Sunday, January 23, 2011

Outreach - how to get it done

There were a number of thoughtful comments to my post a couple days ago on the idea of having "outreach librarians" at the LA Public Library.

Mainly, librarians are leery of the idea, as in some library systems this has led to branch librarians not getting to do outreach in their own communities. And as Martha points out, "I love outreach. If someone from Central would come down here, it would be less contact that I have with the community. When they come in my branch they know me and have worked with me. If it was someone from Central they really have no connection to this community."

I agree that children's and teen librarians should be given ample time to get out of the branch and into their communities in order to visit schools and other institutions and organizations that serve youth. They make connections with the kids that are meaningful - and every librarian has experienced the pleasure of a child who comes into the library for the first time and says excitedly, "You visited my class yesterday! I loved that book you read!" This wouldn't happen if only centralized outreach librarians did all the outreach for the whole library system.

But that's not what I'm envisioning. Los Angeles is a really huge city. Even an army of outreach librarians couldn't get to all the thousands of schools, preschools, recreation centers, etc. - and certainly not the 3, 4, or 5 librarians I imagine would be in our outreach department. And certainly our 72 children's librarians and 72 teen librarians in branches can't get to them all on their own right now, what with also having to staff the information desk, offer programming, and so on.

So I imagine that each branch children's and teen librarian would have priorities and goals. For instance, if I worked at a particular branch, maybe I might try to get to all my schools at least once, plus get out to at least 4 early childhood centers/preschools to do storytimes and early literacy workshops. But there would be all sorts of other organizations I wouldn't have time to visit - and I would tell the outreach department about those, so that hopefully an outreach librarian would visit.

So - just another way to get the word out, not taking anyone's duties away.

Not that there has been ANY talk about this possibly happening at LAPL - this is just me wondering "what if?" That said, this discussion is helpful for identifying concerns and possible pitfalls so that if we do ever contemplate forming an outreach department, I'll be aware of how best to do it right and also what to avoid.

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