One of the most formidable aspects of public library work is reaching out to community members who are not current library users. This challenge can be made more daunting when trying to reach immigrant and non-English speaking populations who may not be present at more typical outreach events like back-to-school nights. Meeting these groups where they are is important as many times they have not previously used libraries and are not sure what services we provide or if they are able to get a library card.
To bridge this gap, Alexandria Library staff members have been visiting a local doctor’s office in a low-income Hispanic neighborhood for the last three years. Every Monday morning at 8:30am, Patricia Amaya and Christian Reynolds arrive wearing aprons embroidered with the library logo to engage parents and children while they wait for their appointments.
Patricia, a native Spanish speaker, talks with adults about what the library offers, focusing on programs that may interest them most, such as ESL classes, passport services, and Spanish language resources. Using an iPad, Patricia can show our library website and how to log into databases like Odillo and Mango Languages. She also carries a binder full of Spanish language flyers about library programs, services, and databases to give those interested.
Meanwhile, Christian engages the children through books, which range from board books to longer stories to search and find books. Interacting with children of many ages each week, she makes sure she has books to fit a variety of interests and language abilities. Children often are looking for entertainment as they wait and eagerly circle around Christian, choosing books from her basket that interest them most. Depending on the group, sometimes Christian will read the text of a book, talk with the children about the pictures, or sing songs and nursery rhymes with them.
While connecting with new partners for outreach programs can be difficult, we found that the doctor’s office was eager to work with us. Even before we approached them, they had been promoting the importance of reading and giving free books to families with babies through the Reach Out and Read program. We were a natural fit as we complemented the services they were already providing.
The impact of our weekly doctor’s office outreach is hard to quantify, but many people with whom Patricia and Christian have spoken have shared that they are now library patrons because of their conversations. The biggest reasons they shared for not using the library before are that they didn’t know what we offered and were intimidated to visit since their countries didn’t have libraries, barriers that our outreach has successfully overcome.
Diana Price is the Youth Services Manager at Alexandria Library’s Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library in Alexandria, Virginia. She is passionate about serving underserved populations in her community and creating innovative youth programs. In her spare time she enjoys Scottish Country Dancing and spoiling her dog.