Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What Library Work Isn't Outreach?

Maybe it's because I started my librarian life as public services (well, technically I was called "research services"), or maybe it's because I've always worked at smaller libraries where pretty much everyone is cross-trained and wears multiple hats, but everything in libraries seems like public services to me. Even if you never work directly with the public, you're still working to serve them in some way. We are all in the outreach business. Even when it seems impossible, we might as well relax and appreciate it.

The outreach is obvious if you're doing instruction or reference or programming, but public services aren't the only ones serving our communities. If you're working on the catalog, you're making it easier for the public to access all the things. If you're the person who cleans the restrooms and empties the trash, you're doing it to make the library nicer for your community. This is a service industry after all, and we are all here to give good service to our constituents.

No, I'm not saying that "the customer is always right." They aren't. Heck, in my part of the library world, academic libraries, the customer is frequently at least a little wrong. I've lost count of how many times have I had to say some version of, "let me show you how to search for it in the catalog," when a student asks me to look a book up for them. You can still give good customer service while pointing out the "customer" is wrong. We need to respect that the people who come into the library, virtually or physically, are people. We should also remember that fellow librarians are among our constituents in this hyper-connected world.

When people know you're "that librarian lady" or "that librarian guy" in your community, they always see you that way. It can be hard sometimes, especially if you tend towards introversion. But really, even when it gets tedious answering the same question or fixing the same problem in the catalog or shushing the same loud group of teenagers again and again, it helps to remember that we're all in the outreach business. I don't remember who said it, but "if we didn't have patrons, libraries would just be book museums" has always rung true to me.

Am I wrong? Is there some part of librarianship that doesn't serve our communities in some way, even remotely? I'd love to hear. I'd also love to hear if you have any tricks for reminding yourself that outreach is part of everything we do.

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