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?

Bad Art Day in the (Academic) Library

Last week, I hosted Bad Art Day, my second public program at Carroll Community College. Bad Art Day (or usually, Bad Art Night) is a popular program at public libraries, and it’s something I’ve wanted to try at an academic library for a while. The concept is pretty self-explanatory: you set out a bunch of art supplies and tell participants to go to town trying to make the ugliest piece of art that they can. 

This program had simple objectives: Creativity is messy. It’s ok to make mistakes. You don’t have to be a perfectionist. I even quoted Jake the Dog from Adventure Time: “Sucking is the first step towards being sort of good at something.”

"Dude, sucking at something is the first step towards being sort of good at something," Jake the Dog quote

I made a call for donated art supplies through our faculty newsletter, and got most of our art supplies this way! The only thing I needed to purchase was a selection of glues (glitter, stick), because all the donated glue was dried out. 

I was anticipating that it would be a hard sell to get students to stop, sit down, and do an active-participation event. I was truly bracing myself to paste on a smile and say “well, sometimes the programs are a bust,” and dutifully clean up my art supplies. Instead, we had 17 participants, including a few faculty members! 

Student making bad art using art supplies
An artist at work

Since starting programming in Fall 2021, our participation has been surprisingly good; there has been a real appetite for screen-free, face-to-face, low-stakes activities on this campus.

Students came between classes, they brought friends, and they chatted with each other while creating. The program was self-explanatory and students were eager to dig in to the art supplies. For the Bad Art Contest, I had the students give their pieces titles, which added to the humor and depth of the entries. 

After Bad Art Day, I created little table-tents with each artist’s name and the title of their pieces, then put them all on display in the library lobby. Students could come see the ugly art, and could even vote on their favorites! Having the art on display stretched the program into the rest of the week; just about everyone who came into the library stopped to look and chuckle at the pieces.

Photo of Bad Art on display across two folding tables
The titles that the students chose were widely regarded as the best part!

Outreach and programming work is possible by yourself, but I don’t recommend it. Whether I’m making a puzzle, choosing a program, or thinking through the logistics of an interactive display, I find myself running my ideas past another person. Interested circulation staff, an eager student worker or volunteer, and even my partner and family have been called on for their two cents on the wording of a discussion question or the layout of a poster. My best ideas have come from these conversational brainstorm sessions at the desk. 

No programming librarian is an island. And if you don’t have colleagues, Pinterest, blogs, library literature, and your patron audience can be your collaborators. I am finding inspiration everywhere.

Outreach as a Resident Librarian

Being a library resident has made my first year as an academic librarian an interesting experience to say the least. Through my residency, I have a level of autonomy I’ve come to realize isn’t afford to every first-year librarian. Some of my responsibilities are non-negotiable. Being an information literacy librarian on a campus where librarians are considered faculty means I have to teach a credit course, I have to publish, and I have to complete service work. Aside from teaching, I have a significant say in what the other aspects of my position look like.

Though my position didn’t come with any predesignated liaison areas, I’m still responsible for conducting outreach to my institution’s community. My autonomy has allowed me to think about the areas and populations I’m passionate about and focus my outreach efforts there. I ultimately decided that I wanted my outreach work to benefit others from similar backgrounds as mine. This meant that my outreach would be geared towards undergraduate, underserved, first-generation students. Since I wasn’t able to get much outreach experience during grad school – the second year of my program and internship was entirely remote – I knew I had to seek out advice and guidance from other librarians.

Luckily for me, my wonderful campus mentor was already working with several of the groups I was interested in supporting. More importantly, he was more than willing to let me collaborate with him in his outreach efforts. My mentor’s outreach areas include our institution’s McNair Scholars Program and the Center for Human Enrichment (CHE), another TRiO program focused on first-generation college students.

Our outreach to McNair and CHE takes on a variety of forms, but the overall strategy consists of being present during the times students will most likely be on campus. For example, both my mentor and I staff monthly office hours for each individual group. For CHE, they take place during their monthly study nights – students in the program are required to attend a certain number of CHE sponsored events each semester. For McNair, office hours are held an hour before their class starts in the McNair office. In addition to office hours, we also provide both groups with library instruction sessions. For CHE, this took the form of a library services session during orientation for the newest cohort. For McNair, instruction was more hands-on. For these students, we taught three separate sessions covering a variety of topics such as library research services, writing a literature review, and an overview of citation styles. That being said, our involvement with these groups isn’t limited to academics.

My library mentor introduced me to the idea of attending the events of your liaison groups. Though it may seem like a small gesture, I’ve come to realize that being present and participating in the social aspects of students’ lives is not only beneficial for their social-emotional wellbeing, but also demonstrates that librarians care about more than just academics. For example, this past Fall semester, my mentor and I both attended CHE’s student employee orientation and McNair’s Annual Awards Banquet. Attending these events allowed me the opportunity to get to better know the students we work with and vice-versa. Though I’m still new at my institution, I’ve quickly come to realize just how much more willing students are to meet with and ask for help from librarians they regularly see and interact with versus approaching a stranger at the reference desk. The outreach I’ve done for our campus’ César Chávez Cultural Center has served to reinforce this realization.

My institution is home to eight different cultural centers. From the Marcus Garvey Cultural Center to Veteran’s Services, each center focuses on one of the various populations present on campus. It’s important to note that resources like cultural centers can be crucial to supporting the success of underserved students, especially since BIPOC students account for half of all first-generation students. This, along with my desire to give back to and support students from my background, is why I provide outreach to my institution’s César Chávez Cultural Center.

My outreach to the Chávez Center is not that different than the outreach my colleague and I provide CHE and McNair. The Chávez Center typically hosts support events during both mid-terms and finals. In order to meet students where they’ll be, I work with the Chávez Center’s director and graduate assistant to coordinate office hours to coincide with other mid-term/finals week events held at the Center. When possible, I also do my best to attend cultural events held by the Center such as their annual Latinx Heritage Month Celebration Kickoff.

Like all good things, I’ve come to learn that building healthy outreach relationships takes time. Earning the trust of campus partners, especially those focused on supporting traditionally underserved students, doesn’t happen overnight. Assessing the fruits of that trust can be tricky but, for me, being recognized by students outside their respective social spaces serves as a significant marker of success. In one such instance, a cultural fraternity recognized me from the Chávez Center and used that connection to request a library session for the brothers themselves. Though I’m still crafting my outreach methods, being specifically sought out by students has been among my proudest moments as a first-year librarian.  

Finding the “yes and…” and getting out of my head

As the semester and end of the year approaches, I find myself reflecting on this question more frequently:

“Am I currently just trying to make it through the day or do I have the capacity and bandwidth to do other things?”   

I, like many of you reading this post, am tired. I feel like I’m doing just enough to stay a few steps ahead of everything. My best days are when I focus on one project and make slow and steady progress. I’m frustrated and anxious and that has bled into the ways I feel about work and the people I work with. I have felt stuck, in many ways, this fall. The jazzy Hailley some of you know can be a bit harder to find some days. 

What I’m slowly realizing is that my best strategy for handling these feelings is to step outside the library. Earlier this week, I attended another meeting of the Improv & Pedagogy Teaching Community, a group funded by our center for teaching excellence and led by faculty members who also are founders for a local improv group, Happy Valley Improv (HVI). 

Now, for some context, you should know I took an improv class with HVI at the start of 2020 (which seems like another lifetime ago). I had several motivations for taking the course, but mainly I wanted to try something new and was able to take the course with a close friend (shout out to my gal, Giorgia!). What I didn’t expect was that I truly loved doing improv. In an improv space, you’re asked to trust the people around you, get into the flow and energy of that group, and know that you’ll be accepted for whatever ideas you put forward. Everyone has agreed to the “Yes and…” philosophy and you make it work, with whatever you have been presented. While taking the in-person classes, I found it refreshing to turn the part of my brain that thinks about the next 10 moves and tap into my creative side, coming up with stories and backstories on the spot. I enjoyed the class so much, I had signed up for level 2 but obviously, the pandemic got in the way. 

So when I got the email about the fall meetings for the Improv & Pedagogy Teaching Community, I figured this was my way back into improv. I attended a session about a month ago and left the session feeling happier and more energetic than I had been in a while. It wasn’t a large group of us, no more than 12. We talked about our position at the university and how it’s related to teaching, and what we were experiencing in our virtual classrooms. During that first happy hour, we played a few games, where we got to rename ourselves, pass around the ball of energy, and dream up some new characters. 

When the next happy hour came around this past week, I thought about skipping it. There was a lot of library drama this week and I felt weighed down by everything. However, I reminded myself that I would probably feel better if I logged on. So, as 4:30 rolled around, I got onto Zoom and as soon as I got into the room, I started to smile. What struck me about this happy hour was that it was refreshing to talk to people not deeply interconnected with the library. Widening my group of colleagues gave me a new perspective I needed. As we sat in that Zoom room, we were all educators, sharing our experiences, testing out some games, solving problems, and thinking about our teaching pedagogy and how improv plays a role in our work. Sure it wasn’t quite the same as standing in the ballet studio HVI used for their classes but the way the happy hour helped me and my brain definitely felt the same. I feel lucky to have this teaching community and am appreciative that this space is available to me.

Upon further reflection, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the ethos of “Yes and…” plays into my student engagement and outreach work. I’ve always seen myself as a connector and the “yes and…” helps bring new ideas, events, and workshops to life. In two meetings this week, after the improv happy hour, I found myself taking the “yes and…” stance. The first came in a conversation with two groups of colleagues, where we were connecting two peer mentoring services and imagining new ways to bring them together and provide instruction. The second was with two colleagues in Outdoor Adventures, as we began to finalize a semester-long Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to increase the coverage of POCs who are involved in the outdoor industry. In both situations, I felt that spark of making connections and building something I didn’t anticipate when I entered the meeting. It will definitely be this sort of work that sustains me, during this pandemic and beyond. And this week has been about clarifying what that dynamic is, so I know how to get back to that space when I need it.  

I’m curious if any readers have something like improv that helps you? Both for getting out of your head but also might have applications to your work? Would love to hear how others are continuing to grapple with today’s reality (and if there are any other library improv folks out there!).  

Student clubs and making zines

Slowly but surely we’re making it through this fall semester. For a librarian focused on student engagement and outreach, this semester has been a pivot (probably a large understatement). As Valerie discusses in her first FYAL post, part of the challenge for our work is finding ways to connect with our students. With limited hours and closed spaces, our normal outreach strategy “Let’s host an event, market it, but also know some students will wander in” doesn’t work. It’s been a moment to stop and reset. I’ve tried to ask myself (and the students I work with) what do they need to survive this semester. In asking those questions, some events we would normally host in-person get cut. At the same time, I’ve hosted events this semester and sat patiently in a Zoom room for 15 minutes with no other participants, before calling it off. I’m sure I’m not alone in that experience. All of this is to say I’ve been thinking a lot about how outreach and student engagement work tie into the larger university experience. How do we create programs that help our students do the things they value doing, especially in a moment where our uncertainty for 2020 and 2021 is visible and present in every meeting and interaction? 

One way we’ve been exploring these ideas is through direct programs for student clubs. We were lucky that the past two years our student engagement & outreach intern (and colleague), Lily, built relationships with a couple of active student clubs, Triota and Schreyer for Women. In pre-pandemic times, we hosted book clubs and zine workshops with these students. We always had a good turnout and the students seemed excited to partner with the Libraries. As the fall semester began, we turned out attention to finding a way to do at least one program with these clubs. Some colleagues and I got together to plan these events. We chose zines and specifically thinking about ways to tie it in with women’s activism and voting, due to the impending election and a theme around women’s activism that is being sponsored by our Liberal Arts College. Our plan was to host a virtual zine workshop and include scanned copies of materials from our Special Collections and university archives. We figured we could put together packets of zine-making materials and either send them to students or coordinate a pick-up time if the student was on campus. 

Both clubs were interested and we got to work setting up Zoom registration links and zine-making packets. This past week we led the two workshops and it was wonderful to spend an hour with these students. We made zines, talked about Halloween costumes, and discussed our voting plans. We laughed, had moments of silence, and shared stories with one another. Our hour together flew by and I got off each call feeling more hopeful than I had been when I logged on. It was nice to craft and to mentally prepare for whatever next week will bring. I’m sharing my papers from my zine below, along with the prompts in case you too are interested in making a zine. Figuring out new ways to do outreach and engagement definitely keeps me on my toes but at the end of the day, it’s always nice to connect with our students. 



Our zine prompts (for an 8 page zine):

 Guided question
Cover Up to you!
#2What are three words that sum up how you’re feeling about the 2020 election?
#3Tell us about the first time you voted and or an election that was (or is) important to you
#4What does activism mean to me?
#5
#6How was your definition/meaning of activism changed over time?
#7What work is left to do?
BackWhat gives you hope for the future?

A shout out to my colleagues, Angel Diaz, Clara Drummond, and Danica White for collaborating on these events! I hope there are many more zine workshops in the future.