Outreach is Squishy

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By: Todd Deck, County Librarian, Tehama County Library

When I was in graduate school for my MLIS program back in 2010, I remember attending a seminar on outreach. I do not recall much about the seminar, but I do remember the presenter saying, “outreach is a big, squishy word for librarians.” The presenter’s point was that the word “outreach” could mean so many different things to librarians. COVID-19 has made outreach in libraries an even squishier word because outreach has become even more important and frankly even more difficult.

3 Library workers wearing masks jumping inside a library

When the library closed its doors, we used traditional outreach channels to communicate what was going on. Channels used included Facebook, our website, signage, and local newspapers. We had to let our community know that, although our doors were closed, we were still there for them.

As COVID-19 continued, we adjusted our outreach strategy. These adjustments included creating a YouTube channel and an Instagram page. Our library has been hosting storytimes and tutorials on Youtube. On our Instagram, we have been promoting our events like our story walks. The library has also been doing local media interviews as well as submitting magazine stories. Last fall we even dipped our toes in paid social media marketing and created our first digital newsletter.

Library hosting video game night outside using a projector.

We learned so much doing these things, but the word outreach is somehow squishier to me than ever before. For example, last December I received a call from a local bank. They wanted to donate $500 for the good work we were doing. The person I spoke to said that she hadn’t been in the library in years, but that she and the community saw the work we were doing. This generous donation was the result of all of the outreach efforts we had made, but the donor who knew our story had never walked into our library before. Squishy indeed!

We kind of lost our identity when we closed our doors. By crafting, creating, and telling our story through other channels, we’ve managed to take back our narrative. We were no longer just closed; we were online doing storytime, having story walks, running Nintendo switch drive-in night, speaking on radio programs, checking out eBooks, providing video streaming, implementing curbside pickup, and so much more! By actively engaging with outreach, we took back our narrative and wrote a new story ourselves.