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?

The Distributed Library: Our Two-Year Experiment

This month’s post in our series of guest academic librarian bloggers is from Erin Dorney, Outreach Librarian at Millersville University, Pennsylvania. She also blogs at Library Scenester.

Last week, a small fire* forced all faculty, staff, and library users out of our nine-floor building for about an hour. As I stood the requisite 50 feet away and watched four trucks full of firefighters lug fans, ladders and various pointed objects inside, my colleague posed an interesting question:

“Wow…where are all these students going to go during the renovation?”

As I looked around us at hundreds of students standing in the lawn – laptops unplugged but open in hand, juggling cups of coffee, fingers flying over cell phones and cameras snapping shots of the flashing red lights – I shivered with excitement. It was great to see a visual reminder of who my colleagues and I work to serve: the users. Okay, maybe excitement laced with fear as well, but the good kind of fear – the stuff that drives you forward.

I am about to embark on my first journey into a daunting academic library renovation project. When I interviewed for my position as Outreach Librarian at Millersville University during the spring of 2008 (straight out of graduate school from Syracuse University), the search committee asked me how I would design a marketing campaign to provide awareness to students and faculty before and during a renovation. Little did I know that those interview scenarios were true!

I tried to catch your attention with the fire opening (no one likes the idea of books burning, right?), but if that didn’t do the trick maybe this will: During our upcoming renovation, the majority of our 350,000 physical items will be going into storage. Offsite. With no retrieval. For a period of two years.

Are you listening now?

With a building that is over 40 years old, the Millersville University Library will be gutted and completely renovated starting in the fall of 2011. Everyone currently working in the building will be relocated to other spaces on campus (and we’ll be testing out embedding librarians in different academic buildings). As the role of academic libraries has changed significantly, our facilities are in dire need of a makeover. The new building will provide students with the staples of the academic library space: natural lighting, flexible furniture, secure spaces, programming areas, exhibit space, physical accessibility, ubiquitous technology, 24-hour public areas, a café and more. Thus far, no one has complained about what the new library will look like. Instead, I spend most of my time calming fears about the transition period – the two years when our current building will be under construction, with most of the print books boxed up and out of sight.

There are so many questions, and I’ll be the first to admit that we don’t have all of the answers about how this will play out. I can assure you that we are committed to meeting the research needs of current and future Millersville students. Over the past few years we have been building our electronic book collection and focusing on article databases that will make scholarship available to students no matter where they (or we) are located. Our mutual dependencies with other libraries for things like ILL will become more important. However, the services that we currently offer will continue to be offered during the construction period.

We are also committed to being as transparent as possible about our decision making process and have been inviting student feedback through our renovation website and the creation of a library student advisory board. My goal is no surprises… or, rather, only pleasant ones.

Beyond the impact on students, this renovation project has major implications for other institutions of higher education. What happens when the physical library goes away for a little while? Or, what happens when the library’s resources are distributed around the campus, or move towards electronic access more quickly than anyone anticipated? People have asked me if I’m afraid that this is the end of the academic library, wondering if we will become irrelevant during the two years we’re out of the building. My response? I guess it’s possible, but only if I sit on my hands for the next two years. Instead, I’ll be out integrating the library into campus, infiltrating academic buildings, increasing thought-provoking programming, and providing top-notch service to the campus community so that when we do come back into the new library, we bring everyone along with us. In my world, you can probably have a library without printed books. You can’t really have a library without people.

This is an opportunity for us to put libraries out there, to challenge ideas of what a library can and should be. If you are interested in learning more about the project, I invite you to visit our Renovation Website, where the most up-to-date information is posted. I welcome any comments and questions – have you dealt with a major library renovation? How is communication handled within your library? Tips or lessons learned?

* in a heating vent, no worries!