My dad retired from NYC Board of ED in 2003. He was the principal of a K-8 school, and he was sort of a celebrity in the area. Every Christmas season, we would park in Williamsburg, take the train to the city for a play and then end our day at Fortunato Brothers. A little bakery in the heart of the school’s service area. My dad in this space was not just my dad. He was Mr. Buono. Every where he went people knew his name, and he knew everyone else’s. Granted, as a principal, people are forced to acknowledge your existence. But the difference is they loved him.

The best Cannolli's  in the world.

The best cannollis in the world.

For all the outreach we do, how many of us can say we are individually loved by our patrons? It sounds narcissistic to have that a goal. But remember the quote from R. David Lankes that many librarians repeat, “I have long contended that a room full of books is simply a closet, but that an empty room with a librarian in it is a library.” If you want someone to love the library, you have to want them to love you. This doesn’t mean going easy on people or letting them slide. Trust me when I say, my father never let people slide. But it does mean making a connection.

First, we need to reveal a little bit of ourselves. We need to show a little bit of our hearts, so people know what we are all about. We need to make them understand that what we’re trying to sell them is our investment in their future success. To do this, we need to be sales people. Consider picking up How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie. There is a lot of powerful sales advice contained, but more importantly, advice on building relationships.

Second, we need to get a little messy. We need to blur the lines, just a little bit. Then we need to remember failure is our friend. Good ideas, and a better performance originates in acknowledging the mistakes we made. Failure is an option.

Third, we need to treat our community like its our home. Whether we live there or not, we should embed ourselves in the communities we serve. We should make it ours.

Fourth, we shouldn’t just provide programs to the community. We should provide them with some control over what we do, and we should engage them over it. This is especially true of teens. Let them plan their own Summer Reading Club.

Fifth, don’t be afraid of getting personal. I know this makes people panic. Its ok, I understand. If I invited some of our patrons over for Thanksgiving, my mother would kill me. She is a lovely lady, but no one wants to piss her off.’  Those days, in Williamsburg, everyone knew who my father was. I, however, was anonymous. Telling someone you have a son is not the same thing as letting them babysit. Expressing interest in homebrewing is not a sin. You are a person.’  Letting people get to know you doesn’t require sharing your whole life with them. It requires two things.

One, letting them in just enough to know your human underneath.

Two, work for them with love in your heart and their business in the forefront of your mind.

So yeah, outreach… Any time you interact with someone who’s not an employee of your building, you are reaching out. This includes flyers, social media, advertising, tabling, buying coffee, checking out the local antique store or pursuing the ultimate cup of coffee on main st.

Let’s talk school visits. Tables are for putting things on, not sitting behind. Leave the chairs at home unless you physically need them. If you do sit up front or to the side and not behind it. Talk to people. Not just about services, but about their day.

Do the same thing on social media. Put your face out there. Say hi, and consider connecting with patrons on your personal profile. Remember, posting on Facebook is the equivalent of shouting your business out on the street. Even with privacy settings, you probably shouldn’t be posting something that you don’t want the public to see. Build your relationship online as well as off.

If one of your teens, or a group of your teens, is on the wrestling team. Then check out a match. Bring a couple bottles of water. Your money will be better spent on custom water labels for twelve kids then flyers for a hundred.

None of this is new. I’m sure many of you do it every day. But I’m saying, think about it as you do it. Think about how you can leverage your relationship with people to help people. Whether it means finding a kid a book on poetry, or listening to them when there is no one else to listen to them. For some reason, when you tell people to think about what they are doing, they think your telling them to be fake. Its only fake if you don’t really care. My old man thought about everything he did, and as late as 2008 people were posting on about him.

Go forth. Talk to your public. Reach out to them and make them love you. You don’t need to be an extrovert. You just have to be willing to love them. This is especially true with teens. Trust me, before long, they will be cheering for your arrival.

One Thought on “Rethinking What We Do: Outreach

  1. One thing I should note about my writing. I write a lot about what my dad did. This isn’t because I don’t think or don’t know librarians who do it. There are plenty of professionals around me who go the extra mile, do things similar and positively effect change. But their stories are their stories to tell. Those stories are also current and sometimes involve the private lives of patrons. Its one thing writing about a program, but its another thing to air someones business just to explain why I have a deep and abiding respect for someone. These people know who they are, because I’m not shy. But out of respect for them and patron privacy, you will get a lot of Mr. Buono anecdotes. Most likely Mrs. Buono too, but she is far too intelligent for me to fully grasp her logic.

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