with our marketing and communications departments for our community-centered services to achieve their potential."

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