Academic Library Outreach: The Intentional, the Desperate, and the Serendipitous – Summary of April 23 ULS Members-Only Online Discussion
Author: Jennifer Lee, University of Calgary, on behalf of the ULS Membership Committee
On April 23, 2014, ULS held its second members-only online discussion. About 60 attendees attended to discuss academic library outreach. The two speakers, Lizz Zitron and Matt Upson, offered two contrasting perspectives: intentional, planned outreach, and “on-the-fly” outreach. More information on the speakers can be found at http://www.acrl.ala.org/ULS/?p=907
The discussion started with two polls. The first asked attendees whether there was outreach at their institution; most answered in the positive, though they would also like to do more. The second asked attendees what roadblocks to outreach they had; many reported the lack of human and financial resources.
Lizz Zitron started with a roadmap for intentional outreach:
- Create an outreach vision: library and institutional vision statements are a good starting point because they provide terminology that can be used in the outreach vision. Lizz reported great success with her programs when using library and institutional vision statements this way.
- Create goals: create specific, measurable goals that lead to observable behavior. Create some goals that can be measured quantitatively, and others that can be measured qualitatively. Qualitative measures provide invaluable comments and observations that can be used in reflection and assessment (step 4).
- Form plans: these are courses of action based on the goals. For example, “to have [goal], we will do [plan]”. Start with a few manageable goals and plans.
- Reflect and assess: assessment helps administrators support outreach, especially if the goals reflect your mission or vision. Qualitative data helps “tell the story” behind the numbers of quantitative data. For example, while numbers tell how often an “Ask a Librarian” chat reference service is used, qualitative data can indicate whether users would recommend the service to others.
Lizz then gave examples of outreach activities involving students. Some connected students with the community by asking them to volunteer their time or expertise in a library event held for the community. Others connected students to the library through contests and use of library materials, including using weeded books to create poetry, and inviting students to create displays.
Matt Upson talked about co-creating a comic that served as an instruction, advocacy, and outreach tool. As a new library director with minimal staff, he realized that the traditional instruction methods formerly used at his institution were ineffective and that the library was under-used. Since his new library assistant had 20+ years of experience creating and illustrating comics, a library zombie comic was born (both digital and physical). It met instructional goals, but it was also an interesting outreach and marketing tool that re-defined the perception of the library. The comic incorporated stakeholders such as the faculty, student workers, and other community members. The comic was heavily promoted before its publication. For example, students who “liked” the library on Facebook got a chance to be drawn as a zombie; a teaser poster was put up on campus featuring the front of the library, which attracted many questions.
a few hundred hardcopies were purchased with a grant and the library held a pizza release party after both the digital and physical versions were published. Since there were close to a million downloads at the time of the party this was also announced during the print release.
The project morphed from an instructional resource to a tool for increasing engagement. It tied into things the library was already doing: they had a graphic novel collection, and were already trying to use the library for non-academic purposes.
In closing, Matt encouraged attendees to play to their strengths, and to involve the community in the planning process. This avoids the perception of “performing outreach for the sake of outreach”. The library zombie comic is available at: http://bit.ly/gFUNmd. Other institutions with library comics include Kansas State University Salina Library, Fresno City College, and Lehman College.
The session was then opened up for questions and comments, including:
Attendance and scheduling: definitely keep track of numbers, which may be low at the beginning. It is also useful to talk with other coordinators on campus (e.g. residence hall directors, student life staff) to avoid duplication of activities and scheduling overlap, and as another source for promoting outreach. Library events may also be hosted outside of the library with these same coordinators. Lastly, food, of course, helps attendance!
Other activities suggested as part of the planning process: work with students who are interested in planning, and meet regularly. Assess immediately after every program, including attendee comments, things that worked, or did not work. A student can keep track of comments and then they can be discussed at a weekly meeting. For some, planning may not be reflexive, but it results in better quality outreach. If it works at your institution, a general call for volunteers may attract those with complementary talents.
Tips on getting students excited or finding appropriate working opportunities for them: student workers are a big part of the community and the student population, so ask them what will get them in the library. This increases buy-in as well. If working with students on planning, it also helps to model what you want to see, and to give them a framework for planning and assessment; while this takes time to set up, it can save time in the long run.
ULS hopes to hold these discussions in the fall and spring to highlight ULS member work, to extend conversations beyond ALA Annual and Midwinter, and as a benefit to ULS members. ULS also hopes to briefly summarize these as an added member benefit.
*The next members-only discussion*, Thursday, November 20 from 3-4 pm EST, will be about student success. To register, go to: https://acrl.webex.com/acrl/onstage/g.php?t=a&d=295479088
*Interested in university libraries?* Join your colleagues at ACRL ULS, where you can find opportunities to participate in continuous learning activities like our lively and engaging online discussions, to volunteer on professional committees, to make connections with a great network of university librarians, and more! For more information on ULS, including an archive of past events and discussion forums, see also our Section website. To become a member, simply update your ACRL division memberships at http://www.ala.org/acrl/membership/applications and select the University Libraries Section under ACRL. Membership is free is you are not already enrolled in more than 2 sections and only an additional $5.00 if you are. We look forward to welcoming you as a member!
“See” you at the next discussion!