By Laura Damon-Moore
Effectively reaching out to your community can be tricky. On October 31, Laura Damon-Moore, Co-Founder of Libraries as Incubators Project, shared her expertise on community outreach for the weekly Gale Geek. Laura was unable to do the usual live Q&A because her webinar was prerecorded; however, she still answered listeners’ questions… see below!
I was bummed not to be able to be there “in person” for our conversation last Friday, but I’m pleased to be able to continue to share some insight on community outreach with Cengage-Gale’s readers today.
I’m going to expand on some questions that I received after the conversation on Friday, in hopes that others will find my responses useful.
How do you use the community based mentors or volunteers IN your library to support programming?
For various things – for some events I ask volunteers to help with setup/cleanup, but I try to find more “engaging” ways for them to participate as well.
- For school-age programs, I recruit retired teachers to help with planning and facilitating activity stations.
- For events like the Poetry Picnic that I mention in my talk with Andy, I recruit local artists to facilitate art-making projects since they can usually explain and demonstrate things much better than I can!
- At the moment I run a lot of our tech-related workshops myself, but I would do the same with tech workshops if I had access to a community college, computer science students from the high school, etc.
- I’ve worked with our local community theater to host a murder mystery night for young adults during our Summer Library Program for two years, so that is another way to utilize the talented volunteers in your community!
Have you done any work with local crafting or art classes?
I guess I’d need more details on this – do you mean hosting crafting or art classes in the library? We definitely offer some arts and crafts activities as part of our broader programming picture, but we don’t host formal classes on a regular basis or anything. If you mean do I connect with crafting or arts groups outside of the library, I do on an informal basis (and it usually involves inviting them in to help us with things at the library) but I do not do presentations at crafting/art classes around town (an interesting idea, though…). The closest I might come to doing that is to present to our local Literary Club; I will present on “libraries as creativity incubators” for them in early 2015.
I’d like more guidance on prioritizing outreach efforts. I’m a one-woman show in a community of a half million. I focus on early childhood but try to serve as much of the community as I can. What do you do when you are just spread too thin?
Whoa – yes, you have a lot on your plate! Of course every case and every community is different, but I personally am making early childhood/early literacy a priority this year, so I scaled back my efforts with other partners in order to put more time into connecting with early childhood partners. But, I found a way to maintain the solid connections I had established with those other partners. Instead of going twice/month and reading aloud at one of our retirement homes, I am going and doing slightly larger-scale events that include a read aloud and memory-related activities 2 times/year. Maybe there’s a way to do this with the early childhood partners you’ve connected with in your community – find a way to scale back or down, while still maintaining that good partnership you’ve formed.
Here’s a sort of half-baked idea – perhaps you could even make your personal outreach years “The Year of the Small Business Owner” or “The Year of the English Language Learners”, “The Year of the Older Adults”, etc. You could spend a full year really exploring and establishing connections with the users you’re trying to reach out to (and maybe talk with your library admins about what they’d like to see as priorities and let that help guide who you decide to approach first), and see after a year is up what things you’d like to maintain from that year. And you don’t have to continue EVERYTHING but choose 1-2 partnerships to maintain, or whatever you think is realistic. You can be real with the people you reach out to – say, “Hey, I’m really working on making connecting with [older adults, for example] a priority this year. Do you have any ideas of how we can work together?” If you do this, it’s not like you’d have to wipe the slate clean each year with your outreach efforts, but rather just make one group your main focus, while maintaining those handful of awesome connections from year to year with other groups (like I said in the top paragraph of this response).
I think balancing how much you do PROGRAMMING as outreach vs. SPREADING THE WORD helps too. Spreading the word efforts I find usually don’t take AS MUCH prep/facilitating time (think Activity Fairs, school visits, Small Business Fairs, etc.) so I can commit to more of those than, say, committing to going to a particular preschool once a week or even once a month. Finding that balance is important!
How do you partner with business’ specifically – chamber? Score organizations? One-on-one’s with small business owners? How does she identify them and partner with them?
The way this happened for me was pretty easy, to be honest – when I first started my position, I contacted the organizer of our local Women’s Entrepreneurs Group and asked if I could get on the agenda for one of their meetings (i.e., totally invited myself to that party). I did a presentation on something I figured they’d be interested in (social media for small businesses) and as part of that presentation I filled them in on a bunch of ways that the library can serve small business owners. I offered up my time for hour-long, one-on-one computer instruction and made sure that I had a signup sheet with me and passed it around. I send library updates to that group via email every once in a while, especially if we have a workshop/program coming up that might be of particular interest to them.
For a recent Chamber partnership, here’s a good example of planning a party to invite people to: for our Olde Fashioned Christmas weekend, I am working with a local library volunteer and the Chamber to do an awareness campaign called Storefront Stories – basically, families sign up to “read in windows” in businesses up and down our quaint Main Street during the Olde Fashioned Christmas weekend. This is a REALLY good excuse to call up the Chamber and say, hey, we have this idea, can you help us promote it? They alerted their email lists, Facebook group, etc. and we have the partners we need to make this program happen.
For libraries that say “this is all fine and dandy…but we’re too small and we don’t have the time/staff to do outreach” (which I hear all the time!) how does a small library hire/re-organize or find someone on staff to do outreach?
Yes – this sort of happened at “my” library before I got here – when I was hired, they were looking for someone who would mostly work on programming and outreach. I would say, if you’re hiring someone to do it, put it in the job description/posting and ask people about their experience with outreach, and for tangible examples they can point to. If they’ll be the only person doing the job, you want someone who can hit the ground running.
As far as reorganizing in-house goes, I’d say the most important thing is to start small – I use the word “pilot” liberally around here! From a supervising standpoint, I’m not sure how to advise you when it comes to restructuring, since I don’t have much experience with that. Whatever restructuring you end up doing, allow the staff member to start pretty small and work their way out – maybe you talk together about a potential community partner candidate (a daycare, say) and let them work on that to get things in place without worrying about contacting the four other daycares in town. Once the “pilot” period is completed, hopefully with a partnership in place, then it’s much easier to evaluate and reach out to other potential partners.
As Andy mentioned at the end of our conversation, I’m totally open to talking more on a one-on-one basis about the way I approach community outreach. I want to learn from you all, too! You can connect with me on Twitter at @LauraDM08 or send me an email any time at I look forward to talking with you!
Among different strategies, another item discussed was how Analytics On Demand can help the cause. This new, affordable data solution helps libraries of all sizes quickly and easily learn more about their users and communities.
About the Author
Laura has worked in public and academic libraries in Wisconsin, and is currently the Assistant Director for the Eager Free Public Library in Evansville, WI. Laura is a member of the ALA’s America’s Libraries in the 21st Century Committee and serves on the Educator Advisory Panel for Filament Games. Her library interests include programming, particularly for children and young adults; community outreach and engagement; and the development and support of strong library + arts partnerships and projects. Laura’s other interests include yoga, reading, movies, NPR, and art-making.