Mini Theme: Community Outreach. Open Up with Community Outreach

Community outreach is difficult to define. Does community outreach mean just “reaching out to the community,” or does it mean creating opportunities for the school library to interact with community members?

By participating in community outreach projects, students are introduced to the environment in which they live. They realize they are part of something larger than their house or school; they are a part of a growing community. Students become exposed to gloomy community issues such as poverty, hunger, or disease. But they also see the enjoyment in helping others. This, in turn, helps students develop loyalty and citizenship.

If the elementary school library reaches out to the high school student, is this still community outreach? A high school student can volunteer, or be assigned, to come to the elementary school library and help younger students read. Perhaps that high school student needs an after-school activity in order to curb dishonorable behavior. The library becomes a safe place for her to go everyday. She can develop a real relationship with the elementary school student, showing up on time every day and taking her job seriously. This experience changes her outlook and behavior, and helps her evolve as a citizen. This “grooming” of a good citizen eventually benefits the whole community.

Traditional Outreach Programs

There are other more traditional community outreach programs for school libraries. You could implement a guest library card system to allow parents or other community members to check out materials from the school. Create a formal guest borrower application and keep the information on file for a period of a year, at which time the borrower can re-apply. Inform the borrower of your return policy.

The library can also reach out to the community by extending library hours, even over the summer. Library staff contracts may need to be extended or re-considered and hours may have to be adjusted. The library may need to hire a new staff member exclusively for the extended hours. This would require additional funding and research into how to acquire those funds. Some schools have been able to secure grants for community outreach programs (see Internet Resources below).

In order for the program to be successful, the guest library card and extended hours should be well publicized. Run advertisements in the local newspaper and on the local cable channel, and give flyers to local churches, restaurants, and pharmacies.

If additional staff is not hired for altered operating hours, try to sell the program to already existing staff. The librarian should exhibit motivation and enthusiasm, in conjunction with letting staff know exactly what will be expected of them and how it will affect their daily work. By doing so, the librarian might increase his or her chances of staff “buy-in.”

Consider advertising guest borrower cards and extended library hours to the local home school organization. To help build a relationship with home school children, create an instruction session on how to successfully access and utilize library resources. Present this to the children at the library or visit the children at the home school. Or, create a PowerPoint presentation to e-mail or send home on CD. Although reference materials are usually non-circulating items, allow home school families to check out when needed. This can include such items as a set of encyclopedias, book of quotations, thesaurus, rhyming dictionary, an atlas, and other information books. Distribute a written “proper use” agreement for the home school teachers to guarantee costs will be covered if material is lost or damaged.

School libraries not only provide books, but also computers and Internet access to their students. Consider making computer labs available during the extended hours to those community members with a guest library card. If the lab is not located in or very near to the library, this might require an additional staff member to monitor the lab, helping with technical issues and ensuring equipment is not damaged.

When it comes to printing, libraries have two options. You can establish a “pay printing” system or simply not make printing available and encourage community members to save files to a disc or e-mail the files to themselves at home. Lastly, consider creating resource guides for community members. Perhaps you notice that most Internet research done by community members is related to medical and vacation. You can focus on these topics, finding interesting Web sites and recommending books to read at home on the subject.

Going Beyond

It is great for libraries to open their facilities to others, but offering to bring resources to others takes community outreach one step further. One high school library in Wamego, Kansas gives the public library the option of receiving 400-600 of the newest fiction and nonfiction books for use during the summer. According to librarian Joanie Doperalski and high school librarian Dr. Nancy McFarlin, once school is out of session and inventory is been completed, books are pulled from the shelves at the high school library. They are then placed on reserve for the public library with the material type label of “summer reading.” Those downloadable records are then sent to the public library, along with the actual books. The library creates a reading list, posts it on the library Web site, and makes it available in print for public library patrons. Upon return of books in August, the reserve status is deleted from the record and books are re-shelved at the high school library. In this case, it is important to create concrete coordination for packaging, pick up, and delivery. The public library might also establish some sort of accountability if patrons damage or do not return the books.

Community outreach programs can also correspond with certain celebrations. For example, El dia de los ninos, April 30, is a day set aside to celebrate children and how they may benefit the world in the future. Elementary school students can give book talks or read their favorite poetry, chosen from the school library, to residents of the local retirement home on this special day. Have students research a certain time period, such as World War II or the depression era. Students can use library resources and then go into the community to talk with residents that may have been alive during that time. Veterans have the opportunity to chat with young people, while the students perform a good deed by providing a written account of memoirs for the veterans.

Upper elementary or high school students can provide another service by teaching Internet skills to the elders of the community. The librarian might consider conducting this project within an assisted living facility, rather than a care home. This gives students a greater chance of success in their teaching. It is more likely that assisted living facilities have more computers, or even a computer lab. The librarian can coordinate with the retirement or care home, ensure all students had parental permission, reserve a bus, and talk to students about courtesy. Show students some basic teaching techniques or Internet demonstrations to help them prepare for the Internet skills session.

The Family Beyond the School

In 2006, President Bush declared September 25 as “Family Day.” This day is intended as a reminder for families to spend time together, participating in education and everyday activities. The day reminds parents that love and support can help in the development of a child’s character. “Family Day” is a great opportunity for libraries to facilitate a “family history” project.

On “Family History Day,” school libraries can make research sources available to any family in the community who would like to find out more about the immigrants from their home country. Advanced upper elementary students can be selected and trained on how to help patrons use the reference materials during the event. Children who attend school there can help their own family in doing research and interview their parents during the day. The computer lab can be used to make records of what researchers found.

Announce “Family History Day” in a school newsletter and the local newspaper. Set a book display about family history within both the elementary school library and the local library. Put flyers for patrons at the local library. Send home reminders with students a week before the date, and make an announcement at school on the day of the event. With such a large project, it will be important to enlist volunteers. Hold a meeting with parent volunteers two weeks in advance and divide the tasks. Tasks might include set up, food, helping out during the event, and clean up.

Reaching Out with Technology

Libraries can jump into the technology age and create podcasts for the community, based on demographics and interest. For example, if the community has a large number of farmers, create a podcast focusing on the latest agricultural news and post on the library Web site. This might be an easy sell to those staff members who are always keeping abreast of the newest technology. If needed, they may be able to teach you how to make podcasts.

While there are many good community outreach programs available, librarians should not give up on their own ideas. Contact with community members benefits all persons involved. There may be some planning and coordination required, but any chance students have to see the society in which they live facilitates growth and understanding of the world as a whole.

Internet Resources

Youth Service America—

Michael & Susan Dell Foundation—

Institute of Museum and Library Services, National Leadership Grants—


Web Junction, Outreach Brainstorm—

Western Kentucky University Libraries Podcast—

Works Cited

Doperalski, Joanie. “High School Project.” E-mail to Melissa Van Dusen. 3 October 2006.

Doperalski, Joanie. “Re: Rough draft.” E-mail to Melissa Van Dusen. 9 October 2006.

United States. “Family Day, 2006.” The White House: President George W. Bush. 22 September 2006. Office of the Press Secretary. 23 October 2006 ( ).

Melissa Van Dusen

MLA Citation Van Dusen, Melissa. "Mini Theme: Community Outreach. Open Up with Community Outreach." Library Media Connection, 25, no. 6, March 2007. School Library Connection,

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Entry ID: 2150014

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