Computers in Libraries
Vol. 20, No. 8 • September 2000
When You Reach Out, Everybody Wins
by Kathy Miller

Are you reaching all the potential users of your library? Do you even know who all your potential users are? Have you done any studies or compiled any statistics to learn what percentage of each customer group is actually using your services? Do you ever even think about this? Or are you so busy serving the people that do come in (physically or electronically) that you have no desire to lure more patrons?

It’s easy to be plenty busy just running the library day-to-day. Who wants to be busier? Who in their right mind would look for more work to do? Everyone already knows about the library, right? And if they want anything you have, they can go to you. Proactive, schmo-active.

Well I hate to break it to you, but if you’re not engaged in proactive outreach activities, you should be. And that’s what this issue’s all about. Have you noticed some of your circulation and reference stats going down? Were you relieved? Or did you take the next mental step and realize that lower stats might mean lower funding, which might mean cutting hours or staff, which might set you on a downhill slope toward not being open anymore at all? You might call it paranoid. I call it thinking ahead.

Naysaying aside, you also have to remember that libraries have always been about service. You might have a wonderful collection and neat computer classes and cutting-edge technology, but if it’s just sitting there, underutilized, it’s not helping anyone. This month’s four features share great examples of how different information centers reached out—to seniors, to the town at large, to college students, and to a university’s whole community. Each of these efforts was very successful, and none ate up an inordinate amount of time or money. Each raised the library involved to a higher level in the eyes of its beholders. Each made the library’s technology more accessible and more understandable to people who could benefit from it. Everybody won!

I imagine that every library, no matter what type it is or where it’s located, has a potential user base that’s going untapped. I know it happens a lot in the corporate market. In the academic area, you might figure that all students know a library exists, but yet, why should they use it if they have Internet access in their dorm rooms or homes? Public libraries serve perhaps the widest cross section, so they certainly always have more groups they could cater to.

Don’t think of marketing outreach as another chore; think of it as a chance to do something fun and creative and challenging! In fact, if you do it right, your outreach events could become something that your staff really looks forward to working on. I hope the examples we’ve printed here will inspire you.

Kathy Miller, Editor

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