Outreach is one of my favorite aspects of my job, and I eagerly accept most invitations to staff a library information table at community events. Taking the library message outside the walls of your building and into the community is critical in these lean budget years where we need all the advocates we can get! You’ll introduce nonusers to your services and entice them to visit, and you’ll connect in new ways with your current patrons. Over the years, I’ve learned (often the hard way) about the best approaches to these outreach opportunities. These are my standard items to bring to any event:
- Bookmarks with library information
- Library giveaways like pencils, magnets, reusable bags, etc.
- Stickers for the kids (a surefire way to draw families to your table!)
- Library calendar of events/flyers for upcoming programs
- Baskets and literature holders for giveaways
- Tablecloth and banner with library name
- Scissors and tape (these always come in handy, and inevitably another exhibitor sees I have them and asks to borrow them)
- Bottled water and no-mess snacks for myself and anyone working the table with me
- Cell phone with contact numbers for event organizers and staff working the event
That’s my basic packing list, but I tailor it to the particular event. If I’m outside, I’ll make sure to have sunglasses, sunscreen, and a lightweight jacket. Wind can wreak havoc on your beautifully displayed table, so bring a paperweight to anchor down flyers. Don’t be the panicked librarian abandoning your table to retrieve summer reading program calendars soaring around the park. (Yes, I’ve been there — done that.)
If you bring a craft for the kids, think simple preassembled projects with minimal components. You’re already schlepping a ton of stuff — do you want to add glue, glitter, markers, and construction paper to the list? I made the mistake once of bringing a craft to a farmers’ market that took too long to finish. I witnessed many parents, loaded down with fresh produce, get impatient and frustrated as their kids refused to leave until the project was complete. Lesson learned. Save your cutest craft ideas for your regular library programs. Often I find a basic coloring sheet with a booklist on the flip side serves as a perfectly adequate craft for these events. Just bring a small container of crayons, and you’re good to go.
Sometimes I’ll bring candy to lure people to the library table, but again — learn from my mistakes. Chocolate + hot weather + hours outdoors = FAIL. Hard candy is the superior choice, and it’s often cheaper.
Once you have gathered everything, how are you going to transport it? One world — wheels. I invested in a rolling suitcase designed for scrapbookers who take supplies to parties. With all of its little compartments and pockets, it’s perfect for outreach events. I also see many librarians use rolling crates that fold for easy, compact storage.
The vast majority of the people you encounter will be thrilled to see their library out in the community, and will shower you with praise. But just like working a public service desk, you might hear some not-so-positive feedback as well. You are attending the event as a representative of the library, and people will stop to share their opinions. If there is a current hot-button issue regarding your library (like a tax levy), consult your supervisor prior to the event and get some talking points. Your supervisor may advise you to refer any concerns or questions to library administration, and that’s fine — just make sure to have their business cards on hand to distribute if needed.
With a little preparation, community outreach events can generate a ton of good will and good press for your library. Don’t forget your water, your sunscreen, and most importantly — to have fun!
Susan Baier, Division Manager of Youth and Extension Services
Santa Clara City Library