Outreach: Providing library services to community members outside of the library with no expectation that they come into the library.
Why provide outreach?
Many families don’t use the library for a wide variety of reasons. For some, it may be due to practical reasons: lack of transportation, shift work, not being able to attend a weekday morning storytime due to work, not having proof of address to get a library card, having (or fear of getting) their library cards blocked due to fines/fees, not being fluent in English, or simply being too busy to visit. Others may avoid the library if they feel marginalized in their community or unwelcome for other reasons. Some parents who struggle with literacy may avoid the library due to not knowing how to navigate it.
All of these reasons for not using the library are valid, and people should be able to access library services without needing to come into the library. As Sharon Smitty Miller, librarian at the Fraser Valley Regional Library, stated, “The services the library offers are as important for those who don’t walk into the library as for those who do.”Just having access to library services can change lives. Watch this very powerful story of a girl in a migrant family whose world is transformed with a bookmobile: https://storycorps.org/animation/the-bookmobile/. THIS is why libraries need to provide outreach services.
What does outreach look like?
First of all, your library does not need to have a bookmobile to provide outreach services! If it does, great; it is literally the iconic vehicle for delivering outreach services. If not, there are so many other options:
· Virtual services
· Pop-up libraries and programs
· Ready-assembled outreach kits for grab and go programming
· Book bikes
· Book vans
· Deposit collections
· Little Free Libraries
· Take and make activities
· Programming through local media
How do I start?
Providing outreach services may feel daunting, but there are steps to take to help you focus on specific underserved communities rather than trying to provide outreach to every nonlibrary user, all at once. Start with a close look at your community:
• Review the current demographics in your community, and look ahead to predictions to what changes might be coming, too.
• Ask who isn’t coming to your library? Why aren’t they coming?
• Select a target audience. No library can tackle trying to provide outreach to every member of the community who isn’t using the library. Focusing on 1 or 2 demographic groups can help you begin serving those members most in need.
• Reach out to leaders and organizations in target communities early in planning; seek and incorporate their input from the start. Work through existing infrastructures rather than trying to create a new one.
• With your partners, set goals that focus on outcomes, rather than outputs; instead of setting goals for how many people you’ll serve during this outreach, think instead of how the community members will benefit from the services.
• Determine venues and times convenient for your target communities by asking them directly. A critical component of providing outreach services is to offer them to your audience where they are, and when they’re there.
• Determine what library services are most of need and interest to your target communities. Don’t assume, or simply offer existing services; ask the members themselves.
• Build relationships with people in your target communities, and ask them to help spread the word about your new outreach services.
Where can I provide outreach services?
Ask members of your target communities what the most convenient venues for them are; where do they frequent? Where is easiest for them to get to? Outreach can also occur through broader partnerships with local organizations. Take a look at our Promising Partnerships page for some ideas.
Here are some suggestions, but the options are endless, and should focus on how to best reach your target communities:
· Community events
· Partner’s venues
· WIC offices and other social service agencies
· Reach Out and Read clinics
· Childcare centers and preschools
· Religious institutions
· Low-income housing developments
· Grocery stores
· Local parks
· Fast food restaurants
· Transit stations· Summer Food Service Program feeding sites and food banks
Who has the time?
It can be challenging to provide outreach services with limited staff when there are so many needs in the library. Here are some tips on how to start making time:
• Prioritize outreach. This often needs to come from library administration, so ask for their support in this prioritization if necessary.
• Collaborate with partners to deliver library services
• Train volunteers to deliver library services
• If demand is high for your outreach services, establish schedules—state that staff will visit each preschool one day each month, for instance
• Are there existing in-library programs that you can simplify, or maybe eliminate, to free up some time?
The GRT Outreach Success Cycle
Growing Readers Together developed the Outreach Success Cycle as a tool to help libraries better understand their community, discover target populations for outreach, and develop and evaluate the services that best fit the community’s needs. The Outreach Success Cycle can be used as an independent tool, or during a consultation with a GRT Early Literacy Librarian.
Your Community: By the Numbers
State and county-level data Colorado children and families.
The leading source of quality data about the nation’s people and economy.
Data tools and research providing insight into the metro Denver region.
Libraries across Colorado have built successful outreach partnerships with outside organizations. These partnerships allow libraries to connect with the community and provide greater access to services. The organizations listed here have multiple sites in Colorado, but every community is different. By getting to know your community, the local organizations that also have a stake in early learning and community support, and the target audience of your outreach, you have a greater chance of providing library services where they are needed most.