Outreach and advocacy tend to go hand in hand, right? We’re intentional advocates when we’re out in the community. We table. We show-off or model a variety of useful resources, often targeted to the groups were engaging. We play and we talk with families about the library and how our work matches up with their needs. The whole time, we’re telling our story, and promoting its vitality to members of the community. In essence, we’re building relationships with new users.
This topic is on my mind a lot because it adds meaning and purpose to the outreach I do. So, today I’d like to pose a question I’ve asked myself frequently: what does advocacy look like when we outreach to daycares, preschools, head starts, or other early education organizations – especially when our main role is to facilitate a storytime with children?
I serve a heavily populated urban community, so I regularly visit head starts and childcare organizations. I prepare a storytime and talk about the library in simple terms with the children I visit. They know me, often as “Library Man”, and when I come across them outside their schools and in the community, their attention is drawn to me. It’s here, not the early learning environment, where I get to meet a fair number of caregivers. In these moments I advocate and talk about the library as a space for young children to play and learn.
Of course, both the child and the adult are stakeholders in our work. Both will experience our excellent services. Both will tell our story to those they know. Both will advocate our work. Yet the caregiver, the child’s first and best teacher, is generally not present when we visit these spaces. They are a vital part of our advocacy efforts inside early education organizations. How do we level-up our outreach to meet them? Is a chance meeting with a caregiver the best possible advocacy outcome? What more can we do?
I’ve begun to get more involved within early education organizations. We are a valuable component of these partnerships. We provide free, fun, and educational content to these organizations. So, I’ve started to ask to speak to the teachers and aides about library services and early learning. We discuss my library’s teacher card program and storytime kits that offer a collection of exceptional, diverse, thematic books and song ideas they can use. These teachers, aides, and administrators begin to see me more as a collaborator than an occasional visitor.
So how about those caregivers? I’ve found that as my relationships deepens, our education partners are more willing to invite me at times when parents and caregivers are also present. I ask about parent/caregiver education classes or participation components. I pitch ways that I can add value to events, parties, orientations, or graduations. When this succeeds, and it doesn’t always, I have the chance to advocate the vitality of the library to the full spectrum of stakeholders: the children, their teachers and administrators, and their caregivers.
Does this bring them to the library? Not always. That’s the nature of outreach. This advocacy is also about building partnerships and support from community stakeholders who see the value in the work we do. Their support, as active library users or not, is crucial in helping us thrive.
How do you build a deeper connection and make community with your early education partners? How does that relate to your library advocacy? Leave your ideas below!
Nate Halsan is the co-chair of the ALSC Advocacy and Legislation Committee. He is a Youth Services Librarian with the Sacramento Public Library in Sacramento, California.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency: V. Outreach and Advocacy.