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Community Outreach: Overview


Bringing the library into the community is one of the best ways for libraries to reach a broader audience. This is an opportunity for libraries to stay relevant and to engage people that may not otherwise interact with the library.

Outreach means looking outside the walls of the library for ways to serve the community and will look different for every library. It might be a mobile services vehicle like a bike, bookmobile, or van; participating in community events like fairs and parades; or doing pop-up programming such as storytimes in the park or community-wide scavenger hunts. The possibilities are as diverse as the library and community.

Explore this LibGuide to see the different ways libraries can engage with their communities.

Community Partnership Resources

Partnerships within a community are vital to a library's success. As a 2013 LIbrary Journal article stated, "If you don't have time for partnerships, chances are, your community won't have time for you." Making sure the library is aligned with community goals and forming community partnerships is crucial, and should be a part of all libraries' strategic plans.

Partnerships benefit the library by:

  • Raising the visibility of the library in the community
  • Gaining advocates for the library
  • Changing the perception of the value of the library to the community
  • Putting the library in a position to get more funding

One great way to start and form these partnerships is to have staff and board members involved in other community organizations.

Having a library presence in community organizations allows the library to reach a broader group of people and participate in other aspects of the community that people may not associate with the library. Offering public meeting space, resource collections, and volunteer opportunities are all ways that libraries can assist these organizations that they may not have thought of yet. Additionally, broadening the network of people talking about the library expands the knowledge of the community’s needs, and everyone can work on creative ways to work through issues using library resources and expertise.

Some possible organizations to join are the Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Elks Club, Eagles Club, or Rotary. However, all organizations in your area that you think could benefit from a library staff or board member should be considered.

Lobby Stops

Libraries often bring their services to residents at assisted living or other communal living areas such as a correctional facility or transitional housing. The members of these facilities are greatly appreciative of all of the resources a library has to offer—everything from modified programs and reference services to traditional circulating materials like books and movies. Lobby stops are an excellent way to expand the library's patron base and target users for a specific collection.

If the library plans on circulating items at a Lobby Stop, they will need a way to transport library materials and check them out to users. This may be bins in the back of a staff member's vehicle that are set up on tables in the facility or a library-purchased sprinter van with a lift to load and unload pre-shelved carts. Checkout can be through a laptop or tablet connected to the library's ILS, or else by writing down barcode numbers and inputting them back at the library.

When setting up a Lobby Stop, the library will need to come to an agreement with the facility about a day and time, space requirements, and other needs of both the facility and the library. One of the best ways to get started is to contact the Activity Director to see if something can be arranged. See the Sample Policies and Procedures tab for examples.

Memory Care

Outreach programming is often used to reach the most vulnerable people in the community. Many libraries choose to do programs for people with dementia and their caregivers; these programs often take place at an assisted living facility, but some libraries choose to host them at senior centers or in community spaces to reach those that are living with dementia but still living in their homes.

Memory care programs take place around the discussion of common objects or events that may help trigger a positive response from participants. This can be done with oversized "coffee table" books with large images, printed out images, or purchased memory materials. Topics can include cooking, farming, media icons from the 20th Century, schooling, families, or anything else they've expressed an interest in.

Below are some examples and resources for libraries looking to do memory care programs:

Outreach Programming

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Many of these resources and programs are funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.