The Advantages of Virtual Outreach for Libraries

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries have explored the virtualization of programs and services, including their outreach efforts. In this clip from Computers in Libraries Connect 2022, I discuss some of the advantages virtual outreach presents over traditional library outreach.

Interested in further exploring the topic of virtual outreach? Check out this post on Connecting with Your Target Audience!

Library Virtual Outreach: Connecting with Your Target Audience

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.

Then What?

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

The Cycle of Emerging Tech in Libraries

Change can bring uncertainty, and, as the last few years have demonstrated, uncertainty can be extremely uncomfortable both for individuals and organizations! While technological change is constant and its impact on libraries can seem difficult to predict, it does follow a familiar route that I’ve dubbed “The Cycle of Emerging Tech in Libraries”. Let’s have a look.

alt="Graphic of a cycle / process comprised of four arrows that flow clockwise. They are labeled 1, 2, 3, and 4, and are over a blue background. 1 is titled "A new technology comes out!" 2 is titled "Disruption occurs!" 3 is titled "The library responds." 4 is titled "Comfort sets in". Arrow #4 continues into arrow #1, indicating the process begins anew. "

Breaking it Down

  1. A new technology comes out: Our journey begins with the release of a new piece of hardware or software. The invention of the internet, the first iPhone, and the rise of social media all come to mind.
  2. Disruption occurs!: Emerging technologies tend to be synonymous with disruption. New tech can impact specific industries, effect the job market (positively or negatively) and sow confusion. A new technology can, and will confuse the general public. In addition to being confusing, new tech can also be very expensive at the outset. This expense can prevent the general public (particularly those with lower income) from getting hands-on and learning through experience.
  3. The library responds: Here’s where we come in! When a new technology emerges, libraries provide accurate, authoritative information, programming, and most importantly, access. Technology typically becomes affordable for an organization before it does for an individual. When that time comes, a library’s investment allows the community to experience a technology, delivering an excellent return on investment.
  4. Comfort sets in: Eventually, the new becomes the familiar. When it does, the library can pull back on patron instruction. As the cost of an increasingly commonplace technology diminishes, so to does the need for investing in library-provided hardware/software. As you celebrate navigating your community through another technological change, a new technology comes out (step 1), and the cycle begins anew.

Looking at a Real World Example

Let’s apply “The Circle of Tech” concept to a rather library-centric technology that has already completed the cycle; the e-reader. In the late 2000s, the e-reader began to receive notice in the consumer market (step 1). E-reader technology caused plenty of disruption (step 2), particularly impacting the publishing industry. Our public was confused by the technology, as anyone who needed to walk a patron through early digital rights management process necessary to borrow a library e-book can attest! What is more, the tech was expensive, with a Sony PRS-700 costing $400 in 2008! Libraries responded by (step 3), providing patron instruction on utilizing the technology, in addition to offering digital content! Many libraries created e-reader petting zoos, or lent pre-loaded devices, granting the public access to a technology that was new, and unaffordable to many. Over time, comfort set in as patrons/staff better understood the technology (step 4) and the need for e-reader/e-book specific instruction subsided (though it has not disappeared). Subsequently, libraries have pared back their device lending programs.

This cycle complete, it wasn’t long before libraries would contend with streaming services, new social media platforms, the growth of mobile technology, and AR/VR. While the future can often seem uncertain, libraries have a well-trod path for guiding our communities through technological change!

Seeking a speaker for your library or organization? In need of a professional development webinar? Let’s talk! Need a roadmap for introducing emerging technologies into your library? Check out Best Technologies for Public Libraries!