The Fine Line between Outreach & Stalking

Last week, I posted a general wrap up from ACRL-NEC’s annual conference where my fabulous colleague Rachel Beckwith and I did a presentation on outreach and embedded librarianship. Over the next few weeks, I am planning to expand on the six points we discussed in longer form posts. Today I tackle the first of these: the fine line between outreach and stalking.

My experience working in library land has been varied. I now work in a small, experimental liberal arts college; I have previously worked in a large, state university, and a large, prestigious Ivy League research university. In all cases, outreach played an important role in each of my positions and experiences. However, methods of conducting outreach were sometimes more or less effective depending upon where I worked. A few universal truths about outreach best practices have emerged, though:

To start, I don’t like to think about ‘conducting outreach’ or ‘doing outreach,’ but rather living outreach throughout my whole librarianship practice. I honestly can’t imagine carving out time to ‘do outreach.’ I live outreach and integrate it into the landscape of my days at Hampshire, from active participation in faculty meetings to random conversation with students at the circulation desk.

Courtesy of the Hampshire College Archives

I believe the expectation that faculty and students will ‘find the librarian in his or her offices’ is out moded, and doesn’t speak to the active, engaged presence that I believe 21st century librarians need to have in the lives of students and faculty on college campuses. So, I make myself visible to my constituents by appearing in places my faculty and students don’t expect me to be, but appreciate when I am. Of course I do all this without being creepy or stalking. That’s proactive outreach. Examples:

  • Riding The Five College Bus System
  • Wandering around Franklin Patterson Hall where nearly all of my faculty have offices
  • Frequenting Woodstar Cafe in Northampton where most of my faculty hang out
  • Taking a walk around campus between classes when students are on the move. Hello chance encounters!

As important as what to do are the things not to do. A friendly list of Don’ts:

  • Linger outside someone’s office without an appointment.
  • Hang out in social spaces for students at night
  • Relentlessly email people
  • Listen in on other people’s conversations and then awkwardly insert yourself.

Balancing the fine line between effective outreach and creepy stalking is difficult, but let common sense and social intelligence be your guide.  Chances are better than not that your students and faculty will appreciate you having a more natural and consistent presence in their lives. So…get some coffee. Take a walk.  Attend a lecture. You never know when the perfect moment for outreach will arise.

Wrapping up ACRL-NEC 2012

Two weeks ago, I attended the annual Association of College and Research Libraries, New England Chapter meeting at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester. I was fortunate enough to co-present with my fabulous colleague, Rachel Beckwith. Together, we shared some of our outreach strategies and experience in a talk entitled: “Hey, Great to Run into You! Embedded Librarians Forging Partnerships Across Campus.” We divided up our time between our presentation and a facilitated conversation with the librarians in the room, a model for conference presentations I really prefer over the standard talk followed by question and answers. The talk can be captured in six points which represents our spectrum of embedded librarianship ranging from causal encounters to formalized curricular realtionships:

  • Informal Encounters: the fine line between outreach and stalking
  • New Presentism: inserting yourself at a moment of transition
  • High Threshold teaching: a semester with Omeka
  • Consortial Change Agents: 5 College Mellon Digital Humanties Grant
  • Reciprocity: Amazon Wish Lists, collaborating with faculty to create LibGuides
  • Partners in Retention: Pouncing on fresh blood in Student Affairs.

Outreach is a key piece of my work that I invest time and energy investigating in my research and writing. I truly believe that the most effective librarians do not wait for students to show up to the reference desk or the office, but librarians who actively seek out their students, faculty, and other constituents. In addition to bringing visibility to the library on campus, it’s more fun for the librarian too. I’ve really enjoyed my serendipitous conversations and reference interviews with students and faculty at Northampton Cafes, campus events, and on the Five College Bus System. It’s organic, and reinforces how seamlessly we exist in the campus community. That presence makes it possible for our academic stakeholders to trust us with more challenging endeavors like partnering to retain students and high threshold teaching and learning experiences. Above all, it is so satisfying to have a student smile back you and say, ‘wow, it’s great that you were here right when I was about to email you to make an appointment! Here you ARE!’

Courtesy of the Hampshire College Archives