The Management and Support of Outreach in Academic Libraries

By Carter, Toni M.; Seaman, Priscilla | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

The Management and Support of Outreach in Academic Libraries


Carter, Toni M., Seaman, Priscilla, Reference & User Services Quarterly


The promotion of services in academic libraries often falls under the purview of outreach. This paper explores a number of questions regarding library outreach, specifically how libraries manage and support the marketing and public relations aspect of their services, resources, and facilities. An exploratory survey of more than 100 academic libraries reveals that the management of outreach often occurs on an informal and ad hoc basis, with only a minority maintaining a dedicated budget or articulated mission statement. Overwhelmingly, campus and library events prove the most popular methods of outreach, although blogs and other Web 2.0 tools trail closely behind. Additional survey questions address the use of dedicated positions and committees, and future efforts planned for outreach. This paper should provide a gauge for libraries in measuring their outreach efforts, while also highlighting topics for further study.

The vast amount of literature published on outreach suggests that libraries, in an effort to remain viable in the face of competing information outlets, recognize the need to reach out to their users. In the words of Hallmark, Schwartz, and Roy,

   Gone are the days when libraries
   can simply open their doors
   and expect to be perceived as the
   number one option for information
   services. With fierce competition
   for funding and more
   people assuming everything offered
   by a library can be found
   online, libraries are feeling the
   pressure to blow their own horn. (1)

Such a relevant topic deserves examination, but no standard definition of outreach exists within the academic library community. Assumptions can be made about a definition, however, by exploring the types of activities that academic libraries label with the outreach moniker. A review of the literature reveals two distinct, yet interconnected types of outreach activities: (1) services offered by libraries and (2) promotion of these services. This paper focuses on the second category of outreach, and examines how academic libraries manage and support the promotion of their libraries through marketing and public relations. The authors conducted an exploratory survey of library outreach at academic libraries across the country, inquiring about dedicated outreach positions, outreach committees, mission statements, staff time and financial resources allocated to outreach, and libraries' future plans for outreach. Over 100 libraries of various sizes and types, including community colleges and both

DEFINING OUTREACH

Libraries support outreach for similar reasons--to reach out to their users, to encourage use of the library and its resources, and to promote a positive image on campus and often in the community--but the activities that libraries use to fulfill these purposes run the gamut. Further complications stem from the interpretation of the term "outreach." Which activities actually constitute outreach? For some libraries, liaison work falls under the banner of outreach, while for other libraries, liaison activities such as collection development and library instruction represent distinctive functions established in libraries. These functions may share similar goals with outreach but do not carry the outreach label. A review of the literature, with the aim of categorizing activities, identifies two categories of outreach and establishes working definitions for this study: services and the promotion of services. Services include (1) any assistance with research or information, (2) the resources available at a library, and (3) library facilities. Promotion of services involves marketing or the use of public relations techniques to promote these services, resources, and facilities.

The literature shows that traditional services, such as liaison work in the form of collection development and library instruction or information literacy programs, still provide a successful way for libraries to reach out to their users. …

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