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ACRL Libraries Transform Toolkit: Outreach Strategies

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In order to develop, support and sustain effective outreach and communication strategies, it’s critical that your efforts carefully target specific audiences. When initiating an outreach program, there’s a tendency to cast a wide net in hopes of capturing the largest quantity of users. The result? Diluted efforts resulting in haphazard, ineffective activities because they are simply too broad in their appeal or programming. Resist the universal urge to “be all things to all people” and instead keep your focus on intentional, messages that not only map to your library/institutional goals but seek to build community with your users and ultimately, solve their library-related challenges. Success there delivers the strongest results as your primary market become “ambassadors” or influencers that can engage secondary markets.

Though ACRL members have a common denominator of providing services in an academic environment, looking beyond that, can show considerable differences amongst particular user groups. For example, location; student/staff/faculty demographics; budgets and funding; academic programs, degrees and specialty areas and more can impact your outreach and communication strategies. When reviewing recommended strategies, take those factors into consideration and how they might influence your particular messaging. The more targeted your message, the more likely it is to engage your users.

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Structuring your message-who's your user?

You’ve identified your products and/or services that you want to promote. It is now time to turn your thinking to your audience. For example, the ACRL Libraries Transform Survey asked, “Who are specific users groups you want to reach and what are their needs in addition to broader categories such as faculty, staff, students or community?” Undergraduate students were the highest response at 36.51%. Consider how you can break that significant audience down into smaller customer segments for personalized communications.

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Structuring your message-what do you want to promote?

Before you begin developing specific strategies and messages, it’s important to determine the product and /or services you’re selling. And while of course, you’re not truly “selling” a product per se, you do need to create messages to engage and move people to take action. Surprisingly, this can be even more difficult than convincing someone to open their wallet.

  • This desired “sales” outcome should not be seen as a negative, especially in today’s academic environment. The cost of a college education is one of the most significant purchases or investments a student (and/or their family) will take on in their lifetime. However it’s also the one most likely to provide a significant return with career opportunities and financial independence. Recognize the importance of establishing your library and its products and services as resources that can make a difference not only in their academic success, but also contributing to these long-term outcomes.
  • So what are the products and services that can be promoted as your unique premise? Certainly it’s not a bank of computers and internet access. For example, if your primary target audience is undergraduate students, consider the assets in this area that are unique to your library, such as checking out technology tools which can directly impact their personal success.
  • As far as your services, when you promote in-library support assistance, consider how to elevate the user experience. Share insights on the role of librarians/your staff – credentials, experience, relationships with faculty and staff. How will students benefit by interacting with the library versus “going it alone?”
  • Even meeting rooms can be positioned to provide customer-focused benefits. They can create a sense of community for campus organizations especially those grass-roots ones that quickly burgeon from a desire to support current causes. So instead of simply offering meeting space, explain how your library’s resources can enrich their efforts.