Engaging in Outreach Efforts & Meaningful Community Building

As a MLIS student at San Jose State University (SJSU), I often read about the importance of promoting library services through outreach efforts. During that time, I ran across the following quote that illustrates this point, and it continues to resonate with me:

Gone are the days when libraries can simply open their doors and expect to be perceived as the number one option for information services. With fierce competition for funding and more people assuming everything offered by a library can be found online, libraries are feeling the pressure to blow their own horn (Hallmark et al., 2007).

Last year, I started as a Lecturer Librarian at CSU Northridge. Since I began in the summer of 2023, I did not immediately have instruction requests or deadlines for collection development. Instead, I directed my attention to outreach opportunities, which continued to be part of my priorities throughout the fall and even now in the spring. I work closely with the Outreach Librarian to deliver outreach programming to keep patrons abreast of upcoming library events, and to promote library collection materials by designing book displays. I have collaborated with faculty, staff, students, and community members to make these events successfully happen. So far, I have remained committed to outreach efforts by participating in the “Ask a Librarian” tabling events, the Resources & Services Fair, the New Student Orientation, CSUN Open House, National Transfer Student Week, and library tours for K-12 students. I am particularly proud of my involvement in creating virtual and in-person book displays for Latinx Heritage Month and Black History Month.

While the outreach opportunities mentioned above have been quite rewarding, I was curious to participate in wider campus efforts centered on outreach and community building. Late last fall, I was selected to be a Library Liaison for the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) at CSU Northridge. This office strives to enhance academic experiences through community-based (service) learning, engaged research and sustained partnerships within the San Fernando Valley, and the greater Los Angeles Area. In my role, I support faculty members as they develop community-engaged projects and/or courses. Faculty members receive support in creating syllabi that outline community-based learning outcomes centered on equity, diversity, and inclusion. I expect that I will also recommend community-engaged readings, and activities for their syllabi.

Since I’m serving in the inaugural cohort, the other Library Liaisons and I have been working on recruitment. During our last departmental meeting, we offered our librarian colleagues a brief overview about the OCE, and we introduced them to grant opportunities designed for faculty members committed to community-engaged courses, projects, research, or creative activities. Additionally, I have been spreading awareness about the OCE to professors and lecturers in the department of Central American & Transborder Studies. After I teach my information literacy sessions, I’ll typically pitch an elevator speech to these faculty members. Usually, faculty members teaching Ethnic Studies already incorporate community-building into the design of their courses, which makes them great candidates.

Overall, I’m hoping my efforts evolve into effective partnerships, so that I may further engage in meaningful practices centered on community building and social justice. I’m definitely in the early stages of developing my own approach towards outreach and community service. I was hoping to hear from experienced academic librarians. Would anyone be willing to share their own strategies?

Displays in Academic Libraries

Whenever I’m running low on display ideas, I have my favorite go-to methods for finding ideas and inspiration: Consult Chase’s to find interesting or relevant upcoming holidays or anniversaries! Refer to my (admittedly, somewhat neglected) Pinterest board of ideas I wanted to remember for later! Or, when I’m really at a loss… just Google it (“[month] library displays”). I generally find plenty of good examples that way, but I’ve noticed that a lot of them come from children’s and teen librarians, and public libraries in general.

I worried for a while that this meant I was doing this part of my job wrong… Isn’t there a difference between public and academic displays? Shouldn’t there be?

I’ve heard a wide variety of opinions on the role of displays in academic libraries, including that they should…

  • …provide leisure or extracurricular reading for students who want a break.
  • …encourage involvement in student clubs, volunteer activities, or civic engagement.
  • …be directly related to coursework through a partnership with teaching faculty.
  • …encourage student success by promoting study skills and time management.
  • …be interactive.
  • …make users say, “I didn’t know the library had that!”
  • …be big and flashy and catch attention; if they go viral, you’re nailing it.
  • …be funny and light-hearted.
  • …be serious and scholarly.
  • …include handouts or other freebies / takeaways.
  • …tie into online research guides on a related topic, with QR codes or posted URLs.
  • …be used as a recruitment tool and encourage enrollment / registration.
  • …consist only of items that can be checked out.
  • …showcase archival or rare items (preferably under glass, lock, and key).
  • …target current students OR potential students OR everyone OR a specific club/group.
  • …be archived online for digital engagement with users who weren’t there in person.
  • …be the result of input or work from users themselves along with the library.

All of these are good suggestions in the right context, and I think a mix of these makes for a better collection of displays. I always like having a few “fun” displays and a few “serious” displays at the same time, to reach a wider audience and to show more of the types of things the library can provide. The only restriction should be fitting a need of your users, but users have a lot of needs, so you have a lot of options.

After being “the display person” for several years, I see displays as a visual place where you can see all of Ranganathan’s laws in play, and have tried to keep these concepts in mind when building displays. Books are for use: let them take a vacation from the shelf and get a little fresh air! Someone might pick them up serendipitously, when they would never have gone looking for them on the shelf. Every person their book: not only should collections reflect the needs and interests of the people, but the displays should too, in a more narrowly focused and temporary way. Every book its person: I find that displays are one way of checking on the interest in a topic or a specific item; if it doesn’t get used on the shelf and it doesn’t get used on display, you may want to reconsider its place in the collection. Save the time of the user: if you’re making timely displays with wide interest, the display may provide the user quicker access to the items they’re looking for. The library is a growing organism: use displays to highlight new items, or showcase interesting library services like 3D printing to remind users of all we have to offer them.

Note that, in the advice above, I didn’t mention anything exclusive to academic libraries, or exclusive of them, either. What that means, to me, is that I can unabashedly borrow ideas from public and children’s library displays, as long as they’re relevant to my library’s users as well. And when something doesn’t work, at least I learned from that idea. (Example: I have always been hesitant to do a “blind date with a book” for an academic library, because I worry that someone might go looking for a specific book that happened to be used in the display, and not be able to find it, whereas the public library (1) is more likely to have multiple copies of fiction titles, and (2) has more of a browsing collection, while we have more of a “searching” collection.)

What kinds of displays have you put up in your academic libraries? What have you had success with, and what did not work out so well? (Bonus points for sharing photos!)

Holistic Advocacy, or The Case of the Annoyingly-Optimistic Librarian

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Courtney Block, Instruction, Reference, and User Engagement Librarian at Indiana University Southeast.

Storytellers. It’s what all professional librarians end up being in addition to our other specific roles or niches. But it’s not something they really prepare you for when you’re getting your MLS. There might be an occasional class, lecture, or even an entire course on public relations, managing, or marketing – but how often did anyone discuss how to be the library’s best storyteller? And how often did they discuss the perils and pitfalls of getting everyone in your library to be enthusiastic about storytelling?

I should probably point out that I’m not talking about tot-time. The kind of storytelling I’m talking about is advocacy. Pure, unadulterated, non-stop, advocacy. As librarians, we are all too familiar with the constant need to promote, market, advocate for, and tell our story. We are always highlighting the many services and resources we offer. We are always responding to the perpetual, “I had no idea libraries (fill in the blank here)” comments. And we are always making the case for the continued need for libraries in society.

The ways in which we tell our stories are often not grandiose. Which is fine – they don’t need to be. For example, perhaps we advocate via email with colleagues about information literacy, or explain to family and friends at social events that we can indeed help them find information on that topic, or perhaps we even market the latest database, tool, resource, or service to our local newspapers.

Advocacy comes naturally to the professional librarian. At least it does for me. Perhaps this is because I started my professional library career in public libraries, where I interacted with patrons and answered questions on a daily basis, or perhaps it’s because I’m currently the User Engagement Librarian at my organization. I’d like to think, though, that as librarians we have a natural tendency to advocate for our profession and the many contributions it provides to people and society. I like to think we’re just wired that way.

It seems like I’m making advocacy seem so easy, doesn’t it? One of the things we quickly learn about advocacy is that it’s tiring. Sometimes I just don’t have it in me to advocate for or explain one more thing for the day. So while it may be a natural tendency, it’s easy to get burnt out on advocacy – and fast.

That’s where system-wide storytelling support comes in. Getting each person in your organization to commit to being a storyteller themselves is necessary not only for alleviating your advocacy burnout, but also for enhancing your library’s user experience and enhancing the perception of the library to your stakeholders – be they members of the public or university administrators.

Consider this: front line staff who are initial points-of-contact for users are often not librarians. They might be student workers, professional support staff, clerks, or even pages. And while they may be very skilled and proficient at their jobs, they simply might not view each interaction as an opportunity for advocacy. I don’t mean to imply that staff run through a list of services and statistics each time they interact with a user. Rather, I’m arguing that there should be collaboration between professional librarians and all library workers to engage in advocacy efforts at every point of user interaction. Getting buy-in from all staff regarding the atmosphere you would like to promote is key to ensuring memorable user experiences.

It’s one of the things I try to do at my library, and it means engaging in continuous conversations with staff about what librarianship means. And to me, that means enhancing the user experience at every possible moment. During a time in which information literacy skills seem sorely lacking and the future of the IMLS is uncertain, engaging in collaborative advocacy efforts can help ensure that we don’t seem passive. In fact, it will display to patrons that every library worker carries within them a little spark of the spirit of librarianship.

I’m sure it seems like I might be painting another conveniently rosy picture. I know getting system-wide buy in for this might be a daunting task. Not all staff will be as impassioned as I am about being all “carpe diem” for advocacy. Perhaps not even all staff will be receptive to listening to my ideas – territorial issues abound, after all, in any organization. What I try to keep in mind during these conversations, though, is being open to staff ideas and suggestions on any and all library-related issues. I also try to investigate what the library means to them, and to use their own paradigm as a starting point to investigate how the user experience can be enhanced from their point-of-view.

The point I’m trying to make is that each point-of-contact is an opportunity to make or break someone’s perception of the library. And the best way to ensure positive user experience is to try and get all employees engaged in the same spirit of librarianship that is harbored by those of us who are impassioned (if sometimes overzealous). Holistic advocacy is what we’re shooting for.

Advocacy has implications for all libraries, but there are some special considerations for the academic library. Libraries ensconced on a college campus have opportunities and obligations to collaborate with other university departments as well as campus administrators. At a college or university, the library’s director is not the stopping-point for decisions that can be made regarding space or budget. This is not to say that visions and ideas between administration and librarians won’t mesh or that they won’t work together – I’m not saying that at all. I’m simply positing that advocacy is key in getting campus administrators to see and believe in that sense of librarianship, and the best way to achieve this is to get as many folks on board as possible, regardless of rank, title, or position. Not only will the quality of user experience be enhanced, but if the time comes for changes to be made or suggested by campus administrators, perhaps a robust advocacy strategy will ensure the best possible outcome.

I might view the role of advocacy through rose-colored glasses, but that’s okay. I don’t mind being viewed as that annoyingly-optimistic librarian, so long as you give me five minutes of your time.

Make it Work!: Starting a Makerspace in an Academic Library Phase 2

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Hannah Pope, Emerging Technologies Librarian at Appalachian State University.

As anyone who has gone through the steps of creating a new library space knows, it can be a long process. Once the space is identified and the equipment has been purchased, then comes the hard part – actually pulling it all together.

The makerspace at my library opened on January 31st after a frantic couple of weeks in which my team and I worked practically non-stop. I’m going to take a second to brag about my colleagues, both librarians and staff, who were amazing through the whole process. The space never would have looked anywhere close to ready without them! We held a soft opening for the library a little before the official opening, which served as both a thank you as well as an introduction to the new services. One of the most important aspects of opening a makerspace, or really any library space, is getting the support of the people who will work there every day. Publicity is always a factor in opening a new space, and having the library staff on board will translate to a higher degree of support around the campus as a whole. Here are a couple of ways that our library worked to promote the space:

Host an Event!

Creating a grand opening is one of the best ways to not only publicize the makerspace, but also provide an educational opportunity for patrons. When opening your makerspace, giving an opportunity for the machines to be explored by students, faculty, and staff is invaluable. Patrons become more familiar with the space, and it can spark ideas for how they can incorporate certain machines into their projects. Our makerspace is on the lower level of the library, and not immediately visible to people regularly flowing in and out. By hosting a grand opening, we worked to get students down to the new space and tried to alleviate some of the library anxiety that can occur when trying to find a new area.

Incentivizing the Masses

Our opening was over the course of three days, and we created a variety of incentives to check out the space. Besides providing food, there were also a couple of activities that patrons could do, including learning about basic circuits by creating LED Throwies, and making school specific stickers on the vinyl cutter. We also held a prize drawing in exchange for the patrons filling out a makerspace survey. This was a great way for us to collect some initial data while bringing in more visitors, and we gave away a 3Doodler 3D printing pen. In addition, we are also running a month long name/logo contest, with the winner’s design being used for our advertising, and they will win a small 3D printer! The opening was a success, and it drummed up a lot of interest in makerspaces on campus. If creating your own makerspace, definitely consider using the grand opening as a way to do campus outreach in a fun and engaging way!

Initial Educational Opportunities

While the opening was a success, there was a lot more than just putting up physical machines that went into creating the makerspace. In order to make the library into a place of knowledge creation, the makerspace needed to have a very distinct educational element. I attempted to create this by making use of both LibGuides and signage. The makerspace was divided into sections which had complimentary technology. Signs were then created with information that would both jump start projects as well as highlight safety concerns. These colorful signs made the space both educational and aesthetically pleasing. Because the makerspace in my library was created using an already available space and limited budget, it was important to pick and choose exactly what that money could be spent on. For our initial opening, we focused more on machines as opposed to furniture and aesthetics, so including the signage brightened the space. The signs also directed users to the LibGuides if they wanted more information about a piece of equipment, or how to get started. This combination of signs and online material makes it easy for users to begin creating and learning quickly.

Although the makerspace has only been open for a few weeks at this point, and has limited hours due to staffing constraints, it has been a success. We have had many students, faculty and staff come to the space to explore and learn a new machine. The University has already added the space to tours for potential new faculty hires. The positive response has been both exciting and daunting – now we just have to deal with keeping up with demand!

Lengthening Our (Out)reach

I’ve written before about the faculty workshops we offer at my library. When we started to expand our offerings a few years ago we thought it would be a good opportunity both to promote our resources for faculty as well as engage in some general library outreach. While we’re a small college library we do have resources for faculty research and scholarship, often more than our faculty realize (especially if they’ve come from graduate work at a large research university). And it worked for a while — our workshops met with a reasonable amount of of success and were well attended.

Lately attendance has dropped off, and there could be any number of reasons for this. One is that there are simply more events on campus these days, more possible ways to spend those periods of free time. I’m at a commuter college and we have a club hour once a week, and it’s incredible how much goes on during that 90 minute block (for both faculty and students). We’ve tried a few different days and times for scheduling but inevitably I get a handful of emails after the fact from faculty who wanted to come to the workshop but just couldn’t fit it into their busy schedules.

Another possibility is content exhaustion: while we’ve refreshed the topics we cover in our faculty workshops, it’s possible that we may be beginning to exhaust the number of faculty who are interested in the workshop content we’re offering. There are a few workshops that remain popular and a few that stubbornly, disappointingly don’t. It’s probably time for us to reevaluate our workshop content and either refocus or consider how to better market the underperformers.

Recently we’ve started to consider a faculty workshop menu: a choose your own topic combo from our range of subjects. I know many libraries have tried this method for promoting information literacy instruction for students. We plan to create a menu and then communicate directly with individual departments, offering to schedule a workshop with the components they choose at a time that’s convenient for them (perhaps a department meeting?). We might even target multiple related disciplines, for example, the allied health departments.

A quick web search didn’t return examples of other libraries marketing their workshops to faculty menu-style. Has anyone tried this method for faculty outreach? What other successful strategies have you used to market library workshops to faculty?