The absolute hardest part of being a public librarian is probably recruiting new patrons to come to programs you develop for them. At a branch library like mine, the trick is to get a solid group of people who come to the library to see each other, and use the programs as a mechanism for doing so. In such cases, it’s still important to develop programs that are specific to community interests, but what brings them in is less the programs and more the social opportunities. But the irony is that no one is going to walk in the door of a public library just to meet people. So then you end up this spiral:
-Regular patrons show up regularly to socialize.
-But new patrons will not show up just to socialize.
Converting new patrons into regular patrons, a plan:
1) Call or visit but do not email local non for profit organizations that advocate for demographics who are need of institutional support but not individual support. Ask them what kind of programs they are interested in seeing, and as staff to staff, what kind of audience they can bring if we offer those programs.
2) Look at Meetup.com for target audiences and simply offer those groups space for their programs. This is a trick I learned from the Adult Steering Committee at my job.
3) Run programs that fulfill practical ongoing needs for organized, prepackaged audiences in the neighborhood. Create a dialog between these programs and those that currently exist for regulars. This may be as simple as making each group aware of the other, or as complex as creating displays to show off programs or running them back to back to “inadvertently” mix them.
4) Synthesize and Introduce New Stakes. Run a program like a skill share, in which patrons take responsibility for hosting part of the program, and bring both the regulars and the newer patrons together to co-host.
5) Now perhaps programs that are fun, in addition to or instead of simply practical, can be done successfully.
I have appointments set up with a couple organizations in the area this week and next, I have two more to reach out to, and I am working with the Adult Steering Committee and another team to be formed soon to create a central pool of resources for outreach for adult services librarians in my library system. Nonetheless, it often feels as if I’m moving at a snail’s pace. The advantage to starting at the ground level is that there is a lot of flexibility and accommodation to do what I want. The disadvantage is that it takes a long time to build successful adult services that reach the community.
I will try to keep a log here of how it goes, so other people can learn from my experiences.
2 replies on “Outreach Notes”
The caveat, of course, is that #2 flat-out doesn’t work (and the rest is a challenge) if your library does not have freely available space for programs 🙁
So there are examples of truly tiny branch libraries that basically just have physical collections and that’s it. Those libraries are unlikely to be doing significant outreach. But otherwise, at public libraries, the space used to run programs is public space, and it becomes the library’s decision whether its own internal calendar will fill 100% of the time that space is used or not. In some cases, there just won’t be a lot of demand for space. But at Cypress Hills, we have a couple of programs for kids that are open to the public by orgs which approached us to use our space. Since we do get interest, we have an application form people can fill out and then we look at our internal calendar and try to work something out, if the program is free, secular and open to the public.