Libraries engage in outreach for a number of reasons, key among them are to raise the public’s awareness of the library, connect with community partners, and to bring library services to the underserved. Traditional library outreach is complicated enough, however virtual outreach brings a unique set of challenges that requires a nuanced approach. While I plan to discuss virtual outreach over several posts, I’d like to first examine the challenges in finding your audience.
Where are the Gathering Places?
When the goal is to raise the library’s profile, we commonly seek out areas of high foot traffic. This could be a place (such as a beach or shopping mall) or an event (like a town fair). What are the digital equivalents? Speaking broadly, in the virtual realm, gathering places often begin with a platform, particularly social media. With 2.91 billion users, Facebook is certainly an example of a virtual space bursting with “foot traffic”. Continuing with the Facebook example, the next natural step is to identify pages and groups that further segment your audience, starting with those that correspond with your service area, then narrowing to the library’s outreach priorities (ex: seniors, spanish speakers, small business owners, etc). Some common targets include:
- Pages: These tend to be more formal/officially sanctioned, and can include the local school district, chamber of commerce, and ambulance company.
- Groups: Groups are often unofficial entities, and can include smaller geographic regions (Smith Street, Town of Franklin Community Group) or specific interests (Moms of Village ABC).
Who are the Points of Contact?
In traditional outreach, your points of contact are often quite clear. If you were looking to plan school outreach, you might reach out to the principal or superintendent. In virtual outreach, the person overseeing the page is not the same as the person overseeing the organization. When we look at a Facebook group, it is one or more admins/moderators that make up the power structure; they may not be formal organizations, though most have a stated purpose and rules of conduct to abide by. Once you’ve identified a group that fits your outreach target(s) you’ll want to join and introduce yourself/your organization and your desire to network. A library’s Facebook page can join as itself (if moderators allow), or a staff member can join as an individual; here I recommend setting up a separate professional Facebook account specifically for individual staff members to represent the organization.
Once you’ve developed a presence in these virtual spaces and built relationships with those who maintain them, you’ll want to promote your services and welcome the community to your library. This can take many forms; simple posts within a group, engaging in social media listening, starting conversations, or planning a hosted livestream event with a page or group. While the approach may vary, the key is to ensure that you’re not just speaking, but listening! I plan to continue exploring virtual outreach in future posts as I cover best practices, tech tools and tricks, and other non-social media formats. I hope you’ll join me!
This article was originally published in The Digital Librarian LinkedIn Newsletter.