Category Archives: Outreach

On Innovation (but not technology!)

logo_808707_printIn September, Adriana wrote an astute post on this blog about the term “innovation” being equated with “technology.” I have been musing on that subject for the past several days, especially as it pertains to public libraries, and increasingly, academic libraries. I now work in an academic library, but I got my start there. I have also worked in a homeless shelter, and that experience provides a backdrop for some of the following musings as well.

Adriana’s post sparked my thought process about an inherent challenge for libraries; that is, how best to serve different and diverse communities of users, from the homeless population to tech-savvy teens interested in videogame design and programming. I’m also very interested in how we serve populations that we can’t “see”; libraries often focus on user needs via surveys of current users. But what about services to homebound seniors and senior centers? What about the growing population of refugees? What about the students (and this is a true example from my own experience) who never enter the library until the final semester of their master’s degree? We have had SIX YEARS to reach this patron, whom we could have given very valuable resources; how and why have we not done so?

Some libraries have addressed the needs of homeless populations by incorporating social service offices into their premises and adding homeless street outreach workers to their staff. When I think about how often I helped library patrons log onto the Department of Workforce Services (DWS) website to access benefits (e.g. food stamps, unemployment, etc.) and assisted patrons with resume and job application questions, these ideas seem to be on the right track. But what about bringing the library to the homeless population as well? For instance, starting a satellite operation in the homeless shelter in conjunction with DWS staff, where folks can check out and return books, learn tech skills, and use computers?

I realize libraries can’t be everything to everyone, and I’m not picking on any particular library here because I think we must partner with each other in order to operate such outreach efforts; academic as well as public libraries must be invested in their communities. For instance, given the entrepreneurial business community downtown, could the library community in greater Salt Lake City offer tutorials on conducting patent and trademark searching, copyright information, and industry and market research through the Women’s Business Center Business Essentials program? Could we jointly operate a one-librarian satellite location downtown to assist entrepreneurs and established business owners with research and information needs?

When libraries think about expanding services, we often just add more, when we could be adding the right resources or targeting new populations. We add more databases, more e-books, more computers, and more branches. This is not necessarily wrong; we often do need more, but I think it would also be useful for us to think about using what we have to target new populations and match the right resources to the right patron.

We must open ourselves up to the diversity of what our patrons actually are, as well as who our patrons could be, while at the same time maintaining our identity as knowledge institutions and spaces where quiet introspection can take free rein (and surprisingly, quiet space is often hard to find in today’s libraries!). I’m not maintaining that I know how to execute innovation in reaching users, given increasingly tight budgets, underpaid and overworked staff, and competing interests for library services, but my intent here was simply to put out some ideas. What innovative services does your library offer? What would you like to see your library offer? What do you think is working in terms of reaching new users? What’s not working? Post it all here!

There are several articles that I consulted in writing this post. Shannon Mattern wrote an excellent piece published in Places Journal titled Library as Infrastructure (June 2014). Jeff Goldenson and Nate Hill wrote an article titled Making Room for Innovation for Library Journal (May 16, 2013). Additional musings were found in Thomas Felton’s Innovation Teams article for the Urban Libraries Council.

By Jessica Breiman, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

Come and get to know US!

Creative Libraries Utah is excited to host a networking social with our friends from EveryLibrary! We will be meeting at Squatter’s Pub in Salt Lake City on October 7, 2014 from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. This event is being scheduled to correspond with Library Journal’s Lead the Change event at the Salt Lake City Public Library. Even if you cannot attend Lead the Change, please come and get to know your library friends and colleagues better!

EveryLibrary is a PAC that raises money to help with political campaigns that affect libraries across the country.

Library Journal hosts Lead the Change events to help with professional development.

Please checkout this event and our amazing friends over at EveryLibrary!


Reach Out and Figuratively Touch Someone


Whenever I hear the word “innovation”–and it gets thrown around pretty frequently in libraries these days–it’s often used in a way that makes it seem interchangeable with “technology.” And that’s really missing the point. So, for this edition of Innovation Action News, I think it would be useful to revisit the denotative meaning, to go a little old-school in order to discover new ways to accomplish those things we want to do, and to do them better (more efficiently, more cost-effectively, on a larger scale, you name it). I know that sounds contradictory, but stay with me, folks.

I’m a big believer in outreach as a form of innovation, regardless of the medium or the type of library. And, for the record, we librarians have a STRONG outreach game. One great example at my university is the work that the Eccles and Marriott librarians do in the Bench to Bedside program, in which librarians are embedded into the infrastructure of the program in order to support students with their research needs. Such a good fit, right? It just makes sense.

Another successful example of outreach is Personal Librarian programs that are cropping up in academic libraries all over the country–Yale, Chapel Hill, Barnard, and Drexel are particularly notable. This year at the University of Utah, I’m coordinating with The MUSE Scholars Program to provide each student involved in the program with a personal librarian. Since many haven’t selected a major, I don’t assign librarians according to their areas of expertise; it’s more like luck of the draw. And so far, we’ve been fairly lucky. This year, twenty librarians are participating in the program and connecting with approximately 200 undergraduates, reaching out to them at anticipated points of need, such as mid-terms and finals (actually a couple weeks beforehand). This is the first time  we’re working with this particular group, but it sure seems to be a good fit for those who are seeking a signature experience.

One last example, and this one is very old-school-meets-new-school: At my library, we serve on College and Interdisciplinary Teams to carry out our collection development duties. So, rather than each subject selector approaching his/her department independently with a small pot of money that’s designated to that specific department, teams of librarians collectively address the research needs of the colleges and with bigger, shared pots of money. (I like to visualize actual pots of money when I talk about this concept. Yes, as if we’re leprechauns.) And that goes for outreach, too. While each librarian is assigned to one (or two) departments and meets and communicates with those faculty members and students, we also come together to offer interdisciplinary support (e.g. offering workshops like “Advanced Research in the Humanities”).

What I’m getting at is that innovation doesn’t have to be driven by technology, just by a perceived need and an appropriate response. And that response can include technology if it fulfills the need better. But we can be creative, and thoughtful, and try new things without relying on gadgetry to make it sexy. That’s not to suggest that technology doesn’t have a place in libraries because it very clearly does. I just don’t think we have to force it.

The grand takeaway: If anybody would like to gift me an iPhone 6, that would be awfully nice. Because outreach.

By: Adriana Parker, Instruction Librarian, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah