I love living and working in an urban environment. Between never having to drive to work, having my pick of a million places to have lunch, my summer time walks to the farmer's market outside of the Museum of Modern Art, and the amazing network I've been able to develop - I feel like it would be hard for me to ever leave the city. One of our biggest benefits is the number of libraries (public, special, and academic) in our vicinity. There are over 30 degree granting institutions in the city (City Colleges, Private and Public Universities, Graduate Degree only - and for-profit schools on top of that!) and dozens more in the suburban area. Add in all the public libraries, the ALA and ILA offices, and other special interest organizations and I can hardly go a week without having a professional development or networking meeting in our area - and I wouldn't have it any other way. Unfortunately, along with all of these amazing benefits, unique challenges arise.
The Francis W. Parker School is a JK-12 independent school located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago, and has approximately 930 students utilizing one shared 9,000 square foot library. The school is 114 years old and is founded on the progressive principles and philosophies of John Dewey.
Here at Loyola, we have a strong commitment to social justice. Every department has a component of their strategic plan devoted to how that department will fulfill the university mission. Libraries inherently have a social justice component, as we try to select materials covering all aspects of scholarship and provide access to as many users as possible. However, copyright frequently prohibits our sharing. Several years ago, before I started working here, the University and the Library decided it was time to start an open access institutional repository to make faculty scholarship more widely available to the world. The following is a detailed account at our attempts to promote the repository and engage faculty in the open access discourse.
I have been putting off writing this post for some time. I wanted to build rapport with readers before suggesting something so audacious...however a recent discussion in the PR Talk listserv had helped me determine that the world is, in fact, ready to hear why I hate the word "outreach" with such fervor that it tops the list of my library marketing pet peeves. To be clear, it really is the word outreach I despise so much...not the actions and associated benefits of what it accomplishes.
A quick article search for the term "outreach" produces predictably varied results. In library literature, the term starts appearing quite frequently in the 70's in various contexts. It seemed to be en vogue in other disciplines a bit earlier on starting in the late 60's, or earlier depending on the discipline being investigated. Over time, the use of the term evolves and the frequency changes dramatically, as it does with most buzzwords.
I think one of the reasons "outreach" has stuck around for so long is because it is inherently a good idea. We should "reach out" to people - we are, after all, a public service. I am going to be very deliberate with my language in this post, because I do not want to give off the wrong impression. Much like my comments on publicity vs. promotion - I don't want my language to confuse anyone. Just because I do not like the word "outreach" does not mean I think we should stop all efforts to engage our populations, just like you shouldn't use the word "promotion" incorrectly but that doesn't mean we stop promoting the library.
I have three core problems with the term outreach:
The debate on what to call people that walk into the library and use the space or service is not a new discussion. Recently, a great article summing up the pros and cons of different terminology was published in Public Libraries. Pundsack, K. (2015). Customers or Patrons?. , (1), 41-44.
This discussion is very well-laid out and thoughtful, and it got me thinking about terminology. I think every library will have a different priority for naming their constituents - but the decision should be deliberate and thoughtful.
We take lots of still pictures at our library. We post them on social media, we put them in our newsletter. We submit them to the local media. But we had never produced a video. With our big fundraiser coming up, we thought it was an ideal time to try to capture the essence of our library in a video we could showcase at the event.
If you are an educator you have likely heard talk of “digital badges” (perhaps in association with competency-based learning or micro-credentialing). While digital badges are becoming more established as training models in many businesses, there are mixed feelings about their place in higher ed, opponents often dismissing them as juvenile or as a threat to traditional assessment methods. At the University at Albany Libraries, however, we have discovered the many benefits of digital badges through our development and implementation of the Metaliteracy Badging System.
For those who are unfamiliar with this emerging trend, a digital badge is a hyperlinked icon that signifies an accomplishment or an achievement. Like a traditional badge you might be picturing from your days as a Boy or Girl Scout, a digital badge recognizes and rewards a job well done. Unlike traditional badges, however, digital badges are hyperlinked with data, which can include evidence of the learning that took place and verification of the achievement from the issuing individual or organization. Once earned, a digital badge can easily be shared with admissions committees or potential employers, on professional networks and digital portfolios, with a simple click of the mouse.
The only thing I love more than creative advertising is a creative program to be advertised. I will also be honest - I am a huge Microsoft fan. I am a proud owner of a first generation Surface, HTC One M8, Xbox 360, and a series of new and old desktops and laptops. The seamless integration of all the devices is enough to make me a fan, but this is not a technology post - this is all about Microsoft's brilliant new advertisement for services.
Each year we try to entice students to visit the library in a number of ways; we start with incoming Freshman during orientations. We are a regular participant in LUCO - Loyola University Chicago Orientation - which takes place several times each summer starting in May and ending in August. Our Freshman classes have been increasing every year for the past decade, so there are typically several sessions of orientations to accommodate the roughly 3,000 new students (first years and transfers).
This may seem a bit off-putting, and even counter-intuitive at first, but there is something to be said about removing the library from the locus of your programming. Let me explain...
Last year while working with a group of public library marketing specialists we started discussing recent programming that failed to meet expectations. These unsuccessful programs either had low attendance, poor performance, or did not meet patron expectations. One program that was discussed in detail had been created and managed by a library's Youth Services department. The program, aimed at Kindergarten readiness, was named something along the lines of "1,000 Books Before Kindergarten." It was designed based off of literature written by educational experts that essentially proved that ready at that rate will put students ahead in school at a very young age.
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