I’ve been doing a lot of outreach lately. We recently had a contest at my library specifically aimed at teens to promote a new virtual reference service we’re offering. To get the word out, my coworkers and I went to quite a few back to school nights and talked to a lot of teens. Here’s what I learned:
1. Stick to a simple message. Having the contest to promote really helped us to have a clear, concise message to share with the teens. We came up with a sound bite that we could quickly say to people who stopped by the table. Most of the time, parents and teens at back to school nights are in a hurry. We wanted to keep it quick. Of course, if the teens wanted to talk with us more, we could share more about what the library did, but promoting a specific event helped us have a short, effective message.
2. Bring candy. I’ve said this before in relation to school visits, and it definitely worked. Having a bowl of candy at the table kept us approachable and we had quite a few parents and kids stop by, grab a piece of candy, and say hi.
3. Bring materials to share. We had bookmarks and flyers promoting the contest and the new service. Giving people something concrete to take with them is helpful. We also had some pens and notepads leftover from old programs that we brought along—people loved grabbing the free stuff and it gave them another excuse to stop by our table.
4. Get other teens on your side. At most of the back to school nights we went to, we just had a table in the hall. There were usually teen ambassadors who were directing parents and teens to where they needed to go. Making friends with those teens was invaluable. They would steer other kids to our table to hear about the contest and say hi.
5. Have fun! I’ll admit that going to back to school nights almost constantly could become tiring. However, getting to talk to teens and tell them about the cool things the library is doing is such a privilege that I always ended up having a blast. Whenever I felt tired or drained, I’d just keep in mind how much fun the visit would be and it always was. That let me joke around and have a blast meeting teens and introducing them to what the library has to offer.