Back to School: Making New Connections

by April Witteveen, Deschutes Public Library (originally appeared in the YALSA blog)

Courtesy of the National Library of Australia http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an24229822

With the end of summer reading and learning programs on the horizon, thoughts turn to the quickly approaching school year (perhaps with a well-earned vacation in between…).  For front-line public librarians, it’s a new year full of opportunities to make connections with area school library staff.  Perhaps you’ve tried this type of outreach in the past with minimal success; maybe there’s been a staffing change at a school where you’ve had a continuous presence but now you’re not sure how things will go. If you’re lucky enough to have an excellent relationships that will pick up right where you left off, then share your advice in the comments at https://oyanpeeps.wordpress.com.

This is not a time to be retreating, this is a time to sell your incredible and unique services and support for both students and teachers. Stepping outside your comfort zone and making a tough cold call, email, or in-person visit can yield amazing results.  Here are some ideas on how you could get started:

  • Create a one-sheet that clearly and succinctly lays out what your services are (instruction/database presentations, book talks, lunchtime outreach, etc.).  Include this in a promotional packet with library swag and business cards, and deliver to school libraries before school starts.
  • Browse online staff directories of area schools to identify teachers who might be most likely to take you up on services: traditionally this would be language arts and social studies teachers, but with the STEM/STEAM movement it’s time to expand our message to science and technology teachers.
  • Try a lunch time outreach pilot project in conjunction with school library staff. This could be a lunch book club meeting or providing a presence in the cafeteria with library information and swag to bring attention to you and your public library. This also helps you create relationships with students and school staff.
  • Check in with career and college preparation offices in your high schools to let them know about your resources and services for this population.  You could find out about hosting a booth at college and career fairs.

 

These ideas all sound great at the outset– but then what?  Patience and perseverance!  Follow up is going to be incredibly important– we don’t want to pester but we want to be sure that our message is heard.  Being aware of any school’s given reality is also important; perhaps they are going through an intense testing year or drastically changing their curriculum.  Both of these situations have impacted my own school outreach in the past, but hooray, it’s a brand new year!  It’s also great to reassure school library workers that we aren’t looking to take over their jobs or their libraries, we want to add value and create relationships that will help students succeed and give teachers additional support.