Reach Out through Outreach
By Abby Johnson
Fri, 11/18/2011 - 08:02
A library community is wherever the patrons are
Some of the most important library work I do is outside the library’s walls. Outreach—traveling offsite to bring service to potential users—is essential to serving my community and especially its children. Outreach allows librarians to put a friendly face on library services and to meet our patrons where they are (which is all the more important when you’re serving children who don’t have their own means of transportation to the library). Just as the community belongs in the library, the library belongs in the community.
One of our most successful partnerships at the New Albany–Floyd County (Ind.) Public Library has been providing storytimes to our local YMCA Afterschool program. We visit each of our nine public schools monthly, bringing books to read and a simple craft. The YMCA staff appreciates our visits because it provides something to occupy the kids and we’ve increased participation in school-age library programs by over 500% by concentrating our efforts on meeting students where they are.
Each month, I pack a bag that my staff and I take around to each of the sites. I include a selection of books to choose from and a craft, eliminating the need for each of my staff members to plan separate programs for the visits. As we’ve each gotten to know the kids at the sites we visit, we’re able to hone in on what books will work for a particular group. Since we’re working with fairly large groups (20–60 kids at each site), the best crafts are simple ones that don’t require a lot of instruction and allow students to be creative. They love scratch art and decorating anything with stickers. (Kids will use up every sticker available to them if you give them free reign. Use sparingly if your supply is limited.)
Each visit lasts about 45 minutes, depending on the attention spans of the kids. We keep track of what we have read aloud at each site in a binder and we use this binder to make notes of what the kids have enjoyed and any books they have requested for the next visit. Let me tell you, nothing warms my heart more than one of my YMCA Afterschool kids coming in to the library to get a library card for the first time.
Another very successful partnership for us has been providing storytimes to our local preschools and Head Start programs. We plan storytimes with books, rhymes, songs, and felt stories, just like we do for our in-house storytimes. Often, our outreach storytimes are seasonal and we visit many classrooms with the same materials, which reduces our planning time. When we visit preschool and Head Start classrooms, we’re not only educating and entertaining the children, but we’re modeling storytime techniques for teachers. We’re showing teachers how to make readalouds engaging and interactive, as well as highlighting great picture books. I started making storytime packets to give to the teachers because so many of them were asking for the words to our songs and rhymes. Each packet contains a book list on the storytime theme, the words to any songs or rhymes we use, and an invitation to book field trips to the library.
Librarians know why people should use the library. Everyone else (and this includes teachers, parents, and kids) has to be convinced that we have something for them. If you want to promote the library, a face-to-face connection is worth a thousand press releases. So, get out from behind your desk and discover what outreach can do for you!
ABBY JOHNSON is children’s services/outreach manager at New Albany–Floyd County (Ind.) Public Library.