Just One Thing: Increasing Staff Participation in Community Engagement


By: Rachel Hadidi, PhD, Community Outreach Librarian, Plano Public Library, Plano, Texas

Are you looking for ways to connect with your community outside the library walls? Preparing a strong, diverse group of staff for outreach opportunities is key to our success. Plano Public Library (PPL) continues to support staff participation with training, clear procedures and roles, and a “just one thing” theme to build confidence and engagement.


Guided by a new strategic plan, PPL launched an initiative to increase community engagement in 2016. At that time, the few community requests for outreach were fulfilled by staff from the closest of our five library locations. Outreach requests were accepted when there was adequate staffing, and someone interested in participating. However, staff often expressed some discomfort with outreach. Staff were uncertain about expectations and often didn’t know what to say when someone approached the library table. To meet our goal of increasing our presence in the community through outreach, it was clear we needed stronger staff buy-in and participation.


With input from staff, PPL initiated a centralized system of coordinating outreach and staff participation. We identified different types of outreach we would attend including schools, festivals and internal city events and created specific role expectations for STEAM, Early Literacy, and puppet ambassadors. A standard set of materials for outreach events was prepared with a cohesive, professional look. In spring 2017, the Outreach & Engagement team began to provide quarterly training sessions for staff about how to set up an outreach display, what to talk about, how to set up the tent for outdoor events, the different roles at outreach events, and expectations for staff leading outreach. About 85% of library staff attended training, and ongoing sessions offered an opportunity for new staff to attend or for experienced staff to join for a refresher.

Plano libraries offer a wealth of resources, services, and programs. To help keep staff focus their message, the Outreach & Engagement team began “Just One Thing”, a campaign with the message, “you don’t have to know ALL the things the library has to offer, rather know and share just one thing.” Keeping the message simple, with one thing the patron or family could explore right away, helped staff to begin a conversation. In addition, at monthly staff meetings, Outreach & Engagement staff shared updates and highlighted “just one thing”, the service or program for the month.


In summary, elements of our success include:

  • Management support
  • Centralized scheduling function
  • Parameters for suitable events
  • A standardized set of materials (best information for the community and strong brand id/reputation)
  • Clearly defined expectations/roles for staff
  • Staff training
  • Opportunities for feedback/evaluation
  • Clear, positive communications

Benefits of these efforts include increases in staff enthusiasm, staff participation, and community requests. Moving to a centralized system has strengthened our visibility outside the library. Outreach requests receive a coordinated response and provide a consistent look and service level. We have increased our presence in the community each year by attending more events and having more impactful interactions with community members. Identifying specific programs or services to promote as our “just one thing” at each event targets our message and increases staff confidence. Staff are more engaged in outreach because they are not being assigned, but rather selecting events that interest them. The freedom to choose events allows staff to follow their passion and to provide a positive experience for the community.