Many libraries conduct traditional outreach like tables in front of Starbucks, storytimes at the local parks, or showing up at community meetings. These are great ways to get out of the library and into the community at large. But, what if we extended these traditional outreach programs into opportunities for networking with community leaders, politicians, professionals, and entrepreneurs? How would we develop relationships and what could we do with them?
While working for EveryLibrary on political campaigns for libraries I’ve noticed that the better connected a library is to these groups, the better funded they are, the better positioned they are to win their campaign, and the better supported they are in their community. Often, this level of influence in a community is due to only one or two well-connected employees. Typically, this is the library director or assistant director who has spent time and energy building relationships with city council members, attending Kiwanis or Rotary Club meetings, or some other social group. Through these relationships the library is able to gain access to grants and funding opportunities, or establish partnerships to provide bigger and better services, and enjoy the benefits of pro-library political climates. Also, by extending the sphere of influence of the library, there are simply more opportunities all around.
If your library doesn’t have a well-connected administrator, one of the ways to begin is to start providing more services to those with money and power and influence in their communities. Libraries do a good job providing and marketing their services to children, community members in need, the middle class, and many marginalized communities. These services are outstanding and terribly, and unfortunately, much needed across the country and in every town and city. But we also need to reach start-ups, entrepreneurs, unmarried men and women in their late 20s and early 30s, build relationships with local businesses, and maybe even create partnerships with other non-profits and influence politicians. Some people might argue that those people don’t need libraries, and that might be true, but I would argue that libraries need them. I would suggest that libraries need these kinds of community members in order to continue to have the resources and social capital we need to survive.
Because they don’t come into the library, and because we don’t always do a very good job doing outreach in their networks, many libraries might not know how to reach them. In fact, there are only a few ways to get into these networks. The most important and most impactful way is to show up and librarians should always show up. There are few places that librarians can show up, and I’ll just talk about two of them.
If there are any community meetings happening, a librarian should show up. These are opportunities to meet the influential people even if the community meeting has very little to do with the library. There are almost always a wide range of people who attend these meetings and many of the people who show up are the ones who are most committed to the community as well as many local politicians or people with political aspirations. These are some of the few people who actually show up to the city council meetings and speak on behalf of a local issue. The librarian can make many connections with the most politically active community members by showing up to these community meetings and introducing themselves, hearing about their issues, and discussing ways that the library aligns with their beliefs. The best part about working in a library is that there is almost always some way that the library aligns with every local issue even if it just providing books and collections that deal with that issue.
Besides community meetings there are almost always networking events and social engagements throughout the area or nearby. If you live in or near a larger city, one of my favorite networking events is called Network After Work and has large networking events happening across the country at very low prices. I always tried to attend as many as I could or send my librarians to the ones happening nearby. If you don’t have a Networking After Work nearby, try looking for events on Facebook, Meetup.com, or even Craigslist. These kinds of events are filled with people working in start-ups, entrepreneurs, bankers, and new or early professionals who want to work on projects. One of the big things I always came away with where a handful of cards of people who wanted to do something in the library like debut their documentary, host a financial literacy fair, or provide some other program. But, the most important outcome was the opportunity to talk about the services that the library can provide to these kinds of individuals who don’t usually use the library as well as find people who want to help the library through donations, volunteerism, or other engagement like speaking or writing in support of the library when you need them to.
My biggest issue is that I’m an introvert. This is something that I wanted to be able to work around so I have spent a lot of time learning how to be social in these situations and I’ve spoken and written about how to fake being an extrovert until you get the hang of it. You can watch the talk in the video below.