The American Library Association (ALA) defines outreach as providing library services and programs outside the walls of the library to underserved and underrepresented populations; populations such as new and non-readers, LBGT teens, teens of color, poor and homeless teens, and teens who are incarcerated. As these populations are often marginalized and underserved, it is crucial for libraries to recognize these populations and provide services and programs to them where they are.
The YALSA Futures Report calls out the importance of outreach to underserved populations and ways in which library staff can think about ways to work with targeted communities of teens (e.g. those who are incarcerated, homeless, in foster care, or in classrooms and other inschool locations) and where they are, rather than waiting for teens to find a way to get to the physical library space.
This month I interviewed Jody Gray, Director, ALA Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services.
1. What is your name and title?
Jody Gray, Director, ALA Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services
2. How does the Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services define outreach?
As we are an office of the American Library Association, we use the same definition for outreach; providing library services and programs outside the walls of the library. Our office has the term “outreach” in the title, but we are not the only part of ALA that has an interest in outreach. Instead, our office looks at outreach efforts as they apply to social justice and access.
Below you will find the image that we use to represent our role in ALA. We believe that the work of diversity, literacy and outreach are addressed by many different parts of the association, not one office. We take the lead where outreach intersects with social justice. That means that our efforts focus on shifting the culture within libraries to address inequities and be more inclusive. That work happens directly with library staff. It is our belief that it is imperative that libraries work on their internal understanding of equity, diversity, and inclusion. When we say that we work from social justice framework, we mean that we want to look at the power structures and systems that exist in libraries that may be barriers.
On a very basic level it means that it is our responsibility to serve and support library workers outreach efforts to the following individuals and groups:
Historically disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups
Those discriminated against based on gender or sexual identities and expressions
Those from other protected classes including: age, religion, and disability status
Those discriminated against based on nationality or language
Those who experience socio-economic barriers
People geographically isolated
People experiencing hunger, homelessness & Poverty
Immigrants, refugees and new Americans
New and non-readers
3. What does the Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services do and what type of services do they provide for library staff?
Our office works across the association, with our members, to consult, coordinate, train on issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion. In terms of direct outreach to the community, we have developed toolkits that are freely accessible on our website: . They include titles such as, “Extending Our Reach: Reducing Homelessness Through Library Engagement,” and “How to serve the World @ Your Library.” In addition, we have developed outreach issue briefs on various communities (LGBT+, American Indians, and people of color). We also provide webinars and workshops on any of our tools.
We have a blog called Intersections, ala.org/intersections. This blog is really a collection of stories from the field written by library workers who share their experiences as they create responsible and all-inclusive spaces that serve and represent the entire community.
4. How does a library staff person interested in providing outreach go about doing so, does the Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services provide support and guidance for doing outreach?
Practically speaking, it’s important to understand the community. Many of our resources and the stories talk about inviting members from the community into the conversation to hear directly what types of needs exist. The toolkits and stories that we maintain on our website are great for building some foundations for familiarity with a community, but they should not be used in a vacuum. We encourage folks doing outreach to become familiar with concepts of cultural competency, privilege, and microaggressions to effectively interact with people with different backgrounds or cultures. Our office provides workshops and trainings on these issues for library workers. We also want to hear from library workers about their experiences in outreach, good and bad. We encourage anyone to contact us about sharing their experience on the Intersections blog.
5. Do you have resources you would recommend for library staff interested in providing outreach?
I would recommend exploring our website ala.org/diversity and our Intersections blog. I would also recommend a new initiative that we have called Libraries Respond. If you follow the hashtag #librariesrespond on social media, you will see how libraries are making a difference through their outreach efforts in times of civil unrest. We created the hashtag as a way for library workers to share their experiences in the moment. In addition we have developed a Libraries Respond website ala.org/librariesrespond that library workers may use as a resource for the library community to share information, find resources, and connect as they serve their communities.