Monday, August 23, 2010

What is outreach and what is an Outreach Librarian?

This past week was full of occasion to meet new people at Union. On Monday and Tuesday I attended new faculty orientation and on Wednesday the faculty workshop. Then Friday was freshman move in day and I got a chance to meet plenty of new students and other faculty. Naturally, whenever I tell people what I do at Union or they read my name tag I am asked the question, "what is an outreach librarian"? Since this is a new position I wanted to outline for everyone what that means or at least how I anticipate going about library outreach. My job description defines the position as, "ambassador to the Union University community of library users" who "enhances library services and access to academic resources through extensive outreach, instruction and reference activities." I want to frame that in light of three main areas, 1)Library as Place, 2)Library Service and 3)Library on the Web.

1)Library as Place

The above image is Raphael's school of Athens. The painting was used as an illustration in the Plenary session of an ACRL Florida Chapter meeting where I presented on, "The Library as the Center of Academic Campuses".  What is illustrated in Raphael's discussion is importance of the Classical Greek intellectual tradition and of discussion in that tradition. St. Paul was also a part of that tradition and used public meeting places as a venue, "he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews...and in the marketplace everyday with those who happened to be there".  (Acts 17) My point is that the university library should be a central place on campus! simply that college students of now and the future need a place to dialogue, to study together, memorize play scripts and work on group projects.  Yes, libraries will always provide quiet study space and books will be around for the foreseeable future but the library must also become a good place to meet. Bookstores like Barnes & Nobles or Books-a-Million have begun to understand this and provided comfortable seating, caf├ęs and free wireless. David W. Lewis, Dean of libraries at IU-Purdure University Indianapolis, says it best “Following the Barnes and Noble model, coffee shops are becoming the norm. The aim is to create comfortable, lively, and active spaces where students can interact with each other, with information and with technology”. Lewis, D. W. (January 01, 2007). A Strategy for Academic Libraries in the First Quarter of the 21st Century. College and Research Libraries, 68, 5, 418.

2)Library Service

The idea that librarians should provide good customer service was driven home better than anyone my Director Anna Beth Morgan the other day during our library development day. She emphasized the importance of customer service and I could not agree more. Margaret Duncan our Circulation supervisor quoted a library professor from the University of Iowa in the 1960s when she said, "the librarian is the servant of the teacher". I believe our goal is to create such a culture of good customer service in the library that it is the first place a student or staff member will go for anything. As Librarians part of what we should do is evaluate our services. That may be providing more helpful and knowledgable staff in the evening or going out to dorms, classrooms and student commons. The library must put policies in place and the librarian must do whatever it takes to make customer service the center of everything that we do.

3)Library on the Web

College freshman today have been raised in a google age. Everything that they have ever wanted to find is always at their fingertips. Nearly everything has an iPhone App and students today are used to finding whatever they need via Google and communicating using Facebook. David Lewis again argues “Libraries need to embed their resources and expertise into the systems and tools students and faculty use in their daily lives.” For Union and the Emma Waters Summar Library this may mean making our website more interoperable with Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and Google Books. I believe that this also means we need an easier and more universal search tool. Librarians will have to develop new skill and work closely with Information Technology to make the web page as user friendly as possible.

At Union I hope to work to enhance, library as place, library service and library on the web. This will bring many challenges as we move forward and work to improve the Emma Waters Summar Library but it is exciting and I have joined a wonderful team of librarians and staff who are extremely capable and fun to work with.

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