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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Library outreach: a case study from Wakefield Libraries

Dawn Bartram is Library Development Area Supervisor, Skills and Learning, at Wakefield Libraries in the UK, and was the winner of our CILIP competition. Here Dawn expands on her winning entry, and talks us through the benefits and approach to setting up a library outreach programme in order to spread the word about the online resources available at your local library.

1. What are the key considerations of an outreach programme?

As part of a management re-structure in 2009, Wakefield Libraries decided that, rather than having “outreach” as a generic part of every member of staff’s job description, we should create a team whose primary role would be to engage with our communities and stakeholders, to promote the library service externally, to build and develop new partnerships, and to encourage collaboration.
The team was asked to focus on three areas – Promoting Reading, Developing Skills, and Learning and Generating an Audience. Although each member of the team was designated a specific area, it soon became apparent that in order for the team to be effective we all needed to work together, support each other, and become involved in all areas.

2. How do you establish your priorities for an outreach programme?

Wakefield Libraries create a calendar of events to highlight various initiatives throughout the year, and this enables the team to align itself more to the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) Universal Offers. This ensures that our plans also link into the council priorities: caring for our people, caring for our places, ambitions for our young people, and modern public services. We organise events across the district to guarantee we reach as many different communities as possible, and we utilise all libraries, including our mobile libraries, by encouraging displays of online resources.

3. How do the online resources provided by the library expand its reach?

Even though the number of libraries within the Wakefield Authority and the number of outreach team members have reduced, the need to raise awareness of library services has not diminished. It is becoming increasingly important to ensure that libraries continue to be viable, and we do this by increasing outreach efforts, and increasing the diversity of library resources.
Our online offer has grown, which helps to fill the void left by having fewer libraries, and is in many ways ensuring a wider variety of provision. The online resources the library provides are available 24/7, are accessible on computers, tablets, and other portable devices, and can be accessed whilst in the comfort of your own home or whilst out and about. They are immediately accessible and can be relied upon to be accurate and current.

Dawn and her colleagues run outreach events at numerous venues throughout the district by Dawn Bartram. Used with permission.

4. What are some effective ways to promote online resources?

Wakefield Libraries have built up a number of contacts throughout the district and are proactive in contacting partners and finding opportunities to raise the profile of the library and the resources available. We get invited to various events to promote the library service, which provide great opportunities to network and expand the number of potential partners to work with.
For example, whilst collaborating with The Theatre Royal Wakefield on a project during Shakespeare Week; actors performed some of a Midsummer Night’s Dream and we developed an activity using quotes from The New Oxford Shakespeare online. The children also enjoyed being able to curse each other using vocabulary from Shakespeare’s work!

5. How do you use technology and social media as part of an outreach programme?

We are big users of social media to promote the library’s resources, and we enhance content for members, such as recommending a “Word of the Day” from the Oxford English Dictionary, or using the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography to celebrate birthdays and other events related to local famous people.

The team delivers presentations to various groups and societies (church groups, Rotary clubs, Women’s Institutes, various charities, Parish Councils, etc) and we advertise these using Twitter and other social media channels. We now also have tablets which allow us to tweet ‘on the move’ during events, but also allow us to give demonstrations of how our online resources can be accessed from our website with just a library card. We do promotions at open days, galas, and festivals, and although working outside comes with many challenges, it is certainly worth the effort to spend time with people face to face.

6. What advice would you give to librarians starting an outreach programme?
Expect the unexpected, be prepared but adaptable, and most of all enjoy the variety of opportunities available to share knowledge of library services within the community.
To paraphrase the opening from the original Star Trek series – “Our continuing mission is – to explore new areas of the community, to seek out new potential stakeholders and future members, to boldly go where no library service has gone before!”

Featured image credit: books library read shelves silence by Marisa_Sias. Public domain via Pixabay.

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