If libraries simply report outputs as we always have, we run the risk of someone else dictating our worth.Meredith Farkas, “Your Library’s Story”
I think about this potential pitfall frequently. Even more so, I worry about how relying on traditional metrics creates eyes-glazed-over reactions from stakeholders who already struggle to remember how libraries’ play a necessary and invaluable role in higher education.
Libraries are essential to the educational mission of the university, but we have become so very efficient at integrating into that mission that we’ve become invisible. While I knee-jerkingly resist worn out tropes about librarians, I sometimes find it valuable to play on these archetypes in my outreach and communications work.
Over the centuries, we’ve gotten pretty good at developing workflows that maximize our ability to support IHEs. Libraries and the work they do are certainly not without problems, but considering all that we do for our students and faculty, especially in the areas of collection development and research support, we are a damn fine and extraordinary machine. That outputs that we’ve traditionally reported to stakeholders were, for decades, the simplest distillation of an extremely complex operation.
But these outputs were predicated on a false ideal of “growth.” Academic libraries today don’t need to show evidence of growth as much as they need to show evidence of enrichment. As Farkas says, we need to showcase “how patrons use the library and its effect on their lives.” And we need to drive that message home.
And realize that one person cannot be all outreach, even though they may have the title. It takes a concerted effort on the part of many people at all levels to make outreach a success at any institution, never forget that. Fontenot, M. (2013). Five “typical” years as an outreach librarian: And five things I have learned. College & Research Libraries News, 74(8), 431–432. https://doi.org/10.5860/crln.74.8.8997
I’ve been meditating on this idea recently. In some respects, almost everything we do as librarians that touches on an outside entity (i.e. users) could be considered an outreach moment. How do we capture that? How do we scaffold it?
Maybe it’s less the responsibility of the outreach librarian to do all the outreach things, but to build skills and support throughout library staff. At MPOW, we expect all librarians to have a basic capacity to talk about information literacy, even if they are not instruction librarians. And every librarian is expected to do some collection liaison work, even if they are not collections librarians. Why not the same for outreach?
I’ve started writing for the ALA’s Programming Librarian website. My first two posts are up.
Collaborating with Galleries: A Blessed Match
“One of my first planning meetings as the new outreach and communications librarian for the William H. Hannon Library was with the director and curator of the Laband Art Gallery, an on-campus exhibition space in the College of Fine Arts at Loyola Marymount University. Over the past few years, the Hannon Library and the Laband Gallery have developed a synergistic relationship built on shared vision and trust, a relationship that has increased the impact we could achieve as single institutions.” Read more.
When Library Student Workers Take Over Instagram
“Since I began managing Instagram accounts for academic libraries three years ago, I’ve discovered there are two types of posts that attract the most engagement from students: idyllic photos of the library and pictures of other students. We are privileged in that our building’s unique architecture and proximity to a near-ocean bluff provides endless opportunities for the former. So, to leverage the successful nature of the latter, this year the William H. Hannon Library at Loyola Marymount University invited our student employees to “take over” the library’s Instagram account for a day and use the platform to tell our followers about their work and what they find useful about the library.” Read more.
In summarizing the recent success of the ACRL Library Marketing and Outreach Interest Group, one of the coordinators noted that “this past year, we all decided we loved Canva so much that we decided to marry it.” We chuckled, but I’m sure some of us where thinking “hm, I wonder if I could marry Canva?”
Canva is an elegant online tool used by many librarians for developing visually stunning digital graphics, but as Lindsay Davis tells us on Librarian Design Share, Canva can also be used to create print handouts as well. Check out this flyer Davis created for students at Merced College:
The Roesch Library at the University of Dayton is doing some amazing outreach work to engage students with library services. Communications and Outreach librarian Katy Kelly recently wrote about their new library tour photo hunt for the ALA’s Programming Librarian blog:
“Another clue that is entertaining to watch is, ‘Every year during final exams, the library offers FREE chair massages, free pizza, free taxi rides, free coffee and tea, visits from therapy dogs, and sometimes a midnight dance party in the lobby. Take a photo of a group member dancing in the first-floor lobby.'”
Back in 2012, Kelly also wrote about how the programming team monitors social media to design relevant and timely finals activities:
“My daily interactions on Twitter via the library’s account show students that someone is listening. We’re also able to make an impact by making some of their comments, suggestions, and ideas into realities. I think a lot of students are really clever and have funny and important things to say. Twitter is a great way to see what students are saying and an outlet for finding creative programming ideas by students.”
Katy’s creativity doesn’t stop there. If this inspires you, check out some of her recent posts in the ACRL Library Marketing and Outreach group [Facebook].
From I Plan To Be in the Library. A Lot:
“Staying student-centered on campus takes more than providing one-shot course-related instruction, quiet study rooms, or flexible seating. It will require us to be engaged with more components of the student experience, educate other campus faculty and administrators as to why we should have a seat at the table to influence and affect student programs and services, and talk with students to find out what challenges currently exist.”