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Building Library Love From the Outside In

by Angie Manfredi
 | Apr 07, 2015

As a librarian, I do a little bit of everything to keep students engaged—magic and science tricks, booktalking titles, book giveaways, singing songs, and, of course, reading aloud.
Often, however, these things do not happen inside the library walls. To make a public library, like the one I work for, a true part of the community, we have to go out into the community.

Community outreach can be one of the most complicated parts of being a public librarian. How do you find time in your already stretched schedule to do outreach? Is outreach even that important on top of everything else your library provides? And yet community outreach, making connections with your community outside your library walls, can also be one of the most rewarding parts of public librarianship.

I know it’s not always easy, but even in small ways, you can reach out to your community and start making connections. When my staff participates in outreach, we not only build a connection to the library but also help create a culture of reading and literacy in our whole community. 

Looking for some ways to increase your community outreach and start building stronger partnerships within your community?  Here are a few ways to start:

  • Find out when your local schools are having parent events or fairs. Organizers are almost always receptive to allowing community organizations to have booths or stations at events like this. If you don’t have staff to attend one of these events, ask if you can drop off brochures or bookmarks with information about your library and its programs. These are a great way to connect with community members who might not regularly make it through library doors, and it also positions you (and the library) as a source for literacy education.
  • Let outreach come to you! Reach out into your community and invite people in. Every month, I e-mail local elementary teachers of a specific grade and ask them to come for tours. This is a great chance for teachers to visit, and it takes the pressure off you and staff being out of the building. Tours also help to establish the library as a welcoming place for the whole community to grow and learn.
  • Find and network with a group of local community educators. Building community engagement with the library can start with something as simple as finding your community of like-minded educators. There are often groups of community educators who meet to network and share information. In my town, community educators meet once a month, giving us a chance to touch base without a big time investment. Informal educators groups can be well worth your time—consider organizing one. Doing so might take a lot of time to set up, but once you establish a group the payoff is more than worth it. Our community educators group has representatives from our museum, historical society, nature center, art center, and local National Park. Creating a group and leading a group as a librarian can be another way to develop new partnerships, bring outreach into the library, and position your library as a leader in education.    

I know outreach isn’t always possible for libraries with limited budgets and staff. But if you look for chances in your community to be present when you can and take all the chances you can to invite your community into your library, outreach can become more feasible. Outreach, though it often takes time and scheduling creativity, makes your library and staff an active part of the literary growth and continuing education of your community. And isn’t that worth it?

Angie Manfredi is the Head of Youth Services for the Los Alamos County Library System in Los Alamos, NM. She loves when children shout “LIBRARY LADY!” at her in the grocery store and is dedicated to literacy, education, and every kid’s right to read what he or she wants. You can read more of her writing on her blog, Fat Girl Reading, or find her on Twitter.


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