Out and About with Outreach

To survive and thrive as valid institutions in the 21st century, libraries need to entrench themselves in their communities, and outreach plays an important role in this. I wouldn’t call myself a library outreach veteran by any means, but I have had the opportunity to get out in the community on a number of occassions. I regularly co-facilitate an adapted story time at a community health center, working with a medical professional to support the early literacy needs of a diverse group of children. I have also participated in a number of different community special events and festivals, including the Surrey Fusion Fest this past July (see that picture above!).

Special events and festivals are a great opportunity for libraries to market themselves and promote their programs and services, but they are certainly a different kettle of fish, and a major departure from the traditional library space! Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the past few months that might help make your festival experiences the best they can be!

Dress for Success

  • Wear comfortable shoes. It may sound obvious, but it’s worth repeating. You will be on your feet. A lot. So wear comfortable shoes.
  • Dress for your audience. Representing the library at a chamber of commerce event? You might want to dress up a bit. Representing the library at Storyville in the park for two full days? Clothes with stretch are where it’s at. When in doubt, try for a look that is both professional and approachable. You want to look professional enough that people take you seriously, but at the same time you want people to feel comfortable enough to approach you.

Fuel and Hydration

Odds are, you will be talking a lot and moving around a lot. Make sure you have a big bottle of water handy, and stuff your pockets with some snacks to keep your energy level up. Again, it sounds obvious, but it’s worth repeating.

Check Your Self-Consciousness at the Door

  • Sometimes connecting with the community means going outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes it means singing in front of large audiences, or wearing unflattering staff t-shirts (lime green? Really?). Other times you might interact with creepy mascots, pass out brochures to endless streams of festival-goers, motivate bored volunteers or give speeches into echoing microphones. If you’re a naturally outgoing, fearless person, none of this will phase you. But a lot of us who went into library work tend to be a bit more on the introverted side. To really get the most out of working a festival, you might just have to fake it ’till you make it, and embrace your inner extrovert (this is definitely a practice-makes-perfect situation!). Take a deep breath, and remember that you could be stuck inside a stuffy office typing away at a cubicle or doing some other boring old job, instead of helping make a difference in your community (even if it means wearing a very, very unflattering staff baseball cap). After all, how many people get paid to tell stories, sing songs, play with puppets, or hang out with a Lego Certified Professional?
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