30 Days of Back to School: Visiting the Open House

As a part of our community outreach each fall, my public library sends representatives to as many “Back to School Night” open houses as we are able. ‘ Library staff bring posters and flyers describing our programs for children and teens, library card applications, giveaways like our nifty color-changing pencils, and raffle tickets. ‘ Students and parents can see what’s going on at the library, get a card and a fancy writing implement with the library’s name on it, and fill out a raffle ticket to win some books.

Since I am new, and the first full-time young adult librarian my library has had, I want the teens, parents, and teachers in my community to see me and have every opportunity to say hello. ‘ So, I have volunteered to go on five of these visits. ‘ The first two were this past week and the experiences were vastly different.

On Wednesday evening I visited the local Catholic middle school. ‘ For their open house parents, and just a few kids, gathered in the auditorium where the principal spoke. ‘ Each of the few community guests, from a grocery store, the local boy scout troop, the Catholic high school, and me, were asked if we wanted to speak to the crowd briefly. ‘ I did, but since I was completely unprepared to do so, I think I sounded incoherent. ‘ After the principal and guests spoke, parents were directed to visit the teachers in their classrooms. A small handful of people said hello and told me they already had library cards before leaving the room. I sat there at my table with my poster and program flyers, and giveaways, for an hour and not a single parent came back into the auditorium.

On Thursday, I visited one of our two public middle schools. ‘ Another staff member visited the other middle school. ‘ This open house was set up so that parents and students had to enter through the cafetorium and walk around a series of displays from community members before they could enter the school and go to the classrooms. ‘ This seemed to work out pretty well for those of us set up at the tables. ‘ I was at the end and angled my trifold poster towards the oncoming crowd. ‘ Not everyone stopped but many people did. ‘ My eager cry of: “Color changing pencils!” seemed to help and I encouraged any who lingered longer than a second to fill out a raffle ticket. ‘ I spoke to a few families who seemed excited about my upcoming Harry Potter Movie Marathon, and a few more who applied for library cards. ‘ 

Here are a few things I learned:
I need an elevator speech. ‘ In the entertainment industry this is the speech you give when you are in proximity of some star or producer in an elevator and have 30 seconds to pitch your idea. For me, it would be a structured notion of what to say when I am randomly asked to speak about the youth services department at my library. ‘ Instead of just saying, the library is awesome, I could have something specific to tell people about wanting to get teens involved in library programming.

I can’t expect too much control of the situation. Each school is different and sets up their open house differently. ‘ What I can control is smiling and saying hi to people no matter where my table is set up.’ ‘ Being out in the community and letting people see me has got to be better than not going.’  So even at the school where I didn’t talk to too many people, the whole room still saw me and had to think about the library, even for just a minute.

I should bring even more flyers and giveways. While it might be quiet at one school, it could be very busy at another. The first night, I didn’t give anything away and only got five raffle tickets. ‘ The second night’s raffle tickets filled up the whole container and I gave away all of the teen flyers after the first hour and a whole box of color changing pencils before the night was through.

Hopefully this knowledge will be useful when I go to the high school open houses next month. ‘ I plan to talk up our budding Teen Advisory Board and recruit some new members.

Public librarians: Do you go to school open houses? What are your strategies?
School librarians: How do your school’s open houses work for you?

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