Community Outreach

Community Outreach

Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch579
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As social institutions, libraries respond to the needs, pressures, and impacts of society. Community outreach is the development and promotion of services offered by information settings. Such services extend beyond physical collections and involve the development and provision of customized events in response to or in anticipation of community needs. Library outreach has its historical roots in the late nineteenth century public library movement that coincided with the Progressive Era, when library services were conveyed directly to community members' homes and places of employment. Contemporary expressions of community outreach include engagement of faculty and students with communities of need, academic preparation of new professionals to serve communities of need, crisis informatics, and digital equity. Efforts are challenged by sustainability, impacts or returns on investments, personal and professional motivations, and the emergence of expected and unexpected community needs.
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As Heim (now, McCook) pointed out, outreach is much more than opening the doors of an institution; it extends across a spectrum of activities and actions in what Heim referred to as the Stimulation Continuum (Heim, 1984). Outreach involves reaching out to the underserved, and even intervening during times of need.

Early outreach services were designed with education in mind. Early public libraries in the mid to late nineteenth century were founded to further the education of an American public that had little access to other forms of schooling. Libraries, including state library agencies, coordinated broad educational efforts under offices of library extension.

These efforts were followed by programs designed to acclimate new citizens. During that time the Immigrant Publication Society issued small pamphlets to assist librarians in responding to the needs of Jews from Eastern Europe, Russian Jews, and Poles (Carr, 1919). These publications were issued with support from the ALA Committee on Work with the Foreign Born. This committee existed for thirty years, from 1918 to 1948. Over time, these library efforts have been scrutinized more closely and considered by some to be expressions of acculturation.

Heim noted that after 1950, outreach services returned to the educational motif, focusing on adults’ learning needs. And since the 1950s, public libraries provided both general educational services and targeted services for specific clientele. ALA reflected this interest by establishing the Office of Library Service to the Disadvantaged (OLSD) in 1970. In the 1980s, targeted services addressed the needs of latchkey children, business people, and the homeless. The OLSD was renamed the Office of Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS). OLOS’s mission describes the communities often associated with community outreach:

OLOS focuses attention on services that are inclusive of traditionally underserved populations, including new and non-readers, people geographically isolated, people with disabilities, rural and urban poor people, and people generally discriminated against based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, language, and social class. (American Library Association, Office of Literacy and Outreach Services, 2013)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Information seeking: The habits and patterns that humans undertake in locating answers to questions, satisfying needs, and fulfilling desires for learning and entertainment.

Crisis Informatics: Designing services that assist library patrons who are impacted by, or might be impacted by, traumatic events.

Advocacy: Informing the public of the library offerings, the library as work setting, and the library profession.

Digital Equity: Promoting and designing services that provide all members of the community with access to online information and the skills and tools to access, use, and evaluate online content.

Community Informatics: Designing services for targeted members of the library’s user community.

Information Coping: The ability to handle news, alerts, messages, data, music or other information formats in a way that results in learning and understanding with minimal anxiety.

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