Adventures in Outreach: Be a Quitter

David Lee Roth

Maybe you want to quit Van Halen to pursue a solo career.

As I have mentioned, engaging in outreach and community partnerships takes a lot of time. Since you probably don’t currently have a lot of slack in your work day, making time for outreach will likely mean giving up something else. But what?

Of course, I can’t answer that question for you, because every library is different. Programs and services that are crucial in one community may have little impact in another. So take an inventory of your current work–a great thing to do every now and then, regardless. As you go down the list of your current tasks and projects, consider these questions.

  1. Is the program or service being provided elsewhere?

Some years back, we started a teen advisory board at my location. At the time, it was the only one in my library system, so our downtown group served as the only opportunity of its kind for youth city-wide. But eventually, many of the neighborhood branches started advisory boards, and the numbers in our program declined.

Last year we ended the program and directed our remaining youth to their neighborhood branch advisory boards, which were more conveniently located for them anyway. I loved working with our board, but ending it didn’t have a significant negative impact on patrons, and it freed up a lot of time to serve high needs youth.

  1. Does it serve (or improve service to) an audience you want to reach?

I’ve quit hosting self-produced programs that don’t involve partners, especially one-off events. At my location, planning those programs tended to take a lot of time for very little payoff. They were hard to market, and so usually had low attendance, particularly in terms of our target underserved audiences. And the programs often had few measurable outcomes that were in line with my library’s priorities and strategic plan.

  1. Can you get by with “good enough”?

Although I still do some displays, I don’t go all-out on them anymore. Displays don’t move many books at my location. Readers’ advisory (as much as I love it) is a relatively low priority with the youth I serve, many of whom are in crisis. Their priorities are more often centered on job resources, education, or referral to social services.

I know that at some libraries, books absolutely fly off displays. For staff at those locations, it might make sense to spend more time on them. On the other hand, if display books are moving off your shelves almost no matter what you put out, maybe it’s not necessary to spend as much time carefully selecting each and every title. And displays can be a great opportunity to collaborate with other staff. As we all know, shelvers know the collection better than anyone, and often come up with incredible displays.

The decision to discontinue or modify any kind of program or service is always a hard one. There’s never enough time to do everything we’d like to do, or to meet all of our patrons’ needs. The important thing is to continually evaluate our work to make sure that most of our time is spent working towards the top priorities for our libraries and the unique communities we serve.

Have I convinced you to join the esteemed ranks of the quitters? I’d love to hear what’s first on the chopping block. How do you decide what to quit?

About Hayden Bass

Hayden Bass is a Teen Services Librarian in Seattle. She chairs YALSA's Programming Guidelines Taskforce and is a member of the 2015 Printz Committee.
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