When I began looking into the topic of community outreach for libraries, I thought that there must be some type of guidelines out there for librarians to go by. What I found was that community outreach involves a lot of components and that this may be a much larger topic than I think my team and I had bargained for. I’ve come to see that outreach involves one-on-one interactions, venturing outside of the library’s walls, being sensitive to life situations that you may not have direct experience with, and a willingness to learn and learn…and learn. The state of Oregon has some guidelines in place in terms of reaching out to immigrant and language-minority populations and those guidelines can be applied to any area of outreach (Oregon State Library). These guidelines include: getting out and asking the people of the community about the services that they require, building community support, creating a library image that appeals to the target audience, building institutional support, and purchasing materials that the target audience can directly relate to (Oregon State Library).
Community outreach can begin at any time. Beginning to build a relationship with the surrounding community from the very start by participating in activities outside of the library can let potential patrons know that the library is a place where they can feel safe and accepted, trust and respect are the cornerstones of a successful community outreach program (Oregon State Library). On the note of creating a safe and accepting atmosphere, a large part of outreach should include educating staff – one of the biggest barriers facing urban communities (especially the homeless) are the attitudes of library staff – and implementing sensitivity training as well as specialized reference services that cater to the homeless (Mars, 2013). Outreach librarians often will find the need to get creative in finding places to interact with members of the community: “by entering community spaces outside the confines of the library, librarians can connect with members of the public who do not feel comfortable entering libraries” (Williment, 2013).
I would propose that libraries that serve urban communities head out into the area and get in touch with community centers like food banks, after-school programs, shelters, even Department of Health Services offices to find out how they can partner in order to bring library resources directly to this group of people. In my work with a non-profit organization, I have found that organizations such as United Way are enthusiastic about offering assistance with outreach. Often, if a program starts with offering services to the youth of a community, adults will follow suite. Library outreach programs that target children will inevitably be able to pull in the caretakers of those children. Libraries also have an advantage in that many of them already offer on-site programs that assist people with resume building and job searching. In partnering with a program that has its own facilities, libraries could potentially bring those services to the community, rather than waiting for members of the community to come to the library.
There are many venues for community outreach in urban areas – as Flynn (2014) suggests in her blog post about partnering with a summer meals program, libraries can get partner with schools to create programs that offer a needed service, such as food, with another service such as education and literacy. With programs such as this, libraries are able to bring a taste of the programs that they offer to people who would otherwise not necessarily know what the library could offer them. From Flynn’s experiences, it seems as though the summer meals program began with attracting more people to the program and then stemmed out to bring those same people into the library once the meal program ended after the summer. In order to increase accessibility for many urban patrons, some libraries have started allowing the addresses of shelters to serve as sufficient information to obtain a library card and bookmobiles and delivery programs have been implemented in order to bring books to those who are unable to travel to the library on their own (Mars, 2013).
Bringing library services to urban populations in an effort to draw them into the actual, physical library can prove to be a difficult endeavor. Librarians must educate themselves on and learn from first hand experience the struggles that people living in urban communities deal with on a daily basis. Learning and application are the basis of any great library outreach program and there it is never too early (or too late!) to begin making a difference.
A Mars. (2013, April 26). Library Service to the Homeless. Retrieved from http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2013/04/library-service-to-the-homeless/.
J Flynn. (2014, November 12). Outside Library Walls: Partnering with a Summer Meals Program. Retrieved from http://theoutreachlibrarian.com/2014/11/12/outside-library-walls-partnering-with-a-summer-meals-program/.
K Williment. (2013, April 26). It Takes a Community to Build a Library. Retrieved from http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2013/04/it-takes-a-community-to-build-a-library/.
Oregon State Library. Best Practices for LTSA-Funded Outreach to Immigrants and Language-Minority Populations. Retrieved from http://www.oregon.gov/osl/LD/LSTA/Best/Best_Practices_for_LSTA_Minority_Outreach.pdf.